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The gifts we bring (January 28, 2024)

We are not our own; we belong to Christ. We are gifted by the Spirit so that we may be the church in the world, writes Tara Bulger.

Outlook Standard Lesson for January 28, 2024
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Romans 12:3-8

When I was in my early 40s several years ago, I decided to go back to school and obtain my Doctor of Ministry degree. During a routine phone call, I told my older brother I had been accepted into the doctoral program and would be starting soon. He replied that he was going to hurry and get a doctoral degree online so that he could say he had done it first! Sibling rivalry, it seems, has no age limit. (In the interest of full disclosure, when people would ask me if I would want them to call me Dr. Bulger when I was finished with my degree, I told them that wasn’t necessary. The only person I would insist on calling me Dr. Bulger would be my big brother.)

When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he reminds these siblings in Christ that they are each gifted and that no gift is more important than another. The church has no place for rivalry, it seems! Paul teaches that their gifts should be used, not for selfish reasons, but for the good of the whole church. In addition, Paul encourages the faithful to make good decisions and to do the right things. Paul is concerned with how these Gentile believers in Rome act within the church as much as without. What is the witness the church will have to the empire around them? How can the new church remain united in the face of empire? His writing is guided by the principle that love should be at the root of all the faithful do. As love is at the root of all Christ did, so too love should be at the root of all we do.

Paul believes that all people, upon their baptism, are given gifts for the building up of the church. The church is best served when people do not try to have the gifts others have but discern and use their own gifts. He wants these believers to treat each gift equally, none is more important than another.

Paul has further developed the idea of the body of Christ and how gifts are used in his first letter to Corinth. But since the Roman church would not have been familiar with that, he addresses the idea succinctly here. He identifies six roles that the church needs to recognize and develop: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership and compassion. At their root, however, is the knowledge that all gifts are given by the Holy Spirit and should be used for the building up of the church.

We talk about giftedness a lot in the church, but we often don’t readily recognize another person’s gifts. We tend to think that giftedness for ministry only resides in “certain” people — usually the ones who are called to ordination. But Paul assures us that we each are given gifts, and they should be used for the church.

John Calvin develops this idea further when he writes that “we are not our own.” Calvin writes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“Now the great thing is this: we are consecrated and dedicated to God in order that we may thereafter think, speak, meditate, and do nothing except to His glory. For a sacred thing may not be applied to profane uses without marked injury to Him.

If we, then, are not our own but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds.

We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us forget ourselves and all that is ours.

Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for Him and die for Him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal.”

We are not our own; we belong to Christ. We are gifted by the Spirit so that we may be the church in the world. Let us live into that fullness for all are needed for the work of the church.

Questions for reflection

  1. What are your gifts for the church? How are you using them?
  2. Identify gifts in two of your fellow church members. Share what giftedness you see in them.

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