Romans Lesson 124 - An Audience of One
Whenever, wherever, and however we serve others, we have to remember that we are ultimately serving God. We are doing ministry for His approval . . . not the approval of others.
“An Audience of One”
In an article entitled, “This is a Puzzling World,” I read that it was an Englishman who created the more popular word game in the world – the cross-word puzzle.
Thus far in this series we’ve talked about puzzles with interlocking pieces and puzzles with moving parts . . . puzzles that stack and puzzles that fly . . . but this is a puzzle with interconnecting words.
Less than 100 years ago, the New York World Sunday newspaper published Arthur Wynne’s little crossword puzzle – the first to ever appear in print. It was shaped like a diamond and gave clues for 31 words.
The article I read reprinted this original 1913 puzzle and offered a free download. So I copied it off and tried my hand at it . . . the only word that was already supplied by Mr. Wynne, near the top of the puzzle, was the word “fun.”
Who would know the fiber of the gomuti palm.
Too frustrating . . . I finally surrendered to the inadequacies of my vocabulary, discarded the puzzle in a nearby cylinder . . . whose contents are destined for a crushing amalgamation at some outdoor compilation.
I spent a lot of time on that . . . but I still couldn’t finish the puzzle!
By the way, I’ve copied off 100 or so of these and left them at the Welcome Desks should you like to try your hand at the World’s first ever published Crossword Puzzle by Arthur Wynne.
Historical comments adapted from www.crosswordtournament.com/more/wynne.html
It’s one thing to not discover the words that fit into a cross-word puzzle – you can throw it away or stick it in a drawer to be forgotten.
It’s another thing to half-heartedly attempt to find your fit in the body of Christ. Or worse yet, not even care to try.
Like a cross-word puzzle, there are words waiting to borrow from your vowels and consonants in order to be completed, so the church is inter-related and inter-dependent on one another.
We complete one another as a local, living manifestation of body of Christ.
And the way we complete one another and contribute to the body of Christ is through the discovery and operation of a special, spiritual gift.
Let me give you a short definition of a spiritual gift.
A spiritual gift is a God given ability whereby you serve the body of Christ with effective ministry.
Did you know that there were three elements of the Christian life that Paul was particularly concerned about. In fact, when Paul introduced these three subjects, he included the idea that he didn’t want them to be ignorant of them.
The first element of Christian living where Paul didn’t want ignorance was ignorance concerning the scheming wiles of Satan and the underworld (2 Corinthians 2); secondly, Paul didn’t want ignorance about the fact of life after death and the future rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4); and thirdly, the
critical subject of spiritual gifts.
I would imagine that the average believer knows something about Satan and can probably rattle off some of his schemes; he knows about life after death and probably has an opinion on the rapture and other future events . . . but at the same time, the average Christian might be absolutely unaware of his own spiritual gift and how it fits him in the body of Christ.
It’s no wonder that Paul spent time repeating to the church in Ephesus, Corinth and Rome, this critical issue of spirit gifting.
When the Apostle Paul revealed this concept of spiritual gifts to the Corinthians, he wrote, Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware (ignorant) - . There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given that manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (I Corinthians 12:1, 4-7)
From this passage, three things are clear:
- There are a lot of different kinds of spiritual gifts . . .
- Which create a lot of different kinds of ministry . . .
- Which produces a lot of different kinds of effects in and through the body.
So it becomes altogether critical that you discover your fit in effective ministry . . . the cross-word puzzle of the body needs your consonants and vowels to complete their words too.
And in our last session, we talked about the process of discovery.
There were two key words involved in discovering your spiritual gift:
Exposure and experimentation.
First, exposure to God in prayer;
Exposure to the word of God for insight
And exposure to the people of God for counsel.
Then, experimentation in anything you’d like to do.
And that fits within the context of Paul’s teaching in this chapter.
Follow God and refuse to be squeezed into the mold of this world-system; have your mind and heart transformed and renewed by the word of God; seek above everything to please God; pursue holiness with passion and then –as you are doing those things, do whatever you want to do.
Do whatever you’d like. Just do something, right?!
And maybe right now you’re tempted to say, “But who am I that God would ever use me? You don’t know my limitations . . . my background . . . the sin my Savior forgave.”
