Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered January 9, 2010 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

River or Reservoir?

Ephesians 4:4-8

(RealAudio available)

It was really a desperate situation. Henry, the Earl of Richmond, was marching his army against King Richard the Third.  The morning of the battle, Richard hurriedly sent a servant to make sure his favorite horse was ready.  “Shoe him quickly,” the man told the blacksmith.  “The king wishes to ride at the head of his troops.”  “You’ll have to wait,” the blacksmith answered.  “I’ve shoed the king’s whole army the last few days, and now I’ve got to get more iron.”  “I can’t wait,” the groom shouted impatiently.  “The king’s enemies are advancing right now, and we must meet them on the field.  Make do with what you have.” 

So the blacksmith bent to his task.  From a single bar of iron he made four horseshoes.  He hammered and shaped and fitted them to the horses’s feet.  Then he began to nail them on.  But after he had fastened three shoes, he found he didn’t have enough nails for the fourth.  “I need one or two more nails,” he said, “and it will take some time to hammer them out.”  “I told you I can’t wait,” the king’s servant said impatiently.  “I hear the trumpets now.  Can’t you just use what you’ve got?”  “I can put the shoe on, but it won’t be as secure as the others.”  “Will it hold?” asked the groom.  “It should, but I can’t be certain.”  “Well, then, just nail it on. And hurry, or King Richard will be angry with us both.”

When the armies clashed, Richard was in the thick of the battle, riding up and down the field, cheering his men and fighting his foes.  “Press forward!  Press forward!” he yelled, urging his troops toward Henry’s lines.  But far away, at the other side of the field, he saw some of his men falling back, and he knew that if others saw them, they too might retreat.  So Richard spurred his horse and galloped toward the broken line, calling on his soldiers to turn and fight.

He was barely halfway across the field when one of the horse’s shoes flew off.  The horse stumbled and fell, and Richard was thrown to the ground.  Before the king could grab at the reins, the frightened animal rose and galloped away, leaving Richard all by himself.  Richard looked around him.  He saw that his soldiers were turning and running, and Henry’s troops were closing around him.  He waved his sword in the air.  “A horse!” he shouted.  “My kingdom for a horse!”  But there was no horse for him.  His army had fallen to pieces, and his troops were busy trying to save themselves.  A moment later Henry’s soldiers were upon Richard, and the battle was over.

Or so the tale goes, and thus the rhyme that became attached to that story.  The rhyme goes like this.

               For want of a nail, a shoe was lost,    

For want of a shoe, a horse was lost,

For want of a horse, a battle was lost,

For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.


Let me ask you.  Can small things have big consequences? Today, I’d like to talk about the importance of everyone’s part in the church.

I invite you to open your Bibles to Luke 19 as one of several passages that we’ll look at on the theme of using our spiritual gifts.

Luke 19 contains the parable of the ten pounds or, depending on your bible, the ten minas.  Luke 19:12-24.  "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.  So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas."  Now I should explain that a mina was the weight of silver roughly equivalent to about sixteen dollars, according to one commentary.  The King James Version just says a pound.  Some other translations simply say coins.  "And then he said to them, 'Do business till I come.'  But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We will not have this man to reign over us.'  And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.'  And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant.  Because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.'  And the second came, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned five minas.'  Likewise he said to him, 'You also be over five cities.'  Then another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  For I feared you, because you are an austere man."  A 'hard man' in other words.  "You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.'  And the nobleman said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?'  And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.'"

There may actually be a lot more in this parable than we could possibly deal with today, but let’s cut straight to the essential ideas.

First of all, it is that Jesus is “the Nobleman,” who has gone into heaven after His resurrection to receive the kingdom of this world.  And we are all His servants, to whom He has given each of us something that we are to manage.  So we ask ourselves the question, “Have we made good use of the gifts He has given us?  Have we followed His directions?”

