Tag Archives: spiritual gifts

Of Slaves and Apostles – Titus 1:1-4, Part 2

11 Jun

Have you ever called yourself a slave to your boss? A slave to your job? Maybe you have slaved over a project in school. Or perhaps you worked slavishly doing yard work. We use the word “slave” in many ways, even though that word has a horrid connotation because it describes the very awful and very real world of many people today, and throughout history. Slavery is terrible. Would it surprise you to learn that in his letter to Titus, Paul calls himself a slave of God? Is Paul off his rocker? Does God have slaves? What is going on here?

In Part 1 of this series of posts on Titus 1:1-4, I said that we are reading other people’s mail. Today we begin to do just that. In verse 1 Paul starts off in two ways that were very common in ancient letter writing, but might seem strange to our modern eyes. First, he begins the letter by identifying himself, “Paul”.  We always start our letters by addressing who we are writing to. 

Second, Paul writes in a fairly formal fashion.  We’re not used to that.  Our letters are so often very informal: “Hey man, how are you doing?” or just a simple, “What’s up?”  But how does Paul start? “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness…”  Here is Paul writing to a close friend.  And he starts like that?  To our modern sensibilities, this seems odd.  I want to say, “Geesh, Paul, just talk normal to the guy.”

But that is our culture talking, and I think there is another point that could help explain further why Paul is so formal here.   Look at the end of the letter, chapter 3 verses 12 to the end.  There Paul is more personal in his comments to Titus.  Also in verse 15, the very last phrase, he says, “Grace be with you all.”  Paul doesn’t say “Grace be with you, Titus.”  He says, “Grace be with you all.”  That is a clue, I suspect, that Paul intends the content of the letter to be read to all.  Yes, he is teaching Titus.  But he is also teaching all the house churches in the various towns on the island of Crete.  And thus it makes sense that he would be more formal back in 1:1-4. Let’s continue reading verses 1:1-4.

First of all, he establishes his authority and credentials.  Look at verse 1.

“Servant,” in the Greek language that Paul originally wrote in, is also translated as “slave”.  Slavery in the ancient near east is not the same as slavery that we Americans are familiar with from our history.  In Paul’s day, slaves might actually have opportunity for advancement and position. If you were a servant of the king, for example, you were in a positive position.  Some slaves could purchase their freedom. Slavery was also rarely based on race. But slavery could also be brutal in the Greco-Roman Empire. Please don’t read me as saying that it was okay. It was still one human owning another human, and often mistreating them. That means Paul’s frequent use of this word to describe his relationship with God is curious.  Paul is not saying that slavery is good.  He is saying that he belongs to God.  God owns him.  And that is not a bad thing.  That’s why most English translations use the word “servant” for this Greek word. I tend to think that “servant” takes an unnecessary edge off the concept that Paul is trying to convey. “Slave” is the better word, as harsh as that might sound, because of the connotation that Paul has given up his freedom and submitted it to the will of God.

Second, Paul says he is an apostle of Jesus Christ.  The word, “apostle” can be defined as a special messenger.  There were the 12 disciples of Jesus who became the 12 Apostles, and Paul was added to their number by God’s choice in Acts 9.  The apostolic gift and task is one of seeing where new works for the Kingdom can be started.  Sometimes that is missionary work, church planting, or starting other new ministry.  It is very entrepreneurial and very important.  Paul lived this apostolic life traveling many times across the Roman Empire, starting new churches for God everywhere he went, including the Island of Crete where Paul is now sending this letter to his friend Titus.

So Paul’s primary descriptors of himself are servant and apostle.  In nearly all of his letters, he starts like that.  In other words, he saw his life as defined by God’s mission.  Paul could have talked about his lineage or about his income-earning work, which was tent-making, or about his ministry successes, or his education, or his previous life as an important Jewish leader.  He doesn’t do any of that.  Instead he talks about his role in the mission of God’s Kingdom.  He is a servant and apostle. I find that very instructive.  So can we identify at all with Paul?  Or was he too special, too different? 

