Sunday sermon on the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans 12:6-14
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
The what? The why? And the how?
These are the questions we will consider today. They are not really questions, more like question words. Nevertheless, the what? the why? and the how? is what we will answer today.
In other words, today is your luckiest day. First, because you are here. You made an intentional decision to spend this Sunday morning worshipping God on purpose. And second, because all of your questions will be answered today…
Well, maybe not all; hopefully, most. Or at least one or two.
So what exactly am I talking about? The answer to “the what?” are the gifts, as Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle reading, “Each of us has different gifts according to the grace given to us.”
Each of us has unique and specific gifts intended just for us. Sure, others may have similar or even the same gifts, but the gift that I have is meant for me. Saint Paul lists a few different gifts – prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation (public speaking), generosity, leadership, compassion.
It's interesting that generosity, compassion, and leadership are gifts given to us according to the grace. And we can easily add to this list such gifts as parenting, hospitality, financial literacy, serving others, being handy (knowing how to use your hands to make or fix things), writing, singing, drawing, dancing, even athletic ability, patience, humility, and other gifts that have been bestowed upon us according to the grace.
There are Christians who believe that God grants these gifts according to what they call predestination, you either get it or you don’t because that’s how God decided to give them out. It’s an attempt to explain the unexplainable – why does God do what He does? I don’t know; He has predestined it.
It's true that we do not know how God works or why He does the things that He does, but predestination is not an explanation for anything. Unless by predestination we mean that all of us are predestined to holiness, and so we work toward this goal, this ideal through repentance, prayer, love, and charity.
Predestination is not a Christian doctrine. We do not know much about God’s actions, but we do know that He cherishes each of us, He loves us because He created each of us. And so He will not offer an opportunity for something to one, and withhold it from another.
Saint John Chrysostom, commenting on this passage from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, says that the gifts are, indeed, given by God’s grace, but they are “not poured out randomly, but framing its measure according to the recipients, the grace lets as much flow as it may find the vessel of faith capable of holding.”
God does not predestine who receives His grace, neither does He throw it around randomly. Rather, each of us receives as much as we are capable of holding according to our faith, or faithfulness.
We are the cause of the differences in what is given. This illustrates a beautiful way that we work together with God. Could He have just given us whatever He thinks we need and tell us what to do? Yes, but how would He have been different from a dictator who says, “You will be a factory worker and you will do this till you die.”
The gifts are given according to God’s grace, and we offer the ground upon which these gifts will grow and multiply. We can ask God for specific gifts, but we need to make sure we are ready and capable of receiving them. And Saint Paul says, in his letter to the Corinthians, that we should not be content with what we have, but should strive for greater gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31), for more grace. Not in greed, of course, but to follow the will of God.
That’s the answer to our first question – “the what?” – the gifts. Now, “the why?” Why are we given gifts from God. That’s the easiest question to answer. Because He loves? Absolutely. Because we deserve them? Hopefully, but most likely no. We do not really deserve anything. That’s why it’s a gift. Because we are to use these gifts any way we like? Nope.
So why are we given these gifts? To glorify God through them and to follow His will and to let Him work through us, and work with Him, in this world with the gifts He’s given us. Prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, compassion, parenting, hospitality, financial literacy, serving others, handywork, writing, singing, drawing, dancing, athletic ability, patience, humility, all these gifts, and more, are given so that we would glorify God, follow His will, and work with Him.
These gifts are given so that we would apply them in the communities we belong to: in our family, our first and closest community; in our church community, perhaps the most significant community because that’s where we worship together; and in our greater communities, in the towns we live in. The gifts are not given to satisfy our own desires.
And the final question – “the how?” How do we prepare ourselves to be a fertile ground, a vessel of faith capable of holding as much grace as God is willing to pour out?
It begins with faith. Faith has become one of those misunderstood concepts. Faith is not a warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s not a feeling at all. Faith in the Biblical sense means faithfulness. To have faith in God means to be faithful to Him, instead of the satan; to be faithful to God, instead of our passions (which are heavily influenced by the satan); to be faithful to God, instead of anything else. Our God is a loving God, but He is also a jealous God (Exodus 20:5), He says so Himself.
Once we are faithful, we become repentant. It’s impossible to be in the presence of God, as we do it intentionally and on purpose at least every Sunday, and not move towards repentance. God loves us the way we are, but He will not leave us that way. We are sinful, all of us; we are broken, all of us; we need His grace, so He provides for us ways of becoming holy. Repentance is one of those ways.
And finally love. Love is what binds us to God, and it is what binds us into one community of Christ. In the New Testament, the relationship between Christ and the Church is described in terms of a relationship of a husband and a wife. There is love because there is faithfulness between the spouses. There is love because there is repentance – a willingness of each spouse to be the best spouse for the other.
“Each of us has different gifts according to the grace given to us,” so that we would glorify God, follow His will, and work with Him in this world through the gifts He’s given.
If all of your questions were not answered today, be faithful to God, repent, and love without hypocrisy, and strive for greater gifts, and as many questions as you have will be answered.
To the One God, the Trinity in Unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who bestows upon us different gifts according to His grace, we offer our undivided faithfulness, true repentance, and unconditional love, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.