Using your Spiritual Gifts
The Apostle Paul writes, “But to each one of us grace was given, according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7).
William Farel became a true follower of Christ in the early 1520s, during the time the Reformation, under the leadership of Martin Luther, was raging like a wild-fire throughout Europe. Farel had a burning zeal to preach Christ to whomever would listen and he travelled incessantly and tirelessly throughout eastern France, Switzerland, and southern Germany preaching Christ and denouncing the Pope and the excesses of Roman Catholicism.
Farel, a bachelor until he was sixty-nine, was a short, gaunt man with an unkempt red beard who was fiery, forceful, and belligerent in his sermon delivery. He always preached extemporaneously without sermon preparation and thus none of his sermons have been handed down to us. He was a lightning rod for controversy. He would enter a town and people immediately were opposed to him. On the other hand, many admired and loved him, hanging on his every word, coming to Christ in the thousands. An observer said that one could not listen to Farel without trembling at his thunder, or listen to his fervent prayers without being almost carried to heaven. On one occasion he was attacked and beaten by a host of women who objected to his preaching against the worship of the Virgin Mary. When he entered Basel, Farel called the well known humanist, Erasmus, with whom Luther had much controversy, Balaam. Predictably Erasmus did not take kindly to his accusation and had the authorities run him out of town for sedition. When Farel entered Geneva in 1532, just as Reformation teaching was taking hold of the city, he faced a riot, was beaten, and run out of town by his adversaries.
In 1536, however, Farel was back in Geneva and heard that young John Calvin, then twenty-seven, was in town. Calvin had already made a name for himself as a writer and theologian, having recently finished the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, as well as having written a commentary on the Roman writer Seneca. Farel must see Calvin and urge him to stay and help solidify the gains the Reformation was making there. As Phillip Schaff has noted, Farel could tear down but not build up. He was a conquerer, not an organizer. He was a man of action, not a man of letters. He was an intrepid preacher, not a theologian. He felt his own defects and he knew he was not the man to establish and build the Reformation in Geneva. He needed another man of differing gifts. He must decrease and Calvin must increase. So he appealed to Calvin to stay and become a pastor and theologian, to preach regularly in the church, to build up the body of Christ.
Calvin was the very opposite of Farel, not only in temperament but also in gifts. He was quiet, withdrawn, calm, an introvert, a great thinker, a ‘cutting edge’ theologian. He believed he could best build the kingdom of God by retiring to a quiet place and writing his theological books. Farel persisted to appeal to Calvin, that he was needed in Geneva, and Calvin calmly and thoughtfully rebuffed him. Finally, in exasperation Farel said that if Calvin did not stay then he would pray, asking God to curse his studies. Now, admittedly this is a classic example of guilt manipulation but Calvin so feared God that he thought Farel may be heard by him. Calvin relented and became a preacher and pastor. Not one of the thousands of sermons published, nor any of Calvin’s theological works were written in solitude; but each was forged on the anvil of vital, daily pastoral ministry.
May I suggest you face at least one of four problems in your life and these belie the tendency of your heart. Perhaps you are prone toward depression, drifting, pride, or fear. The root of these problems is selfishness. The kingdom of God is not about you. It is about God and others. If you are a believer, then you have spiritual gifts, and God wants you to use them for the expansion of his kingdom.
We have an epidemic of depression in our culture, and while risking the possibility of being misunderstood, I suggest this is largely due to irresponsibility, not doing what we know we ought to do. If I am a teen and I am failing in school because I am not studying, then I probably feel bad about myself, and I will want to relieve my pain. I may do so by getting hooked on internet porn, and then I spiral further into feeling bad about myself. The solution, far too often in our culture, is for the doctor to give medication without dealing with the underlying symptoms, the sins of selfishness and irresponsibility.
Then there is the tendency to drift away from the Lord. It may go like this – you stay up too late at night watching your favourite team, and thus you don’t have time the next morning to spend time with God. Then things go poorly at work, you respond in an ungodly way to your boss, and you feel further away from God. Before long you are finding excuses for not attending public worship, you are not leading your family spiritually, and you are tempted to go after another woman in the office.
Then there is the tendency toward pride. Looking back at my life, after graduation from Seminary, I now see how much pride was controlling my life. I really thought I was something special and it took about ten years of very painful failures in ministry for God to crush me, to break the back of my sinful pride. I am not suggesting that I still don’t battle it (just ask my wife) but I am far more sanctified in this area than I was.
And then most men, myself included, battle the sin of fear. We are afraid of being found out, of losing what we have. We so much want to impress our colleagues that we must make the best presentation of our group. We must appear to really grasp the issues at hand in the business meeting. We must be able to contribute significantly to the long range planning session. And then as you move up the corporate ladder, the stakes get higher. You are making more money than you ever dreamed possible. You have new obligations, new toys, a new life-style to feed, and you fear losing it. I liken it to a treadmill. At first, the treadmill is moving along at a fifteen minute per mile pace with no incline, and you feel comfortable. But then the pace quickens to twelve minutes, then eight minutes, all the while the incline is more pronounced. By the time you have been at it for twenty-five or thirty years you fear that you cannot keep up, that you are going to fail, that you are going to lose it all.
My dear friends, when you are depressed, drifting, prideful, or fearful may I say you are looking at yourself. You have gifts which God expects you to use for his kingdom, and that may mean making money, being an example to others of godly leadership, of teaching others how to live with disappointment. Use your gifts for his kingdom and others. It’s not about you.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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