I think we can identify in many ways with Paul. 

First, that word “servant.”  Put your name in place of Paul.  “(Your Name), servant of God.” How does that sound to you?  How does that feel?

That is what you are!  But we so rarely identify ourselves as a servant or slave of God.  It is important to ask, “What kind of servant am I?  What should I be doing to serve the Lord?”  For Paul, this was his central identity.  That is something that we can emulate too!  Serving God should be our central identity.

But what about the “apostle” part?  Can we put our name in there?  We are not all apostles are we?  Are there apostles now?  Every now and then, depending on where you travel, you might see a church sign that has the name of the pastor as, “Apostle so and so.”  Some people clearly still use that title.  Are they wrong?  Let’s talk about that.

In my theological tradition, we believe that there were the original 12 Apostles, the 12 that were specifically chosen by Jesus.  One betrayed him, Judas, and then in Acts 1, we read that the remaining 11 replaced Judas with Matthias because he, too, was with Jesus.

But Paul wasn’t a part of that group.  So how did he become an apostle?  Paul used to be a persecutor of Christians, and you can read the story of God’s miraculous intervention in his life in Acts 9, when Jesus called Paul to be a special 13th Apostle of sorts.  Paul, like the other 12, is included in the group of Apostles because he was personally called by Jesus.

While we believe there are no longer specially called apostles on the level of the 12 or 13, we do believe there is an apostolic gift which Paul went on to teach about in his letter to the church at Ephesus in chapter 4 of Ephesians when he says that God called some to be “apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and shepherds and teachers.”  Using the first letter of each of these gifts, APEST, some of given that name to the five-fold gifting of Christians. And these gifts are given by God to all true followers of Jesus.

What gift do you have? What is your role?  Just like Paul we are all servants, but we also have a gifting from God.  Paul’s gifting was to be an apostle.  What is yours?  There are many gifts assessments that you can take to get a starting point. Those assessments are not the word of God for you, but they can help you think about how God might have gifted you. I recommend the APEST test found here. After you take it, I encourage you to discuss it with those people who know you best. Maybe people in your church small group, or your close family and friends. Then start serving in a ministry in your church that could help you practice your gift. See the test as a discussion starter, or a launch pad. Maybe the test was accurate, but maybe in time you’ll see that it needs to be adjusted.

In conclusion what we have seen in the first half of verse 1 is Paul establishing his identity as a servant and an apostle of God, but why? Check back in tomorrow as we continue the study.

That time the Apostle Paul talked about unpresentable parts

15 Aug

I really think there was a twinkle in his eye.  He wasn’t there when they read the letter, so I have to imagine that twinkle, and the corners of his mouth turning up as he grinned to himself thinking about when they would read this. They would get the letter, gather the group of followers of Jesus together in the house where they would meet and some would read it out loud.

Were there snickers among the group when the reader got to this part?

“[T]hose parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it.  But with all the possible analogies in this life Paul could have used, he chose that one, and I for one find it humorous.  More importantly, Paul’s image of the church as the body of Christ is filled with images of unity in diversity.body-of-christ

As we think about that group of people we call our local church or our home church, would you say that yours is filled with diversity?  Faith Church has loads of it.  Not just the obvious differences like gender and generations, but also personality types, stations in life, experiences, and perspectives.  We are human. So alike, and yet so unique.  In the church we also see diversity in the varied spiritual gifts.

Because ours is a culture of celebrity, we love to put people with certain looks and talents in the place of honor.  Even though those celebrities are human just like the rest of us, we can start to believe that they are better.  They’re really not, but we treat them that way.  This is a widespread tendency in our world, and it goes on in the church.  We talked about a version of this in the beginning of the 1st Corinthians series when people were taking sides by aligning themselves with BNPs…Big Name Preachers.  Now Paul is talking about how people in the church of Corinth are elevating people with certain gifts.

