Jenny and Georgia on a swing

This blog post is based on a sermon I preached recently, based on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. This sermon explored one of our church’s values: working together, encouraging all to use our God-given gifts.

When we come to church each week, it can be easy to overlook what goes into making the service happen. But what would this service have looked like if we didn’t have an organist, or anyone to play music? What would it have looked like if there was no one here to lead us through the service? What would it look like if no one had come and cleaned the church during the week? Or what would it look like if no one had organised the rota for our Bible readings, prayers, refreshments, flowers and welcomers? I’m sure we would muddle through and make the best of it. But would it be the best that this church can be?

Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the different values that we have identified for ourselves as a Parish to live by. These are values that guide our decision making and help us to ensure that we are living out who we as this church believe we should be. And today, we are focusing on: ‘Working together, encouraging all to use our God-given gifts’.

There are a few things for us to unpack in this value: what are our God given gifts? How do we encourage everyone to use their God-given gifts? And how does this help us to work together better?

What are our God-given gifts?

So, let’s start with what are God-given gifts? Now normally at this point in a sermon I would be looking for the perfect illustration to show this idea. And there are lots to choose from. You could think of an orchestra where each instrument does something different to contribute to the music that is created. Or you could think of a cake where all the ingredients have a different role to play in creating the finished masterpiece.

But in our reading today, Paul gave us a brilliant illustration right in front of us: the human body – with each body part from our toes to our nose playing an important role in making the body function. And personally, I love this illustration the most – because whilst I love orchestral music, and I really love cake; the human body is an incredible thing.

I know some of you have studied biology, or nursing and medicine so will know much more than me about the human body. But I did study Human Biology at A-Level and the biggest thing I remember from studying that course is seeing how incredibly intricate the human body is – all the different systems working together to keep us alive and functioning. From our brains and nervous systems, to how we breathe, and how blood flows through our bodies. And how all of these systems are connected to each other in such clever ways that we don’t even think about because, most of the time, they just work.

God’s gift to the church

Often when we think of our God-given gifts, we think of it being a gift that God has given to us. A skill that we have been blessed with. And this is true, these are gifts from God. But they are gifts that God is giving to the church, through us. We are not the ultimate recipient of that gift. But we are who God is using to give that gift to the church. And I think this is an important distinction to make – because it reminds us that these gifts aren’t all about us, they are about the church.

And we can see this in the illustration of a human body – why does our heart beat? It isn’t for it’s own benefit, it beats because of how important that is for the rest of our body.

And that is why it’s so important for us to be using our God-given gifts. Because your gifts are not just for you, they are for God’s church. In verse 18 of the passage we read, Paul says: “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be”. God gave you the gifts that you have for a reason, and that reason will benefit the whole church – the church here in locally, and the global church. If you are not using your gifts, you are keeping that gift to yourself when it was meant to be shared.

So, we know that each one of us has a gift. And we know that those gifts are for God’s church – so we must use them, just as each body part works to serve the whole body. What are your gifts? How are you using those gifts to serve the church?

How do we encourage others to use their God-given gifts?

Next, we’re going to look at how do we encourage others to use their God-given gifts? Well first, I think we need to help people to identify their gifts. It can be easy to look at ourselves and think that we don’t have any gifts to offer. Because we aren’t the vicar, or we can’t be in the band, or play the organ; or we’re too old or too young, or not confident enough, or not clever enough. But every single person has a gift, has a role to play.

The most important gifts

The word “member” means belonging to a group. But it comes from the Latin membrum, meaning limb or part of the body. If we belong to this church, if we belong to God’s family, we are part of that body. And every part of that body is important. As Paul pointed out in our reading, we don’t get rid of our feet just because they aren’t hands. Imagine what life would be like if you’re whole body was made of hands. We need each different gift to make up the whole body. And maybe your little finger would look at the other four fingers and think “I’m not as useful as these other fingers, I’m not important”. But God gave us five fingers on each hand for a reason. He put them there, just as he put each one of us here.

Maybe you sometimes feel like that little finger – looking at people around you and thinking that their gifts are much more useful. Maybe you aren’t sure what your gift is, or how you could use it. Or maybe your gift doesn’t feel very important. But God gave you that gift for a reason, and he placed you in this church for a reason. So, it is for all of us to see our gifts, and the gifts of others, and to encourage each other in our gifts.

Seeing others’ gifts

We need to point out and celebrate the skills and talents that we see in other people. We need to listen to God’s direction when he reveals gifts in us and in other people. And then we need to help people see how they can use those gifts to serve God and serve the church body.

And I think it’s important to remember here, that I don’t think God just gives us one set of gifts. The gifts you have now may be different to the gifts that you had 10, 20, 30 years ago. Just because you used your gifts in brilliant ways back then, doesn’t mean you don’t have gifts to offer now.

So, we know that each of us have gifts, given from God to his church. We know that we must use these gifts and encourage others to recognise and use their gifts too. How could you help someone else to see and to use their gifts?

How do God-given gifts help us work together?

But what does this all have to do with our value – working together?

I think Paul helps us to answer this question in verse 21, when he says: “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

An eye by itself can’t do very much, nor can a hand by itself. Just imagine an eye trying to cook dinner, or a hand trying to see. But a human body – all of these parts together, can do amazing things. This mismatch of organs and bones and skin and muscles can run and jump and dance; it can build and paint and create beautiful music.

And in the same way, each of us individually can do little compared to the amazing things that God can do through us when we are all using and sharing our gifts. When we bring together those with a gift for fixing things, and those with a gift for creating new things, and those with a gift for teaching, and those with a gift for accounting – that is when the church is capable of incredible things.

Dear God, thank you for the many gifts that you have blessed your church with. Thank you that together, we can do incredible things for your glory. Help us to recognise these gifts in ourselves, and in the people around us. Help us to use these gifts, coming together as one church, one body. Amen.

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