Discovering our Spiritual Gifts

spiritual gifts3

What are the Spiritual Gifts?

There are three primary areas in the New Testament where a listing of Spiritual Gifts can be found: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

– Romans 12:6-8

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

– 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

– Ephesians 4:11-12

Divine Design

Everyone has a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, Ephesians 4:7, 1 Peter 4:10), and some may have more than one spiritual gift. No gift is more important than the other. All are needed, and if you have more than one gift, it is because those gifts are perfectly suited for your role within the Kingdom of God. The discovery of your spiritual gift(s) takes place gradually. It is a process. Our gifts are discovered through the process of our spiritual formation. Our spiritual gifts are not to be confused with spiritual fruits (Galatians 5:22-23). Spiritual fruits are our Christian character, but spiritual gifts are our Christian service. It’s important to remember that Christian service and spiritual gifts are not necessarily tied to an office or position within a church. Everyone has a spiritual gift, but not everyone is called to work for a church or ministry. Those positions are selected and appointed by humans, but our spiritual gifts are selected and appointed by God. Your personal ministry can be just as effective at your home, in your school, at your work, or in a park as it can be within a church building. It is also important to make sure our spiritual gifts are not confused with our natural talents and abilities. Those gifts may coincide with our spiritual gifts, but our spiritual gifts go beyond our natural skills and abilities. They are spiritual because they are supernatural. The are divinely designed and given to followers of Jesus to expand and edify His Church. The purpose of our spiritual gifts is to serve and glorify God. As J. Oswald Sanders said, “The possessor is only the instrument and not the receiver of the glory.” Therefore, we must be careful not to abuse or neglect our spiritual gifts. There are great leaders and great orators who have used their God-given gifts for selfish and worldly reasons. We can’t fall into that trap, though Satan will try to entangle us.

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

– 1 Peter 4:11 NASB

Diverse Design

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

As the body of Christ, we all have a vital role to play. We all need each other. Our gifts compliment one another. Our strengths cover one another’s weaknesses. Our gifts are different, but they’re all connected. Our arms can’t reach out without our brain functioning behind the scenes telling it what to do. Our legs can’t move without the muscles inside holding us up and allowing us to put one foot in front of the other. When we reach to grab hold of something, it’s because all our fingers are coming together to bear the weight of it. No part of our body is more important than the other. The body moves and operates because of everything working together. The value is in the unity. The value is in the diversity. The value is in the divine mystery of the design.

Just as we are one body with many parts, we are one spirit with many gifts. Our gifts make the most sense within the context of community. We find fulfillment when we find our place within the Kingdom. A solitary puzzle piece seems to serve no purpose until it’s connected with other varying shapes and colors. And that finished puzzle would be glaringly incomplete if not for that one single piece to bring it all together. God knows where to place us. We all have a purpose. He knows who we need by our side to compliment us. He knows who will challenge us, who will strengthen us, and who will encourage us. He brings all the pieces together at just the right time. Psalm 68:6 says He places the lonely in families. Ephesians 1:5 says He adopts us into His own family. Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”

Unwrapping our Spiritual Gifts

The word gift in the original Greek is “charisma” and “charisma” comes from the Greek word “charis” which means grace. This tells us that our spiritual gifts are a gift of grace. This tells us our spiritual gifts are given to us by God. We don’t choose our spiritual gifts; we receive them. We cannot earn them; they are freely given to us. They are unmerited and undeserved. Therefore, we have no basis on which to boast of ourselves. “If I must boast,” the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am.” Our spiritual gifts should reveal our weaknesses, because our weaknesses reveal God’s strength. Moses was slow of speech, but God gifted him to lead the children of Israel out of slavery. David was an adulterer, but through that affair, Solomon and all of his wisdom was born. Paul murdered Christians, but when God transformed His life, He gifted him to write over half the books of the New Testament. God works in our weakness, and God works through our weakness.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken.'”

– Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT

Paul references this passage from Jeremiah when he is addressing the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians chapter 10. In this passage, Paul was speaking to the Corinthians about false teachers who were boasting about themselves. “Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are!” he writes. “They are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” (v.12). He goes on to say, “We will not boast about things done outside our area of authority. We will boast only about what has happened within the boundaries of the work God has given us…” (v. 13). We can’t compare our spiritual gifts to the gifts and abilities of others around us, because that’s where both pride and shame are born. Self-righteousness starts to creep in when we start to see ourselves as better than others around us because of the things we do or the gifts we have. We may see the areas where others fall short, but we’re too short-sighted to see the grander design that God has in mind. We may make sure others see and know what we’re doing in public, but we don’t see what they’re doing in private. We boast about our abilities and accomplishments because we want the attention and affirmation of other people. We want their praise and commendation, but as the apostle Paul says, that doesn’t count for much. In 2 Corinthians 10:18 he says, “When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them.” We can’t pat ourselves on the back and puff our chests out, because human beings are not our standard of measurement. Our spiritual gifts and abilities are not based on our natural gifts and abilities, they are supernatural. They are divinely designed. They are gifts of God. We did not earn them, we do not deserve them, and we have no right to boast about them. We boast only in the one who gives them to us.

What is the opposite of being boastful? Being bashful. We can be full of pride, or we can be full of shame, and neither are helpful for advancing the work of the Kingdom. Our spiritual gifts are just that, they are gifts. And a gift is no good if we never unwrap it, take it out of the box, and put it to use. I can’t help but think that many of us are like children who are so fascinated by the box itself that we neglect the gift inside. The gift inside was one that our parents put forth a lot of time, effort, and money to be able to give us. There is a cost attached to the gift. A great price was paid for us to receive it. And we’re too busy playing with the box.

We have to step outside of our comfort zones. We have to stop playing the comparison game. We have to lay down our pride, and lay down our shame. We have to learn to recognize our gifts as God’s grace given to us. We have to learn to boast in our weakness. We have to learn to boast in Christ Jesus, our Lord, who paid the cost of our sins and covered our weakness through the power of His love on the cross at Calvary. May we embrace our gifts and live fully in the grace He has given. May we use the gifts He has given us to point to Him, and only to Him! May we use our gifts to glorify Him, and only Him! He alone is worthy. It is a gift of grace, lest any man should boast! (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Equipped to Serve

Spiritual gifts are used by God to grow and multiply His Church. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul writes to Timothy, “My dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” This is how the Gospel is spread. We make disciples to make disciples. The goal of discipleship is to make disciple-makers. Matthew 10:8 tells us we’ve received freely, so we ought to give freely. Our spiritual gifts were given freely to us, so we ought to give freely of our gifts. Paul was given a gift of teaching and shepherding, and he taught Timothy how to teach and shepherd. Paul’s gift did not die when he died, it lived on. It’s impact is still being felt in the Church today. We can’t hoard our gifts. We can’t hold on to them. We have to give them out. We have been equipped to serve. We serve by using our gifts to both expand the Church and edify the Church.

How do we Discover our Spiritual Gifts?

We discover our spiritual gifts through the gradual process of internal observation, external exploration, and spiritual confirmation.

Observation – Take a closer look within yourself. Ask yourself, have I received Christ? Am I walking with Him? Do I really want to discover and develop my spiritual gifts? If you really want to take that next step in your spiritual formation, you have to practice the spiritual disciplines, because that’s where God speaks and reveals Himself. That’s where He’ll reveal His purpose to you. In that place of silence and solitude. In that time of study and reflection. In that time of prayer and fasting. In that time of worship. In that time of fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. We have to make sure we’re putting those actions into practice in our daily lives so we can put ourselves in a position to hear from God. Then, look at the desires of your heart. What are you passionate about? What stirs your heart and drives you to action? Our feelings should not be the primary motivator for discovering our spiritual gifts, but if we are walking with God and following Him, then they can be a potential indicator of what our gift(s) may be.

