God's Gift Distribution Program (Continued)
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Sunday, March 8, 2009 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1254
Pastor Don Horban

Romans 12:6-13 - “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; [7] if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; [8] the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Surely it is a wonderful indication of the kind of God we serve that He not only saves us, undeserving, sinful, enemies of God that we are, but then gifts us for service in His church and kingdom. And we’re meant to see any gifts of service we possess through the same lens that we perceive our salvation. That is, we didn’t earn any of them. Like our salvation, the gifts given to us are gifts - there is a givenness to them. That’s why Paul begins his teaching on the gifts with that great line in verse 6 - “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us....”

Last week we looked at the gifts of prophecy, service, teaching, and exhortation. Today we continue with contributing generously, leadership, and acts of mercy.

1) THE GIFT OF CONTRIBUTING GENEROUSLY - Romans 6a and 8b - “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them....[8b]....the one who contributes, in generosity....”

There is a sense in which these are words about money and material gifts and there is a sense in which Paul is talking about something bigger than the giving and sharing of material wealth. There is something in these particular instructions that apply to the proper kind of heart and attitude being manifested in all God-given gifts to the church. And we’ll come to that in just a minute.

There is a reason I have deliberately linked Paul’s introductory phrase in verse 6 - “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us....” - repeating it in full as we come to each new gift being discussed in Paul’s short list. Especially when we come to the gift of contributing generously it is easy to get confused with who is actually doing the giving. When I disperse some of my own wealth to someone in need I can easily conclude I am the giver and the less fortunate brother or sister is the receiver. And, on the earthly underbelly of things, that’s just the way it is. My wallet or bank account - however the money is transacted - is emptier than it was before. I am the donor.

But Paul reminds me this is a limited, and mostly ignorant view. God, being very patient and gracious, will allow me for a time to treat my wealth as my own. I can, for a limited time, manage my wealth as though I were lord of all I possess. But I’m reminded, over and over in the Scriptures, that this delusion is only a temporary concession to my sinfulness. Eventually the lie of material satisfaction catches up with all of us - 1 Timothy 6:7 - “....for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” And Jesus, more than once, reminded His closest followers that the true Master and Lord of all will return to His stewards and demand an accounting of their stewardship.

There’s something else here. I think we know all Christians are to be givers. There is something about conversion in general that should turn us all outward. Paul talks about this general giving heart in Ephesians 4:28 - “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” The point isn’t that we were all thieves before our conversion. The point is that conversion makes the same change in all of us as it does for literal thieves. It turns us from the kind of corruption that pulls material goods inward to the kind of ministering heart that pushes material goods outward.

One final thought. I said earlier that there was a sense in which the instructions surrounding this gift are about money and a sense in which they were about something bigger than material goods. Now we come to that bigger part.

Paul has an interesting line that he tacks on to this gift of giving with generosity: “....the one who contributes, in generosity....”(12:8b). Some translations have “simplicity” rather than generosity. The word is “haplotes” (hap-lot-ace), and can refer to any act that is single, or simple, or sincere, or moved by generosity. And the obvious heart of the issue is the attitude of the giver. The gift itself is to be generous, while the heart of the giver is to be simple - with no mixture of motives. The generosity isn’t to be polluted by any form of selfishness or manipulation.

What’s particularly important is we know that the teaching of Jesus is exactly the same as Paul’s in emphasis: Matthew 6:1-4 - “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. [2] Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. [3] But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, [4] so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

These words from Jesus form the perfect commentary on Paul’s remarks in Romans 12 about giving. And the first thing Jesus says is we all have to “beware” of something deeply rooted in our beings. And very significantly, just like Paul, Jesus pinpoints this problem of a pure or single heart specifically when He addresses the subject of giving. I can give a generous amount but have a shriveled heart.

This is what Paul means when he says we must give with no ulterior motive other than sheer, grateful, humble, generosity. I’m not giving anything to have a voice or get my way or put someone into my debt, or even to get a tax receipt. There is no other motive than single, or simple generosity.

2) THE GIFT OF LEADING WITH ZEAL - Romans 12:6a and 8b - “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them....[8b]....the one who leads, with zeal....”

Ministry doesn’t come easily, even for gifted people. That’s why Paul describes the offering of our lives unto the Lord as a sacrifice (12:1). People have to be recruited and motivated and nurtured. And, in a church of any size, that takes leaders.

There are places where we at least get hints of the diversity of the kind of leadership needed in the church: 1 Timothy 5:17 - “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”When Paul says “especially” those who labor in preaching and teaching he implies not everyone who gives leadership does it through preaching and teaching.

The fact is, every ministry in the church takes some kind of leadership. And Paul tells us something very important about the way the Holy Spirit wants to equip and use leaders in the church - leaders in Bible studies, leaders in the nursery, leaders among the ushers and greeters, leaders in food distribution, leaders in the library. The leader - any leader - needs to keep his or her passion. He or she can’t be in it just as a job or assignment.

And the reason is clear. In this world, and in any church in this world, leadership only looks glamorous from someone else’s perspective. All who are in leadership know their leadership role isn’t quite what they thought it would be when they took on that role. Leadership, especially in today’s world, is something else. There are a thousand things happening every week in this church to wear out anyone in leadership. Keep your zeal. Keep in touch with the Holy Spirit.

3) THE GIFT OF CHEERFUL ACTS OF MERCY - Romans 12:6a and 8b - “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them......[8b]....the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

I think you can see that all Christians are to be doing all the things Paul talks about in this passage. It gets very hard to distinguish between serving and showing mercy. The same with leading and exhorting, etc. But perhaps we get an additional clue about the nature of special spiritual gifts in this description of showing mercy with cheerfulness. I think Paul means we will each have areas where our spiritual inclinations naturally start to bubble.

We must all care about those needing mercy in our midst and within our reach. But there are some people who glow when those situations arise. We all are to care. But there are others who just can’t help but CARE! And God made them that way. God calls us to love mercy by the way He has shown us His mercy. And he calls Christians to love showing mercy just they have loved receiving mercy:

John 13:34 - “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

John 15:12 - “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

This love is a merciful love. It’s love for the needy, the guilty, and the broken. This love is the kind of love that John says God is. This is the kind of love that gets placed into us when God’s seed abides in us.

Let Cedarview be a place where this kind of love grows. And, as with all these gifts, Lord help us all to remember it isn’t having the gifts that gets the job done. It’s using the gifts that brings joy to the church and glory to Jesus Christ.