Calling: Our Unique Mission
One of the questions I have seen many Christians struggle with over the years is: “What is my purpose or value within the church?” “Do I have a unique mission that involves more than just giving money or handing out bulletins?” Or some might even ask, “Why am I even here?”
In other words, we all want to be wanted and needed. We all want to have a purpose, that provides some value to the world around us. But, quite often, nobody helps us figure this out. So, our society has created a cheap substitute. Amass toys, goods, and experiences so that life to numb the pain. Do whatever makes you feel good.
There is a big problem…it doesn’t work. It leaves us feeling empty, meaningless, like we have wasted our lives. We know deep down inside that we were made for something more, but what is it? Most of us just don’t know…And so, we echo Switchfoot’s song, Something More, “Finding out his old dreams aren't panning out. All this time, he's never been awake before. …There's gotta be something more than what I'm living for.”
The life of a disciple of Jesus is like a tree. The roots are our identity as children of God. The trunk is the servant’s heart of Christ. Today we are going to look at the branches and leaves of the tree…our calling or mission from God. Our calling is how we reach beyond ourselves and bring comfort not only to members of Christ’s church, but also to the world around us. We are each empowered by the Holy Spirit in a unique way that God has particularly designed us for.
Today we will see that we are enabled to live lives of worship as we embrace the unique gifts and calling that God has put on our hearts as we have been called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, following him.
The immediate context of is 11:25-36. There Paul tells us that all people are bound to disobedience, and because of this, they are bound to eternal damnation, the wrath of God. But…God is full of mercy. The Father sent his one and only Son to bear the eternal wrath of God that we deserve. This mercy blows our minds and amazes us. Therefore, Paul ends chapter 11 with an incredible doxology, a praise for the incredible mercy of God given to us in Christ Jesus.
This doxology tells us that God is all in all, without him there is nothing. This should lead us to think about Jesus Christ. God came to earth…the God who knows more than we can even imagine, who makes decisions that are perfect, who has everything he needs. All things are His, yet he came down to save us and love us even when we were his enemies.
This leads Paul to say what he says in chapter 12. It to him is the logical conclusion of what God has done for us. If God had such great mercy on us, what should our reaction or response be?
Answering God's mercy (vv. 1-2)
Answering God's mercy (vv. 1-2)
Have you ever heard the phrase, “I’m a self-made man?” What does this phrase imply? That no one has helped me. Everything that I am and will be was brought about by my own actions.
Let’s ask a question, “Who owns us?” If I own myself then I will do what I want to do. But if God owns me then I will do what he wants me to do. Paul understands that he has been redeemed by the mercies of God. He has been bought by the price of Jesus Christ, so he is not his own, Jesus own him. So…he will do whatever God wants.
What we should do
What we should do
We are to give our bodies, our lives, to God. Why? Because of what God has done for us. We are not our own anymore, we are His. So, we should present or give ourselves to Him. What does this mean? We must die to self-ownership and self-rule? We are not our own.
Because we have died with Christ in his crucifixion and been buried with him, we must die to our Christless life. We have been born again, we are no longer dead, but alive, and thus we are living beings, we have not been judged for our sin because Jesus Christ was slaughtered as our substitute or sacrifice, therefore, we should offer our entire beings to God as a living sacrifice. In other words, we must live in a new way.
Why we should do it
Why we should do it
There are two very important words that are translated as spiritual worship. The word spiritual means logical or rational. The other word is worship, which means service or ministry to God. So, Paul is arguing that offering our bodies as living sacrifices is the logical thing to do for those who serve God. We worship him with everything we have because we are grateful for all that we have received in Christ Jesus.
How it should affect us
How it should affect us
There are two things this should do. First, it should keep us from being like the world. Second, it should transform us into what God wants.
When Paul tells us not to be conformed to the world, he is saying, that we must not conform ourselves after the patterns of this world. We are to be notably different from the way the world is. Since the world is at war with God, it would be foolish for us as Christians who have been saved and adopted into his family to act like an enemy of God again.
Then Paul tells us that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. In Greek, the word is metamorphoo, which is where we get our word metamorphosis from. This is a transfiguration, a change in the composition or change in character or condition. Think about the process of metamorphosis, it is when something is fundamentally changed. The changed thing is unlike the original thing. But metamorphosis takes time, it is a process, we need to remember that.
