When George Michael goes to church, he doesn’t have to go very far. Mr. Michael (who is not the singer, but someone with the same name) recently informed the town of Lake Bluff, Illinois, that he was not responsible for the $80,000 in property taxes that he owes on his $3 million-dollar mansion because he recently converted his home into the Armenian Church of Lake Bluff.
To get this exemption, Mr. Michael showed the state of Illinois his clergy license from the Church of Spiritual Humanism (which he apparently got online), photos of an altar, church bulletins and by-laws, and other necessary documentation. He even put up a cross on the side of his home. Mr. Michael says he started the church because his wife and daughter are disabled and can’t get to their regular church in Chicago.
The County Review Board is a bit skeptical, to put it mildly. And the whole thing might be more convincing if Mr. Michael wasn’t already in debt and facing a lawsuit in another business matter. Then there are the numerous signs on his property in his golf course subdivision that say “No Trespassing” and “Private Property.” Neighbors haven’t reported seeing anything that looks like Sunday services happening, either.
But Mr. Michael insists that his house is now owned by the Armenian Church of Lake Bluff. Unfortunately, the Armenian Church of America has no record of any such church. Meanwhile, Lake Bluff officials have notified Mr. Michael that if he is running a church, he’ll need to pay more than $115,000 in fines, since opening a church in an area zoned as “country estate residence” requires a special permit. It looks like Lake Bluff is going to get their money, one way or another.
Before we get too judgmental toward Mr. Michael, though, perhaps we should stop and take a look at ourselves. I would say that he’s probably not the only person who’s ever tried to create the Church of Me. Maybe none of us are looking for property-tax relief, but something about us makes us quick to ask what the church has done for us lately. Are my needs being met? Are my suggestions being heard? Do I like the music and the preaching? Are there plenty of well-staffed, quality programs for my kids? Are there lots of people like me who I don’t have to work too hard to relate to?
• The Church of Me: Where I can be served but I don’t have to serve others.
• The Church of Me: Where the only songs we sing are the kind I like.
• The Church of Me: Where everyone will treat me like a member of the family on Sunday and leave me alone the rest of the week.
• The Church of Me: Where the perks are many and the demands are few.
• The Church of Me: Where it’s less about The Way and more about My Way.
When Paul wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth, they were quickly becoming the Church of Me. They argued about which preachers they liked best. They fought about when to start the church potlucks. They argued about whether marriage was allowed and which spiritual gifts were the most important. They bickered about whose turn it was to lead a song or give a prophecy. And so, Paul had to remind them over and over that they were to be more concerned about the church as a whole than themselves.
He wrote in I Corinthians 14, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up… Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 26)
“Let all things be done for building up.” If it comes down to a choice between doing something to edify yourself and doing something to edify the church – and it will always be times when it comes down a choice like that – Paul says that every time you need to remember that you’re a part of the church of Christ, and not the only member and head of the Church of Me.
If Paul could look forward a couple of thousand years, I think he’d probably wonder if anybody has read I Corinthians lately. Because we still fight that temptation, don’t we, to hide in the Church of Me? Sometimes, maybe, we don’t even fight the temptation. We run to it, grab hold of it, find security in it.
If you’ve ever wanted to hold on to tour traditions or the ministries you like, even when they may interfere with the lost coming to Christ, or fellow Christians growing closer to Christ, then you’ve felt the pull of the Church of Me.
If you’ve ever resisted learning to appreciate (or tolerate) certain styles of worship music because they aren’t your style, even though some of your brothers and sisters in Christ are clearly encouraged and finding in them a language in which they can worship God more fully, then you’ve felt the pull of the Church of Me.
If you’ve ever resisted getting to know a brother or sister because you weren’t comfortable with him or her, then you’ve felt the pull of the Church of Me.
If you’ve ever been quick to demand service and slow to offer it, you’ve felt the pull of the Church of Me.
So, what do we do about it? The answer is simple, at least, in theory. Though it’s not always easy to put into practice. The answer is, when we come to church, we need to leave “Me” at the door. We need to remind ourselves, over and over, that it’s not about Me; it’s about Jesus and his body. It’s about how we fit in with Jesus’ work in this world, not about how his work fits in with Me. We take the risk of putting our own interests aside and tending to the interests of our brothers and sisters, believing that they will tend to our interests and that, even if our interests get lost somewhere along the way, we know that we’ve done exactly what Jesus would have us to do.
Most of all, we need to remember that the church belongs to Jesus Christ, that he bought it with his blood. And so, the church is all about him and us. Never me.
To take all that you are and all that you have and use it to the glory of God — there’s nothing greater you can do with your life. There’s no higher purpose than to take your time, your treasure and your talents, and use them to glorify God.
And when you live for the glory of God, you’re doing what you were created to do. And you become who you were created to be. Listen to what God said in Isaiah 43:6-7:
“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Whoever you are, wherever you’ve come from, your reason for existence on this earth is the same. You have been created for the glory of God — to take all that you are and all that you have and use it to magnify God.
