Today is Day 29 of 40 Days of Purpose when we begin to look at and to put into action God's fourth purpose for our lives: Ministry – you were shaped for serving God. If you've read today's chapter of The Purpose Driven Life book (and if you haven't got one yet you can now order it from the church bookstall) you'll have been reminded of these four points from the Bible about ministry or service. Look up at the big screen or the monitors:
a) You were created to serve God
Now I hope you've all been learning the memory verses as part of 40 Days. It is vital that we are reading, applying and praying through God's Word each day if we are to grow; and memorizing God's Word helps us to have it in our hearts and in our minds and therefore helps us to respond to situations in a Christ like way. Now do you remember the first memory verse from week one? Anybody willing to recite it out loud?! Because this tells us that we were created to serve God: Ephesians 2:10. Let's read it aloud together:
'For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.'
b) You were saved to serve God
We are not saved by service, but we are saved for service. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 1:9:
'God has saved us and called us to a holy life [serving God] – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.'
And we serve out of deep gratitude to God. In Romans 12:1 Paul urges us
'…in view of God's mercy, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God…'
c) You are called to serve God
Therefore a non-serving Christian is a contradiction in terms. All Christians are called to full time Christian service. Not just those who are on a church staff. Every Christian is a minister and when you are serving you are ministering. And each of us here has a part to play in this church. If you are a Christian then God has given you at least one spiritual gift to use to serve others, to build up the rest of the body as well as God–given natural abilities (see Ro 12:6 & 1 Co 12:7): Look at the memory verse for this week from 1 Peter 4:10. Let's read it out loud together:
'Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…'
d) You are commanded to serve God
Look at what Jesus said in Mark 10:43-45 (and note slave of all):
"…whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a rasom for many.”
Christian service isn't optional. Last week we were focusing on the fact that we were created to become like Christ. Jesus came to serve and to give and those two verbs should define our life too. Maturity is for ministry. Sometimes we prefer 'serve us' to 'service', but like Jesus we are to serve and to give. The gifts God has given us are for the benefit of his church & for his glory & not for our status. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, 'We [Paul & Apollos] are only servants...Each one of us does the work which the Lord gave but it is God who gives the growth.' (1 Co 3:5-6) Which brings us to Romans 12:3-8, and to my first main heading.
1. THINK OF YOURSELF WITH SOBER JUDGEMENT v3
How do you think of yourself? Too highly? You think everything in the ministry you're involved in depends on you and that the contribution of others is actually not that valuable. Or too lowly in the wrong sense – worthless and useless? You're struggling with a poor self-image and think you have nothing much to contribute. Well look at v3 of Romans 12:
'For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.'
Paul, with the authority of his apostleship (by the grace given me), commands every one of his readers to have a correct view of themselves, 'in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you'. In other words we are to have a correct view of ourselves in accordance with the gospel. This is part of what it means to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (v2) as we put into practice giving the whole of our lives back to God, for his use and glory (v1). We are not to boast about ourselves - the gifts God has given us, or our service and think of ourselves as superior to others in the church or think that we don't need the others and their ministry. V5, which was our memory verse two weeks ago, says (anyone remember?): (let's say it together)
'…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.'
We belong to one another and we need one another. Nor are we to think of ourselves as worthless with nothing to contribute to the body. Paul literally writes this in v3:
'Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but rather think of yourself with sober thinking.'
Thinking of yourself with sober judgement means to think of yourself without exaggeration or speculation. It means to think of yourself biblically. We are therefore to evaluate ourselves in the light of the gospel. When we see ourselves in the perspective of God's mercy (12:1), in the honest and unflattering light of the gospel as taught in the first 11 chapters of Romans, we see that we are sinners who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ alone and that all boasting must end. A renewed mind is a humble mind like Christ's. There is no room for pride. But we also see from those chapters how much we are loved and valued by God, so none of us are worthless with nothing to contribute but precious, with at least one gift given by God to use to build up his church. So we are to think of ourselves soberly both according to the gospel and as one of many parts of the body of Christ, an analogy which Paul uses to teach humility and interdependence, which brings us to my next heading:
2. FOR … WE WHO ARE MANY FORM ONE BODY v4-6
In the original, the word 'for' linked v4 to v3. So v3-6 read like this:
'For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. FOR just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.'
Look at your body for a moment. It has many members which do not all have the same function – feet, legs, hands, arms, eyes, ears, nose, mouth and many others which you can't see from the outside – heart, lungs, kidneys etc. And just as your body has, and needs, different members with different functions, so the church has, and needs, people with different gifts.
JPC has and needs people with different gifts. Some of you might be thinking yes it has but does it need more with different gifts and therefore does it need me? There are many people here with gifts – how can I play a part? But the answer is that yes the church does need you and the gift or gifts God has given you. As a church grows so does the ministry and so the need for more servants.
For example, the crèches both on Sundays and at Tuesday Group need more team members, the uniformed groups which have contact with many unchurched children and young people need more volunteers, the Home Groups now have 600 members which means we will need more groups and more leaders. Focus and the international student ministry continue to grow. The PA, video, welcome and sidesmen's teams always need more volunteers, as do Mothers and Toddlers which provides an outreach opportunity to many in the community. There are needs in administration and in computing. Do pick up a leaflet from the ministry fair if you want to know more.