The word renewing can be understood as a renovation. We all know what renovation is, it is when we take something that is existing, rip it down to its guts and rebuild it to make it sounder or better.
So, if we put all this together, we can see that we are to be completely changed in our mind by the process of renovation. As Christians, we must tear down the world’s standards and ideas, and replace them with God’s standards and ideas. Our lives have been changed, and now our actions must be changed to reflect this fundamental change. We now must put personal desires behind us and put God and others before us.
Christianity when it truly affects us, gets down into our hearts, and makes us judge what are motives and intentions are. If we don’t look at our motives and the way we view things, then we are being just like the world…consumed with ourselves and what we want.
Discerning God's will
Discerning God's will
Next Paul explains why our minds should be transformed and renewed. "Testing" means to examine, or to test for genuineness. “Will” is simply what God wants us to do, His commands and precepts. So, we are to have our mind changed so that we can determine what God wants us to do. And what God wants us to do is that which is good, acceptable (well-pleasing to God), and perfect (fullness or maturity). If our minds are corrupted with the world there will be no way that we can do things which please God; we will not be able to look at things and judge them rightly unless our mind are being transformed and renovated.
So how is it that we can be renovated? By spending time with God in prayer. By listening to him (spending time in God’s Word). And by meditating on the intentions of our heart (looking at your motives). There will be no way that we can have our mind renewed and filled with God if we are filling it with the world and all its lusts and lies.
We must remember what God has done for us and make sure that this causes us to devote our entire lives to God in spiritual worship. We are to have our minds conformed to God’s standards so that we know what we are to do as part of our spiritual service to him. We are to do this out of a pure heart and right motivations; we must obey God and do what He says because we love Him and are grateful for what He has done for us. It’s all about our heart. Are we doing things to please God because we love Him, or because we want something from Him?
We must live as a sacrifice. Our lives should be about one thing, loving God. This love for God will naturally push out to love for all that he has made and all that he cares for.
In dying we live. In giving we gain. In loving we are loved. In sacrifice we are enriched. This is the tie into the next section of this passage. Our meaning and purpose are found in sacrificing ourselves for others. Our life direction is guided by the use of our gifts for the good of others.
Receiving and applying God's gifts (vv. 3-8)
Receiving and applying God's gifts (vv. 3-8)
If I had to summarize this next section, I would say that we should think about ourselves sensibly and do what God has gifted us to do by his grace for the benefit of others.
Our balance (12:3-4)
Our balance (12:3-4)
As people, we gravitate to extremes. For most people, don’t we find two extremes? The first is an extreme underestimation of self. If you ask them to evaluate themselves and their gifts or talents, they will tell you that they are bad at most things. They portray a sense of humility, but when we look closer, they grossly underestimate themselves. We wonder…are they putting on a false front?
The second is an extreme overestimation of self. They think they are the best thing since sliced bread. If you ask them to evaluate themselves and their gifts and talents, they will tell you they are amazing at everything. They seem to portray a sense of pride, but when we look closer, they grossly overestimate themselves. We wonder…do they really believe that?
Paul doesn’t tell us to think poorly of ourselves or look down on ourselves, he simply says we should think sensibly about ourselves. The word sensibly carries the idea of exercising prudence or self-control. In other words, when you think about yourself, don’t think to highly or lowly, be reasonable, sensible, serious, keep your head about you.
In other words, God has made you who you are. He has given you a gift of faith and your gifts and talents. It is not wise or safe to be too proud or too demeaning of someone who has been specially designed by God.
Paul doesn’t command us to not to think more lowly of ourselves than we should, because our normal tendency is to think more highly of ourselves not the other way around.
In other words, God made you who you are. He gave you the gifts you have. Think accurately about yourself and then use your strengths and gifts to help others. If you always think more highly of yourself then you should, you won’t do much good because you will operate out of your weaknesses rather than strengths, and if you think of yourself less than you should, you won’t do anything at all.
Remember what Paul said in Ephesians. You are God’s workmanship, or masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus. I think here he is saying that you should be the masterpiece that you were designed to be, not more or less than that…simply the masterpiece that God has made you.