In the parable, the servants were given money that didn’t belong to them.  They were kind of like gifts, but they really weren't.  It was money to manage, just like God gives us things to manage.  They were only stewards of money that wasn’t theirs.  And they were told explicitly to use the money to trade and to do business with.

Of course, the owner has the right to determine how His money will be used, right? Wouldn’t you say that?  Yes, He has the right to expect how His gifts will be used and to give directions to the stewards.  Wouldn't that apply to us today? Aren’t we stewards of what God has given to us? We are all given gifts with the specific command to use in the proper manner what God gave to us.

So what have we been given?

We usually think of material things, possessions, money, and we can be thankful for the jobs that help us to earn that money and buy those possessions.  God expects us to be unselfish with them, right?  We've also been given our fellow human beings, and doesn't God expect us to love one another?   He's also given us a measure of faith.  Does God expect us to take that measure and dig a hole and stuff it down in the hole?  No, He asks us to keep it out and alive and active and to act on our faith.  He's also given us spiritual gifts.  We should all be using our spiritual gifts to the maximum for Christ and for His church.   They’re all important.  They’re all needed!  Every one of them, whether they seem small or great, they're all needed.

Imagine, for example, a car runs a traffic light and slams broadside into another car passing through the intersection, badly injuring the other driver.  What takes place after that?  Someone makes a call to 9-1-1, and someone at the 9-1-1 center takes the call and notifies the local E. M. S., which sends out an ambulance.  The ambulance arrives, and maybe the fire truck, if necessary, and paramedics take over.  And then back at the hospital, technicians are waiting to rush the patient into the emergency room.  Nurses have everything ready for the doctor.  A lab technician is there to do blood work.  A radiology technician is prepared to take X-rays.  Anesthesiologists are on call.  If surgery is called for, everything is ready.

The hospital is set up to care for the ill and the injured, but to do that it needs a lot of skills, in the form of many people.

Nurses and doctors are the obvious people needed in a hospital.  But there are all kinds of people with a multitude of skills, some that are highly visible and many that aren’t, who are behind the scenes, but all of them are vital for a hospital to function.  Without electricians, mechanics, maintenance, the house-keeping crew, cooks, clerks, grounds people, managers, receptionists, chaplains, computer technicians, the biomedical crew, the radiology staff, various assistants, volunteers, and a host of other support staff; without all of those people,  the hospital just would not work.

Wouldn’t the same be true for the church?

The church’s primary function is taking the gospel to the world.  And while pastors, teachers, and missionaries are highly visible, their work is only a part of what must be done.  A whole host of other roles and functions are necessary in order for the church to function.

Did you know that the Bible has several lists of spiritual gifts?  I'd like for us to take a quick tour of those lists in the Bible, all of them written by the Apostle Paul.

We'll first look at Romans 12:6-8.  It says this.  "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching;  he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."  Now let's skip over to First Corinthians 12:7-10.  "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,  to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues," we're talking about languages, "and to another the interpretation of those languages."  And while we're in chapter 12, skip down to verse 28.  1 Corinthians 12:28.  It says,  "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" or languages.  Let's look at one more.  It's in Ephesians 4:11-12.  "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers."  Notice verse 12, the reason for all of these spiritual gifts.  "For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."

Do you get the picture?  Just as a hospital can operate only with everyone doing their individual tasks, the church can do its ministry most completely only as all members use their gifts.  Whether that means simply being friendly to those who are new in the church, those who are visitors, or being friendly to those who are not new.  Maybe sometimes being friendly toward those who are not friendly.  That could be a spiritual gift.  All kinds of various ways of helping.  Setting up and taking down equipment, cooking and cleaning, studying and teaching and preaching, giving and greeting.  You name it, there are a number of things.  Whether it's big or small, it's all important.

So, does it need to be said that if members are conscious of their gifts, they can use them so much more effectively and both individuals and churches can grow?

So, let me ask you this then.  Do you know what your spiritual gift is, your ministry gift?  There are all kinds of spiritual gifts inventories tests that you can find on the internet.  You can just google 'spiritual gifts' and look for that.  But if you don’t know what your spiritual gift is, how do you discover them?

