Sermon: Making The Most Of God’s Gifts: Re-Gifters
Scripture: Ephesians 3:7-13
Date: September 17, 2017
For the last few weeks we have been looking at what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about using the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to each one of us. Of course, last week we had a wonderful interruption with Jeremy preaching. And so today, we are going to conclude our look at Paul’s words to the Ephesians. And as we start, we need to keep in mind a couple of things. First, the Holy Spirit is an indiscriminate gift giver. Now there are some who will tell you that that isn’t the case, that the Holy Spirit only gives gifts to believers. But I don’t think that is Paul’s understanding. Paul is saying that the gifts are not offered based on belief but that the believing comes when we choose to receive the gifts for ourselves. These are gifts that emanate from the grace and love of God, and those are offered to all of us, regardless of our merit. And so the Spirit’s gifts are unlimited and offered without condition. And then the second thing, and this is essential to the understanding of today’s message, Paul writes about these gifts from prison in Rome, probably while he is waiting his execution. But Paul didn’t write to just the Ephesians about the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, I would suspect that every letter that we have of his, touches on the gifts of the Spirit. Paul knew that the Spirit had poured Spiritual gifts into His life, and he considered it part of his mission to share that with others. So in addition to what he wrote to the Ephesians, he also shared these words with the Corinthians: So three gifts remain for me as I wait in prison. They are faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” So keep that in your mind and let’s begin with prayer.
Now two weeks ago, I talked about my mother’s approach to giving gifts, particularly at Christmas. Which led to many of you, sharing with me about some of the attitudes and traditions around gift giving in your family and a new awareness of how we can use the gifts that the Spirit has given us. That kind of feedback is always so appreciated. So that has encouraged me to share a little more from my family’s lore around the giving and receiving of gifts. When I was a kid I was notorious in my family for the preparation of my Christmas lists. Without realizing it, I took a very Methodist approach to preparing my lists, in that I was very deliberate and methodical. Now in those days the major department stores like Sears, and J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward, always sent out in the mail, usually late summer or early fall, a wonderful toy catalogue. One of the stores, Sears I think, called their catalogue the Wish Book. I would wait all summer for them to arrive. And then I’d spend hours studying those catalogues and when I found a toy that looked like something I might want, I would dog ear that page and move on. Now most of the time the catalogues were very similar, but every once in while there would be something unique in one of those catalogues, and those pages would get double dog-eared. I would also watch the Saturday morning cartoons, more for the toy commercials then the cartoons, and would make a note of the toys that would warrant further investigation. And then around the first of October, I would go through all of the notes and dog-eared pages, and compile a list of about 20 things that I just couldn’t live without that Christmas. Now I tried to limit myself to fairly practical things. After all, why waste list space on items that you would have no practical chance to ever receive? But I always put a couple of big ticket items on the list also, because I was after all, going to send the list to Santa Claus, and everyone knew that the big gifts came from Santa. So my list usually had a lot of model cars on it, and match box cars, and a Hardy Boy and Bronc Burnett book, and anything army (including the latest toy gun). My lists wouldn’t be considered to be politically correct today. And of course, things like footballs and basketballs and baseball gloves were on my list. And every year, one of the big ticket items on the list was some kind of go kart. But no matter how many times I put it on the list, I never got one. However as I got older I realized that there were some problems with my list. First, my list was always based upon what I thought I wanted, and not what I really needed. After all what fun was a list that was based on need, rather than want. It was a wish book, after all. So you would never find any clothes on my list for instance. In fact, if there was a package under the tree that I even remotely suspected was clothes, I would put it aside to be opened last.
Now my mother caught onto that pretty quickly and so she went through a period where she would try to fool me and wrap the toy that she knew I wanted the most in a package that looked like clothes, so I would open it up last. And she would occasionally fool me into saving the best for last, but it was worth it to avoid the premature opening of clothes on Christmas morning. It was bad enough to open clothes at all, but to open clothes among the toy guns and footballs? I’m sure that violated some kind of unwritten law of Christmas.
You always opened what you wanted first and then rushed through opening the stuff you need. And as I was remembering all that, it occurred to me that there are times when I take much the same approach to Spiritual Gifts. I look at the list, and determine which gifts I would really like to have and start praying for those, whether or not those are the ones I really need. After all, borrowing from Paul’s imagery of the body of Christ, it would seem to be better to be a hand, then it is to be a big toe. I don’t know about you but I certainly wouldn’t want to be a big toe, even though that might be what God really needs me to be in the body. Who wants to be a big toe.
