When I was in college, a friend of mine gave me a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.  It sat, unread, on my bookshelf for three or four years until in a moment of need, it fell off that shelf at my feet. I picked it up, read the book cover-to-cover, and began a spiritual and intellectual pilgrimage towards faith, happiness, community, and all the blessings I now enjoy. It was a gift that changed my life in many, important, wonderful ways. Without that gift, my life might be very different, and a lot less happy.
In this world, there are gifts and then there are gifts. When our children were young, they got a lot of toys at Christmas time. Some of them are still in our attic. Interestingly, they never ask for them, use them, or even mention them unless Kathy or I mention them first. Of all the Christmas gifts I have ever received, I only remember a very few: my first bike, a set of tinker toys, an erector set, etc. On the other hand, there are gifts that you will never forget. Gifts that changed your life, like my copy of Mere Christianity.
Today, we are going to visit about spiritual gifts. Right at the beginning, we need to remember a few facts about Spiritual Gifts. First, they are gifts of God—which means that they are gifts of faith, hope, and love: with the greatest of these being love (1 Corinthians 13). All the gifts of the spirit are gifts by which God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the God we proclaim to be perfect, self-giving love, dwells in us so that we may participate in the Love that God Is. Because Spiritual Gifts are gifts of an All Wise All Loving God, they are gifts that we can never forget, and God forbid that we should misuse them.
Growing in Christ
Our text is from Ephesians. Ephesians has been called the greatest of all of Paul’s letters. In Ephesians, Paul sets out his views concerning both the Supremacy of Christ as the image of the invisible God and the power of Christ to reconcile and unify the world in a reign of peace and unity. In the fourth chapter of Ephesians, Paul sets out what the Christian life should be like in view of all that Christ is and has done. 
Paul begins by asking Christians to live worthily of their calling (Ephesians 4:1). He asks Christians to be completely humble, gentle, and forbearing (v. 2). He asks Christians to live in the peace and unity of the Spirit of Christ, because there is one Spirit which the Spirit of the One God revealed by Christ (v. 3-4). Then, Paul says the following:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. … So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:7, 11-16). 
Prayer: God the Giver of Every Good and Perfect Gift, please come as we listen to your word and convict us, convert us, and make us wholly Yours. Send your Spirit of Truth upon every one here today. In Jesus Name, Amen.
I don’t know about you, but Christmas and birthdays become harder and harder as the years go by. Frankly, there is almost nothing I really need that I don’t already possess. (It gets really hard to appreciate the 100th tie that you don’t need!). It takes a really special person to be a good giver. Kathy is a really good gift giver. This summer, wherever we were, she would be in some shop buying something for someone we know, often a child. Kathy is a good gift giver because she cares about people and wants to give them something they need and will like.
Every gift has a giver, and the best gifts are gifts of God. God is the ultimate giver of gifts.
One of my favorite verses is James 1:17-18: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” In this passage from James, the Apostle says almost exactly what Paul says in Ephesians: God is a giver of wonderful gifts through the Holy Spirit. All that we are and all that we have are ultimately gifts from God– in some mysterious way even our troubles are gifts from God (James 1:12). God gives us the gift of New Life in Christ and he continues to give gifts to us during our walk of discipleship!
In Ephesians, Paul extends the concept of God as the Great Giver to Christ. When Jesus came among us, when the Word of God (God’s rational presence) became human, Jesus represented the wisdom, love, and power of God on earth. This is supremely shown by his sacrificial death on the cross (Romans 5:8). The act of God offering up himself in human form for a world that rejects love and embraces darkness and violence is a supreme act of love. When Jesus ascended into heaven, this love was still present for us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, who is God and God’s love present with us always until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). Jesus by the Spirit is now the Giver of gifts to God’s people.
Spirit Inspired Gifts
Paul teaches that each one of us, as disciples of Christ, are the recipient of gifts from the Perfect Giver. One kind of gift we receive are what the New Testament calls “Gifts of the Spirit.” When we open our hearts to God, the Spirit of God operates in a new way in our lives, and that new way results in our having talents, abilities, and gifts that we never possessed before in quite the same way. I have always been able to teach, but when I became a Christian that natural gift took on a new, spiritual dimension.
In Romans, I Corinthians, Ephesians, and I Peter, there are similar but somewhat different lists of gifts that God gives to those who open their hearts to receive them.  Today, we are not talking about the lists and the separate gifts so much as we are talking about the gifts as a whole. The specific gifts, such as preaching, teaching, pastoring, prayer, helping, healing, miracles, evangelism, prophesy, wisdom, leadership, administration, and the like are not so important to Paul in Ephesians as it is to make a point: All these gifts are not meant to divide people or create a hierarchy of Christians. The gifts are not meant to induce pride or selfishness, but love and humility.
Growth of the Body
Some gifts are just gifts. They really do not have a purpose. On the other hand, some gifts we give have a definite purpose in mind. If I give Kathy a piece of jewelry, I probably have no purpose other than hoping that she will be happy. If I give Kathy a new financial program to budget with, I probably have some purpose, like getting a better handle on our expenses. God’s gifts are of both kinds. When God gives us spiritual gifts, he both wants us to experience personal joy and he wants us to grow together as a body of believers with each person using their own personal gifts and abilities to make all of our lives better.
