Faith Becoming Practice:
Exercising Our Spiritual Gifts
We are studying the Apostle Paul’s first Epistle to Timothy who was pasturing the church in the city of Ephesus around 60 AD. In chapter 4, Paul exhorted Timothy not waste his time and energy arguing about hyper-spiritual myths that accomplish nothing in life, but rather focus on training himself to be godly! This word “train” means to have the necessary discipline, like a pro-athlete, to be in "top working condition" from constant, rigorous exercise in the virtues. What are some Christian virtues that we should be exercising? They are: faithfulness, love, goodness, knowledge, self-control, integrity, perseverance, wisdom, justice, courage, purity (2 Pet 1:5-7; Phil 4:8).
Exercising our faith in the body of Christ and in the community means to manifest the life of Christ - in other words, it means putting our Christian faith into practice.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Being a learner or “disciple,” of Christ comes from doing/practicing what we have learned from the Lord. This is in contrast to those, who after hearing a message, are complacent, doing nothing with what they’ve heard - they listen to the Word week after week but don’t obey it as James 1:23 describes, and therefore are not changed by it. Verse 25 says, But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you in what you do.
We build and maintain our spiritual muscles by letting the precepts in God’s Word shape our thinking, not just by changing our thoughts about certain things, but by letting His Word reach into the essence, the very depth of who we are. This type of shaping brings a significant change in our hearts, which works itself out in a transformed mind, changed values, words and actions.
Bible study is one important discipline that contributes to our spiritual maturity. But it is when we put the teachings of Scriptures, that which we have learned and measure of our faith into practice that we begin to grow. When Faith Becomes Practice
If we don’t practice what we preach we are promoting a cross-less, powerless, lifeless and empty Christianity because just remember, “We teach what we believe but reproduce what we are.” Let’s turn to 1 Tim 4:13-16. Paul continues to exhort Timothy in this passage:
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Devote yourself to - give this your full attention, set a course and keep to it. Paul was telling Timothy to continue...
In verse 14 Paul is telling Timothy not to neglect the gift that God had given him which was the gift of prophecy. Timothy was enabled by God with the gift of declaring the truth.
What are spiritual gifts and how do they differ from a natural talent? We know both gifts and talents are intended to be used for the benefit of others, not for selfish purposes in 1 Cor 12:7. The two greatest commandments Jesus gave us are to love God with all our hearts and to love others as much as we love ourselves. It follows that one should use his or her talents with that motivation. Each person (regardless of their belief in God or in Christ) has a natural talent as a result of genetics (some have natural ability or talent in music, art, or math). Sometimes a talent is the combination of one’s genetics and environment (growing up in a family of musicians might aid a child or adolescence in developing a talent for music). Or it could be that God simply desires to endow individuals with certain abilities (Exod 31:1-6). But spiritual gifts are given to all believers by the Holy Spirit (Rom 12:3,6) at the time they put their trust in Christ, become members of God’s family, and are placed in His Kingdom. At that moment, the Holy Spirit gives the new believer the spiritual gift or gifts He desires him or her to have (1 Cor 12:11).
The gift that God had given Timothy was prophesy. This gift was not given by the elders when they laid hands on him but recognized by the elders when they commissioned him for the ministry.
Why does God give His children spiritual gifts? The Purpose for Spiritual Gifts:
1 Tim 4:14 tells us that these gifts are not to be neglected.
The word neglect means, viewing something as being without significance, i.e. without perceived value and, therefore, you disregard it, set it aside. How often do we neglect:
· The importance of what God is teaching me, even this day, through His Word (Prov 8:33) and in this passage.
· the gift that God has specifically given us - Sometimes the fear of failure or fear of criticism keeps a person from using his or her spiritual gift
I believe that there is so much incredible potential in this church. Every person in this room who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ and has become a child of God has at least one spiritual gift. Imagine you are a parent, and you have a large family. You love each one of your children so much that you have in mind which specific gifts would be the best for them. You would be thinking that when they accept this gift from you and begin to use it, it will begin to benefit the whole family, benefit the neighborhood, their school, and eventually wherever God leads them in the world in a tremendous way. People like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Mother Theresa used their spiritual gifts to change the world.
Can you imagine the sadness of a parent who watches their children take their gifts and put them aside and simply disregard and ignore them. This is exactly what many Christians do with the spiritual gifts God has given them. God has given each one of us a gift that He knows will make a great difference in the church and will potentially change the world. Many people, even here, have no idea what their spiritual gifts are and never will unless they begin to exercise their faith. There are some who use their gifts and talents but not in the way they were intended by God or to the maximum potential. Paul wanted the church to pursue love, yet earnestly desire spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 14:1. How can I discover the gifts God has given me? I would like to share an illustration by Craig Groeschel.
I call it ‘The 12 layered chocolate cake test.’
Imagine you are at a table, with a bunch of people, and there is someone about to cut a piece from this cake, and this cake is hanging a little over the edge of the table, about to fall off. You see they are vulnerable, and yet, as they begin to cut the cake it flops into their lap! What do you do?
What you do next may help you see what your gift might be.