Exploration – Expose yourself to Biblical teaching. Read books. Listen to sermons and podcasts. Attend Bible studies. Have conversations with other followers of Christ. Ask for guidance and clarification from your spiritual leaders and mentors. If there’s a gift you desire, ask God. Let your request be made known (Philippians 4:6, James 1:5). Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” God’s plans are to prosper us, not to harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). He works all things together for good (Romans 8:28). If we ask for a gift and He doesn’t give it, it’s because He has a greater gift in store. We have to follow where He leads. When He says go, we go. When He says speak, we speak. When He says teach, we teach. When He says help, we help. We will never know what our spiritual gift is unless we try. We have to be willing to try. We have to take action and put forth effort in order to discover how God can and will use us.

Confirmation – When you’re on the right track, God will confirm it. Look for the signs. Listen for the affirmation. Maybe it comes in the form of positive feedback from a trusted spiritual leader. Maybe it comes in the form of a word spoken or an action taken at just the right time. Maybe you’ll see you’ll see the full circle picture of the work God is doing, or maybe you’ll just feel it in your spirit. But when God confirms it to you, you’ll know. Look for it. Listen for it. He’ll show you. He’ll make it clear.

Worship & Celebration

“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.”

– Jesus (John 4:23-24)

I once heard Worship leader, Kari Jobe, beautifully describe worship as simply “giving God His breath back.” I’ve also heard it said that worship is the “the mind’s attention and the heart’s affection expressed.” In the sermon series 24Ever, Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church, defines worship as “our love expressed to God as a response to His grace toward us.” In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, Author and Philosopher, Dallas Willard, describes worship as “seeing God as worthy.” To be worthy is defined as “having weight or value.”

Worship is a way for us to extend back to God what He has already extended to us. It is an outward expression of what we possess within. Hope. Joy. Peace. Love. It flows out of us. Even in the worst of circumstances, the driest of wilderness seasons, and the darkest of nights we can still worship because we can still see that God is worthy. We still see that He is good. We can still feel the weight of His presence in our lives. We can still sense His power and know His value.

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

– Revelation 4:11

The sound of worship echoes throughout creation. Isaiah 55:12 says “…the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Psalm 91:1 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”

Stand on a beach and watch as the waves roll in and out. Listen as the wind blows an exultation of praise. Do you see how the trees bend under the weight of His glory? Do you see how the grass in the fields bow down with each breath of the wind. Do you feel the warmth of the sun soaking into your skin? Do you feel your heart beating in rhythm? Listen to the birds as they chirp their songs of praise. Look up to the stars on a dark night and see how they glow with the light of His presence. Watch as lighting shoots across the sky during a night storm. Feel the reverberations of  His power in the thunder.

People from every age, every race, every language, every gender, every generation, and every differing gift and ability will praise the name of the Lord. Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess. All of creation will sing with the angels a song of praise.

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing… To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

– Revelation 5:12-13

Worship is being aware of God’s presence in our lives even as we walk this sin-filled earth. Worship is how we express our appreciation of God’s extension of grace and mercy in our lives. Worship is being attentive to the work of God in every small and seemingly insignificant detail of our lives. It is singing songs of praise as you load the dishwasher and reflecting on the promises of God as you fold the laundry and put your kids to bed at night. Worship is standing in wonder and awe at the goodness of God. It is filling your mind and filling your heart with adoration of Him. It is focusing your thoughts on His abounding love – and allowing that love to overflow into an active worship.

“Practically speaking,” Dallas Willard writes, “the Christian’s worship is most profitable when it is centered upon Jesus Christ and goes through Him to God. When we worship, we fill our minds and hearts with wonder at Him – the detailed actions and words of His earthly life, His trial and death on the cross, His resurrection reality, and His work as an ascended intercessor.”

