Romans Lesson 125 - Both Muscle and Mouthpiece
It's easy to think that the pastor or some other highly visible church leader has greater spiritual gifts. But that's not the case. In this message Stephen reminds us that all gifts are created equal.
“Both Muscle and Mouthpiece”
I have received some nice cards and birthday gifts from people this past week. One was an oversized chocolate candy bar made entirely from organic ingredients – isn’t that great – chocolate that’s healthy. I was given a coffee mug manufactured by Krispy Kreme – the logo’s engraved on it – that’ll be a treasure.
Yesterday my family had a birthday party for me and gave me gifts – and they all naturally wanted to see my reaction . . . to see if I wanted the gifts and if I would use them.
Gifts are meant to be used, right?
You’ve discovered that truth, right?
The day after Christmas, your kids are gonna inspect the shower and then ask, “Hey, where is that Old Spice soap on a rope, Daddy, aren’t you gonna use it?
Hey, Daddy, when are you gonna put that cologne on?
When you gonna wear that tie I gave you? And you know the only time you could wear that necktie and get away with it is on Halloween.
The good news is your kids get older and they buy you things you can actually wear in public!
But to neglect someone’s gift brings grief and hurt, right?
When I buy my wife flowers I expect her to put them in a flower vase and put them on display – I would never expect to see her put the flowers on a shelf in the closet, or set them out in the garage, unless I’m in more trouble than I thought.
The truth is, gifts are meant to be displayed . . . put to use.
And there is great delight when the gift-giver sees the recipient using their gift.
I couldn’t help but think of this thought - imagine the joy God has when He sees His children using their gifts He gave them?!
When He sees us displaying them . . . putting them to good use.
But imagine the sorrow and grief when he sees us set our gifts on the shelf or in a closet and neglect to use them as He wished.
Adapted from The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts, William McRae (Zondervan, 1976), p. 29
A few months ago, a magazine I subscribe to printed an article entitled, “The Church, Why Bother?”
It cataloged recent data from a research group that revealed through a nationwide survey that some 10 million self-proclaimed, born-again Christians have not been to church in the last six months, apart from Christmas or Easter. Get this – these are people who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important to them today, and believe they will “go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.”
Christianity Today January 2005, p. 42
Now, I’m not gonna stop here and preach a sermon on this flawed theology, although it’s tempting. There’s no such thing as making a commitment to Jesus Christ without a commitment to the church of Jesus Christ and the cause of Jesus Christ.
That’s like me saying, “I’m committed to my marriage; I am committed to Marsha, my wife; but I never spend any time with her – well maybe once or twice a year I’ll run by the house for an hour – if the seat is comfortable and the climate suits me and I don’t have any trouble parking; truth is, I never talk to her privately; I don’t tell anybody about her, in fact, I don’t even support her because I don’t care about her needs. She writes me letters, but I never read them – in fact, I never even open the envelope; I know she wants to talk to me, and spend time with me, but I don’t really care and I don’t want to take the time . . . but don’t be mistaken, man, I am committed to her.”
That’s ludicrous, right?!
The writer of Hebrews said we were born again and our sins were forgiven, the blood of Christ has cleansed our conscience so that now we can go and serve the living God!”
Well, I said I wasn’t gonna preach about it, and I’ve started.
My larger point from this data is the fact that either 10 million people are self-deceived and truly not born again; or they are born again, but they are bringing great grief to God who called them to faith in Christ, who indwells them by his Spirit Who then endows them with special gifts to serve the Body of Christ and advance His glory and His cause through His church.
Think of millions more who actually sit in church Sunday after Sunday, but bring great sorrow to their Lord; they are grieving the Spirit of God as His gifts to them are never used.
Set aside on some shelf.
Gifts from God that remain unopened . . . unwrapped and unused.
But according to the Apostle Paul, the believer who is:
- radically renewing his mind after the scriptures,
- pursues purity with passion;
- seeks to please God above all things;
- comes with an attitude of humility to the assembly
- and then asks the Divine Designer how he wants us to serve Him by serving one another.
