Employing Our Gifts—Fulfilling Our Purpose
Philip Shee—Jakarta, Indonesia
I have food to eat of which you do not know.… My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. (Jn 4:32,34)
Jesus’ disciples had just returned from buying food in the city while He rested by the well and preached to the Samaritan woman. His response as the disciples urged Him to eat reflects an important and fundamental Christian philosophy of life.
Food is a basic necessity that keeps one physically alive and provides nutrition for growth. In a similar vein, Jesus’ response highlights the principle that serving God and accomplishing His work is a fundamental element of our spiritual lives. Serving God is not reserved for the veterans in faith, but is meant for one and all in their journey of faith. It is akin to taking spiritual food, which enables our spiritual life to grow. When we appreciate that faith and service complement each other, we can reflect how we can start serving God:
1. What is God’s calling and purpose for us?
2. What are the gifts and talents that God has bestowed upon us?
3. What environment or circumstances has God placed us in?
Paul wrote to the church in Rome that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). This was to highlight that God, being faithful, will not turn His back on the Israelites forever; ultimately, they are His chosen people. But while the Israelites remained unreceptive of God’s grace, salvation reached the Gentiles, for God’s intention was to “have mercy on all” (Rom 11:32). As we start to appreciate God’s faithfulness and the special grace bestowed on us, it is only fair that we respond to Paul’s plea and reciprocate by serving God: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1).
GOD HAS CALLED US FOR A PURPOSE
As we embark on our journey of faith and service, it is useful to consider God’s calling and purpose for us. Apart from calling us for salvation, what exactly does God want us to accomplish? For Joseph, it was to keep many people alive, of which the preservation of Jacob’s family was key (Gen 50:20). For Moses, it was to spend the last forty years of his life to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. For Peter, it was to minister to the Jews, and for Paul, it was to minister to the Gentiles (Gal 2:7–8).
In continuing with his message to the church in Rome, Paul used the analogy of a body with many members to illustrate that each of us is called to a different purpose and function. Although we have been called into one body, the church, we are still “individually members of one another.” We have each been blessed with “gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.” We have each been dealt “a measure of faith,” and we should serve “in proportion to our faith” (Rom 12:3–8).
This concept was also reinforced in Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians:
For in fact the body is not one member but many.… If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.
Paul extended this analogy, translating each part of the body into real roles and functions within the ministry: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Cor 3:6), concluding that “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (1 Cor 12:28).
These passages show the interplay between God’s grace and our faith, and therefore, the compelling reason for an integrated response from us to consider our individual function in His church and our individual role in His ministry. What is His calling for us? What is the purpose He wants us to fulfill?
GOD HAS BLESSED US WITH SPECIAL GIFTS AND TALENTS
One way to learn about God’s calling for us is by considering the special gifts and talents He has blessed us with. This is reinforced in the following passage:
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.… And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
In the previous section, we saw how God called different people to be apostles, prophets or teachers by “appointing” them. In this passage, we see that each is given “a measure of Christ’s gift” and God Himself “gave some to be” apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, or pastors. We see, therefore, that God aligns His calling of people to serve in various functions based on the gifts and talents He bestows. In addition, He lines them up in different functions to complement one another for the purpose of edifying the church, the body of Christ. This is done so that the church can progress towards perfection and mature in the stature of the fullness of Christ.
This approach is very similar to the building of the tabernacle, a pre-figuration of the church. After God had instructed Moses to build the tabernacle and had given him the detailed specifications, God Himself prepared a team of gifted artisans to work with Moses to accomplish the task. God filled the artisans with His spirit, with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and skills to design and work on multiple aspects, including working in gold, silver, bronze, jewels, wood, and tapestry (Ex 31:1–11, 35:30–35).
As we recognize the special gifts and talents that God has blessed us with, our hearts must be stirred up to employ these gifts in His service, just as Paul reminded Timothy: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6). The reason becomes clear when we appreciate the parable of the talents spoken by Jesus, of how the servants who employed their talents to make a profit of five talents and two talents respectively were rewarded for being good and faithful, while the servant who buried his talent in the ground was punished for being wicked and lazy (Mt 25:14–30).
Similarly, we should be reminded of the parable of the fig tree planted in the vineyard. The fig tree, which could have been just growing by the wayside, was given the special grace of being planted and tended to in a vineyard, which ordinarily, would have been reserved for vine. Yet the fig tree did not bear any fruit for three consecutive years and hence, the master wanted to cut it down. Though the master finally relented after the vineyard keeper pleaded for grace, it was the final chance, which meant that it would still be cut down the following year if it continued to occupy the ground without bearing any fruits (Lk 13:6–9).
GOD HAS PUT US INTO A SPECIFIC PLACE TO GIVE US THE OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE
Another clue that will help us to recognize our calling is to consider where God has placed us and what circumstances or environment He has subjected us to. Why have we been brought to a particular place, to this school, to this company, to this country? Why has God put us among these people? Why has God allowed us to meet with these incidents? As we go about our lives, we must be sensitive to these clues.
The story of Esther is a good illustration of this concept. By some twist of events, Queen Vashti was removed from her position and Esther, a Jewish commoner, was thrust into the position as queen of Persia and Media. As the story unfolds, it seemed coincidental that the Jews were plunged into a crisis at about that same time, in the same place, where the evil Haman almost succeeded in exterminating them.
If these circumstances were considered in isolation, they would have served a different purpose or even no purpose at all. However, Mordecai was able to see the interplay between the events. He sent messengers to ask Esther to use her position as queen to petition before the king on behalf of her people. Initially, Esther was reluctant as she was well aware of the law. No one would be able to see the king unless he had sent for them and in fact, those who appear before the king without being summoned would be put to death. Yet when Mordecai learned of her reservations, he responded by reminding her, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Est 4:14)
Finally, Esther concluded, “And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” (Est 4:16). She had finally realized her calling. That was her purpose in life. She was placed there “for such a time as this.” Although it was against the law, she knew that God could open a way for her. But if not, that would have still been the right thing to do, and her purpose in life, for which she was prepared to perish. To her, there was no meaning in living without finally accomplishing her calling.
Indeed, like Esther, we need to appreciate not just our talents, but also the positions and places God has put us in, and the circumstances that God may subject us to. While it may not be easy, we need to consider if we have been placed there to accomplish God’s will. If we fail to do what is needed, God can still accomplish His will through other means and other people, but we would have missed the opportunity and failed in our purpose.
If we are able to look for the clues in our lives and integrate our gifts with our positions, the places we operate in, and the circumstances we face, we will get closer to understanding God’s calling and purpose for us. As we then seek to do the will of God and accomplish His work, our lives will surely be even more fulfilling and meaningful.