Spiritual Gifts and Love
The love of Scripture is not emotion merely but an activity of the will: it purposes the good of the one loved, expecting nothing in return (hence, the translation, "charity"). We must always be aware, then, that body function does not depend on spiritual gifts but on love. And while spiritual gifts are important, they are not so important as love.
This is the message of I Corinthians 13. Verses 1-3 mention gifts without love. Verses 4-7 speak of love apart from gifts, which, if you had to choose, is much better. You see, if I really love the people whom God has given me to shepherd, I will teach them, exhort them, help them, encourage them, and so on. The emphasis of the gifts is service, and that stems from love. On the other hand, the most gifted person in the world (the imaginary character of verses 1-3) apart from love accomplishes nothing (verse 1), is nothing (verse 2), and gains nothing (verse 3). But love, whether gifted or not, will reach out to meet any and all the needs of the body. Love is the fulfilling of the law.
This was the basic problem in Corinth -- not a lack of gifts, for they had them all (I Corinthians 1:7). Their problem was a lack of love. Love would have dissolved or even completely avoided every one of their problems, including their abuses of spiritual gifts!
Mark it well: love will not only prevent the misuse and abuse of gifts, but it will also ensure the accomplishing of their intended purpose -- service to others.
So much better, then, not to merely search for a spiritual gift but rather to seek to exercise a gift in love -- to seek to help and to edify. Only that will fulfill the intended purpose of the gifts and meet every need of the body.
FIVE UNNOTICED GIFTS - Important but Often Ignored
We have seen that there are various kinds of permanent gifts. There are support gifts -- pastor-teacher and teaching. There are other speaking gifts which are permanent, such as exhortation, and there are service gifts. But in a sense, all the permanent gifts are service gifts. Their purpose is to serve. The gifts are described as "services" in I Corinthians 12:5. They are for the "work of service" according to Ephesians 4:12. So while there is a specific gift of service ("ministry," Romans 12:7), it is the purpose of all these permanent gifts to minister to (i.e., serve) the church.
It is significant that Paul begins Romans 12 demanding complete consecration of every one of us who has experienced "the mercies of God" (verse 1). We are to sacrifice ourselves for the work of the Lord (verse 1). Obviously, that sacrifice of ourselves in service is not worth much if we are dead, so he calls for a "living sacrifice." And if He doesn't have our bodies, He really doesn't have us at all, so he says that we are to present our "bodies a living sacrifice." God demands of every one of us to expend ourselves for God. To put our selves on the altar of sacrifice, as it were, giving over to Him all we are and have, placing ourselves totally in service for Him. That is verses 1 and 2.
But how? In what way are we to serve Him? Verse 3 answers that question as it begins the discussion of the exercise of our spiritual gifts. God says, in effect, "I want you to expend yourselves for Me -- serving others." You see, if you are not serving others (which is the purpose of your giftedness), you are not fulfilling the commands of Romans 12:1-2. You are not consecrated fully, a living sacrifice, unless and until you are serving. With today's independent spirit and busy schedules it is difficult to even think much about others, let alone take time to serve them. Nonetheless, consecration demands that we serve others, that we exercise our gifts as God gives opportunity.
Turning to the permanent gifts themselves, we find at least five gifts which, although vital, are often ignored or unnoticed.
Romans 12:7 mentions this gift of ministry (see also I Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:12). As already noted, the word in the New Testament translated "ministry" does not mean teaching or pastoring as your pastor "ministers" the Word each Sunday. It is not "ministry" in the modern professional sense of the term. The word simply means "service." It is a form of our word "deacon," which means "servant." This gift is the God-given ability to serve others. Sound exciting? These people are the unsung heroes of the church! These are the people who are willing to work behind the scenes at those necessary but unglamorous tasks. Whether it is serving individuals in their needs or tasks or serving the church corporately in its needs or tasks, the gift is the same and equally necessary. Apart from these servants the church would be crippled. For a church's ministry to be vibrant, there must be those who are willing and eager to take care of the needs of others.
The gift of helps is very similar. The root word in the Greek means "to take instead of," that is, taking another's work yourself. This is love in action. The early church was marked by so much of this, and the more we know of it, the more we will be blessed as were they.
Likewise the gift of mercy focuses on the needs of others, perhaps with the added dimension of special concern and care and sympathy in meeting those needs. Emotional support may well be a part of it. Of these people there can never be too many.
This gift of giving is not the ability to put money in the church offering plate (although that may well be a part of it!). It is the ability to provide for the financial and material needs of the church and its people. It differs from the gifts of service and helps in that its focus is giving more than helping. The gifts of service and helps deal more with giving self, or serving; the gift of giving deals with giving material things, or financial giving. It is significant that Romans 12:8 commands that this gift be exercised in a certain attitude. The giving is to be done "with simplicity," or generously, liberally, with singleness of purpose -- to provide for a need, with no strings attached, joyfully, and without regret. It is supporting people individually or the church corporately as a special ministry. This person does not give expecting praise for it. He asks nothing in return. He gives for the sheer pleasure of ministering in this way.
Again, it seems strange to find faith mentioned as a special spiritual gift. Just as all Christians are required to help, serve, show mercy, and give, so also all Christians are responsible to have faith -- for salvation and for all of life. This gift of faith, however, is a special ability to believe God in unusual ways. It is the gift of people like George Mueller. Some call it the gift of prayer or the gift of vision. We all are given a "measure of faith" (Romans 12:3); this person has a greater measure. He is able to believe God to supply specific needs as a ministry to others. His faith accomplishes results beyond the ordinary. This is how every great Christian enterprise succeeds -- people behind it with great faith.
This gift is a special ministry exercised for others. If you have this gift, spend more time on your knees!
Summary & Conclusion
These five gifts (service, helping, showing mercy, giving, and faith) are both gifts which belong to some and responsibilities common to all Christians. We all are responsible to give and show mercy to brethren in need and to serve and help those who need it and to believe God in the doing of it all. James 2:14ff make this clear, as do so many other passages of Scripture, especially John's first epistle. One sure mark of a Christian is his concern and help of others. The gifts involve a giving, serving, helping, and mercy which is above and beyond the expected. Like the good Samaritan in our Lord's parable who got his hands dirty with another man's need and also spent his own money to purchase another's well-being, the person with these gifts is able to cheerfully go beyond the expected.
These gifts will seem rather bland to some, not too exciting. But when you find yourself on the receiving end of any of these gifts, your perspective will change! These gifts are vital! Those who have these gifts exercise them to our benefit, and those who fail to exercise these gifts do so to our hurt.
Could one of these gifts be yours? Have you unwrapped it yet?