Some of the spiritual gifts are very visible.  The pastor is front and center, especially by preaching the sermon every week.  This is similar to the worship leader or the teacher.  Then there are the gifts of tongues and prophecy which are very attention-getting.  In Corinth it seems the tongues-speakers and prophesiers were placing themselves in the limelight during worship gatherings.

Are people with certain gifts better?  Are certain gifts better?  And how does talking about unpresentable parts help us answer these questions?

Join us Sunday at Faith Church as we discuss this further!  In the meantime read 1 Cor. 12:12-31, the passage we’ll be studying, to get further acquainted with what Paul was thinking.

The Spiritual Gift Game Show! – 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

7 Aug

Phil Bartelt started things out this past Sunday with “Kingdom Life,” a Spiritual Gifts Game Show!

Do you know your spiritual gift(s)?  Are you using your gift(s)?

When we had sermon discussion group after the worship service, we had a great time talking about what it means to have spiritual gifts, and yet there were a lot of questions that we weren’t able to answer satisfactorily:

Have certain gifts ceased? Paul will talk about this concept coming up soon in 1st Corinthians 13:8 when he says “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” And yet in chapter 14:39 he tells the church “be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” We know that Paul wasn’t the kind of guy who would contradict himself, but these verses leave us questioning what he meant. This is another big debate in Christian theology around the world. (How many of such debates have we encountered during this 1st Corinthians series???)  At sermon discussion, I asked if we could pause this particular line of discussion until we get further along.  In our sermons on chapter 14 we’ll talk about it more specifically.

When do we receive spiritual gifts?  Growing up, I was always taught that we receive gifts from the Spirit at the moment we become followers of Jesus.  But many times we see people who have natural abilities that they can use for Christ.  Are those natural abilities the same thing as spiritual gifts?  If so, do all people receive spiritual gifts at birth?  And maybe those gifts are only energized by the Spirit at the moment a person begins to follow Christ?  But hold on, what if a person doesn’t remember the specific moment they started following Christ?  While some people have a distinct moment of decision when they chose to start following Christ, for many other people it has been a lifelong process.

As you can see, we didn’t come to a conclusion about that second question because there isn’t a clear answer in Scripture.  What we do know is what Paul says in this chapter, that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  That’s pretty amazing to think about.  Each follower of Jesus has the manifestation of the Spirit in their life!

Many_Gifts_One_Spirit_wide_t_nvAnd that leads to another question we discussed: what if we don’t feel like we have spiritual gifts?  Paul says that all have gifts, but maybe you don’t feel like you have any?  Maybe you watch people serving the Lord, teaching a class, playing an instrument on the worship team, praying in front of people, or sharing their faith in many ways in their community, and you think “I don’t do those things; I wonder if God skipped over me?”

That led us to look at the various lists outside of 1st Corinthians where Paul mentions other gifts.  Romans 12:3-8 has a bunch, as does Ephesians 4:11.  Some have wondered if these lists are meant to be comprehensive, meaning that if you don’t find a gift in these lists, then it must not be a spiritual gift.  Playing music for example.  It’s never mentioned as a spiritual gift, so it must just be an ability?  I don’t feel it is best to look at the gifts lists in Scripture that strictly.  Paul was likely being illustrative rather than exhaustive, meaning that he listed out a bunch of gifts, not intending to speak about every single possible gift the Spirit might give.  As I say that, I admit that I don’t know for sure.  I am also hesitant to call every ability a gift of the Spirit.  Christians through the ages have done a great job categorizing gifts.  At Faith Church we have used the PLACE materials to help people begin to think about recognizing and using their gifts.  PLACE incorporates personal abilities, passions, experiences and personality types into a much fuller assessment of how God uniquely made each one of us. I encourage people to work through the PLACE materials rather than just take a spiritual gifts inventory.

And no matter how you begin thinking about your giftedness, it is best to bring other people into the process.  Ask people who love you how they see your giftedness.  Then seek out ways to use your gifts in the context of the church.  Some of the best advice I received as a young man headed off to my first year of college was from my mom.  She encouraged me to try a lot of things.  Don’t get stuck in a rut.  I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did.  It gave me a chance to learn a lot about myself and how God uniquely shaped me. People can do the same in the life of the church.  Be willing to serve, even if you are very unsure that you are gifted in a particular area.  Try new things. Put yourself out there!

