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Weekly Word

Entries in Natural Gifts (1)

Tuesday
Mar142017

Serving Selflessly with our Natural Gifts

Several Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 12, 2017.

Today we are going to look at the practical side of serving others.  When we have a firm grasp of why we should serve, and we are committed to do so, we still have to face the area of how we do that.  So today we will focus on serving others with our natural gifts, abilities, and the possessions that we have.  When you have a strong belief in the reality of spiritual gifts for today, it is easy to see natural gifts as something that is lesser and undesirable.  But, this cannot be any further from the truth.  Before we are ready to talk about spiritual gifts we need to learn to surrender our natural abilities to the Lord in service to others.  Now, when we talk about these things, there are some who secretly say in their mind, “I have nothing, and I am nothing.”  This simply is not true.  In fact some of the most generous people in the world are those who have very little in the eyes of the world.  So as we look into this area let’s try to avoid the tendency to focus merely on numbers.

Our first passage will focus on a woman from the city of Joppa in Israel.  Her name was Tabitha and her story is told in Acts 9:36-43.

Natural Gifts vs. Spiritual Gifts

The reason I chose this passage is because we can see both natural gifts and spiritual gifts working in the same story.  Before we get into the passage let’s focus on what I mean by natural gifts.  Natural gifts are those predispositions and abilities that we are genetically inclined towards, which then become skills that we naturally pick up and develop.  I would also include those possessions and wealth that we have acquired through our natural birth to a certain family and the use of our skills and abilities.  By calling them natural, I am not implying that God has nothing to do with them.  He is the creator of Nature and the particular nature of humans.  It is He who designed the abilities of mankind and the reality that over long periods of time our selectivity in breeding and environment would affect our DNA and how it is passed down.  Thus Spiritual gifts by contrast do not have such a natural explanation for their existence.  For example, a man studies the profession of medicine over a long period of time and does well as a doctor helping people to heal.  He should definitely give God thanks for the intellect and health to do what he has done.  But we would still consider this to be a natural event which God has made possible.  Spiritual gifts do not have a similar natural component, but more on that later.

Tabitha apparently had time, money, and skill that she used to serve others around her.  Verse 36 starts with a general description of her service.  She was “full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.”    In verse 39 we are shown a specific example of Tabitha’s service.  Many of the widows, who had gathered in mourning her death, held up the tunics and garments that Tabitha had made for them while she was still alive.  No doubt she did other good works and charitable deeds.  But this one is an example of them.  When Tabitha died it brought sorrow and grief to the people who knew her.  She was an outstanding believer and so the Christians there sent for the apostle Peter to come.  It would seem that they are hoping for a miracle.

Now, as Peter enters the story, we have one of the apostles of Jesus whom God used mightily to preach the Gospel, and also confirmed it with miracles of healing and exorcism.  When Peter is made aware of Tabitha’s death, he doesn’t grab his medical bag and medical reference books.  He is not healing Tabitha by any natural means.  In fact we could be technical and say that Peter isn’t healing her, God is.  But, that would be to press more into that phrase than the Bible does.  The spiritual gift of healing is not based upon genetics, IQ, or skills that one has honed over time.  They are purely a working of the Spirit of God through the faith and actions of his believers.  Peter’s first action is to pray.  Though we are not told, I would think that part of his prayer is asking God if He was willing to bring Tabitha back to life.  At some point when Peter believed that the answer to this was affirmative, he turns to her body and says, “Tabitha, arise.”  She then opens her eyes and sits up.  Peter then lifts her up and presents her to the believers.  Now notice that the natural gifts of Tabitha and the spiritual gift of Peter were very different from each other.  And yet, they are the same in this, both the natural gifts and the spiritual gifts are intended to be used for others.   Yes, they are different from each other, but they both come from the same God so that we can bless each other.

This leads to an invaluable point.  Natural gifts and spiritual gifts should not be in contention with each other, but instead, work together.  This is not just possible, but necessary.  It is possible because they come from the same God.  It is necessary because God intends to use both to help His people.  Do not neglect using your natural gifts for others because you want to be more spiritual.  However, do not neglect to seek spiritual gifts because you are more comfortable with the natural.  We are not choosing one over the other, or trying to get rid of one for the other.  Instead, God intends for them to work hand in hand within the life of an individual and also within the life of the body of believers.  The gifts of Tabitha and Peter are being used to bless believers and provide a witness to the unbelievers.  In fact, ask yourself.  How did Peter get to Joppa from Lydda?  Though God has given him spiritual gifts, Peter still exercises his natural gift of travel in order to get to Joppa (We are not told his method, walking or donkey).  Also, the passage ends with Simon the Tanner, a business man in Joppa, providing a place for Peter to stay.  Thus it is the natural gifts of Simon that allow for the spiritual gifts of God to work through Peter.  Just as our spirit and body are designed to work in harmony, so our natural gifts and spiritual gifts should work in harmony too.