One of the first steps that you can take is to consider your own desires and aspirations.  What has God laid on your heart?  That's number one.  Number two.  Ask yourself if spiritually mature people have told you of certain abilities you possess.  And number three.  Consider what you are often asked to do in the way of ministry or to help in the church.  And I say that because ultimately the presence or absence of a particular gift is confirmed by experience and by the affirmation of other people. 

And something very important to remember about spiritual gifts is that they are given only for the helping of the church.  In other words, they are not for our own selfish benefit.  Spiritual gifts are service oriented, and those who use them, those who exercise them, grow. 

I call it the River Principle. If your life flows like a river, always passing along life and energy to those around you, then you will be pure and clean.

But if you’re like a reservoir, face it; you can only hold so much stuff.  And then, no growth takes place.  The water becomes stagnant and stinky and bad stuff grows there and the fish die and poison collects and mosquitos breed.

That’s why I believe Paul wrote what he did after expounding the lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.  What's the next chapter after 12?  Chapter what?  We call it the Love chapter, right?  Let’s look at that.  Look in your Bibles at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3  "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels."  That's a spiritual gift.  "But have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy."  That's a spiritual gift.  "And understand all mysteries and all knowledge."  There's another spiritual gift.  "And though I have all faith."  That is a spiritual gift.  "So that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor."  There is yet another spiritual gift.  "And though I give my body to be burned."  That's a spiritual gift, maybe the last one that someone has used.  The spiritual gift of martyrdom.  "But have not love, it profits me nothing."

Ultimately, the Lord has given us the ability to think and to choose and it’s really up to us to use those abilities for either selfish or unselfish purposes. 

And that's why I say that ultimately, love is the best and ultimate spiritual gift of all.  And with His help in our lives, He has given us the ability to think and choose a lifestyle of love and helpfulness that benefits others.  This abiding in Christ experience is what produces that love.  But it’s up to us to choose that.  To live out our lives from the principle of love toward others.

Now, this is the fine print.  We should never neglect our own health, either emotionally or physically, in all of our involvement for the church.  And I believe we should never neglect our family relationships.

But at the same time, we have to ask ourselves the question, "What will the total trend of our lives be?"  Are we a stagnating reservoir or a river of blessing to others?  There’s only one way to grow spiritually, and that’s through service.

There’s an old legend that grew up a long time ago about Peter, the disciple of Jesus.  That legend describes how Peter was out on a trip preaching and traveling by foot.  He came to the door of a cottage where a little woman was making bread and baking these cakes of bread on the hearth.  Since Peter was hungry and the day was almost over, he asked her if she would bake him some bread.  So she started making a small, flat cake of bread, and after baking it, she pulled it out of her oven and looked at it, and that looked too large to give away.

So she started making an even smaller piece of bread.  But when it was all baked and ready, she decided that this was still too big to give away.  So she started over with a tiny scrap of dough, and of course, came to the same conclusion.  It seemed too small for her own consumption, and yet, it was too big to give away.

Needless to say, let’s not be like that woman.  Let's be unselfish with what God has given us.  Let us be thankful that the fruit of the Holy Spirit leads us into paths of unselfish ministry through our spiritual gifts.  May God help all of us to do that individually and corporately as a church, so that the light of the truth of the knowledge of God might shine brightly in the McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist church.

Let’s sing our closing song, “In the Heart of Jesus.”

Gracious Father.  How wonderful Your plan, that through us You might work the marvelous works of Your glory.  That there's a place for us to be active and a part of Your plan.  We thank You for that plan.  In Jesus' name, amen.

 Hymn of Praise: #88, I Sing the Mighty Power of God
Scripture: Ephesians 4:4-8
Hymn of Response: #577, In the Heart of Jesus
Sermon Notes:  Sermon notes available as PDF

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 2/4/10