There are also, no doubt, many ministries that we're not doing at the moment that we should be and maybe you have been given the gifts to be involved in that – well do let us know, write down your suggestions, discuss it with us. God wants his lost children found and the church to be built up and he wants to use you. You were shaped for serving God. S.H.A.P.E. He's given you at least one spiritual gift. He's given you a heart, a passion for a particular ministry. He's given you natural abilities. He's given you a personality. He's allowed you to go through experiences which will help you to minister to others. Will you serve him and his people? The church will be missing out if you are not willing or if you feel you've nothing to contribute.
Now it's a real privilege to be part of a church where there is so much serving going on and much of it behind the scenes. But God wants every single one of us who is a Christian to be involved and to improve our service. The church will also suffer if we boast about our gifts and ministry as that leads to divisions. The emphasis in the Bible is on serving in ministry and it is God who gives us the gifts in the first place. So there's no reason to boast.
Furthermore the gift or gifts that we've been given do not belong solely to us as an individual, but rather to the whole of the church. 'Each member belongs to all the others', says Paul. Again if we understand this we will not think too highly of ourselves and we will build one another up. You see just as we're to give ourselves fully to God (Ro 12:1), so we're also to give ourselves fully to one another.
Ministering to one another will involve meeting together and one opportunity to do that this week is on Wednesday at the Central Prayer Meeting at 8pm in the church hall. We'll be showing a video of further teaching on ministry by Rick Warren, discussing it from the Bible in small groups and praying for the ministry of JPC. Last time 150 people came. Do be there this week if you can and there'll be another opportunity to see the ministry fair and for you to begin think and pray through your shape for ministry.
And that brings me to my final heading:
3. WE HAVE DIFFERENT GIFTS – USE THEM! (TO SERVE OTHERS) v6-8
Look at those verses:
'We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.'
This is not an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts. Others are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 such as gifts of healing and administration. In Ephesians 4 Paul mentions the gift of evangelism. But for now let's look at the ones mentioned in v6-8.
First, Paul states that we have different gifts, according to the grace given us. He's saying that just as God's grace had made him an apostle (v3), so God's grace bestows different gifts on the other members of Christ's body. Therefore, as I said earlier, if you're a Christian God has given you at least one spiritual gift. And he's given us different spiritual gifts for the health and enrichment of the whole body.
Secondly, Paul says use the gift(s) you've been given; use them to serve others in a godly way. If it is prophesying (which is speaking under divine inspiration) let him use it in proportion to his faith or in agreement with his faith. In other words the prophet is to make sure that his message doesn't in any way contradict the Christian faith and therefore God's Word. If it is serving let him serve. This gift of serving may refer specifically to the ministry performed by deacons (lit. servants). But the gift of serving includes a wide variety of ministries. Often they will be in the background but still vital such as stuffing service sheets, serving tea and coffee, catering for Christianity Explored, leaders and choir meals and student suppers. Whatever ministry-gift you've been given, you should concentrate on using it.
If it is teaching, let him teach which involves passing on the truth of the gospel. If you have been given a teaching gift then cultivate it and develop your teaching ministry. If it is encouraging, let him encourage. How the body needs those of you who have the gift of encouragement to encourage us, to encourage us to live out the truth of the gospel, whether the gift is exercised from the pulpit or behind the scenes. If it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously without any ulterior motive. If it is leadership, let him govern diligently meaning with care and perseverance. If it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. To show mercy is to care for anybody who is in need or in distress whether they are refugees, homesick students, the sick and the dying. Sometimes we can show mercy reluctantly as doing so can be draining but Paul exhorts us here to do it cheerfully.
But some of you might be thinking yes but what spiritual gift has God given me? If I don't know how can I use it to serve others? And what area of ministry should I get involved in? Well first of all it needs to be said that that question does not mean that we can't get on straightaway and serve generally wherever there's a general need or opportunity. But how do we discover what our spiritual gift is? We can ask God. James 1:5 says:
'If anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask God.'
We can also ask other Christians. In terms of which ministry area to get involved with and to use that gift in – there is God's call, there is the encouragement of other believers and there is the question of need. As I've already mentioned it can be helpful to look at our shape for ministry – how God has shaped us and then where do we best fit in. During this academic year we hope to offer to help you think through your shape for ministry here in JPC. So do ask about that.
We can also try out some ministries. But often we will discover it by serving in all sorts of ways. We'll then begin to discover our shape and others will see us in action and they'll be able to confirm that shape. Some of you might be facing the question is God calling me to missionary service or to church leadership in this country? I remember being somewhat reluctant to obey God's call until one of the former ministers here spent the whole of the PCC social trying to persuade me to go for ordination. He said to me Jonathan you're nearly 30 what are you going to do with the rest of your life? It's now or never if you're going to go to theological college. And if you won't phone for an application form I will. He did and here I am.
What is God calling you to do for him and his church and for those who are not yet part of his church?
Ministry or service is hard work at times. It involves self sacrifice – the laying down of self and of our lives. But it is also a privilege to serve God and others, a joy, a blessing to be used by God. Are you willing to obey and use the gifts you've been given? Or are you going to waste them? When you get home tonight I challenge you to read the parable of the ten minas from Luke 19. Because how we use what God gives to us here on earth will determine what we're given to do in heaven. Let's conclude by saying the memory verse together again:
'Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…'
Let's pray. Are we willing to be used by God? Are we ready? Paul wrote this to Timothy in 2 Tim 2:21:
'If a man cleanses himself from the latter [from ignoble purposes], he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.'
What do we need to confess and repent of in our lives to be used by God?