We can fail to use our natural gifts for others

Let’s go to 1 Timothy 6:17-19 now.  I want to be careful to keep this from being all about money.  The use of our money is one area of resource in our life.  We have many others such as time, skills, experience, and knowledge.  However, wealth is one that can have a very strong leverage on our heart.  Thus the apostle Paul tells Timothy to command the rich to use their wealth for good works.  Now I purposefully picked this passage because it uses the word, “command.”  The Lord Jesus , in Matthew 19:21, teaches us to lay up treasure in heaven by using our earthly wealth to help others.  The point is that some of them were rich in wealth, but neglected to ask the question, “But am I rich in good works.”  Have I banked up treasure in heaven?  I have worked so hard to bank up money on this earth, but what about when I am gone here?  What if I lose it all tomorrow?  Thus the motives of the rich Christian are challenged.  They can neglect to use these natural gifts to serve others because they have become “haughty” ( a word that means high-minded).  An attitude that somehow I am the lucky one and you are not, can lead to stinginess and selfishness.  It is easy to forget that our abilities and placement in life are not all our own.  Much of it we were given.  Regardless, we will be held accountable for what we did with what we had.  The second reason given is that we can put our trust in our riches and abilities.  We can think that they will always hold us up.  Even if our money never fails as we live this life, the time will come for our death.  Our money will not be able to help us in that day.  When we stand before God, our amassing of money on earth will not impress God.  It will do the exact opposite.  Riches are often “here today and gone tomorrow.”  When I go to God will I go as a poor man (that is no heavenly treasure)?  Don’t let pride and false trust cause you to be stingy concerning others.  This is not about money only.  We can use our abilities and experience in life to help others who do not have them.  Even networking is a way of serving one another.  The reason for your gifts is not for you to consume them yourself.  They are not some kind of cosmic reward.  They are intended to enable you to take care of your family, friends and loved ones, and those who God brings to your attention.

God gives the believer freedom

Now let’s look at Galatians 5:13-15.  We finish this sermon with this passage precisely because it helps us understand the earlier word “command.”  The same apostle is writing both passages.  In 1 Timothy he tells Timothy to command the rich to be rich in good works.  But to the Galatians Paul emphasizes that God’s goal for his people is freedom.  Ultimately He wants us to choose to serve each other freely.  Thus we have a choice to make.  The first choice is whether or not we are going to follow Jesus or not.  It is to those who want to be his disciples that Jesus says, “lay up treasures in heaven.”  He is not trying to control us, but rather, he is trying to make it very clear that if we are really following him and growing to become like him, we will use our natural gifts to serve others.  Consequently, if we are not using our natural gifts to serve others, then we are not following Jesus and becoming like him.  This brings us to the second part of freedom.

Yes, we are free to choose, but we cannot choose the effects of that choice also.  Being free does not remove consequences.  Thus when you hear the idea that we should be free to “sin,” and that God is being judgmental to say that certain things are wrong, remember that God does not control choices.  We actually live in a world where people are free to sin.  When someone wants to steal, cheat, or murder, there is no angel of death that shows up and strikes them dead.  Yes, God could do this, but He doesn’t.  We are free to sin and free to do righteousness.  But they both have consequences in the natural and in the spiritual that you can’t control.  Let me give you a hypothetical situation.  Suppose tomorrow our society completely rejects the idea of marriage and an exclusive, sexual relationship.  It is done so strongly that those who promote exclusivity and marriage are seen as something worse than a pedophile is to us today.  Now fast forward in time 200, even 400 years later.  No one is alive who even remotely understands the concept of sexual exclusivity.  Picture a young man or woman who falls in love with someone for the first time.  It is reciprocated by the other and they are sexually intimate.  But, a month later, one or the other, decides they have had enough with you and leave you to be intimate with someone else.  Here’s the point.  You cannot tell me that the individual who is left behind won’t be hurt, and emotionally injured.  Of course they know that it is supposed to be okay.  But, that won’t make their heart hurt any less.  Thus they will eventually move on and a certain softness will die in their heart as they embrace the way of the world.  My point is that sin still hurts even when we try to define it out of existence.  Yes, you are free to sin.  But God knows that sin destroys us in every way.  It destroys relationships, and societies.  In fact sin touts itself as freedom, but in truth it is always chains.

Thus in verse 13, Paul gives the overarching principle that those who are following Jesus will, “serve one another in love.”  Now God is not going to tell you how much, how long, to whom, etc…  You are free to choose.  However, you are also free to pray about how much, how long, to whom you will serve.  The practicality is that you cannot be “God” to everyone.  He does not intend you to be the sole source for others.  You can only give so much, help so many people, and give so much of your time.  The point is serving, not the amount itself.  So a very biblical case can be made for a spherical understanding of our love.  Those in our immediate family are our primary point of service.  They are those whom God has given to us in order to serve.  The next circle is made of our friends, co-workers, and neighbors.  They are a secondary point of service.  The last circle takes in the whole world, but is best described as those whom God, in His mysterious ways, connects us to in one way or another. 

As I said earlier, we can pray and ask God for help and direction in how to use our natural gifts.  We must do this precisely because they are limited.  Thus even our natural gifts can be directed and led by the Holy Spirit to help us grow in serving others.  It is God who knows what they need and He can give us wisdom and skill in serving one another.

Let me close with sharing a verse from 1 Corinthians 10:13, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  When we only live for ourselves or our family, we fall short of the glory of God.  So take some inventory today of your natural gifts.  Quit saying that you don’t have anything.  In fact you might do better to work at it from the other side of the problem.  Instead of looking at your resources first, lift up your eyes and start seeing the need.  Then, out of love for God and them, ask yourself, “What can I do to help them?”  That is the best place to start because love always finds a way to serve others.

Serving with our natural gifts audio