By Mike Willis
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all (1 Tim. 4:14-15).
This exhortation was given by Paul to the young preacher Timothy. The “gift” to which he referred was most probably some miraculous spiritual gift given by the laying on of Paul’s hands (2 Tim. 1:6), accompanied by prophecies and the laying on of the hands of the elders. Whatever gift was given to Timothy, he was responsible for using in the Master’s service. What was true with Timothy’s miraculous gift is also true of the individual abilities and opportunities which God has given to each of us. Like the one-talent man (Matt. 25:14-30), we are responsible for using our several abilities and opportunities in the kingdom of God. Several dangers threatened Timothy, and every other servant of God, in using his abilities and gifts in the Master’s service.
The Danger of Entanglement
In writing his second letter to Timothy, Paul said, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4). Each of us has certain responsibilities which he cannot avoid. Some things have to be done in order to survive. A man has to mow his lawn, keep his cars looking reasonably clean, maintain his house, earn a living, be involved with his children’s schoolwork and outside activities, and other things. There is a real danger that a Christian may become so entangled in these affairs that he neglects his obligations to God.
In the parable of the sower, the seed that fell among thorns was choked out by the “cares and riches and pleasures of this life” (Lk. 8:14). We have witnessed many Christians who became so involved in the affairs of this life that they neglected and forsook the Lord.
Sometimes preachers become like those mentioned in Philippians 2:20-21 -“For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” Isaiah described the spiritual leaders of his day saying, “Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter” (Isa. 56:11). The desire for wealth has caused some preachers to become more involved in selling than in preaching. (This is not to be understood as a blanket condemnation of every preacher who has his own business. Some churches leave a preacher little choice but to supplement his income because they pay him so little and never give him a raise. Others find medical situations that keep them tied to a job in order to have sufficient medical coverage.) The result is that the exercise of one’s spiritual abilities and use of his opportunities are neglected.
Paul’s exhortation to Timothy needs to be repeated: “give thyself wholly to them” (1Tim. 4:15).
The Danger of Laziness
Some men neglect their “gift” because they are simply too lazy to develop and use it. They are content to let others put forth the effort and make the sacrifices to serve. They are willing to let others do the work while they sit at home and watch television.
In every congregation with which I have labored, I have known of men and women who had the ability to teach a Bible class but who were unwilling to put forth the effort to do it. If each of us had the same attitude, no one would preach, teach classes, or lead singing. The same excuse which permits one man not to use his abilities and opportunities will allow every other man to quit doing what he is doing.
Preaching is a work which permits temptation to laziness. There are no bosses watching over a man to be sure that he works a reasonable number of hours each day. He can wait until Saturday, pull out someone’s outline from a book, look over it and preach it on Sunday morning; few would notice what had been done and many would not care. If he neglects the work of finding and working with contacts, he can excuse himself by saying, “No one wants to hear the gospel these days.” Some neglect their gifts because they are lazy. They are content to sit in front of a television and drink Pepsi, to go hunting and fishing, and take frequent vacations. When brethren object to this conduct, these preachers complain that the brethren have no appreciation for a gospel preacher and his work.
A preacher who is truly committed to his work finds that there are not enough hours in the day to do all the things which need to be done. His interest in the word of God calls him to long hours of study; his concern for the lost makes him look for opportunities to have home Bible studies. He is frequently the one most available to relieve the physical needs of those in a congregation (such as cutting firewood, mowing a yard, etc.). Truly a dedicated servant of God can find plenty of work in the kingdom of the Lord.
Paul’s exhortation to Timothy needs to be repeated: “give thyself wholly to them” (1 Tim. 4:15).
The Need for Every Man’s Contribution
Peter wrote, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4: 10). Every man needs to realize that his gifts, abilities, and talents are needed in the local church. The church is compared to a body (1 Cor. 12:1-3 1) in which every member has a function. If one member chooses not to use his abilities, he not only hurts himself, he also hurts the whole church because these gifts are to be used to “minister the same one to another.”
Suppose that every qualified song leader in your local congregation decided, “I quit.” The whole church would suffer. The usual edification which we receive from the singing would diminish as those who have no song leading ability stumble through and butcher the singing. Suppose that every qualified teacher refused to teach. The entire congregation would suffer because of their refusal to teach.
Sometimes I meet a member of the church who has had his feelings hurt while serving in some capacity. Perhaps some unthoughtful and unkind person made a harsh and unjust criticism of their work or made a justified criticism in such strong words that they became discouraged. A common response is, “I won’t teach any more” or “I won’t try to lead singing any more.” Like the one-talent man, they are ready to go bury their talents and sit around stewing and pouting. The whole church is suffering because of such behavior. Their refusal to serve has the same effect on the church as one leg refusing to walk would have on the body.
Each of us has different abilities and opportunities to serve in the Lord’s kingdom. We are responsible before God for those opportunities to serve. Consequently, we need to give special attention to Paul’s admonitions to “neglect not the gift that is in thee” and to “give thyself wholly to them.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 21, pp. 642, 662
November 7, 1985