One man in the choir could not sing to save his life. The choir director suggested that he should leave the choir and several choir members hinted that he would make an excellent sidesman. The choir director and some members of the choir then decided to go to the pastor and complain. “You’ve got to get that man out of the choir people will start resigning and our Xmas cantata will be ruined. Please do something!” So the pastor went to the man and said to him, “Perhaps you should leave the choir.”
“Why should I leave the choir?” the man asked. “Well,” said the pastor, “I hate to say this because I don’t have an ear for music, but four or five people have told me you can’t sing.” “So!” the man snorted, “That’s nothing, 25 people have told me you can’t preach.”
The lesson is that we all have our different gifts and abilities that God gives us.
Wayne Grudem’s definition, which I think is right, is, “A spiritual gift is any ability or talent empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church.” He says “in a ministry of the church” because 1 Corinthians 12:7 says they are given for the “common good”. Paul was writing to the Christian church so the “common” good meant edifying of believers and conversion of unbelievers.
“Natural” vs. “Spiritual” gifts
There is a link between natural abilities and spiritual gifts God said at the creation of the first human beings, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26) Human beings, as God image bearers, are to rule or have dominion over the world. This is called the cultural mandate – the command to exercise rule over the world as God’s vice-regents. Ruling or having dominion includes organising, developing, subduing, administrating, bringing order and categorizing. We go into the world and we work for order. We mow our lawns, balance the company’s accounts and build tractors to plough fields. If you are an accountant, or engineer, or lawyer, or mechanic, or street sweeper, or likewise, you are making order out of chaos – you are doing a good thing.
Working in the garden
This is exactly what Adam does in Genesis 2. He works the garden and names the animals. Unfortunately in Genesis 3 Adam and Eve try to rule the world their own way, instead of God’s way. Sin and death enter the world. Adam and Eve are thrown out of the garden and their good relationship with God is shattered. To this day we still live outside the Garden of Eden and therefore we are not automatically friends with God. Genesis 4 is very interesting. This is what it says about the descendants of Cain:
19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. (Genesis 4:19-22)
Despite the fall, human beings still have the ability to farm, make music, develop technology and science, and enjoy culture. The cultural mandate still continues despite sin in the world. In other words, we see that our natural abilities and talents are not bad or sinful, but good, as God has given them to us as human beings.
The temple of God
Solomon, for example, employed pagan unbelievers to do all the intricate metal work when building the temple of God in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2). Why? Because they were good at it. You might say, “Hold on! Isn’t that wrong?!” No, every skill and ability that anyone has, including unbelievers, is because of God’s common grace.
A Zambian pastor told us of a controversial debate they had at their church in Zambia some years ago. No-one in the church owned cars so they used minibus taxis to get to church. Some enthusiastic believers questioned whether they should use taxis driven by unbelievers on Sundays to take believers to church. The pastor responded by saying that they used electricity on Sundays and the CEO of the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation Limited (ZESCO) wasn’t a Christian!
All abilities and talents come from God, including those of atheists, Hindus and Muslims.
The term “natural” abilities is actually misleading. We can’t differentiate too much between so-called natural gifts and abilities and spiritual gifts and abilities because all gifts and abilities we have come from God. When God saves us and we become Christians, we should start using our so-called “natural gifts” and abilities in a new spiritual direction for the good of the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Moses the man of God
Moses, for example, spent forty years in Pharaoh’s palace learning all the skills of writing and accumulating knowledge. Then God called him to service. The first five books of the Bible are called the “books of Moses” because traditionally Moses is seen as the author. Moses used all his “pre-conversion” abilities and skill in the service of God. The church needs accountants, carers, leaders, musicians, admin people, teachers and community workers.
Parable of the money
Jesus himself told a parable about talents (money). Jesus said that the Master was going away on a long journey and entrusted his servants with talents. One guy was given five talents and earned five more. Another guys was given two and earned two more. The last guy was given one and simply returned the one talent to his master when he returned – he did nothing for his Master with it. The Master then said to him, “You wicked servant”, and casts him into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, a picture of hell. (Matthew 25) Here is the lesson: God entrusts all humans with skills and abilities and we will be held accountable for how we use the Master’s talents when he returns. Not using our abilities for the good of God’s Kingdom shows that we probably aren’t Christians to start with and will be cast out of God’s presence.
Saul who became Paul
The apostle Paul is another example. Before his conversion he was known as Saul. He was an expert in the Old Testament and highly educated. Once he was converted he used all his expertise in the service of Christ for the good of the church.
We all have talents and abilities from God. God may even give us new abilities when we become Christians. As Christians, we use these talents and abilities for the good of the church and to help in the evangelism of unbelievers.