When you were growing up, how many children were in your family? How many brothers do you have? How many sisters?

Could you list all the ways that you and your brothers and sisters were alike? Could you list all the ways that you and your brothers and sisters are different? Sure you can. In fact, in most instances, it would be easier to list all the differences than to list all the ways that you were alike as children. With some brothers or sisters, you would declare that you were completely different--there were no ways in which you were alike.

When all of you became adults, did all those differences disappear? Did all of you, as adult brothers and sisters, become exactly alike? As adults, some similar characteristics may have developed, but your differences remained, and always will remain. Each of your brothers and sisters are distinct persons with a personal package that includes a unique personality and distinctive abilities.

  1. When a person becomes a Christian, that person establishes a relationship with God.
    1. Scripture verifies a relationship comes into existence by using specific concepts.
      1. A believing, penitent person's baptism into Christ is a spiritual birth (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:22,23; Galatians 3:26,27).
      2. After baptism, the person is said to be a spiritual infant (1 Peter 2:1-3).
      3. If that infant does not spiritually grow, serious spiritual problems develop (1 Corinthians 3:1-5).
      4. The person is expected to continue the growth process until he/she reaches maturity (Ephesians 4;11-16).
      5. All this growth occurs within the context of a spiritual family.
        1. God is the Father.
        2. Jesus Christ is the oldest brother.
        3. Christians are brothers and sisters to each other.
    2. Do you think all spiritual brothers and sisters are spiritually just alike?
      1. Because we all are born into the same spiritual family, do you think we will have identical spiritual personalities?
      2. Do you think all of us spiritually will look like and act like identical twins?
      3. Do you think all of us will have identical strengths and abilities?
      4. If, as baptized believers in Christ, we differ spiritually in many ways, does that mean we are not in the family?
    3. There are two defining realities at work in every person who is a Christian, each person who is in God's family.
      1. The first defining reality is spiritual growth.
        1. We do not all begin our spiritual growth at the same point of spiritual development.
          1. Just as some infants physically are born with serious problems, some Christians are spiritually born with serious problems.
          2. The birth occurred, he or she is God's child, and it is unthinkable that we should abandon this spiritual infant, but the problems are real.
          3. Spiritual growth and development does not begin at the same point for all of us; it does not occur at the same rate for all of us.
        2. The rate of spiritual growth and the level of spiritual maturity is unique to the spiritual potential of the individual.
          1. Ability factors and potential factors differ in us as physical individuals.
          2. Ability factors and potential factors differ in us as spiritual individuals.
      2. The second defining reality are spiritual abilities, or, as scripture refers to them, spiritual gifts.
        1. We understand that an ability is a gift that we were born with.
          1. The potential of that ability was within us at birth.
          2. That ability will become useful and significant in a person's life only if he or she develops it.
          3. But you only can develop the ability that you have, and that ability is a gift of birth.
          4. I would love to be able to express myself through music--but I was not born with the voice, the ear, nor the aptitude; I don't possess that ability.
        2. The same thing is true spiritually--spiritual abilities are potentials that we have when we are spiritually born.
          1. That spiritual ability will only become useful and significant in a Christian's life if he or she develops it.
          2. But the Christian can only develop the ability he or she has, and that ability is a gift of spiritual birth.
          3. Spiritually, we certainly were not all born with the same abilities.
        3. Consider Romans 12:6-8--Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          1. We have different gifts.
          2. God's grace made those gifts possible.
          3. Prophecy, a form of teaching, is a gift.
          4. Teaching is a gift.
          5. The ability to encourage (exhort) is a gift.
          6. Generosity is a gift.
          7. Leadership ability is a gift.
          8. The ability to use mercy to bring healing and hope is a gift.
          9. The Christian who possesses the gift can utilize the gift only if he develops it.
          10. Paul's point: develop the spiritual ability God gave you and use it effectively for God's purposes.
          11. Focus on what you are able to do, develop it, and do it well.
      3. We need an honest understanding of spiritual ability.
        1. Some Christians may have many spiritual abilities, some Christians may have a few, and some Christians may have only one.
        2. Christians must identify and avoid two false conclusions:
          1. False conclusion # 1: "If I can do it, any Christian can do it."
          2. False conclusion # 2: "Every Christian must work or serve in this specific way."
          3. Both of those false conclusions wrongly assume that every Christian possesses the same specific spiritual abilities.
        3. God knows what each one of us is capable of doing and being, and what is occurring in each of our lives spiritually.
          1. I cannot see into your heart, mind, and life.
          2. It is impossible for me to know what is occurring in you.
          3. God sees what is happening in everyone of us; He and He alone knows our spiritual abilities and how we are using them.
      4. Expectations based on comparing sons or daughters to each other are horribly unjust in a physical family; they are equally unjust in God's family.