I was sent this article a week ago . . . it begins, “The next time you think God can’t use you, consider the following . . .”
Noah got drunk and lost his credibility with his family.
Abraham was too old to start a new nation
Isaac was a daydreamer.
Jacob had trouble telling lies.
Leah was unattractive
Moses murdered his enemy
Gideon was fearful and faithless
Rahab had a past as a prostitute
Timothy was too young to garner respect
Job was bankrupt
John the Baptist didn’t know how to dress right
James and John was self-righteous and proud
Peter attempted murder and denied the Lord
The disciples fell asleep when they’d been told to pray
Mary Magdalene had been demon-possessed
The boy with 2 fish and five rolls of bread was obscure
The Samaritan woman had been divorced 4 times
Zacchaeus was too small
And Lazarus . . . was dead.
No wonder Paul wrote this passage to the Corinthian church – a church that was filled with problems and problem people.
Let me read Paul’s words, paraphrased by Eugene Petersen in The Message,
Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. 30Everything that we have--right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start--comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.”
(I Corinthians 1:26-30)
No matter who you are . . . no matter what your past . . . no matter who your parents were – if you grew up on the right side or the wrong side of the tracks . . . by the grace of God through Jesus Christ . . . you can have a place in the body of Christ.
No child left behind . . . that’s not original! God came up with that long ago . . . none of His children get left out of the puzzle.
Go back to verse 6 and take note that as Paul writes, “And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly.”
Every Christian has received a gift and every Christian is to use their gift.
The word Paul uses for “gifts” is the Greek word, charismata (carismata). It mean favor or gift. Charis is the Greek word for grace.
It has been transliterated charisma or charismatic.
In fact, it has become a title for the Charismatic movement.
But according to Paul, every believer has a charismata.
This might sound strange to you, but every Christian is a charismatic.
Stephen has become a charismatic!
In the Biblical sense of the word – I became one at my conversion. I was given a charismata – a grace gift by God’s Spirit.
Now, obviously, the word (charismata) has been abducted by the charismatic community to refer primarily to the sensational gifts . . . the supernatural manifestations.
But listen, every spiritual gift is charismatic – they are all the work of a supernatural, gift-giving God.
And every Christian, born of faith in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, has been given a special charismatic gift – and it may have nothing to do with some public display of charisma;
it might be mopping the floor of a classroom in the
basement of the church;
it might be taking a handicapped child to the park;
it might be changing the oil in the church bus or van;
it might be fixing a meal for someone who’s ill
or writing a letter of encouragement to someone in despair.
It’s time we took that word back . . . and used it correctly. Every believer is charismatic.
Won’t that start the rumors flying.
Colonial has gone charismatic . . . I hope so. I hope and pray that as a result of this study, our teaching staff will have new recruits; our ushers will have a waiting list; grounds crew will not have enough shovels and paintbrushes on work day.
That every space in this cross-word puzzle is filled with a word – a person who’s found their place.
“But,” maybe you’re saying under your breath, “I appreciate the fact that God can and will use me – I hear the word saying the Spirit has enabled me in some special way – but I need a little more direction than that – can you give me a clue as to what these gifts are like?”
“Even the most difficult cross-word puzzle at least gives you some clues.”
And the Apostle Paul responds in Romans chapter 12, by saying in effect, “I’ll give you seven clues, as a matter of fact.”
Seven words to steer you on your way.
Circle them: in verse 6 the gift of:
In verse 7 the gifts of:
In verse 8, the gifts of:
exhorting (v. 8)
giving (v. 8)
leading (v. 8)
and showing mercy (v. 8)
This list is not exhaustive. In fact, four times in the New Testament we’re given a list containing a variety of gifts
In Ephesians 4, I Peter 4, I Corinthians 12 and here in Romans 12 there are lists of 19 or so different gifts.
Perhaps the easiest way to think of the gifts in by arranging them into 3 different categories.
First of all, there are the Support Gifts:
This first category of Support gifts could also be called the speaking gifts. They have to do with the ministry of the Word. They carry with them a greater authority that brings greater accountability.
That’s why the Apostle James wrote, “Let there not be many teachers among you, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1)
The writer of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to them; they keep watch over your souls and will give an account; let them do this with joy and not with grief . . .” (Hebrews 13:15)
There is certainly nothing like the grief of having souls under your tutelage and care refuse to follow and obey and live out the truth; and there’s nothing quite like the joy of souls who do!