Our worship is hindered when we are not centered and focused on Jesus. Our worship is hindered when we are too preoccupied with other matters, and our mind is cluttered with other concerns. We cultivate a language of worship by hiding God’s Word in our hearts, and reflecting on the truth of His Words as we go throughout our daily lives. We cultivate a spirit of worship by dwelling in God’s presence and abiding in Him each day. We cultivate a heart of worship by establishing daily rhythms of prayer, study, fellowship, fasting, serving, and other spiritual disciplines. When our hearts and minds are firmly fixed on Jesus, our hearts and hands can’t help worship Him! As cliche as it sounds, gratitude changes our attitude. Stepping out into nature can be an entry into a heart of worship because it tunes our heart and allows us to feel the presence of things greater than ourselves. It humbles us, putting our smallness into perspective and giving us a reverence for God like nothing else can. Typically, we think of worship as being the songs we sing on Sunday mornings, but it is so much more. Often, our most powerful worship experiences happen outside the doors of a church building. Our most powerful worship experiences happen when we are aware of God’s presence, and expecting Him to show up in our daily routines. He is there, whenever and wherever we call on His Name. He is worthy of our praise in all times and in all seasons.

Think about the disciples at Pentecost. They were faithfully meeting together. They were waiting expectantly, because they believed Jesus and trusted Him to fulfill His promise. And in their faithfulness, God showed up, and His Holy Spirit descended in a way they had never experienced and could never have anticipated. He exceeded their expectations. That’s what happens when our hearts are fixed on Jesus. Worship overflows. It multiplies and draws others in. It expands the Church – both inwardly and outwardly. It humbles us and magnifies Him. It honors Him and gives Him the glory He is worthy to receive.

 “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

– Acts 2:43-47

Celebration is also a form of worship, but we don’t typically think about celebration as being a spiritual discipline. As Dallas Willard writes, “We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, our world, in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty, and goodness. We concentrate on our life and world as God’s work and as God’s gift to us.” When I think about celebration, I think about Miriam singing and dancing before the Lord in celebration of God parting the waters of the Red Sea and delivering the Israelite’s safely to the other side (Exodus 15:20-21). When I think about celebration, I think about David as he “danced before the Lord with all his might” when the Ark of the Covenant was moved into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12-22).

When I think about celebration, I think about feasts, and holidays, and major life events. I think about how we celebrate a life when it’s born, and we celebrate a life when it ends. We celebrate marriages when they begin. We celebrate graduations, and new jobs, and new homes. We celebrate with our friends and our family when we gather together to “eat, drink, and be merry” as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 8:15. Jesus, Himself, performed His first public miracle at a wedding in Cana. He practiced celebration, because He knew the importance of celebration. Holidays are Holy Days. Throughout the Old Testament, God gave specific instructions for how the Jewish people should remember and keep certain days and times of the year Holy. Now, we celebrate the birth of our Savior at Christmas, and we celebrate His death and resurrection at Easter. We feast with our family and celebrate our blessings at Thanksgiving. We celebrate each new year. We celebrate each new season, each new week, each new day. In all his wisdom, Solomon said, “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

Don’t downplay the exciting times in your life. To downplay those times is to downplay the goodness of God. As Dallas Willard writes, “We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it or living for it.” He goes on to say, “Holy delight and joy is the great antidote to despair and is a wellspring of genuine gratitude.” When we celebrate our lives, we are celebrating the God who gives us life. When we celebrate the good things in our lives, we are celebrating the God who gives us every good gift. So let’s seize the moment, and embrace it for what it is. Let’s live our lives as a celebration of the goodness of God. Let’s enjoy His presence with us. Let’s walk in the joy of the Lord. Let’s give Him the praise, honor, and glory that He is so worthy to receive. Let’s worship Him. Let’s celebrate Him.

Service & Sacrifice

“This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God, but if we love each other, God lives in us and His love is brought to full expression in us.”

