Are You a Productive Bee? 7 Ways God Has Gifted Christians to Serve
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning Beautiful Christian Life LLC may get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through its links, at no cost to you.
A kind couple recently gave me a heavy jar of honey from their own bees—a precious treasure to sweeten our toast and tea over the cold winter months. I appreciate the skill and effort (and possible bee stings) given to producing such a gift. And let’s not forget the bees themselves, who labor like titans! Thousands of forager bees brave birds and hornets to collect those minuscule sips of nectar, while drones, builders, guards, and nurses toil at home for the queen and her honeycomb kingdom.
In Romans 12:1-8 Paul pictures the church in quite a similar way: every Christian pitching in and working hard and doing what they have been created to do, producing together a sweet and valuable Gospel harvest to bless their community, nation, and world.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)
Paul urges us, in light of all that God has done for us, to offer everything back to him. We do this by not patterning ourselves according to godless society (Christians must be counter-cultural), but instead by being transformed by the renewal of our minds. Renewed minds know how to please God and to serve Christ’s body in the way God has gifted us to serve.
When it comes to serving, we must be careful not to over- or underestimate our gifts:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Rom. 12:3)
And this is sober thinking:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. (Rom. 12:4-6a)
The feet, for example, do not exist by themselves or for themselves, but work, in a unique and important way, with and for the other parts. A foot shouldn’t think, “I’m a V.I.P., and this body exists to serve me,” but rather “I’m one part of the body, and I exist to work with and for the other parts.”
Paul applies this principle to each and every church member:
Let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom. 12:4b-8)
A comparison with similar gift-lists (see 1 Cor. 12:8-10; Eph. 4:11) shows that this is not an exhaustive list, but it does generally cover the field. Your gifts are going to fit somewhere across this list.
1. Has God gifted you to prophesy?
To prophesy is “to speak God’s words after him,” which at the very least applies to preaching and proclaiming God’s word. It could mean more than this, but it cannot mean less.
Every Christian reads God’s word on their own. Many meet with a small group or class to study God’s word together. The preached sermon is however the only time when the Word is proclaimed to the whole church together, when the church together is called to repentance and faith.
This is why we invest very heavily in preaching: to identify and carefully train and test future preachers, and to set aside a large chunk of the pastor’s week for sermon preparation.
If God has gifted you for this, such prophecy must be in agreement with “the faith,” the life-giving Gospel that our Lord Jesus has entrusted to us.
2. Has God gifted you to serve?
Diakonia referred to the work of domestic servants: work done not for self but others. Our world doesn’t honor servants. If we work hard it is usually for money, recognition, and self-gratification. This mindset breeds frustration in the home and dissonance in the workplace. We will not recognize the high calling and nobility of serving if we think according to this world’s pattern.
Jesus was a perfect servant. He woke early to pray—for others. He labored all day and every day—for others. He toiled into the night—for others. Even on the Sabbath he did good works! Jesus incessantly healed, fed, and taught people. His life was one great act of service.
Has God gifted you to serve? Then serve, Paul says. Stop wondering and start serving. How? Love always beats a pathway. Don’t stand back. Write your name all over the church roster. Go and ask what needs to be done. Find needs. Do the small tasks, the hidden and unsung tasks, the revolting tasks. Be faithful with a little—Jesus will give you much.
3. Has God gifted you to teach?
Paul means Bible-teaching: one-on-one discipling, Sunday school, youth group, Bible studies, preaching the sermon, or evangelism. Parents must be Bible teachers to their children.
The human soul is stupendously complex. God has given us a Bible to match—to address—every possible complexity and human need. The attacks on the Christian come in a million different forms and from a million different directions, and this big, deep, and complex Bible more than equips us to withstand. But we need to know it, and praise God that he equips teachers for the task. If teaching is your gift, teach. Speak to your elders about this.
4. Has God gifted you to encourage?
The Greek word parakaleō comprises the root kal, “to call” and the preposition para, “beside.” It means to invite or call to one’s side, to appeal or exhort (it’s the very first word in Romans 12), to request and implore, to comfort and cheer up, and sometimes to console or conciliate. “Encourage” beautifully captures the basic idea: “to impart courage” (the word courage itself is derived from the French word cœur for heart).
If you don’t appreciate the power of this gift, you have forgotten the power of words. When we speak, we express our heart, our mind, our self, to another. Our soul addresses or impacts—to one degree or another—the soul of another. Thus, words have tremendous power to build or demolish, to heal or infect, to illuminate or dim, to fortify or cripple, to vivify or kill. God has gifted some Christians to use the power of words to call, cajole, comfort, console, and conciliate. Is this your gift? Then encourage!
