Knowing Our Gifts & Desiring to Strengthen Others

Last night we gathered three of our Community Groups together to teach on the spiritual gifts.  One thing that John mentioned reminded me of a section of John Piper's 1981 sermon on the gifts (the year I was born!).  John mentioned how he overemphasized the manifestation of the gifts in his college years and as a result, slightly veered off course in his pursuit of God towards sensational experiences rather than towards God Himself and a pure desire to be a blessing to those around him.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:27-30)

Paul tells us that the gifts are given to us by God for our common good.  But we're not told to passively sit back and just wait for God to give us these gifts... we are to earnestly desire the higher gifts for the building up of the church.  What makes someone overly desirous of spiritual experiences, manifestations, and encounters with God is not the desires themselves, but our motivation for why we desire them in the first place.  As Piper wonderfully shows us, "more basic is the problem of not desiring very much to strengthen other people's faith."  Namely, it is the point of 1 Corinthians 13 and 14.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12)

Love!  That is the main objective of every spiritual gift... Striving to love others and demonstrate the love of God to those inside and outside of the church.  Here Paul basically tells us, "You may have tongues, but if you use that gift in a way that harms it's hears, then you aren't loving them.  If you have the gift of prophesy, but use it to manipulate and distort the truth and nature of God to the detriment of the church, then you most certainly are not loving them and not stewarding that gift to the glory of God.  You also may have the gift of service or hospitality or helps, but if you sell all of your possessions only to gain glory and honor for yourself and to build your own name, then your gave it all away for nothing because love is the element that pleases the Lord."

Piper summarizes the need for our motives to be pure below.  I'd encourage you to read the whole sermon if you can.

We must not get hung up on naming our gifts. The thing to get hung up on is, "Are we doing what we can do to strengthen the faith of the people around us?

I really believe that the problem of not knowing our spiritual gifts is not a basic problem. More basic is the problem of not desiring very much to strengthen other people's faith. Human nature is more prone to tear down than it is to build up. The path of least resistance leads to grumbling and criticism and gossip, and many there be that follow it. But the gate is narrow and the way is strewn with obstacles which leads to edification and the strengthening of faith. So the basic problem is becoming the kind of person who wakes up in the morning, thanks God for our great salvation, and then says, "Lord, O how I want to strengthen people's faith today. Grant that at the end of this day somebody will be more confident of your promises and more joyful in your grace because I crossed his path." The reason I say becoming this kind of person is more basic than finding out your spiritual gift is that when you become this kind of person, the Holy Spirit will not let your longings go to waste. He will help you find ways to strengthen the faith of others, and that will be the discovery of your gifts. So let's apply ourselves to becoming the kind of people more and more who long to strengthen each other's faith.