– 1 John 4:10-12 NLT

The First Sacrifice

The first sacrificial offering recorded in Scripture is found in Genesis 4 when Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, gave an offering to God. Cain, who was a tiller of the ground, brought some of his fruits. Abel, who was a keeper of the flocks, brought the first of his flock and their fat portions. God looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but not on Cain’s. Why is that? The Bible is not clear on exactly why, but it is clear on a few important details that could help us to infer the reason. The first is that Abel offered a living sacrifice, a blood sacrifice. The second is that Abel brought the first of his flock and their fat portions. Cain simply brought from his fruits; it doesn’t specify that he brought the first or the best of his fruits. Therefore, Abel’s offering appears to be more sacrificial. Hebrews 11:4 tells us Abel offered the better sacrifice by faith. He was demonstrating a complete dependence on God’s future provision.

The fact that Abel’s offering was a living, blood sacrifice is important because a blood sacrifice is what is required for the forgiveness of sins. We see this as early as Genesis 3:21 when God made animal skins to cover Adam and Eve after they sinned and became aware of their nakedness. Adam and Eve had attempted to cover themselves with fig leaves, but it was not enough. Once again, the sacrifice of fruit paled in comparison to the sacrifice of blood.

In a sense, the fig leaves of Adam and Eve and the fruit offered by Cain represent our spiritual fruits and good works. They represent our feeble attempts at covering our own sins and earning our own salvation. Adam and Eve sowed the fig leaves together with their own hands. Cain tilled the ground with his own hands. Our fruit is good, our works are good, but it’s not enough. It is by Grace we are saved, through faith, not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Life is in the Blood

God’s forgiveness requires the sacrifice of blood. Blood is the source of life in the human body. Without it, our bodies would stop working. It transports oxygen and nutrients throughout our body. It keeps our hearts pumping and our lungs breathing. It fights off diseases. It helps discreet waste. It clots up and scabs over to provide healing and protection. It is vital. It is essential. It is active. It is alive, and it keeps us alive. Blood is a symbol of life, and God is the giver of life. Salvation comes only through Him

Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” Leviticus 17:11 tells us the blood makes atonement for our souls. It covers us. In Exodus 12:13 we see that God required the Israelite’s to spread the blood of a lamb over the doorposts of their homes. This act of sacrifice served as a sign for God to pass over and not permit the final plague to enter in and kill their first born sons. Jesus was later recognized by John the Baptist as, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and in 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul writes, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” On the night of His death, Jesus and His disciples celebrated Passover, and Jesus foretold of His coming death. At that last supper, He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24).

Sacrificial Obedience

1 Samuel 15:22 says that obedience is better than sacrifice. In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. In the end, God did not require Abraham to follow through with this command. God did not desire Abraham’s sacrifice, He desired his obedience. God only wanted to know if Abraham would be willing to give up what was most precious to him. God only wanted to know if Abraham would continue to trust Him even when it didn’t make sense. Abraham was willing. He was obedient. He continued to trust. Abraham obeyed God’s command because he trusted in God’s promise. Many years before, God had made a promise that Abraham would be a father of many nations, and Abraham trusted God to fulfill that promise. When Isaac asked his father where the lamb was, Abraham responded, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). And God provided, just as Abraham expected. Our willingness to obey will always be met with God’s faithfulness to provide.

Just as the Passover lamb was a foreshadow of the death of Jesus as our Passover Lamb, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son was a foreshadow of God’s willingness to sacrifice His Son. Jesus is our sacrificed Lamb, our sacrificed Son. He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Jesus lived a life we could not live to pay a debt we could not pay. He is the spotless, blameless Lamb of God. He is the sinless Son of God sent to save us from our sins. We are like Isaac. We were bound and destined for death, but a provision from God took our place on the altar. Jesus was the ram in the bushes who took our place. He was sacrificed for us so we could be eternally freed from this life of sin and death.