All that comes out of Romans chapter 12 where we discover direction in this process of opening our gifts and finding our fit in the body of Christ.
In verse 7, Paul introduces us to two more gifts. They are the gift of service and the gift of teaching.
Service and the gift of teaching.
Service is the private demonstration of Christianity while teaching is the public declaration of Christianity.
Service is the illustration of truth;
Teaching is the explanation of truth.
Service is when you portray Christ,
Teaching is when you proclaim Christ.
Frankly, these two gifts are different.
One is center stage . . . the other is backstage.
One tends to get all the applause, the other is often unnoticed.
One is the mouthpiece . . . the other is all muscle. The truth is, since a body has more muscle than mouths, the predominant gift of Christ to the church is this gift of service.
Take a closer look at what Paul said in Romans 12 . . . let’s begin with verse 6.
6. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;
7. if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching.
Don’t overlook the order . . . the gift of service is listed before the gift of teaching.
The Greek word translated service is diakonia. It literally means servant or service.
The word appears in the N.T. in one form or another more than 100 times.
In Paul’s day it was a word that immediately meant, “lack of position . . . a lack of status.”
And yet it would become the word chosen by the Lord to define His own ministry . . . I came not to be served, but to serve (same word). (Matthew 20:28)
It became such an honor to be identified with the passion of Christ’s lifestyle, that this word would come to be the word that defines our work. We refer to Christian service.
It became the special word that identified only one of two offices in the New Testament church; an office occupied by men of wisdom and faith, known by this word – diakonate – they were served the body as deacons.
What the world devalues as a lack of status, Jesus Christ elevates as an honorable lifestyle and position.
I traced this word “service” (diakonia) throughout the New Testament. In more than 100 appearances, you discover it used in a multitude of scenes:
- Meeting some need in the church body (1 Peter 4:10)
- Helping Christians with their personal duties (Hebrews 6:10)
- Sending relief funds to a needy church (Acts 11:29)
- Performing menial physical tasks (Philemon 13)
- Meeting the physical needs of widows (Acts 6:2)
- Sharing the gospel (2 Corinthians 8:19)
- Waiting on tables, literally supervising meals (Luke 10:40)
Most of this stuff taking place behind the scenes.
Hidden muscle that moves the church forward.
You see, one of the problems we have in the church is the prioritization of the gifts. And we get it all wrong.
We tend to think that the gifts which are seen are most significant!
People may not say it directly, but their words imply the misconception as one author put it, that “only the visible gifts are vital to the body.”
Charles R. Swindoll, He Gave Gifts (Insight for Living, 1992), p. 28
You hear this misconception in the way Christians talk in the hallway . . .
- You, know, I’m just an usher; you’re the pastor;
- You’re the soloist on Sunday morning – I just hand out curriculum to the second graders
- You’re the class leader, I’m just the guy who puts out the folding chairs.”
- You’re the Bible study leader – I just stock the kitchen with coffee cups and spoons.
All of those statements, whether verbalized or thought, reveal the misconception that the gift of service is lower on the food chain than the gift of teaching or leading.
We have this unwritten view that the gifts are on some vertical ladder and you get promoted one rung at a time.
You start you in the parking lot, parking cars . . . in the summer . . . and you think, “Okay, if I don’t wreck anybody out here, they’ll promote me indoors as an usher.”
And then as an usher, if I don’t knock anybody over or drop an offering plate – in fact, if the offerings go up 2%, I’ll get promoted to Sunday school . . . then on to class leader, then teacher, then deacon, then elder – then, Stephen, I’ll get your job.
You can’t have it! I spent 2 years in the parking lot to get in here . . .
Listen, in the body of Christ, there are there are no promotions – there are placements by the Divine Designer.
Gifts do not have to be seen, to be significant.
They don’t have to be visible to be vitally important to the body of Christ.
