Are You the Missing Piece? (Romans 12:1-13)

[Preached in dialogue format between John York and Rubel Shelly.]

Rubel Shelly: Unemployment is a scary term in American society. Periodic cycles of business depression have caused mass unemployment in this country and have threatened to destabilize the nation. In 1933, the number of persons without work in the United States reaches an all-time record high; fully 14 million people, or one-fourth of the labor force, was out of work. As of today, we have an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent – consistent with a jobless rate that has been within two-tenths of a percentage point of 5.6 percent since October of last year.

Have you paid any attention to the upheavals in the past two weeks in Argentina? Unemployment is at 20 percent or better. There is unrest in the streets. The president is out – oops – then back in again. Now the banks are closed indefinitely. The Number Three economy in Latin America seems to be on the verge of collapse because of widespread joblessness in the nation.

So what’s the point of all this to us? Have we abandoned the gospel for economics? Hardly! In a world where everything is tenuous at best, a relationship with God through Jesus Christ is everyone’s greatest single need. The “point” for us is to test a theory with John – and you – that I have about spiritual employment. Here is the thesis: The healthier the spiritual life of either an individual believer or entire church, the higher the level of involvement, service, and employment of spiritual giftedness. Or, to say the same thing more negatively, a church that does not offer multiple options for the use of gifts such as compassion, teaching, service, and generosity is setting itself up for unrest and instability.

At certain points in anyone’s spiritual life, he or she needs to be ministered to, given time to heal, and allowed to step back. Once healing has taken place, though, the desirable norm has every Christian looking for a place to employ her or his temperament and talents to glorify God. How off-track is my thinking here, John? Is there a biblical text that comes to mind on this point?

John York: I can’t think of a better text than Romans 12. Paul’s appeal in the first verse calls followers of Christ then and now to understand ourselves as living sacrifices, as people who respond to the salvation we have received by offering our entire existence back to God. That is our act of spiritual worship — not just the few hours we are together on Sunday, but our entire lives. That is possible, he claims back in chapter 8, because we have God’s Spirit living in us.

It is a sobering thought to realize that Creator God has chosen to make himself known within us — we are God’s sacred space. Once you realize you are the dwelling place of God in the Spirit, you cannot help doing some deep soul searching. How is my life a demonstration of that God presence? That is precisely what Paul talks about as he continues verse three: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of the faith that God has assigned.”

The ability to evaluate oneself properly does not come from our brain power or our good looks or family history or education or wealth. We don’t evaluate our own or others’ worth to the body of Christ on the basis of anything other than faith. One’s worth to this body of believers is not determined by self-esteem or financial worth or the number of years you can claim as a church member. It is about the faith that has been gifted to us through the empowering presence of the Spirit.

In this process there is necessarily the realization that we are not all the same. We are all given different measures of faith. That fact does not make some more valuable or somehow superior to others. Rather it gives us the means of incorporating individuality into community.

Rubel: That point is made rather emphatically in Paul’s familiar analogy of the church and the human body. “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Rom. 12:4-5).

I’ve had a strong sense of this business that we are “members one of another” over the past few days. My, what sadnesses we have borne together! Ted and Liesa have lost first a brother and then a child. Steve’s father died. Larry and Martell’s daughter was killed in an accident. But we balance that with new babies for Sharon and Matt, for Dave and Sandy. Then we get to rejoice with the Easters over Amy’s commitment to confess Christ in baptism. Only yesterday several of us came together for the funeral of Ann Maddux and to celebrate her deliverance from disfiguring, deadly lymphoma.

And there are such ministry gifts at work in the life of this body! What teachers we have. And what a spirit of extending themselves for this body. Do you realize we have some 600 volunteers who make our Children’s Ministry work? We don’t even have an accurate count of the number of our people who are in small groups – 800, 1,000, 1200 or more? And I believe compassion – shown as tears, cooking, repairing a roof, giving a car to a family, paying for a funeral – is the most widely disbursed gift God has put in this family of his people! I see it manifested everywhere on a daily basis. Individuals invest their lives for the sake of the community. The entire body is blessed as each member does his or her ministry function.

Maybe you’ve heard somebody say that in churches 90 percent of all the work that gets done is handled by the same five percent of the people. Balderdash! I doubt that is true anywhere. But it certainly isn’t true here. Maybe somebody doesn’t know what “church work” is and is thinking of speaking roles on Sunday mornings!

John: Paul lists several gifts in Romans 12 that are anything but limited to – what did you call them – “speaking roles on Sunday mornings”? Just look at the list of seven gifts of the Spirit he listed in his epistle to Rome. He has a different list when he writes to the Corinthians and another one when he writes to the Ephesians. Those differences remind us that none of the lists is inclusive of all spiritual gifts, nor should we simply combine them all to get a master list. The specifics mentioned in any of these letters were appropriate to the particular church setting.

If he were writing to churches today, some things might be the same. Others might be completely different. Giftedness comes in all sizes and shapes. I loved the card Eddie and Suzanne passed out last week making suggestions about gifts needed in the Children’s Ministry. It’s a great list for that ministry. The list doesn’t fit every church or every children’s ministry — it fits ours. Did you see these? Some gifts are obvious: Bible story teacher, small group leader, teacher’s aide, crafts, nursery worker. Some are less obvious: carpenter, computer consultant, drama, or artist. There are a couple that even I could do, like greeter and helper and prayer warrior. We understand that not everyone is gifted for ministry to children.

There are countless other gifts that people bring to the service of this church. Not all gifts from God are Sunday morning gifts, right? Even among those listed in Romans 12, like the gifts of service or the acts of mercy. That last one is one of my favorites because it is an anytime gift just like God’s presence within us is an anytime reality. We need to understand that there are countless ways of God’s gracious gifts being revealed through us in countless settings. We all also need to understand that everyone is a piece of the larger puzzle. Everyone has his or her gift from God. Yes, not everyone has the musical gifts of some of the people you see up here every Sunday. Some peoples’ musical gifts aren’t seen up here at all, but they are experienced at other times in other settings. What we all need to realize is that God does not place any of us here to exist in anonymity and isolation. He calls each one of us to active engagement in the larger body for the good of the whole – and for the glory of our God.

Rubel: God got the church up and running by giving some of its earliest members a variety of supernatural spiritual abilities. Even so, from the first until now, the majority of the things he has done through his people has been through the endowments he has given men and women who were then willing to sanctify them to his glory.

Don’t you feel guilty that you don’t have this gift or that gift. Don’t let anybody frustrate you by drafting you to do something God didn’t gift you to do or give you the passion to do. But if you’d like to know your areas of primary giftedness, we can help you. If you are ready to put a gift in place, we have opportunities waiting for you. The only job that is completely filled is critic, and the one job we eliminated long ago is judge! Any other gift or passion you have, we’d like to help you sanctify it to the Lord in the life of the Family of God at Woodmont Hills. We want to create a full-employment community of faith in which every gift is recognized, engaged, and bearing fruit. We want everyone to find his or her place in the puzzle. It will never be quite as beautiful as it could have been if any piece were to go missing.


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