And then secondly I learned that often the stuff you think you want and need don’t always make for the best and most enduring gifts. That shiny new toy might be good for a season, but would always give way to one that was shinier or had a cooler sound, just like we replace video games with the next one in the series that has the latest generation graphics. In fact, of all the gifts that I received as a child only two remain with me all these years later, and neither one of them ever appeared on one of my lists. This is one of those. I found him hanging on the Christmas tree when I was 3 or 4 years old and from that time on He was always with me, through good times and bad. Now when I was a kid, my family relocated every 2 or 3 years and I had to leave a lot of friends behind, but my Cinnamon Bear was always there for me no matter what. And though he’s a little worn now, he still has a prominent place in our house and serves as a testimony to the enduring quality of the best gifts. All of those other gifts that I just had to have are long gone now, but the one I really needed – time and again as I was growing up remains all these years later. When we think about these gifts of the Spirit, they are not given to us based upon what we want but rather what we need to truly serve in God’s Kingdom. To have the incredible life that God intends for us. You know the 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth is the continuation of a discussion of spiritual gifts that he started in the 12th chapter where he talks about the importance of all of the gifts in making the body whole. And then in the 13th chapter he singles out those gifts that will endure forever, and concludes the chapter this way: And now these three remain – in other words after all the others have faded away there are three that are eternal. They are, Paul says, “Faith, Hope and Love. But the greatest is love.” Now we mistakenly think that that concludes Paul’s thoughts on these gifts of the Spirit, and so we often fail to go on to the beginning of the 14th chapter. Because I think that some long ago editor inserted a chapter break in the text one line too early. Because here is how Chapter 14 begins. Paul writes: (So) follow the way of love and eagerly desire all the spiritual gifts. You see, I think Paul has studied the catalogue (The Scriptures- and make no mistake the Bible is not a Wish Book) and he has made his list of gifts that are offered by the Spirit and concluded that we should not desire just one of them, but rather desire them all but trust the Spirit to give to us not to satisfy our wants, but rather to satisfy the needs of the whole body, according to the love that God has for all of us. You see, the greatest gifts, the ones that endure forever, are not the ones that come from our imagination and desires and worldly temptations. They are the ones that come from the very heart of God. So follow the way of love and eagerly desire all of the spiritual gifts.
And then thirdly I came to understand that my lists were often about selfishness and even greed. They were all about me. What I needed to receive in order to have a great Christmas. To be a happy child. You see, there was often another step in my list making process as a kid. After I made that initial list and distributed it to my parents and Santa Claus, I didn’t just put it aside. No, I took it out and studied it nearly every day. And I tried to determine which gifts I would probably receive, and I became fixated on those. I even searched the house to see if I could find any of them before Christmas.
One year, when I was five or six years old, the fondest desire of my heart became the dashboard of a fire truck that had a steering wheel and a gear stick and switches that turned on the flashing light and siren. As we moved closer and closer to Christmas, I became more and more convinced that that was going to be under the tree on Christmas morning. And one day before Christmas, when my mother was napping, I decided to search the house and see if I could find it. And sure enough, in one of the closets, I found my fire truck. And I pulled it out and started to play with it, though I didn’t dare turn on the siren, of course. It was just as I imagined it would be. And so I put it back in the closet just the way I found it, but I was found out, and a few days later I got a letter from Santa telling me that my mother had ratted me out and if I didn’t stop searching for presents there wouldn’t be anything under the tree on Christmas morning for me. But sometimes I would become so fixated on one particular item on my list, that Christmas morning would become a great let down if it wasn’t there. Instead of rejoicing in the gifts that were there, I would focus on the one that wasn’t. And I think that Paul is writing to the Corinthians in response to this kind of thinking. You see there were apparently some in the Corinthian community who were focused on one particular gift (apparently the gift of tongues) and claiming that if you didn’t have that particular gift then you weren’t a true disciple. But Paul says, that our Discipleship is not defined by the particular gifts that we are given, but rather our discipleship is defined by how we use the gifts that we are given, whatever they are, to glorify the whole body. We must eagerly desire all the gifts of the Spirit and then make the most of the particular ones we are given.