1. One person might say, “I could have told you that was about to happen, clearly you shouldn’t of done that, I saw it coming!” If that is you, you have the gift of prophecy.
2. Another person might say, “Oh man, let me help you clean that up, here is a napkin, let me wipe you up! Here, let’s get you taken care of!” Does this describe you? If it does, you probably have the gift of serving or helps.
3. Someone else might say, “Oh, I’ve researched this, and really, there is a better way to cut a chocolate cake so it does not fall off the table! Step 1 is, step 2 is and so on” If this is you, you might have the gift of teaching!
4. Some of you would say, “Oh that’s so oh, I feel for you! You know that also happened to me, don’t worry about it; it's okay! If this is you, you have the gift of encouragement!
5. Or if you would say, “look I got some on myself” and begin smearing it on yourself just to make them feel better, you have the gift of empathy.
6. If you would say, “Oh here, take mine; in fact, bring chocolate cake for everybody and put whip cream on it!” How many of you would do that? You have the gift of giving.
7. Those of you who would say, “We can get this thing cleaned up in no time; you go get this”, and to another “you go get that, and I’ve got a vision to fix this!” You have the gift of leadership.
8. Those of you who would say, “My heart sank, when the cake was falling in your lap, I was hurting for you and with you, and I am just so devastated you are going through this right now!” If this is you, you have the spiritual gift of mercy, or showing kindness.Peter said: 1 Peter 4:10,11 (NLT)
10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.
Whatever gifts God has given you, whether it is leadership, mercy, giving, service, teaching, languages - use it in love, through the power of the Holy Spirit and for God’s glory. Don’t insult your Father in heaven by neglecting your gift. The church does not operate in optimal or peak condition and fullness when you as a member of the body of Christ are not flexing your spiritual muscles and utilizing your gifts. God gave gifts to you for a specific purpose - to build up the body of Christ. He wants you to use these gifts, to develop them, and mature as you do as His adult sons and daughters (1 Cor 12 & 13, Rom 12).
If you don’t know what your gifts are but would like to know, we have a Spiritual Gift Assessment tool that Tim Mann gave us last spring when he was here. Just contact the church office and we will gladly send it to you. There are many ways to discover your spiritual gifts, but the best way is to simply begin serving in one of the various ministries of the church. As your faith becomes practice, you will not only discover your gifts, you will get to know God in a more intimate way because you are partnering with the Giver of the gift. In verse 15 in this passage in 1 Timothy chapter 4, Paul tells him to be diligent in these matters; to give himself wholly to teaching the Word of God and to using his gift.
The things Paul said to Timothy are written down for our benefit because God desires that as His child, I would:
Be diligent - plan; practice, exercise my mind, study, meditate on the Word. Understand the value and significance of reading the Word, growing in virtue and using our gifts....
Give myself wholly to these things, so that my progress < prokopto (Gr) - a nautical term which meant, “to make headway in spite of the wind and waves being contrary,” despite all the difficulties and opposition, that I would immerse myself in the Word so my faith in God grows.
And this was evident to all - In Timothy’s case, the change in his life, his maturity and growth was so obvious to both the Christians and nonChristians in Ephesus. I believe the more Timothy developed his gift through studying the word, preaching and teaching it, the better he became at communicating the specific truth needed to encourage the church.
Paul said in 1 Thess 3:2, We sent Timothy, our brother and servant in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen you in your faith and to exhort you that no one be moved by these afflictions.
There will be opposition, resistance and obstacles to your faith! But despite these difficulties, if we give ourselves wholly to God, I believe our relationship with God will grow deeper, in prayer, in faith, in drawing from His strength.
Timothy, “Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.”
This Word is for us today. Do not be careless about your health and habits. Make sure your private life lines up with your public ministry. Be faithful, persistent, tenacious, keep reading the Word, teaching it to others and being an example in the outworking of your faith. Because when you put your faith into practice, when you actively use the gift that God has given you - something of great significance will be accomplished through your life - You will save both yourself and others from so much heartache, sin, sorrow and from erroneous teaching. Never underestimate the potential of your life in the church and in the world around you when you put your faith into practice.
Each one of you in this room will stand before God alone, without your spouse, without your parents, without your children, without your degrees, without your house, car, or accomplishments, just you and God. Each one of us will stand at Christ’s judgment seat where He will evaluate everything we did on this earth - how we used our time, our money, our minds, our gifts, and talents. That day will reveal whether you were using all of the gifts and abilities and resources God gave you in a self-centered, self-seeking way or if you used them for His Kingdom. My desire as a pastor and the desire of the leadership of this church is to faithfully proclaim Jesus Christ, telling people about Him, warning everyone and teaching everyone with God’s wisdom so that each of you will be presented mature in your relationship to Christ (Col 1:28). When it is our time to go or when Jesus comes back, will we be ready or will you or I be like one of the foolish virgins He spoke about in Matt 25, totally unprepared for His return. My prayer is that when we go to be with Him or when He returns, our faith will be alive and we will be doing what we’re supposed to be doing so that none of us will be ashamed when we stand before Him on that day.- Sermon notes; PASTOR BRIAN WILLIAMS (IBCV)