God’s gifts have a purpose. The Gifts of the Spirit are designed to allow us to experience joy and blessedness as individuals, as a congregation, and as the church world-wide. The Gifts of the Spirit are gifts of God’s divine wisdom, love and power so that we can grow to maturity both as individuals and as a Christian community. Paul says that these gifts are given to prepare us so that we can mature as individuals and so that the body of Christ can become unified in faith, in knowledge of God, and in maturity. As we experience the gifts, we grow and mature and so does the church. This implies that we cannot really be who God wants us to be, nor can our church be all that God intends it to be, unless we all use our gifts, whatever they may be.
Going back to parenting for a moment, after four children, I understand that the most difficult gifts for children to learn to use are those that are not the private property of one child, like a doll or a truck, but those that have to be shared. The spiritual gifts are similar. They were not meant to be hogged by one individual or a group of individuals. They were meant to be shared. They were not meant to puff us up or make us proud of who we are and what we can do. They were made to be used in humility to build up the entire Body of Christ. This means that they are sometimes hard to share and use properly.
A Goal of Maturity
One joy of watching children grow up is watching them stop fighting, stop irritating each other, stop fussing, and enjoy one another. Today, when our children are together, they just enjoy being together. (They hardly ever throw food at each other anymore unless they are remembering some funny incident from their childhood!) In other words, they are all grown up. I am sure that many of you have had the same experience.
The Apostle Paul emphasizes that what God has in mind by giving us Spiritual Gifts is reaching spiritual maturity, which God defines as being equipped for sharing our gifts with others (service), unity of faith and community in the body of Christ (love), and deeper knowledge of God (truth). God wants us to experience the kind of unity that happens when everyone is working together without friction and ego battles. God wants us to experience the kind of wisdom that happens when we know Christ not just intellectually but in our hearts. God wants us to share and serve one another, experiencing the same kind of love God has, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Maturity involves a process. First, we accept Christ, what our slide calls “meeting Christ.” This is our moment of faith, when we meet Christ, hear his voice calling, “Come and Follow me,” and then respond.
After we accept, there is a period of during which we follow Christ. We may not be learning much, but at least we follow, attend church, and learn a bit. During this period of time, we may experience times when God answers our prayers and we grow unexpectedly as a result. Our faith may not show much, but it is being strengthened and deepened.
In the next stage, like the disciples, we are learning, watching, and imitating Christ. Now, we are growing as we imitate Christ. It may not take too much for us to backslide, just as Peter does from time to time in the Gospels. Nevertheless we are growing. We begin to imitate Christ. We begin to carry a cross or two voluntarily because we know a friend, fellow church member, or family member needs us. At this stage it may not feel quite right, but we are trying.
From mere imitation, we begin to actually become like Christ. We begin to be transformed into someone we would not have recognized years before. We don’t just act different, we are different. Finally, we serve gladly as little Christ’s in our churches, families, neighborhoods, and communities.
When I was preparing this sermon, I visualized this as a kind of ladder or set of steps. Of course, we are all on more than one step at a time. Sometimes we take steps backwards! However, all of us are somewhere on the path of growing in Christ. Spiritual gifts are a big part of this growing in Christ. That is why it is so important that we use our Spiritual Gifts at every stage of growth.
I am sure that all of us remember childhood fads. When I was in junior high, Indian madras shirts were all the rage. When they were made, they had what we called “fruit loops” on the back, colored pieces of cloth that could be used for hanging them. For a time, it was a fad to tear or snip off those loops. Kids made fun of each other for wearing shirts without the “fruit loop” removed. It was silliness. It was a fad. It was easy to tear a shirt removing the fruit loop. The only reason we all did this, was because we were immature.
When we begin our Christian walk, we are inevitably immature. We often become faddish, following the latest silly or wrong Christian idea anyone promotes. We are, as Paul says, tossed by the wind of various teachings and fads (Ephesians 4:14). Gradually, ever so gradually, however, we mature and grow. We become more stable. We are not so easily led astray. We are not so vulnerable to bad teachings. We are growing up into Christ, becoming more in tune with what Christ has to say to us in Scripture.
One of our congregation’s hopes for this year, and especially for next year, is that we begin to move as a church from growing by listening, reading and learning to growing as we put to work in our lives and in the lives of the people we meet and the places we live and work the gifts that God has and will give each one of us.
The copy of Mere Christianity my friend gave me so many years ago is a gift that has never stopped giving not just to me, but to others as well. What ever you have been given by Christ, sharing is the best way to grow and enjoy that gift. Let’s use our gifts!!!
Copyright 2015, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: McMillan Publishing, 1943, 1945, 1952).
 William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians in “The Daily Bible Study Series” (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1958); Archibald M. Hunter, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians in “The Layman’s Bible Commentary” (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1959).
 Ephesians 4:8-9, which is not included, contains a quote from Psalms 68:18, which was meaningful for Paul and his readers, but perhaps not as easy for modern people to appreciate. The idea is that Christ, when he ascended into heaven, became the giver of gifts to the people of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit Paul is about to delineate.
 See Romans 12:6-8; I Corinthians 12:7-11, 28; Ephesians 4:11; I Peter 4:11. First Peter really just references the gifts, but does not really give us a list.