And that leads to the final point, and if you haven’t heard anything else that I have said in this series of messages, please hear this. The Spirit does not give us these gifts in order to build up ourselves but rather to build up the entire body. You see, these gifts are not intended to give us a comfortable life. The Spirit’s gifts are often dangerous to receive because they are life changing, and instead of bringing comfort, they sometimes bring hardship and pain into our lives. Earlier I said to keep in mind that Paul wrote to the Ephesians from a Roman prison, while awaiting his execution. Well he wasn’t in prison because he had received the gifts of the Spirit. He was there because he never missed an opportunity to pass on those gifts to others. And even from prison he says that he counts it all as joy. You see, the gifts of the Spirit are intended to bring joy no matter what our worldly circumstances might be. In recent years, re-gifting has become more and more popular. In other words taking gifts that we receive that either we don’t want or can’t use and giving them as gifts to someone else. I suspect that most of us have done that from time to time. And I have to confess, I have mixed feelings about the practice. But it is surely better then taking those unwanted or unusable gifts and placing them on a shelf somewhere or pack it away in a box, never to be used by anyone. And so instead we re-gift them. We give them to someone who we think will like them and use them right away. In a sense we pass on the opportunity to enjoy the gift that we can’t or won’t embrace. But while I have struggled with the practice some, as I have contemplated these gifts of the Spirit, I have come to realize that re-gifting is actually a Spiritual practice. Only when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, it is re-gifting with a twist. The Spirit gives us gifts that we are intended to re-gift. Because by re-gifting we go from being the recipient of God’s great gifts to the giver of those gifts. Re-gifting, when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, happens when we move from receiving the gifts to becoming those gifts for others. Paul describes it this way, when he writes: That though he has often done the very thing he hates in his life, now near the end of his life he is being poured out as a drink offering for others, and because of that he will receive a crown of righteousness. Spiritual re-gifting in essence then is the process of: Receiving in order that we might give, so that we may ultimately receive even more. In both the Old Testament books of Genesis and Zechariah, the Jewish people are told that God has blessed them so that they might be a blessing to others. In New Testament theology it describes the path of Discipleship. God blesses. We receive. Then we share our blessings with others. And God continues to pour His blessing on others. Through us. Through re-gifting others then see Christ in us. For three years as they traveled with Jesus, the Holy Spirit poured the gifts of the Spirit into Peter and John and the other Apostles but they were content to follow Jesus, hold onto their gifts, as He poured Himself into others. It was only after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, on the Day of Pentecost, that the Disciples became re-gifters and the church took off. The power of the Holy Spirit was the power to re-gift. And so the gifts of the Spirit come with the power to, and the expectation that we will re-gift them. So think about it. When we worship, we are essentially re-gifting the praise and joy that God has shared with us. God pours praise and joy and worship in our hearts so that we might give it back to others. Worship is re-gifting. And our God pours an abundance of resources into our lives and we give them back to Him when we share them with others. Our tithes and our offerings are re-gifting. And then God pours love and grace and compassion into our lives, and we give it back through our service. By being poured out as a drink offering. Our service in God’s Kingdom is how we re-gift the gifts of the Spirit. In essence the Spirit pours these gifts into our lives with such abundance so that loving our neighbor and worshiping our God and giving our tithe is no longer a decision on our part, it becomes who we are. We become re-gifters. So we don’t just come to worship, we become worship. Did you come this morning thinking who can I share worship with today? And we don’t just receive joy. We become joy. And we aren’t just loved, we become God’s love. And we don’t decide whether we’re going to place our offerings in the plate, whether we’re going give our tithe, we become the very essence of generosity and giving. And we don’t just serve out of a sense of obligation, we become, in Paul’s words, “all things to all people”. Disciples are the ones who receive these gifts of the Spirit and rather than simply rejoicing in the gift, our first thought is who can I share this with. How can I re-gift the love and grace and joy and abundance that the Spirit has given me. The spirit gives us great gifts in order that we might re-gift them in the world. And the ministries of the church become the avenues through which we re-gift the gifts of the Spirit.
As we close this morning, I want you to turn over the order of worship insert in your bulletin and there you will find a toolbox. Basically it asks two questions. As we have moved through this series of messages and studied and prayed on your own, what gifts do you believe that the Spirit has given you? What’s on your list? And then secondly, how is God calling you to be those gifts to and for others? How can you become those gifts? How can you re-gift the Spirit’s gifts for others? How can you become Christ in this world?