Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Using Your Gift – 1 Tim 4:14

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (NIV)
Don’t Neglect Your Gift
Many things run through my mind as a read and think about this verse. I wonder what Timothy’s gift was. I also wonder about this unique method by which he received his gift. When I think about how I should respond to this verse, what is important is clear. I should not neglect any gift that God has given me.

In Matt 25:14-30, Jesus told the parable of three men who received property to be used until the owner returned. The story is familiar to most people. What is not familiar or is ignored is that it was told in context of the disciples’ question about the end of the age. In response, Jesus taught about signs of the end, how to get into the kingdom, the parable of the talents, and finished with final judgment.
In the parable, the first two men are rewarded because they used whatever was given to them and the third was punished because he failed to use it. Today, many preachers miss the true meaning of this parable by relegating it to good stewardship. The parable is primarily about God’s kingdom and whether we accept His gift of salvation and use it for His glory or whether we scorn it as the one who buried the talent in the ground. How do I know this is the primary teaching? I looked at the ending of the parable. The punishment for the one who scorned the gift is descriptive of eternal punishment. Since salvation doesn’t come by works, using the talents to get more vs. not using the talent couldn’t make the difference between the reward and the punishment. Even if a person were to use the talents to increase 1,000 fold but didn’t have the gift of salvation they would end up in the same place as the person who buried the talent. Therefore, the only gift that can be used and rewarded in this way is salvation. In addition, the wicked servant’s description of the Master was wrong, revealing that he didn’t really know the Master.

Since salvation is our greatest gift and we shouldn’t neglect it.  What can I do to make sure I’m not neglecting it? Isa 12:1-4 Then you will say on that day, "I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord; For although Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, And Thou dost comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. Therefore you will joyously draw water From the springs of salvation. And in that day you will say, "Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted." (NASB)
On the day of my salvation and even beyond, the very first thing I need to do is give thanks to the Lord, remembering that God is angry with sinners. Sometimes we dwell on God’s love for sinners so much that we forget that He is also angry with sinners. When I’m saved, His anger has turned away from me. It was poured out on Jesus on the cross.

After I’ve turned to Him, He comforts me. Again, I need to give him thanks. I need to shout, “Behold! God has saved me through Jesus Christ.” It doesn’t matter what happens in this life because He comforts me and strengthens me. I can sing praises to Him and about Him. If I don’t trust Him for this, then I am certainly neglecting His wondrous gift of salvation. If I’m fearful of what may happen, it demonstrates that I’m not trusting God but other things such as my own strength, the government, other people, or even other gods. All of these things will fail us but God won’t.
Jesus said that He was the living water and whoever comes to Him will never thirst (John 4:14, 6:35). When I walk with Jesus, I will have His joy as I draw on His springs of living water, His salvation. If I’m not joyous in my Christian life, then it’s because my trust is elsewhere and I’m not drawing on His living water, His strength, His Spirit, but my own or something else. That would constitute neglecting my gift.

Finally, using my gift of salvation means that I need to call on His name, pray. A lot of trusting, not being afraid, and being strengthened by God comes from prayer. Certainly, I can’t walk with Jesus without prayer. From prayer comes the ability to declare His mighty deeds – especially Jesus’ work on the cross. There are many ways to do this. Speaking to others about Jesus, writing blogs, posting on facebook or twitter are just some of the many ways to make it happen. Contributing to things like the Jesus Film Project can bring the message of salvation to thousands of people. Whenever I do any of these things, His name is exalted and I’m not neglecting my gift of salvation. It is different for each of us as He has given us different gifts of ministry.
Getting back to Timothy, Paul wasn’t talking about salvation but a specific gift of ministry. This isn’t what Jesus was talking about in the parable even though many preach that it was. The reason is that believers will not be punished if we don’t use our talent, but will lose the reward (1 Cor 3:14-15). God’s wrath is not poured out on those whom He has saved (1 Thess 5:9).

Rom 12:6-8 And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if 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. (NASB) Paul emphasizes the fact that each of us has received different gifts and this is the only resemblance to the parable. The gifts are given by God as He determines (1 Cor 12:11) and that is why Paul states that it is according to the grace given us. It is because of His grace that we receive anything. I’m not in a position where I can negotiate with God which gifts I want. I am born with certain abilities and potential and I’m also given spiritual gifts in the same way. The gift is only useful when it is used for His glory.
Attitude is as important as the gift. I could prophesy by faith or by my own conceit as did the false prophets of Jeremiah’s time (Jer 14:14). My teaching, serving, exhorting, or other gifts can all be exercised to bring glory to God or to myself. I can use them reluctantly or joyfully. I should be alert to any selfish or grumbling use of my gifts as I would classify that as neglect.

How Do I Get the Gifts?
If I were to only look at this verse in Timothy and Act 6:6, 8:17, 13:3, 1 Tim 5:22, and 2 Tim 1:6, I would come away with the faulty conclusion that having Christian leaders putting their hands on me is a requirement for ministry. Several denominations have pushed this to the limits. They believe that only those who have an unbroken chain of ordinations, which includes laying hands on the recipients, have authority in matters of faith, morals, and the valid administration of sacraments. There is a huge gap between what these verses say and this dogma about who has authority in these matters. Based on Jesus’ commission in Matt 28:18-20, any believer has the right to baptize. I haven’t found anything in Scripture that would prevent me from leading in communion unless I was ordained. It doesn’t matter if it was with my family, or in a large group or a small one. In addition to these, as long as we are remaining true to the Bible, we have the same authority to rebuke or instruct others on moral issues and to share our faith inviting anyone who hears to believe in Jesus and be saved.

Another fallacy that comes from 1 Tim 1:18 and 4:14, is that gifts of ministry require some sort of prophecy. I’ve read about this and heard about it. Some preacher or ministry leader tells someone that he is called to a mission, ministry, or other service. Based on this prophecy, they jump on board. God is glorified and this is wonderful, however it doesn’t mean that this is the normal or only way people are given gifts of ministry. I mentioned before that Timothy was unique. There aren’t any other Scriptures that follow this pattern. If it were the only or even the normative way gifts were bestowed, then I would expect to see it either directly explained or found in multiple places.
If I’m using my gift of salvation as described above, my ministerial gift will become evident. I don’t have to ask for it or wait for someone to tell me what it is. I don’t need to have someone lay hands on me before I start using it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that everyone should run out and be a Lone Ranger. Eph 4:11-16 describes using gifts in conjunction with the Church. It also provides accountability because a Lone Ranger can very easily stray without someone to hold him accountable. Taking official positions in the church should require examination to ensure this happens.

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