Do you know your spiritual gifts?

2 Aug

Spiritual-GiftsSpiritual Gifts…do you know what your spiritual gift is?

Have you ever taken one of those spiritual gifts tests where you answer a whole bunch of questions, and then you tally up the results, and voila, you find out which spiritual gift you have?

Tests like that could be helpful as a starting place, or at least that’s how we have looked at them at Faith Church.

As we continue working through Paul’s long teaching on worship (chapters 11-14), which is based in his concern that the church at Corinth’s worship gatherings were out of control, he wants them to learn that unity is vital to worship. One area they were showing their disunity is spiritual gifts.

We talk a lot about identifying our gifts, but maybe the better question is “What are they for?”

Would you read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 before worship tomorrow?  Prepare to hear about the purpose of the gifts.  Ask yourself if you are using your gifts for the purpose God intended.

Encouragement Note, PLACE books, CPYU Stuff – The Monday Messy Office Report – April 7, 2014

7 Apr

My Friday tidy office is mysteriously messy by Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

1. Encouragement note – It is simple, but very meaningful “Joel, Hope you have a great week!”  From, anonymous.  Isn’t that cool?  Someone placed that on my desk.  For as long as I can remember we keep encouragement note sheets on the mailslot shelves in our Fellowship Hall.  There are numerous times the biblical authors remind us to encourage one another, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:11.  Next time you are checking your mailslot at church, how about picking up a note and jotting off a few kind words to someone.  I think it is awesome that this person gave an encouraging anonymous note!  Let’s start a flood of encouraging notes.  Thanks, anonymous person!  You might have just launched a movement!

2. Stack of PLACE workbooks – Yesterday we started elective classes, something that I always think is fun. We pause all of our regular classes, and people get to choose a new topic to study. We have four going on during the month of April: Grief Sharing Group, Apostles Creed Video Class, Multiply Movement, and Spiritual Gifts. I am teaching the Spiritual Gifts class, and I was going to do a Bible study of the gifts passages.  But after a discussion with my friend Joseph, I decided to use the PLACE curriculum.  I love how it walks you step-by-step through learning about your personality, giftedness, abilities, passions and experiences, and how they work together to show how you are uniquely you, crafted by God for his glory and service.  My props to PLACE for having such awesome material.  Yesterday we did Session 1, all about personality.  If you missed the class, you can still join up!  Same goes for the other classes as well.

3. CPYU stuff – This past Friday night, my wife Michelle and I, and our friend Becka, went to the 25th Anniversary Banquet for The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. My wife met CPYU Founder and President Walt Mueller years ago, as she noted on Facebook “I sat there last night, thinking about 25 years ago…and the start of CPYU… And remember very clearly being a sophomore in high school (1991…23 years ago) and listening to this great speaker on my youth retreat. I remember a month or so later having a “boy issue/concern” and sitting down to write a letter about this to the speaker–a guy named Walt! It ended up being several pages long….a week or so later I got a letter in the mail. A response from this Walt. A response that pointed me to Jesus & that gave wise council. Thank you Walt for the work you, Lisa, and your team do. It was invaluable to me as a young lady, to Joel & I when we were youth pastor, and to us as parents of teenagers! Happy 25!”  I couldn’t agree more.  If you have kids, even if they’re not teens yet, please get to know CPYU.  If you have grandkids or if you work with kids, I can guarantee that CPYU will be a great encouragement to you.  Like them on FacebookAt the banquet, we received a copy of Walt’s book Opie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  Our world has changed, and I’m looking forward to reading this book.  

Now it’s time to clean this mess up!