Living Sacrifices

Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are made alive. Our sins are covered. He made atonement for us. We are in right standing with God. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23). And because we are alive, we are called to be living sacrifices. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” So how do we present ourselves as living sacrifices? We do this through our service. We serve Christ by serving others. Our service is an act of worship. It is an active sacrifice.

God doesn’t need our service, but He desires it. As Dallas Willard writes, “Our need to give is greater than God’s need to receive.” Service is a vital part of our spiritual growth. We receive so much through our giving. Service is cleansing for our souls. It rids us our selfishness and arrogance, causing us to look beyond ourselves. It rids us of our envy and greed, causing us to look beyond the external and superficial. It rids us of our bitterness and resentment, causing us to look beyond the faults and failures of others. It broadens our perspective, expands our horizons, and softens our hearts.

Service is how we put our faith into action. It is how we put the love of God into action. Service should not be seen so much as a discipline, but as opportunity to show God’s love and share God’s love. We should approach every new encounter, every new meeting, with an openness to serve. How can I serve this person? How can I show love to this person? How can I show Jesus to this person?

Secret Service

We take service one step further when we keep it a secret. In earlier weeks we discussed the spiritual discipline of secrecy, of keeping things between you and God. Jesus teaches this on His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6). “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:17-18). And “When you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Sacrificial Service

In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard says, “The discipline of sacrifice is one in which we forsake the security of meeting our needs with what is in our hands. It is total abandonment to God, a stepping into the darkened abyss in the faith and hope that God will bear us up.” An offering isn’t sacrificial until it hurts us to give it. It is the same with fasting. Have you ever tried to make negotiations and excuses with your fasting? When you start trying to think of the reasons why you can’t give something up – that’s probably the exact thing you need to give up. It shows you’re becoming dependent on it. I can give up the chocolate and sweets, but I can’t give up my morning coffee. I can’t function without it. I can give up the binge watching shows on Netflix, but I can’t give up social media. I need it for my job, I need it to stay in touch with my friends and family. We make excuses when we know it’s going to cost us something, when we know it’s going to hurt us in some way. But it isn’t truly giving unless it costs us something – whether that thing be our time, our money, our comfort, or our pride.

In Mark 12:41-44, as Jesus was observing people giving their offerings, He noticed that the rich people were giving large sums of money, but it was a widow who put in two small coins that caught His attention. Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

That’s the kind-of sacrifice God desires. It’s not the giving that matters, it’s the heart behind the giving. Her giving was not calculated and thought out. She didn’t calculate how much she could give and still have to live on. She didn’t make excuses to justify what she gave. She didn’t give out of an overflow of what she already had, but out of the overflow of her heart. She gave out of obedience. She gave with a willing heart, fully trusting God to meet her needs. Her giving was an act of worship.

Let us, too, worship through giving.

Let us honor His sacrifice through our service.

Let us give of ourselves for others, because He gave of Himself for us.

Let this be our prayer:



Fellowship, Confession, & Submission

What is Fellowship?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fellowship as “companionship” or as “a community of interest.” In my life, fellowship has taken many different forms. In my family, fellowship has looked like birthday dinners, Sunday after Church lunches, Friday night game nights, and weekend trips to the Mountains. Growing up in youth group, fellowship looked like silly games, late-night lock-ins, and short-term mission trips. Then it started to look like grieving together, navigating loss together, and growing up together. In college, it looked like sitting around a bonfire sharing testimonies with strangers until those strangers started to feel like family. Fellowship to me has looked like Church on Sunday morning, but it has also looked like living room Church, car Church, sitting on a rock at the top of a mountain Church, and standing on a beach late at night Church. Fellowship to me is gathering together with people who share my faith. Fellowship to me is showing up for the people I love when they need me, and the people I love showing up for me when I need them. Fellowship tells me I’m not alone. Fellowship holds me accountable, keeps me encouraged, and gives me hope.