These are the support or speaking gifts.
The second category is Service Gifts.
If we combined all the lists together, we’d come up with:
The gift of administration
Helping or Service
Mercy or Compassion
The third category can be called the Sign Gifts.
These gifts had a specific, temporary function. A function that preceded the completion of the New Testament.
Paul wrote that the gift of speaking in tongues was temporary. He wrote that it was a sign, not to the believing Jew, but the unbelieving Jew . . . a sign that the nation Israel had rejected the true Messiah. In fact, the speaking of other languages previously unlearned by the speaker was prophesied centuries earlier by the prophet Isaiah. It would come to the nation Israel, Isaiah prophesied because One came promising rest but they would not listen.
In I Corinthians 13 Paul clearly said that three gifts were temporary.
Why don’t you turn over to I Corinthians 13:8.
8. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge (word of knowledge) it will be done away. (when?) 9. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10. but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
In other words, “when the perfect comes, the need for partial truth through prophecy, tongues and knowledge will be unnecessary.”
Paul is clearly stating that these three gifts will cease because something perfect is coming.
Many would say, “well that’s obviously a reference to the second coming of Christ . . . or at least the rapture of the church.”
I mean, look at verse 12. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”
Face to Face . . . that’s the title of a hymn that talks about seeing Christ – obviously Paul was singing Fanny Crosby’s hymn.
There are those who would say the perfect thing that is coming is obviously Christ and when Christ comes, the partial things of prophecy and tongues and knowledge will cease.
Sounds right, but I believe it’s absolutely wrong.
First of all, the word perfect in verse 10 can be translated “complete.” Paul is saying that there is something to be completed and when it is completed, these gifts that communicate revelation bits and pieces at a time will no longer be necessary.
Furthermore, the word “perfect” here in I Corinthians 13 is the same word used by James in chapter one to describe the scriptures – the “perfect law of liberty.”
It’s a description of the scriptures.
When Paul was writing these letters, the scriptures were not yet completed.
And God continued to give His revelation through a variety of means and methods. Did you notice in I Corinthians 13:8 that all three temporary gifts had something in common – they all were connected to the principle of receiving revelation from God.
But doesn’t Paul say in verse 12 that I’m going to know fully as I’m fully known? That sounds like heaven . . .
No, that sounds like the work of God’s word which is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, capable of piercing between soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
You want to fully understand your motives and thoughts and heart? Study the scriptures.
For the believer before the revealed completed canon of scripture is totally exposed.
One more thing. To say that prophecy and tongues and the word of knowledge cease when Jesus comes again is almost humorous.
What gifts will not cease?!
- Where will you exercise your gift of evangelist. Nobodies winning any converts in heaven.
- What about your gift of teaching. Do you think you’ll go up to the Lord and say, “Listen, you’ve been teaching straight for 3 weeks, why don’t you let me fill in - something.”
- Where is the need for mercy, since we are all confirmed in eternal joy?
- Where is the gift of giving, when we are all inheritors of Christ’s glory?
- You will not need the gift of faith for you are in His presence?
When we enter the gates of heaven, it isn’t just prophecy and tongues and the word of knowledge that will have ceased, but most gifts in our New Testament lists will be unnecessary.
In the meantime, those gifts of revelation, singled out by Paul as temporary, ceased when the scriptures became a completed revelation, sometime before the end of the 1st century.
Now back to Romans chapter 12, having completed my introduction, we have a few minutes left.
You’ll see immediately why I spent time dealing with this issue of revelation.
You’ll see in that the first gift Paul lists in Romans 12 verse 6 is this gift of prophecy.
When Paul wrote this text, prophecy was still a means of receiving and communicating revelation from God.
And so it is a fitting inclusion in the list.
When used of Old and New testament prophets, prior to the completion of scripture there was the ability to predict the future and communicate truth from God – and a genuine prophet was never wrong.
In fact, if someone claimed to be a prophet and prophesied something that didn’t come true, they were stoned to death. So they not only lost their job, they lost their lives. This kept the occupation of prophet from being advertised on too many web sites.
