Today, we’re going to look at Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, and we’re going to focus specifically on spiritual gifts—the talents and attitudes God gives us so that we can participate in God’s mission in the world. This is not the text we usually turn to when we’re thinking about spiritual gifts–that’s in 1 Corinthians. But rather than just naming spiritual gifts, I think this text will help us see God’s grace and our own gifts and calling in a wider context.
Scripture: Ephesians 3:7-21
Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
If you ever want to make church people feel incredibly uncomfortable, all you need to do is tell them in public how loved, how needed, and how gifted they are. It’s true—you all are beloved and needed and gifted.
But Paul, in this text, helps us remember where our gifts come from, and why they come to us. Encouragement, organization, prayer, teaching, authenticity and humor and compassion—all of these are gifts of grace, given to us for the sake of cultivating love.
Paul was never under the illusion that he could do what he was called to without the abundant grace of God. He never believed that his work was anything other than God’s work—he knew that all of his talents, all of his words, all the things he did, were done in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And Paul not only relies on that power, but he rejoices in it! Paul knows where his gifts came from and he knows what he’s called to—and so he cherishes the ministry that God has given him.
Both of those things are equally important when we’re thinking about gifts: to recognize that our gifts are gifts, lest we think ‘well, I can do this on my own!’ and to know what work we’re called to—and by extension, what we’re not called to.
Paul was sent specifically to the Gentiles. That was his mission. He didn’t hang around Jerusalem, trying to convert his fellow Pharisees, because that wasn’t his call. Instead, he traveled all over what today is southern Europe – Italy, Greece, Turkey. He preached in public squares and pagan temples and the homes of his friends. He wrote letters to encourage the new believers in the places he’d already been. He spent time debating and thinking about who Jesus is and how we should follow him and when he needed to, he also made tents to support himself.
Meanwhile, the first deacons were being appointed in Jerusalem – diakonos literally means ‘one who serves’ – so that they could take care and keep track of the widows who were being supported by the church while the apostles were traveling, preaching, and organizing.
Paul wasn’t called or gifted to do what the Deacons were doing, and the Deacons weren’t called or gifted to do what Paul was doing. But both ministries were necessary and good and appointed by God.
Sometimes, I think we sell ourselves short when we talk about ministry. Too often, when we say ‘ministry,’ we actually mean the people who work full-time for the church. And that’s absolutely ministry (says the minister who works full-time for the church)—but as a whole, ministry is so much more.
You might not be gifted in public speaking, but maybe you’re called to The Ministry of Small Talk.
You might not be gifted in graphic design, but maybe you’re called to The Ministry of Organizing People, or The Ministry of Throwing Things Away.
Maybe you love studying the Bible, and feel called to teach—or maybe you’re a great listener, and you’re called to the Ministry of Showing Up.
It might even be true that working with people just isn’t your thing—but maybe you’re called to The Ministry of Washing Dishes or The Ministry of Painting or Sorting Things.
And guess what?
All of this really is ministry. The Holy Spirit works in all sorts of people, with all sorts of gifts and all manner of callings, in order to do the work that God calls us as a church body to do.
You’ve probably heard the piece from 1 Corinthians about spiritual gifts—about how some are called to be teachers, some apostles, some prophets, etc.
But have you ever listened to what comes after that?
Here’s what Paul says about the wideness in God’s graces:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…”
No matter how small or insignificant or weird or random you think your life may be, the world desperately needs your gifts, and we need your gifts here to do the ministry that God is calling us to. This church family needs your gifts to be the whole body of Christ.
And while we’re thinking about all of these gifts that we receive by God’s grace, I also want to pause for a moment to talk about spiritual gifts vs. spiritual disciplines. There are some things that no matter how bad we might be at them, we’re all called to as followers of Christ. Prayer. Hospitality. Compassion. Justice. Learning. Community.
These are things we don’t get to just throw up our hands and say “meh.” “Well, I’m not really gifted in compassion, so I’m going to go over here and roll my eyes at the world and post terrible Facebook comments.” Each of us has different gifts, yes—and some of these things will come more easily to each of us than others—but that doesn’t mean we’re not called to work at them and grow into them.
There’s an old folk tale about three pelicans, and it goes like this:
“Three pelicans were flying to a popular lake. As they traveled, they were each lost in thought.
The first pelican thought to himself, ‘I love my beak. It’s magnificent. No other bird has a beak quite like mine. When I get to the lake, I’m going to parade along the bank, showing off my beautiful beak and all of the other birds will be jealous.’
The second pelican thought to himself, ‘I love my beak and I need to protect it. I can’t afford for it to get damaged, so I’m going to only catch small fish in shallow waters. I know that I can do more, but it’s too risky.’
The third pelican thought to himself, ‘I love my beak. It’s a beauty and I’m going to push the limits and get the most out of it. I’m going to become the best catcher of fish in the lake. I’ve been given this beak for a reason, so I’m going to work hard and catch the biggest fish out there.’
We’ve all been given unique talents, experiences and attributes for a reason.
Not to show off.
Not to hide them or do the bare minimum with them.
But to fully develop them and use them to their maximum capacity.
All of God’s gifts are given for the sake of the gospel – to bring the good news of life and hope and love to all people in every time and every place. So whatever gift you have, use it—and use it well, wherever you may be—because when we dive in, God is capable of doing more than we could ever ask or imagine in us, among us, and through us.
Last week, I asked us to think of someone who had influenced our lives for the better—someone who used their own gifts and helped us to grow in faith, hope, and love.
Those puzzle pieces have been assembled to remind us that who we are and what we’re doing is tied to where we’ve come from—but our puzzle still isn’t complete.
In just a minute, we’ll gather at Christ’s table – so when you come up to receive communion, take a detour to the puzzle table, remember your own gifts, find the symbols of your ministry, and write your own name somewhere on the puzzle.
We wouldn’t be here without those who’ve come before us, but we can’t truly cultivate love without your participation in God’s community – your gifts, your light, your hands and eyes and ears.
Beloved people of God, arise. Let us sing together to the God who gathers us, who gives us good gifts, who nourishes us in baptism and at his own table, and who calls us each to be ministers of the gospel in every time and place.