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
– Philippians 2:1-2 

The Greek word for “fellowship” in this passage is “Koinonia” which means “communion” or “sharing in common.” As followers of Jesus, our common interest is Jesus. He is what unites us. He is the common ground that holds us steady through the highs and lows of life. Our backgrounds and life experiences may be different, our beliefs and feelings may be different, our personalities may be different – but Jesus unites us all, despite our differences.

I find it interesting that the word “communion” is used in the definition for fellowship. This is significant, especially considering that we are in the season of Lent right now. We are in the season leading up to Easter, leading up to the day we set aside each year to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Communion is about sharing in the suffering of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10:16 says, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” The beauty of communion is that we take it, and we give it. We pass it to our neighbor. We share it. In Matthew 26:26 at that first Lord’s Supper, “… Jesus took some bread, and after blessing it, He broke it and gave it to the disciples…” Communion is about being broken and poured out. Jesus gave of Himself. The bread represented His body, and He broke it and gave it away. The cup represented His blood, and He poured it out. That’s what Fellowship within the Church looks like. That’s what the Body of Christ looks like when we are following in the example of Jesus. It looks like giving of ourselves.

Why is fellowship important?

Fellowship is important because from the beginning of creation, God knew it was not good for man to be alone. Eve was created out of this need. She was created to be a helper for Adam. Bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, they became one (Genesis 2:18-25). God Himself exists as a Trinity – as three in One. In Genesis 1:26 He declared, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us two is better than one, because when one of us falls there’s another to lift us up. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to encourage each other and build each other up. Romans 12:4-10 tells us we all have different gifts. The Church operates as a body. We need each other. Our differences unite us. Our differences make us strong. Our differences keep us moving forward. As Dallas Willard writes, “Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of His greater presence much better than scattered individuals.”

What is the role of confession & submission in fellowship?

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

– Philippians 2:3-8

In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard writes, “Confession alone makes deep fellowship possible.” He goes on to say, “In it we let trusted others know our deepest weaknesses and failures. This will nourish our faith in God’s provision for our needs through His people, our sense of being loved, and our humility before our brothers and sisters. Thus we let some friends in Christ know who we really are, not holding back anything important, but, ideally, allowing complete transparency. We lay down the burden of hiding and pretending, which normally takes up such a dreadful amount of human energy. We engage and are engaged by others in the most profound depths of the soul.”

Confession involves the disclosure of our sins. It is humbling ourselves. It is being transparent with other believers about the areas where we fail and fall short. This is not the Catholic practice of confessing to a priest in order to receive penance for our sins. Only Christ forgives. Hebrews 3:1 tells us He is our High Priest, and 1 Peter 2:5 tells us we are “being build up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood.” We have direct access to God. He hears our prayers. Romans 10:10 says, “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Our salvation comes through confession. Confession deepens our fellowship with other believers, and with those who are coming to new faith in Jesus, because it opens the pathway for us to relate to one another on a deeper level. When trusted believers and spiritual leaders know our weaknesses, they can pray with us and help hold us accountable. When we expose the sins of our past by putting them in the light of Jesus, then those who do not yet believe will begin to see His grace at work within us and they will be drawn to know Him as we know Him.

In submission, we yield ourselves to the authority or control of another. Fellowship is not only about surrounding ourselves with like minded or commonly grounded people who share our faith, but it is also about surrounding ourselves with strong leaders of the faith. It is about surrounding ourselves with spiritually mature people who can speak truth and impart wisdom to us. It is about allowing ourselves to be discipled and poured into so we can then go out and make more disciples and pour ourselves out for others. If we only ever pour ourselves out without ever being poured into, then we’ll become spiritually dry, empty, and burnt out. We have to find balance. Dallas Willard writes, “In submission we engage the experience of those in our fellowship who are qualified to direct our efforts in growth and who then add the weight of their wise authority on the side of our willing spirit to help us do the things we would like to do and refrain from the things we don’t want to do.”