  2. Every time I stand before you to teach or preach I am overwhelmed by the variety of spiritual needs that exist in our assembly.
    1. Regardless of how few or how many are present, it is quite possible that no two persons here are spiritually identical or in identical spiritual places.
      1. Some of you are battling enormous pain, and your struggle with that pain demands your total spiritual focus as you trust God for daily strength.
      2. Some of you wage war every day with something that enslaved your life before you were born into God's family.
        1. It may be an attitude; it may be a behavior pattern; it may be a moral issue; it may be an addiction.
        2. But each day you spiritually exist by trusting God's strength, trusting God's forgiveness, and continuing the war.
      3. Some of you must focus your daily life on allowing God to help you escape the past.
        1. Through no choice or fault of yours, you were the victim of a terrible experience years ago.
        2. The wound was deep, and the scar is ever present.
        3. Maybe no one knows what happened to you.
        4. But it powerfully affected your thinking, your emotions, and your life, and you lean on God every day as you struggle with it.
      4. Some of you rely on God to fight fear every day.
        1. There are days that the fear seems to be bigger than you, bigger than life.
        2. Each day it is a challenge: don't let fear become bigger than God.
        3. At times that fear terribly depresses you, but you are determined in your faith not to give the fear victory.
      5. Some of you are really growing and developing spiritually, and you are hungry to grow faster than ever.
        1. You are starved for the insights and encouragement that will help you grow faster.
        2. You really want to be fed.
      6. Some of you are filled with dreams and visions of what can be done for Christ and his kingdom (his rule in the hearts and minds of people).
        1. You want those dreams to come true.
        2. You are consumed with a desire to help people and touch lives.
        3. Every day you can see how those dreams could become reality.
      7. Some of you are very gifted, goal oriented, "make it happen" Christians.
        1. The focus of your life is to "make things happen" for Jesus in our community and in our world.
        2. Bible figures like Peter and Paul inspire you and fill you with the flames of spiritual ambition.
    2. And every week my challenge is to try to say and teach things that will be meaningful and helpful to all of you.
      1. I thank God that you give me that opportunity, and I accept it very seriously.
      2. As I accept this opportunity each week, I do so with this awareness.
        1. Everyone of us have different spiritual growth patterns.
        2. Everyone of us have different spiritual gifts or abilities.
        3. And God's grace is working in each of our lives, just as our love as parents is working in each of our children's lives.

So may I give you a challenge? Do all within your ability to encourage others as we grow and develop at different rates in different ways. See every Christian's ability for what it is--a gift from God valued by God. Measure no other person's gift by your gifts. No matter where another Christian is in his or her spiritual development, extend your hand of encouragement with your heart of love.

Don't ever fail to encourage. Don't ever fail to lift from the heart.

I am so happy we have a God. I am so happy we have a Savior.
God knows everything that has ever happened in my life. He knows my every weakness. He still loves me in spite of knowing every bad thing about me.
God says, "I take you like you are, where you are, because I have somewhere to take you."
God is willing to risk your making mistakes. Sometimes we are so afraid of ourselves that we are afraid of dealing with life. God can use any ability you have for eternal purposes.

Will you believe the promises He has given you?
Will you allow Him to rebuild you?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 8 February 1998

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