You know what I recommend would go a long way to re-writing this misconception in the body of Christ? Let’s begin a ministry of giving thanks for the myriad of servants in the church.
When you pick up your child today in the nursery or classroom, stop long enough to identify the teachers and the workers and say, out loud, “Thank you so much for serving.”
Watch them look at you with utter amazement.
Thank someone you recognize from the choir and orchestra for the hours they rehearse and then spend in leading worship.
There are nearly 200 volunteers this morning working with infants through pre-schoolers, so you can spend a few minutes in here with older people, worshipping God in English.
Thank the usher who hands you the bulletin. Whisper in his ear, “Thanks for what you do.” He’ll probably just stare.
Next Sunday when you arrive in the parking lot, thank the traffic control guys with their orange wands . . . roll down your window as you drive by and say, “Even though I’m going to ignore where you’re telling me to park, thank you for what you tried to do!”
One ministry of service is the service of prayer. That invisible work which recognizes it is not just asking God to bless the ministry, it is ministry.
One speaker was referencing the fact that the world of missions looks to William Carey as the father of modern missions. In fact, William Carey, changed much of the history of India.
He went on to bemoan the fact that there are too few Carey’s today, changing the course of their nation for God.
He went on though to reveal that William Carey had a sister who lay paralyzed in bed for 50 years and could not even articulate her words at time. Propped up in her bed, she wrote lengthy letters of encouragement to Carey and prayed throughout every day for her brother’s work.
McRae, p. 48
Maybe we do not have more William Carey’s who served like that, because we do not have more sisters who prayed like that.
We need to shrug off the idea that the gift of service in whatever form it takes, is the sort of gift that you have if you can’t think of any other gift . . . “well, I guess I’ll just serve – I’m not really special anywhere else, I must have the gift of service.”
Listen, without the gift of service, every single thing that’s happening today and throughout this week would be severely limited or even impossible were it not for volunteers.
Down to the fact that you can hear my voice right now in a whisper – because of volunteer technicians . . . and because of volunteers it is being recorded digitally into a computer where volunteers will begin to edit it and eventually it will be heard on the radio on 5 continents. Imagine that!
So Wisdom for the Heart gets a letter from a widow in Virginia who says, “I get under my blanket at night and listen to the program and God’s Spirit gives me joy”; or the policeman in another state who wrote, “I am growing in Christ because of it;” or the pastor in Africa who writes, “it is helping me as I re-teach it to my congregation” or the prison inmate who wrote a few days ago, “the program is traveling around our prison like a torch.”
Listen, it wouldn’t be possible without volunteers.
Servants are the muscle of ministry . . . the gift of service moves the gospel of Jesus Christ forward in more ways than we could ever calculate.
Don’t ever begrudge the gift of service.
Paul goes on to add another gift . . . not only muscle in the body of Christ, but mouthpiece.
Notice in verse 7 he writes, “if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching.”
John Phillips is a man now well into his 70’s, a British author and Bible teacher – I have all his commentaries. In fact, he was in our worship service a few Sunday’s ago with his family – unannounced . . . frankly, I’m glad I didn’t know it until afterward. It’d be a little like playing golf with Jack Nicklaus watching you. When he came to the visitor’s reception after the service, I asked him to come and preach at Colonial in the future and he agreed.
Well, his commentary on Romans put these first three gifts this way:
- prophecy was the inspiration of truth,
- service is the incarnation of truth
- and teaching is the interpretation of truth.
John Phillips, Exploring Romans (Moody Press, 1969), p. 194
And he’s right.
Another author defined the gift of teaching – didaskalos – didaskalia – as the art of taking an unchanging message and making it understandable to the unlearned.
Alva J. McClain, Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace (BMH Books, 1973), p. 211
Which means a teacher must first understand the truth for himself before he can make it understandable.
No wonder one of my former teachers, Howard Hendricks, warned us in class, the minute you stop learning, you stop teaching.
If you are a teacher, then you are first and foremost a student.