Spiritual Gifts, Grief Class, Running, 80th Birthday Concert – The Monday Messy Office Report – March 24, 2014

24 Mar

My Friday, tidy office is mysteriously messy by Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

1. Spiritual Gifts Tests and a note about a Grief class – I wonder how many of you have taken one a spiritual gifts tests before?  You answer some questions, tally up the answers, and voila, you now know how God has uniquely gifted you.  Or maybe not.  It’s just not that simple. Last week, I was doing some searching online for spiritual gifts tests, and I printed a couple to evaluate.  The reason is that the church is having elective classes during the month of April, and I am teaching one about spiritual gifts.  I was thinking about looking at the various biblical passages that talk about gifts, but since we’re going to cover that, at least partially, in the 1st Corinthians series later this year, I decided to go a different direction.  PLACE Ministries has a very unique, holistic approach to evaluating spiritual giftedness.  Each letter of the acronym PLACE stands for an element of who we are as persons: Personality Discovery, Learning Spiritual Gifts, Abilities Awareness, Connecting Passion with Ministry, and Experiences of Life.  I think it is going to be a wonderful study.  We also have some great other elective classes you can join: a Grief discussion group (which is what the note was about…a planted note, I think!…just to see if it got mentioned in this Monday Messy Office Report???), a video series on the Apostles Creed, and the Multiply Movement.

2. Concert posters – A long-time member of our congregation is turning 80, and instead of celebrating with a party all about her, she decided to have a birthday concert to glorify the Lord!  Pretty cool, huh?  You’re all invited.  On April 12, 2pm, join us at Faith Church for a concert by Brenten MeGee, a Lancaster Bible College music student, as he sings some of the great hymns of the faith.  I put up the posters around the church.  You may love hymns, but you also might not, which is okay. How about coming to the concert to express support for someone turning 80 who just wants to praise the Lord!

3. Race bib – I wore bib #388 on Saturday at the Buckskin Breakout 5K.  Since the spring of 2010 I have been running races, almost all of which have included people from the church.  The Buckskin Breakout was no different as my son and a close friend from church ran together.  My son beat me!  So did my friend, Brandon.  We have run countless 5Ks, a half marathon, and two marathons.  If you told me five years ago that I would be doing all that running, I would have laughed.  Here’s the story of how it all got started. I keep all my race bibs in a file in my office.  On the back of each one, I write the date and time.  I have two more 5Ks in the next two months, then training begins for the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon, September 6th, the date of my 40th birthday!

Now it’s time for me to clean up!

Is America the hope of the world?

28 Oct

About a year ago during his bid to unseat Barack Obama as President of the USA, former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, said this.

How do you feel about what he said?

What I came to learn as I was researching this post, is that Romney was actually quoting Abraham Lincoln.  It was a phrase that Lincoln used more than once, for example here, on the eve of issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Yesterday Brandon Hershey spoke at Faith Church.  Brandon, at the end of the year, finishes his second three-year term as Faith Church’s Ministry Council chairperson.  After two terms our by-laws state that a person must take a break from serving in that capacity, so Brandon’s tenure will be complete.  I asked him to preach, to reflect on his time in leadership, and what the Lord might want to say through him.

In the sermon, Brandon quotes Bill Hybels who says “The local church is the hope of the world.”  As it ministers the love of Christ to a broken world, the local church, not America, truly is the hope of the world.  No doubt a nation can be a force for good in the world, and America certainly has been that time and time again.  But if you are looking for true, lasting hope, it can only be found in Jesus.  And that is what we, as a church, have to offer.

Brandon then pointed us to a foundational teaching of Scripture, about how the local church must handle itself in order to be the hope of the world.  Offering this hope is only possible when we, the local church, work together as we ought.  He said that we all have a role to play, and what we do matters.  Do you believe that?  Do you believe you have a vital role to play, that you have been gifted as part of the local church, or to use the metaphor that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, the body of Christ?  Do you need to discover your giftedness?  Do you need to step out of your comfort zone and serve in a new way?  What part of the body are you?  Are you using your gifts?  Do you need to develop them more fully?

You are vital to the local church being the hope of the world!