If you’re tempted to think, “we’ve been ripped off . . . you mean to tell me that Old Testament saints up to the Apostles got to have prophets and we don’t . . . this is a bum deal.”
The writer of Hebrews didn’t think so . . . he wrote, “God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many way, but in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.”
I want the prophets, but I revel in the fact that God has allowed me to live with a perfect law – a completed canon of scripture – the whole story that reveals how to live now and what to expect in the future. We have been given the revelation of the rapture and tribulation and the anti-Christ and the battle of Armageddon and the Kingdom and the new heaven and the new earth. We have been given the details of the final battle between the dragon and the Lord’s army. We have even been told what heaven looks like with fruit trees and rivers and golden streets.
We have not been given a bum deal.
We do not have less . . . we have more.
Two thoughts in closing:
While new revelation of truth from God has ceased, the repetition of truth has not.
There is no new revelation from God – you hold in your hands a completed word from God.
You are not waiting to hear God speak . . . God has spoken.
But the great need of mankind hasn’t really changed – we need the word of God.
And the primary purpose of preaching and teaching in the church is to deliver what God has said.
There is now a full fledged movement in the modern church today to actually remove, as much as possible, all explicit references to the Bible from the sermon. In addition, people are not asked to turn to a passage of scripture, take notes, mark in their Bibles, since that will make unbelievers uncomfortable. I have read that some churches are actually discouraging their people from bringing Bibles to church lest the sight of so many Bible might intimidate the unbeliever.
The modern movement among so called evangelical churches to removed from expounding the scriptures.
I had a seminary student, from another seminary, not ours, come up to me a few months ago and say that everything I’d just preached had been explicitly discouraged in his seminary class. His class was being told to basically dumb down the gospel and never ever use theological terms. He said, “I can’t believe you were up here this morning using words like inspiration, justification and you even used the word “theology.” He went on to say, he knew his professor was wrong all along and today’s message proved it.
Listen, if we don’t preach and teach throughout this campus from the word of God, we will forfeit the only true source of wisdom.
Jeremiah wrote, “The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken. Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord; so what wisdom do they have?” (Jeremiah 8:9)
Let me say it a little differently in this way:
While the gift of prophecy has ceased, the need for Christians to speak for God has not.
One author wrote, “Whether a preacher boldly proclaims the Word of God or not is ultimately a question of authority. Who has the right to speak to the church? The preacher or God? Whenever anything is substituted for the preaching of the Word, God’s authority is usurped.”
Not to mention that it robs people of their only true source of hope and healing; encourages indifference to the Word of God and divine authority; elevates the feelings of people over commitment to God’s truth, and on and on and on.
Adapted from Fool’s Gold, John MacArthur, General Editor, (Crossway Books, 2005), p. 39
No wonder the Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Timothy, I solemnly charge you in the presence of God, preach – communicate – expound on – what? The word! (2 Timothy 4:2)
I love that context. Timothy, I charge you in the presence of God! In other words, I know there are preachers watching you; I know there are people watching you; just don’t forget, the audience that matters is not really them, it is God. Timothy, I charge you in the presence of God . . . God is watching you – preach the word.
Listen, the minute you remove the word of God from your lesson or your sermon or your message, you might think that you’re not going to offend anybody, but you have offended God.
Who would you rather offend?
I realize my message today will be offensive. There will be people who don’t come back. I’ve explained the temporary nature of prophecy, the cessation of tongues speaking – the wrong usage of the term charismatic by that community – the error of the modern church movement into entertainment and away from exposition . . . I’m gonna offend somebody.
(And I have two services left)
I am simply overwhelmed with the truth that God happens to be watching . . . God happens to be listening . . . and I want to please Him more.
May I add, whether you are a preacher or teacher or an usher or a helper or you happen to cut the front lawn, we need Christians who serve the Body of Christ as if they really believed God was watching.
And we need more Christians who believe that if God was the only one watching, He would be enough.
That He is enough of an audience for us to deliver the truth of His word . . . no matter what.
That kind of living not only pleases God, but it effectively serves the church and it impacts the world by giving it what it truly, desperately needs.
I’d like to be a little more like Jim Elliott, the missionary who was martyred several decades ago. He wrote this profound prayer in his journal, “Father, bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork in the road, that men must turn one way or another when they face Christ in me.”
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