It’s irritating to find something laying around the house that’s broken or no longer serves the purpose for which it was created. Maybe you’ve got a drawer filled with rubber bands that are so old they’ve lost their elasticity. Or maybe a razor that’s gotten too dull to shave with. Or bread that’s sat in the cabinet for so long that it has mold growing on it. That’s what we’re like when we fail to glorify God. We’re not doing what we were made to do; we’re not being who we were created to be.
While we were studying in the book of Proverbs, we talked about how important it is that we make wise decisions regarding how we spend our time. Because we need to glorify God with our time. And we saw in Proverbs that we need to make wise decisions regarding how we spend our money. Because we need to glorify God with our money, our treasure, our possessions.
But there’s another area that’s important to look at as we consider how to glorify God, and that’s with our talents, our gifts. Our God-given, Spirit-enabled abilities. These are the special abilities, or ways in which God’s Holy Spirit empowers God’s people for ministry and service. The New Testament identifies a number of these spiritual gifts; they include things like service, teaching, exhortation, leadership, mercy, wisdom, and giving. These gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to Christians are to be used to build one another up and, ultimately, to glorify God.
So how do you glorify God with these talents or gifts that you’ve been given? In I Peter 4, Peter is going to tell us that the way we glorify God with our talents is to use God’s gifts to serve God’s people.
Let’s look together at I Peter 4:10-11, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Let me make several points this morning in regard to the gift which God has given you.
I. You need to recognize God’s gift to you
Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” Peter says that each one of us has received a gift, a talent, from God. If you’re a child of God, God has given you a gift.
The problem, though, is that some of us have never recognized the gift that God has given us. To use an analogy, we’ve never unwrapped his gift. It’s like God’s gift is still sitting there under the Christmas tree, wrapped in bright-colored wrapping paper, with a big bow on top. It looks nice, but it’s never been opened. And you can’t do anything with a gift until you know what it is.
Most of you spent some time last Christmas around the Christmas tree, opening gifts from your family and your friends. But, how strange would it be to let a day or two go by without opening all of your gifts. Imagine a few months going by, it’s mid-July, and you’ve still got a Christmas package sitting unopened in your living room. How weird would that be?!
But, it’s possible that some of you have received a gift from God that’s never been opened. You don’t know what your gift is, and so, there’s no way you can use that gift to glorify God or bless others. If that’s the case, then how do you unwrap your gift?
1. Become familiar with the different gifts that God gives through His Spirit. Read through Romans 12 or I Corinthians 12.
For example, in Romans 12:6-8, Paul wrote, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
There are a lot of gifts listed there. Maybe your spiritual gift is one of those.
2. Try to identify where you find yourself most comfortable in serving others. And maybe “comfortable” isn’t the best word. Where do you find yourself being absolutely passionate? Is it when you lead a discussion in your Care Group? Is it when you prepare a meal to help out a new mom? Is it when you welcome people into your home for a meal? When we’re using God’s gifts, we tend to find that there is a great deal of joy in using those gifts.
3. Ask others what they think your gift is. Ask those who know you best to share with you how you’ve spiritually blessed them. It could be your spouse or a close friend or someone you trust at church. While you may have trouble getting a handle on your own gifts, it is sometimes the case that your gifts are more obvious to those around you, people who’ve been blessed by them.
So, the first step toward glorifying God with your talents is unwrapping God’s gift to you, recognizing what that gift is.
II. Use your gift
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (I Peter 4:10)
Recognizing God’s gift to you is the first step, but it’s just the start. The next step is actually to use the gift that you’ve been given.
It is often the case that the more valuable the gift you’ve been given, the more responsibility you have not to waste it, but use it well. For example, maybe you received college tuition as a gift from your parents. That’s an incredibly generous gift, but you know that, because of that gift, you better not flunk out your first semester. Or maybe you received a car for your 16th birthday. That’s an incredibly generous gift, but you know that, because of that gift, you better not come home late on a Friday night with a speeding ticket or a dented front bumper.
You see, the more valuable the gift you’ve been given, the more responsibility you have not do something foolish with it, but to be a good steward.
Now, the same principle applies to our spiritual gifts. God our Father is incredibly generous with each of his children. He gives each of us a gift, not because we’ve earned it, but because God is so gracious. But, when God gives a gift, it comes with significant responsibility. Each of us who has received a gift is to use that gift, as Peter says, “as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (4:10).
We need to be good stewards with God’s gifts. That means we need to be faithful and responsible. We need to be careful not to squander or waste those gifts, which are expressions of God’s grace.
This was actually a problem that Timothy had, and it was a problem that the apostle Paul had to address, not to embarrass Timothy, but to help him realize how important his gift was. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul talks about how richly blessed Timothy was with a godly heritage of faith. And then he says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…” (2 Timothy 2:6).