Our focus (12:5-6a)
Our focus (12:5-6a)
But what are we to do as God’s masterpiece? We are all members of one body. This gets back to our identity, the roots of the tree. We saw that we are all children of God. We are all defined by whose we are not who we are. We are God’s children and as such we are now free to not compare ourselves to each other but be one in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the head of his body, the church. And each person is a part of his body, the bride, the church. We are all knit and joined together in Christ Jesus. There is no more us versus them. There is only us.
Paul tells us that everyone in the church is part of the body. And like a body, it is made up of many different parts that each have a different purpose. Bodies don’t function well if everything does or is the same.
Think about it with me for a moment. In some churches, everybody is a brain. Everybody wants to teach or think. And so, picture a massive pile of brains. It can do nothing and go nowhere. Or a big pile of hearts. Everyone feels and worships well, but they go nowhere and quite frankly, all piled together, look grotesque. Or, think about a huge pile of hands all doing. Everyone is busy doing, but there is no thought or affection. Without all the parts we church cannot move toward Christ.
You get the picture, right? Paul says we all have different gifts, and these gifts are the grace, or special favor, of God. God sees the picture of the body he wants. He sees something beautiful, well put together, functional, and purposeful. He wants us to all live as if we are functioning together, all for his glory and for his kingdom purposes of seeing his body completed without spot or wrinkle, without blemish.
God has a plan of a diverse people, with diverse gifts, making up a beautiful body that functions well on the mission that he gave us which is to be disciples who make disciples of all nations all to his glory.
Our Gifts (12:6b-8)
Our Gifts (12:6b-8)
I’m not sure if Paul was trying to give an absolute list of every possible spiritual gift or whether he was giving us a meta list. It seems as if these do cover the gamut of spiritual gifts and possibly show how valuable it would be if they are working together in the body of Christ.
I found it helpful to use the information from gifttest.org. It sees these as motivational gifts for the good of others and finds them to be used for building up the body of Christ.
The first gift is prophecy. In scripture, a prophet seems to have spiritual perception, so we might call them perceivers. They can: 1) interpret scripture, 2) reveal information to others, and 3) speak the mind of God. They have a very real sense of discerning right and wrong. The main purpose of this gift is to reveal information to help others. This information is not always positive and well received. Their real intention, however, is to help people. They have a real problem with injustice, and quite often are passionate about a principle or cause.
The second gift is service. Throughout the scriptures we see them: 1) providing for the physical, material, or spiritual needs of people 2) taking care of the less fortunate in society such as the poor or the widowed and 3) helping in the distribution or collection of food, clothing, etc. to give to those in need. They are particularly skilled at seeing the heart of God for mercy and implementing it in tangible ways. They are the first to lend a hand. They often work in the background providing services that others never see.
The third gift is teaching. Teachers use sound, rational, and instructive reasoning to convince and help others learn. They use this skill to convince and help others to learn. They can synthesize ideas, which results in a constant mental flow of information. They usually enjoy research and love the opportunity to share something they have learned. They tend to be talkative when it comes to explaining beliefs or ideas. They often make hard concepts easier to understand.
The fourth gift is exhortation or encouraging. The person with the gift of encouragement will 1) edify and exhort 2) give peace to a troubled mind through speaking a message of encouragement and 3) bring joy and comfort. Encouragers can call forth the best in others through encouragement and motivation. They feel comfortable around people and tend to have extraverted personalities. They often like to prescribe practical advice. They want to see people improve and succeed. They have an ability to bring new life to people who have lost their determination and feel burnt out.
And so far, do you notice what Paul is saying. He is saying, "Let the person who has the gift use their gift." In other words, he isn't saying, "Let the person who has the gift of prophecy exhort." God has given us our gifts for the purpose of using them. We should seek to use our gifts in the way and for the purpose they have been designed for.
The fifth gift is giving or contribution. The scriptures show that giving is characterized by: 1) being charitable or having a charitable attitude 2) giving much out of little 3) specifically contributing to the less fortunate and 4) giving of one’s excess or bounty to those who have nothing. Income is not the only way to determine whether someone has the gift of giving. Givers also donate their time through volunteer work or helping others in some way. They are characterized by hospitality. Perhaps the easiest way to identify a Giver is their generous and charitable nature. They quite often make personal sacrifices of time and self and enjoy doing it. They are very gracious.