This is one gift exercised in public which demands time in private.
You need to understand that this word can be expanded to mean much more than teaching one to many. It can be one on one – teaching Biblical truth to a neighbor who asks you a question about God or the Bible.
It can be one to a child or to a small group of neighborhood children.
It can be outside a cubicle or in the shop with co-workers who want your opinion on some current event. And you interpret the event in light of Biblical truth – you just became a teacher!
It can be to a group of teenagers or a class of women or men.
It can be on a Sunday morning to a Sunday school class of any age, or an auditorium like this filled with all ages.
The gift of teaching is simply taking Biblical truth and discovering what it meant to its original audience and what it means today.
It is the mandate of Christ to the church – go and make disciples, baptizing them and what? teaching them! (Matthew 28:20)
It isn’t an option . . . and it shouldn’t be an exception!
I remember spending a week in Kagoshima, Japan with our global staff members, the Petites. I was to preach that Sunday morning to a congregation of mostly deaf Japanese men and women. My sermon would be interpreted into Japanese for the hearing and then into Japanese sign language for the hearing impaired. It would be a slow, careful process.
I worked for hours on my sermon, handing my manuscript early to Bill to review. He changed a number of phrases that would have been confusing and asked me to clarify other points.
The morning came . . . it took nearly an hour to communicate the message.
After the service, several men and women came to me, bowing politely, and then saying or signing something I didn’t know of course.
Eventually Bill pulled me aside and said, “Stephen, they are paying you the highest compliment that you can receive in this culture.” What were they saying to me? Two words . . . I understood.
For any teacher of God’s word, that is enough.
For your class or your student to say, “I understood what God said . . . I now know what He meant – and what it means in my life.”
For you who teach, that is your objective. So that they who hear, understand, so they can obey the word of God.
Neither one of these gifts is easy. They are both demanding.
Whether it is the muscle of servant-hood or the mouthpiece of teaching.
It isn’t something you do, it is who you are.
Are you willing?
I have learned in recent days that for 75 years now, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, soldiers have guarded the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Guards are rotated every thirty minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The guard on duty is carefully instructed on how to walk. Even how many steps to take. He takes 12 steps as he marches across the tomb of the Unknown soldier. Why 12?
It alludes to the 21 gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.
At the end of his walk in one direction, he stops and hesitates for 21 seconds before turning and walking back – again a physical symbol of a 21 gun salute.
His gloves are moistened to prevent losing his grip on the rifle he carries. There are no wrinkles, folds or ling on their uniforms. He spends 5 hours a day preparing his uniform for duty.
For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be at least 5 feet 10 inches tall, yet not taller than 6’ 2”. His waist size cannot exceed 30 inches. That takes care of me!
He must commit to 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb.
The first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, or even watch television. All off duty time is spent studying the records of the cemetery; all 175 notable people laid to rest there. The guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred.
But that’s not all I learned. A guard must promise never to drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of his life. He cannot swear in public, ever again, for the rest of his life and he cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way.
After 2 years of faithful service, guards are given a wreath pin that is worn on his lapel signifying they served as guards of the tomb. But the guards must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up their wreath pin.
There are only 400 living guards today.
Isn’t that great? What dignity and discipline . . . what honor.
To think that there are people so dedicated to their position that they spend hours in obscurity; live such regimented lives of discipline and study; so committed for the rest of their lives to never disgracing the tomb that they limit their liberty.
They want to keep the wreath and not disgrace the tomb.
How honorable is that? How admirable and principled is that?
But I couldn’t help but think, how convicting is that?
Are we not soldiers of the cross? Do we not serve the
Creator and Commander and Chief of the universe.
How disciplined are we? How committed to purity and devotion to our cause are we?
Would to God that we would honor Christ’s cause with that kind of passion for purity and devotion to His name?
That we will consider it our greatest honor to serve Him; and to represent Him; and speak for Him for the rest of our lives?!
Never forgetting, the tomb we represent . . . is empty!
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