It appears that Timothy wasn’t fully using his gift. Maybe he was afraid. That would explain why Paul said in the very next verse, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7). So, Timothy, fan your gift into flame! Let it burn! Let it blaze!
In other words, Paul was saying to Timothy: use your gift, don’t just sit on it. And don’t just use it on rare occasions, whenever you feel like it. Rather, work constantly at using that gift. Don’t waste your gift; use it.
We definitely have some folks in this congregation who have fanned their spiritual gifts into flames. People like Joey Watson, who has put his skills at building design to good use over the past few weeks. There are many nameless people among you who are using your gift of giving. People like Clair who use their gift of encouraging others. People like Scott who use their gifts to lead us in worship. The list could go on and on because there are so many of you who are putting your gifts to use. But there is still a lot that needs to be done. So, don’t let your gifts go to waste. “Fan into flame the gift of God.” Find a way to put your gift into practice on a continual basis.
Use your gift.
III. Use your gift to serve others
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 4:10-11)
Kids, imagine that it’s Christmas morning and your Mom or Dad hands you a present with your name on it. You open it, and you find inside something you’ve always wanted. It’s a brand-new iPad. But as soon as you turn it on and start downloading your favorite music and applications, your Mom or Dad stops you and tells you that the gift is not actually for you. Yes, it’s got your name on it. And you’re the one who is responsible for taking care of it — make sure it’s always charged up, it doesn’t get lost or broken. But it’s actually for your brother and sister.
You’d probably be a bit disappointed at that. “But I thought it was my gift.” And they say, “Yes, it is, it’s your gift — but it’s not for you; it’s for your brother and sister. We gave it to you so that you could bless them with it.” You say, “But it’s got my name on it.” And they say, “Yes, that’s because we gave it to you. But it’s not for you, at least, not for you alone. We gave it to you for the sake of your siblings.”
Now, while that might seem a bit unusual, that’s the way that God gives gifts. He puts your name on the gift; it’s your gift. But it’s not for you — rather, it’s for those around you. As Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (I Peter 4:10).
That last phrase — one another – is the key to the proper use of your spiritual gifts. They’re not for our own sake, but for the sake of others — for the sake of your brothers and sisters, your church family.
It’s so easy for us to forget that our gifts are for others, not for ourselves. That’s why Paul repeatedly had to remind the Corinthians of this. They thought their gifts were all about them — status symbols. So Paul had to tell them: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). They’re not for your sake; they’re for the benefit of others.
In the same way, our gifts, our talents, are to be used, not for our own sake, but for the benefit of others, “so that the church may be built up.” (I Corinthians 14:5).
IV. Serve others with the strength that God supplies
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 4:10-11)
The truth is, serving others with your gifts isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s quite difficult or even tedious. For those of you who have the gift of serving others, there may be times when you feel like you’re breaking your back to meet the needs of others and there’s nobody who appreciates it. And when that happens, serving becomes very difficult.
Or maybe you have the gift of teaching, but there are times when you feel like you’ve spent hours and hours preparing what to say, but you’ve received more criticism than you have encouragement. And when that happens, serving becomes very difficult.
And if all we have is our own strength, there are times when we would just give up and quit. But, fortunately, Peter says we have something more than just our strength. We have God’s strength. And that’s what keeps us going when things get tough. Because God never promised us that things would always be easy when we serve him. But he did say that he would always give us the strength we need to carry on.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
So, as you seek to glorify God with your talents, remember these four simple truths:
• Recognize your gift.
• Use your gift.
• Use your gift to serve others.
• Serve in the strength that God supplies.
Shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven and the disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Peter and John went into the temple in Jerusalem and saw a man who was crippled from birth. This man could not walk, and so every day, his family or friends would carry him to the entrance of the temple, set him down on the ground, and there the man would be where people could see him and, hopefully, be able to receive some money.
On this particular morning, Peter and John passed this man, and the crippled man asked them for money. Peter looked directly at the man and said to him, “Look at us” (Acts 3:5). The way Peter addressed the man—presumably the tone of his voice and the look on his face and intensity in his eyes—got the man’s attention.
But the man misread Peter’s intentions, thinking that Peter was going to give him some money. But, instead, Peter said to him: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you” (Acts 3:6). And what had was not money, but a gift that came to him by the grace of God. A gift which he could then use for the good of this man.
Peter then said to the man: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6). And, the results were immediate.
“And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3:7-10)
I think that’s a good illustration of how you and I ought to glorify God with our talents. In and of ourselves, we have absolutely nothing to give anyone. But what we do have, is a gift from God. A talent, an ability. It’s a gift that God has given us by his grace for the good of others. So, we generously give it to them.
And as we do so, we’re careful not to do it in our name, for our own glory. Instead, we do so in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — for his glory, We direct all praise and glory to the one to whom it rightly belongs: Jesus Christ. “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!”