Our Gifts (part 2) - “As each has received a gift”
- As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1Pet. 4:10).
Introduction. Abilities and strengths are among our most prized possessions. They allow us to accomplish things with little difficulty and often bring praise for our efforts - a subject at school where the A’s came easily, a sport where winning was easy, a hobby where mastery came easy. Everyone can do some things better than most others around them and these abilities are the gifts we have received. There are two ways to view these natural abilities and strengths. Godly Christians see them as gifts from God: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us,” (Rom. 12:6), while those with no faith or love for God see their natural gifts as their own special possession to use as they desire.
The purpose of today’s discussion is to help us assess our attitudes toward our gifts. As we look back to the days of our youth, we often get a clearer picture. In school, intelligence, strength, wealth, beauty, or popularity were among the most desired gifts. They brought success, popularity and ease to those who possessed them. Very few saw their gifts as a means to help and lift others. What about us? Did we see our natural gifts as given only ourselves or to help others?
When Jesus first met the apostles, they were among the group that saw their gifts as their own. They saw their abilities as the means to rise above others and become the greatest. While alone on the road, Jesus became aware of this weakness and called it to their attention. “‘What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?’ But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.” (Mk. 9:33-34). While their silence tells us they knew Jesus would not approve, they still did it. What they had learned in their youth was still a driving force as adults.
What abilities did they use in their “dispute?” Peter could have proclaimed Jesus changed my name to a “rock” while John might have answered “I am the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Nathaniel could have chimed in that Jesus told me “I am an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” (Jn. 1:42; 13:23; 1:47). Each of these statements could have been misinterpreted and used in this way. It may have been an entirely different conversation. Perhaps they used the very things they had used as children: intelligence, skill or prowess. Though we don’t know what they used to make their own claims to greatness, the fact that they used them in this way led Jesus to this warning: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mk. 9:35).
Jesus wanted His disciples to see their gifts as the means to serve others, not to dominate, or use them to bring their own glory or success. Some 30 years later as Peter wrote the words quoted in the title of this article, it is evident that he had learned this lesson. First, he had learned regardless of how gifted we are, we are only stewards. The greatest genius, gifted athlete or musical prodigy is only a steward of what God has given them. Since all gifts came from God they were not given simply to be selfishly used for our own benefit. God doesn’t condemn using our gifts in our own lives, He simply expects us to use them to “minister them to one another.” When we all see ourselves as stewards using the gifts God gave us in His service and for His glory, the local church where we are members and the home where we are parents will be greatly blessed.
Jesus led the way. No one has ever possessed gifts as great as those of our Lord Jesus Christ. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing has been made.” Though He became flesh, He was always aware of His power and authority: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, (Jn. 1:1-3; 13:3). Yet as the sinless Son of God, He was unselfish, using His abilities to bless, strengthen, and ultimately to save those who were weaker. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28). God would also be a similar example of someone with abilities far greater than our own using them to bless and help us. Those who are still in His image and likeness will feel exactly the same way.
Yet those living in rebellion against God scoff at such things. They see all their gifts as their own, gained through their own hard work and good fortune. Since they see gifts as the path to success and greatness, they prize those gifts that bring the most return. Those in this world consider the greatest gifts to be things like beauty, intelligence, strength, wealth or power. Those who are blessed with these gifts use them to make life easier for themselves and expect to use them for an entire lifetime to build success. Yet God warned that these things are no guarantee for success. If we seek to use them solely for our own benefit, our goals may never be reached. “The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all.” (Eccl. 9:9).
When our gifts are seen as a stewardship to be used for God, no matter what happens in this life, God promised there will be a reward. Those who refuse to serve and honor God with their gifts only have time and chance to base their hopes upon. An accident or an unforeseen event beyond our control can destroy all potential benefits these gifts might have gained. Thus God told the man of wealth who had great plans to use his gift of wealth for his own selfish ends: “This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” Jesus ended the parable with this conclusion “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Lk. 12:20-21).
There is a simply way to see ourselves clearly in this matter. If asked what is the greatest gift God has given to us, how would we respond? There are many wrong answers, but there is only one right answer! There is one supreme gift that rises above all others. It is not wisdom, might or wealth, but it is our knowledge and understanding of God. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me,’” (Jer. 9:23-24). Those who have accepted this truth and live by it are insulated from any problems that could arise from our other gifts. When building a good relationship with God is our greatest and most prized possession, we have already gained the greatest gift that can be found in this life.
This is the exact point Paul was making when he said: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” (1Tim. 6:6-7). When we prize our understanding and knowledge of God as our greatest treasure, we are on the threshold of the “godliness with contentment that brings great gain”. Since we brought nothing into this world, we are stewards of all God has given to us. The godly are those who live their lives in gratitude and trust in Him, looking to Him for all their decisions and searching the Scriptures to gain even more knowledge and understanding. That godliness is what they will take with them when they leave this life. This is exactly why we should not allow the temporary gifts given to us as a stewardship to blind us to the greatest gift of all. We must never forget: Everything we use for God we keep into eternity and everything we use only for ourselves is lost to us forever the moment we die.
Conclusion. The precious gifts we have been given by God and cultivated by our efforts are priceless gifts of grace and favor from God. In order to show God how grateful we are for these gifts we must share them, using them not only for our own purposes, but also at every opportunity to bless, strengthen and encourage those who need our help with these things.
- “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mt.16:25-26).