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I invite you to turn to our second reading for today as Paul encourages us to use the gifts God has given us in humble service to him and our neighbor.
God truly provides in wonderful ways. When Israel was trapped at the Red Sea, he provided a way of escape and deliverance by dividing the waters. Israel passed through on dry ground, but the waters came crashing down on Pharaoh’s army that was pursuing them.
Three days later they were in need of water. They came to a place that looked like it had enough water for their needs, but the water was undrinkable. God had Moses throw a piece of wood into the water and, miraculously, it became fit to drink.
The family who was hosting the reception for the wedding at Cana had not planned for enough wine. They ran out. In a very quiet way that didn’t attract attention to himself, Jesus provided wine for the celebration.
Whether you are being chased by your enemies, or you run out of water in the wilderness, or you are in danger of being embarrassed because you are about to run out of drinks at a wedding reception, God can provide, even by a miracle if necessary.
A member who served in Vietnam as an army Ranger once told me about a time that he and his partner had been dropped behind enemy lines and missed their pickup. They were stranded long enough that their food had run out. Just when they were beginning to lose hope a great cloud of locusts landed near them and they had food that lasted until they were rescued. He was convinced it was a miracle of God.
A friend told me about a time when his family was out of money and they needed groceries. It was Sunday and they had their check written out for church which they could have torn up, and then used that money for groceries instead, but they decided to give the Lord what they had promised. The next day in the mail they received an unexpected gift of money which allowed them to purchase the groceries they needed.
God provides in wonderful ways, usually by giving us health and strength to be able to earn our living, but when necessary, he still may provide through miracles.
All the examples I have given relate primarily to physical needs. If God provides so wonderfully for our physical needs, how much more wonderfully he must provide for our spiritual needs!
Paul reminds us that WE, that’s all of us who are Christians, have different gifts according to the grace God has given us. As believers, we are all a part of the body of Christ of which he is the head. He gives different gifts because, just like a human body, it wouldn’t work to only have legs, or only arms, or only a head. A body needs all different parts and needs them all to be functioning if it’s going to be a healthy body. So, if the body of Christ, the church, is going to be healthy it needs every part working. It needs every believer using whatever gift God has given them.
Moses had to learn this lesson. Remember when God called him and told him he wanted him to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let his people go? He didn’t want to do it. He offered all kinds of excuses- he wasn’t qualified, the people wouldn’t believe God sent him, he couldn’t speak well; but God answered his every excuse. He promised to be with him, he gave him miraculous signs to perform, and he sent Aaron to help him. He provided Moses with all the gifts he needed to convince the Israelites that God had sent him, to stand before Pharaoh, and to lead the people out of Egypt to the Promised Land. God provides his body, the church, with the gifts, especially the spiritual gifts, he knows they need.
Every believer has gifts from God that the body of Christ needs. One gift, Paul says, is Prophecy. As he uses this word, he is most likely not thinking of foretelling the future or receiving a new revelation from God. He is most likely thinking of someone who is able to study Scripture and then explain and apply it for others. Such a person is to use their gift always making sure that what they say is in complete agreement with the faith; that nothing they say contradicts Scripture. Pray that God would continue to bless us with pastors, teachers, Sunday school teachers, lay men and women who have and use the gift of prophecy.
Paul lists some other gifts that God may give to members of the body of Christ; serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leadership and showing mercy. In each case his encouragement is, whatever your gift might be, use that gift. Don’t be like Moses and make excuses. Don’t compare your gifts to the gifts of others. Remember, if everyone had the same gifts the body of Christ couldn’t function properly, nor can it function properly if you don’t use the gifts God has given you. Whatever gifts you have, use those gifts diligently. Devote a generous amount of time to using that gift. Do it with a cheerful heart.
As we look at these words of Paul, we have to admit we often fail to do what he is asking. All too often we only think about ourselves, about how busy we are and about how we need to be served by others. We make excuses as Moses did. All too often, if we try to use our gift, instead of doing it cheerfully, we grumble about having to do it, or we aren’t very diligent. We have to admit that we are often the reason that the body of Christ limps along and isn’t as healthy as it could be.
As we acknowledge and confess these sins, we need to see Jesus. We see that he always made diligent, cheerful use of his gifts. He was always willing to serve instead of being served, even to the point of going to the cross to pay for our excuses, our grumbling, our seeking to be served, our failure to use the gifts God has given us. As we are reminded of our forgiveness in Jesus the Holy Spirit sets our hearts on fire. As our new man of faith is strengthened through the word and sacrament we don’t want to be lagging in zeal, but fervent in spirit as we serve the Lord. We want to use the gifts he has given us to serve him and our neighbor in love.
According to the new man of Faith that the Holy Spirit has created in our hearts we don’t just pretend to love others. Our love for others is unhypocritical. It’s not just looking for what we can get in return, but we show love even when we know we won’t receive anything in return. In fact, notice that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to define unhypocritical love with these two phrases: hate what is evil, cling to (literally be glued to) what is good. Most of the world today doesn’t understand this. They think love is never calling anything sinful or evil. But that’s the height of hypocrisy and self-love. It’s ultimately saying, “as long as I’m saved I don’t care what happens to anyone else. Let them live contrary to God’s law and end up in hell. At least I’m safe.” That’s not hating evil or clinging to the good. Now, although we hate what is evil that doesn’t mean we are hateful to others. We must speak the truth in the most loving way we can, but we must call sin what God calls sin, or we are guilty of clinging to evil and ignoring the good.
Paul told the Galatians that they were to do good to all people, that would include their enemies. But they were especially to do good to their fellow believers. Here he encourages us to be devoted to one another with brotherly love. We are to treat our fellow believers like family, because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are parts of the same body, the body of Christ. In order to do that, when it comes to honoring others, take the lead. That would be a literal translation. Or as the EHV translates think of others as deserving more honor than yourselves.
As we examine our lives, we see that we often fail to show what God would call love. We often fail to hate what God calls evil. We often cling to the evil instead of the good. We often shrink from calling something sinful that God calls sinful because we fear the reaction of others more than we fear the anger of God. We fail to be devoted to our brothers and sisters in Christ and sometimes barely acknowledge their presence. We sometimes think that we are deserving of more honor than others because we think that we area more gifted or do more important things than others.
As we acknowledge and confess these sins, we again need to see Jesus. He performed his first public miracle in a very humble, quiet way. He didn’t shrink back from pointing out evil, by clearing the temple of money changers, telling the woman at the well that the man she was living with wasn’t her husband, and pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He was the most gifted person to ever live on the earth, yet he did not lord it over others and he always sought to give glory to the Father. He did these things perfectly, as our substitute before God. He paid for our lack of love, our failure to hate evil and love good, our lording it over others and seeking honor for ourselves when he died on the cross in our place.
What Jesus has done for us is much more than provide us with a perfect example. What he as done for us is provide us with the perfection we don’t have but need, and the forgiveness we need so that we are saved. As Paul started this chapter, In view of God’s mercy, in view of what he has already done for us in Jesus, we are moved to use the gracious gifts he gives us to humbly serve him and our neighbor.