Maximizing our effectiveness
The common expression “It’s not what you say, but how you say it” reminds us of a key biblical principle on the use of our spiritual gifts. The apostle Paul, when writing to the saints in Rome, expressed this same thought. Note Romans 12:8, “…he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Note the previous caution in verse 3 of this chapter where each of us is told “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly.” God not only desires that we exercise our gifts, but that we do so with the right attitude. In other words, we are to use our spiritual gifts in the right “spirit.”
The Spirit and the flesh
This brings up an interesting question: Can one use his spiritual gift in the wrong spirit? The Scriptures give us the answer: yes, we can. Gifts can be exercised with the wrong attitude, energized by the fallen flesh and not by the Spirit of God within us. The epistle of 1 Corinthians demonstrates this abuse of gifts. The Corinthians were motivated by carnality and selfish interest. Note how the context of chapter 12 sets the stage for the powerful verses of chapter 13. Selfish attitudes regarding our spiritual gifts must be recognized and replaced with a heart motivated by love. The first three verses of chapter 13 drive home this principle. Paul states that when public speaking, prophecy, and giving are exercised—even when exercised to their ultimate level—they are worthless without love. Biblical love is inherently selfless and sacrificial.
We are now at the core principle for the use of our spiritual gifts: The gifts of the Spirit must be exercised in accordance with the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit is the very character of Christ. Just as the gifts are listed for us in at least four locations in Scripture, so is the fruit. In addition to Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit is found in Ephesians 4:22- 5:11, Colossians 3:5-15, and James 3:13-18. In each case, the fruit of the Spirit is contrasted with the works of the flesh. This is significant because our natural temptation is to act out of the flesh. Paul gives us an example of this in Philippians 1:14-17, where preaching is exercised out of false and fleshly motives instead of out of love.
Given, not earned
The term “gifts” should help us have the proper attitude in their use. These abilities are from God; their distribution has nothing to do with us. Therefore, the profitable exercise of gift does not exalt the human instrument but only the Giver of the gifts. We cannot take any personal glory in the use of our gifts and still be motivated by love, for love does not seek its own glory. We have been “gifted” by God’s grace. It is entirely His favor toward us. How much more should we use these gifts as He has asked us to, waiting on His Spirit’s power and enabling to function through these gifts.
Recognizing this will eliminate the wrong attitudes that often permeate our use of the gifts. We will no longer be jealous of others’ gifts. We will not be discontent with our own gifts. We will not allow our gifts to lie dormant or abused in their practice. The bottom line is that we should be humbled by God’s gift to us and seek to exalt Him by using the gifts in a way that reflects the fruit of the Spirit. Remembering that the gifts are entirely of Him should cause us to wait on His power from on high to profitably exercise them.
An account of our stewardship
We often wonder what Christ will judge us for at the Judgment Seat of Christ. We know that our sin is not before Him—He has put all our sin out of His sight and out of His remembrance by His blood. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: we will be judged by Christ—not for sin, but with regards to the motives, attitudes, and quality of our service. I could imagine a line of questioning from the Lord on this subject as I stand before Him.
• Did you identify which spiritual gifts I gave you? • Did you develop those gifts to their fullest extent for the most profit to My body?
• Did you exercise these gifts for your glory or for My glory?
• Did you use these gifts in a spirit of love for the saints?
• Did you exercise these gifts in your own strength or wait on My strength to flow through you?
When writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul gave some further principles related to the use of spiritual gifts in chapter 4. Verse 16 of this section presents the metaphor of the human body, where every joint supplies its support and function to make the body whole and healthy. I appreciate the language used here of each joint, or each believer in the body, supplying not receiving. The focus of spiritual gifts is the edification of the other saints. Thus, as we gather with the local body of believers, our attitude is to be that of giving, and not getting. What a difference it would be if each child of God ministered to the local assembly using a developed spiritual gift, motivated by love, and seeking the edification of the other saints.
A final lesson
As a young man in my mid-twenties, I was asked to lead the singing at our Easter Conference in our local assembly in Charleston, South Carolina. The speaker was John Bramhall of Charlotte, North Carolina. As a young boy raised in New England, I had heard Mr. Bramhall preach many times and was eagerly awaiting his uplifting ministry that week-end. We sat together in the front row ready to start the meeting. As I reviewed the hymns we would sing, I noticed that Mr. Bramhall appeared to be uneasy, as if he were very nervous. He seemed unsettled, repeatedly crossing his legs and arms, occasionally opening his Bible and then shutting it again, only to pick it up once more. I leaned over to Mr. Bramhall and asked if he felt okay. He responded, “I’m always full of butterflies before I speak, but, once behind the pulpit, facing the saints, my heart is filled with peace as I open my mouth and begin.” John was in seventies at this time, a seasoned, veteran preacher with a finely-developed spiritual gift. The lesson I learned that day has followed me through life: No matter how mature you may be, or how developed your spiritual gift may be, it must always be exercised with a spirit of dependence upon God for His enabling power and wisdom. Human experience and self-confidence will leave our ministry and service for Christ empty and unedifying.
Remember: our spiritual gifts are gifts from God, to be exercised out of the fruit of the Spirit who also provides the enabling power for the edification of the body of Christ. We are all accountable to God as stewards of His grace for the biblical use of our spiritual gifts. The attitude and motivation involved in the use of our gifts will be revealed in eternity as that of wood, hay, and stubble, or gold, silver, and precious stones. May the apostle’s words to the saints in Corinth challenge our hearts as well: “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (1 Cor. 3:10b).