The sixth gift is leadership. The scriptures illustrate how a Ruler will: 1) set good examples 2) provide sound counsel 3) give admonition and warning to the people of dangers they are headed toward 4) reprove for negligence and 5) rule with love versus rigor. Leaders can often see the “big picture.” The leader looks ahead for possibilities and dangers. The ability to guide people and communicate to them regarding how to develop the “big picture” gives the Ruler an assertive, take-charge attitude. A Ruler has an ability to bring order by setting up structures, systems, and methods for others to follow. They are good at moving everyone toward a common goal.
The last gift is acts of mercy. Those with the gift of Mercy are: 1) compelled to have compassion for people, 2) help people in misery, and 3) pity the ignorant and instruct them. People gifted with Mercy are the first to listen and sympathize when someone is suffering. They feel that sympathizing with others is a valuable use of their time. They often have a strong desire to relieve the pain of others. It is this ability to show compassion and mercy that enables the person with this gift to demonstrate a large amount of patience.
This was a long list. I have a question for you. Did any of these resonate with you. Did any of them set a little flare off in your soul. Or did you feel sadness as you thought about how you have never been able to exercise your gift in any real way within the church. Have you poured time and energy into other areas of life where you can use your gift, even though it has nothing to do with advancing of Christ's kingdom? If you have felt this way, this is a problem. You need to participate in the life of the body of Christ and have your gifts activated.
If, however, you have absolutely no idea what your gifts are, sit down with some discerning people who are well versed in the Scripture, and are filled with the Spirit who can help you discern what your gifts are. Then, once it is discerned, ask and look for opportunities to use your gifts. You are a very valuable part of the body of Christ! If your gifts are not being used, then you are not building up the body of Christ. We are all members of one another. If you aren't helping and using your gifts, then we all suffer. What if your eyes simply stopped seeing?
If you have no desire to use your gifts for the body of Christ, or you think you have no time to use your gifts for the benefit of the church, then you have a problem. Do you remember what we talked about in the beginning? Because of the mercies of God, your life, your body is supposed to be a living sacrifice for God's service. He has made you not to conform to the world, but to live for the will of God, which is to use your gifts that you have been given. My guess is that if you are not using your gifts for the body of Christ then you feel lost and empty. You may be wondering what the point of life is.
I think this is why so many people have a mid-life crisis. They have done or not done everything they were supposed to do. They got a job or career, a house, a car, a spouse, children, and a dog, and so what is left to do? So, they do crazy things to break the meaninglessness of life, but they can't. Why? They were designed for a different purpose.
And so, we go back to the song we mentioned in the beginning, "…Augustine just woke up with a broken heart. All this time, he's never been awake before. At thirty-one, his whole world is a question mark. All this time, he's never been awake before." Is your world a question mark? If so, what do you do? The song continues, “Hey, I give it all away. Nothing I was holding back remains. Hey, I give it all away. Looking for the grace of God today. There's gotta be something more than what I'm living for I'm crying out to You.”
It is in God’s grace, or abundant mercy, that you will find what you are looking for. You must find your identity in Christ. You must have the servant's heart of Christ. You must embrace your unique calling of giving yourself and your gifts for the good of the body of Christ, for the good of others. God has given you the Holy Spirit and gifted you in a unique way. Are you living out your calling?
So, how does this get practical? I might suggest that you take a spiritual gift inventory (www.gifttest.org/survey). This may give you a small idea as to where your gifts lean. It breaks down the gifts into the perceiver, the server, the teacher, the encourager, the giver, the ruler, and one who shows mercy. These are the same gifts that we see in this passage. It doesn't give a result that tells you that you are one thing or another, but rates you on a percentage scale. It shows you which ones you are strongest at, or maybe shows you what your strong suit is.
I, however, don't think that the answer is simple taking a spiritual gifts test. Though it might help, the only way you can really find out is to get engaged on mission in a missional community. Exercise your gifts within a community and see what you like and don't like. See what you're good at and not good at. Find people who are already engaged in preaching, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy. Ask them if you can tag along and learn with them. If you think you might like something, ask someone who is well gifted to lead you in it.
There is a great model that you have probably heard me speak of if you have been around me long enough. I do you watch. I do you help. You do, I help. You do, I watch. You do, and teach someone else to do the same. This is the culture of multiplication. This culture will develop our spiritual gifts. Be mentored by someone and look at yourself soberly. Don't leave your gifts on the table.