5. Has God gifted you to give?
I am always in awe of those who have business acumen, of those who can buy, sell, manage, and produce the goods and services we need, and who do this so adroitly that they amass a surplus of resources. These clever people have been especially privileged to help others in need.
But every Christian is called to live simply, to deny self in order to share with others. That was the dirt-poor widow, whose gift so moved the heart of Jesus. That was the Macedonian churches:
For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord. (2 Cor. 8:2-3)
Is giving your gift? Paul senses the danger: that we will give pitifully (Luke 21:4), or for applause (Matt. 6:2), or with a false show of generosity (Acts 5:1-2), or reluctantly (2 Cor. 9:7). And so Paul urges us to give, and to give with simplicity and sincerity.
6. Has God gifted you to lead?
I think of Churchill in mid-1940. Britain had just watched Europe topple to the Nazis, one nation after another, and many wanted to do a deal with Hitler: “Given that we are next to be conquered, what concessions can we beg from the Fuehrer?” Capitulation disgusted Churchill. He would not have it. He used his awesome power of words to convince Britain to eschew capitulation, to fight solely for victory. It had to be victory or death. Churchill set the example: he kept a Bren gun in his car boot, determined to fall in a hail of German bullets rather than wave a white flag.
Has God gifted you to lead his people: whether a group of ten, fifty, a hundred, or a thousand? (Exod. 18:21). If God has gifted you to lead, then lead with what Paul calls spoudē: eagerness, enthusiasm, goodwill, and devotion.
7. Has God gifted you to be merciful?
Jesus once described a man who was forgiven a debt of millions of dollars who then choked the man who could not repay him a few hundred dollars (Matt. 18:28). Things turned out very badly for this wretch, and every Christian is warned to extend to others the same forgiveness that we ourselves have received.
In this Romans 12 context, mercy takes on the sense of acts of practical love (see Matt. 15:22; 17:15, Luke 17:13; 18:38). Some are gifted to show this ministry of mercy to others. This is demanding and draining and easily breeds a begrudging spirit. Thus, Paul urges: “If you are gifted to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (cheerfully translates hilarotēs—you can see the connection).
You are living in a beehive.
Paul urges Christians to serve, to serve well, and to serve gladly. For bad service is like smoke in the eyes, and receiving resentful service is like drinking vinegar.
I love to read on our front steps. I like the quiet, the cool air, and Hobart’s beautiful city and river in my peripheral vision. But the bricks press against my left leg, slow the circulation, and put it soundly to sleep. When I try to stand, it is so numb that it makes me laugh. It is now a useless deadweight: barely holding me up, let alone conveying me. I have to take care not to fall. For a time, my slumbering limb cripples and jeopardizes every other part of my body.
Every person in the church must ask: Have I gone to sleep? God has given me to prophecy, serve, teach, encourage, give, lead, or show mercy. Am I absconding? Am I AWOL? How should I be serving my family, my church family, and my city?
Yes, there are changing priorities and seasons of life. A young mom must for many years devote herself to children and home. Men must work hard to feed and house their families. A person on crutches cannot mow another’s lawn. A child cannot preach and lead.
But a young man who idles in front of a computer screen while a young family or an old couple struggles to maintain their garden is delinquent. For a young single man with strength in his arm and love in his heart can lift a mountain of burdens from the shoulders of his church family—and his own family. Why else did God bless you with those muscles and broad shoulders?
A young woman who whiles away her time in front of Netflix and Instagram while a mother with little ones struggles to wash her family’s clothes should be ashamed. For a young single woman, having done her homework and household chores, can come with the wings of an angel to help a harassed young mom or a widow who now struggles to vacuum her carpets.
A retiree can “scatter abroad their gifts” of financial support, fellowship, and joy to their church family. Or perhaps God has gifted you to lead on the board of management as a deacon or in the eldership? A widow who disciples, helps, and encourages others is like Abigail who brought “loaves of bread, skins of wine, dressed sheep, roasted grain, raisin cakes, and pressed figs” to David and his famished soldiers.
The frailest who give themselves to pray can, like Samson, carry the gates of hell upon their shoulders far away from their church and their struggling brothers and sisters.
Within the hive there are all kinds of bees: workers, drones, builders, guards, nurses, cleaners, and a queen. There are no lazy bees. May our churches be the same. God has gifted you to serve your family, your church, and your city. Find and use your gifts as soon as you can, and the honey will flow.
Campbell Markham is a Presbyterian pastor in Hobart, Tasmania. He blogs at Campbell Markham: Thoughts and Letters.