How can we practice confession & submission in our fellowship with one another?

Galatians 6:1-2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens. This means to take it up and carry it. Our brothers and sisters can’t help us carry our burdens if they never see the load we’re carrying. They can’t know if we don’t tell them. We aren’t meant to carry this weight alone. That’s what Jesus is for. That’s what His Church is for. He has put people in our pathway to help us carry the load.

Hebrew 13:17 tells us to submit to our leaders because they keep watch over our souls. God has placed people in authority in the church to warn us against the sins that are trying to ensnare and entangle us. These people in places of spiritual authority are there to provide loving correction, to pray for us, to counsel us, to admonish us. We have to be willing to receive their words, because they may be only a messenger God is using to speak His Word to us, and their counsel may be what God is using to confirm His calling for us.

Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” This word “subject” is a Greek military term which means “to arrange troop divisions in military fashion under the command of a leader.” In non-military terms, it means to have a voluntary attitude of giving in, of cooperating with others, of assuming responsibility, and helping shoulder a burden. We all have seasons in life where we are placed on the front line of the battleground, and we all have seasons of life where we are in the background helping nurse the wounds of those who’ve returned from the front line.

We are in a battle against sin and against the evil powers and forces of this world every day. We all have different roles to play, and different positions to hold. We will all be in different positions of spiritual authority at different points in our lives. Sometimes God will have us issuing the commands and speaking His Words to hearts who are hurting, and sometimes we will be the hurting heart that needs to receive a healing word or a firm command. In every time, in every season, we should always be humble in our confession, receptive in our submission, and faithful in our fellowship.

Why are confession & submission important in our fellowship?

James 5:16 tells us to confess our faults to one another and pray for one another. The word “confess” in this verse is the Greek word Exomologeō  which means “to say the same thing as another.” This type of confession is an agreement. It’s saying, “Me too.” This is why support groups, recovery groups, and addiction ministries are so important. When you’re confessing to someone who shares the same struggle, they can understand how difficult it was for you to say no, to turn away, and to resist the temptation. They can share in your sorrow because they know the pain. They can share in your rejoicing because they know what it took to get where you are. They will pray with you through the valley, and they will praise with you on the mountaintop.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “He that conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will have compassion.” In this verse, the Greek word for “confesses” is Yadah which means, “to throw, to shoot, to cast at or away” and it can also mean “to revere or worship with extended hands, to praise, to give thanks.” In this sense, confession is a way of casting our crowns at the feet of Jesus. It is saying, “This is who I am, in exchange for all that you are.” Our good deeds are filthy rags compared to His righteousness. Confession reminds us of this reality. It reminds us of our sinfulness, and therefore it reminds us of God’s righteousness. When we confess our sins, it humbles us and magnifies Him. It is an act of worship, an act of praise and reverence. This type of confession is also similar to casting out a fishing line. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus said. When we are honest with others about our sinfulness and God’s faithfulness, it is like bait on the end of a fishing line. This world is starving for a need only Jesus can satisfy. Let’s show them what He can do. Let’s show them who He is. Let them see Him in us. Let them hear the Good News in the stories we tell, the salvation we profess, and the message we proclaim. He forgives because He loves, and we know that loves because He first loved us. Let’s share His forgiveness by giving it away as freely as we received it. Let’s draw others to Him by being open and honest in the confession of our sins. When I think about the importance of confession, I think about the woman caught in adultery. I think about when Jesus drew that line in the sand and asked those who were without sin to cast the first stones. I picture those stones falling to the ground as each person turned and walked away. An act of confession – I am not without sin. I have no right to judge. And it left only her and Jesus. It left only her and the only One who could judge, the One who could condemn, but He chose not too. That’s what our confession does. It points to Jesus. It allows Jesus to do what He does best. It gives Him control. It gives Him the power to forgive us as only He can. It gives Him the power to unite us as only He can.