In the midst of a busy ministry season, Heather and I had a tremendous opportunity to attend the Together For The Gospel conference in Louisville, KY back in April. We were among 12,000 other attendees who had come together to worship and hear from a number of preachers talk on what it means to be a distinct and holy people among those God has placed us. Since we’re more than a month removed from T4G, I started to pour over my notes and I was struck by a couple of things.
First, I was blown away by what unfolded over the three days of the conference was an honest to goodness onslaught of conviction as preacher after preacher took the stage to open God’s Word and preach for over an hour each. God used pastor after pastor to both encourage me and to challenge me as both a believer and a preacher. The Spirit was working in profound ways in my heart over these few days.
Secondly, however, I felt a sensation of inadequacy washing over me. I was haunted by the sensation that I was never going to be the sort of expositor that John Piper is or that I was not going to have the sort of academic prowess that Kevin DeYoung has. I do not have the top to bottom verve of a guy like Matt Chandler. My gifts were not the same as their gifts…but I wanted them to be. As the conference wrapped up, I heard much the same from a couple of other pastors in the room. They also wanted to be like Piper, Platt or Chandler.
As my mind churned in the days after T4G, I found myself turning to Scripture to answer my feelings of inadequacy and longing for the gifts I did not have. That’s when the Spirit brought me to 1 Corinthians 3:
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
As Paul dealt with the comparisons and tribalism of his day, I was dealing with much the same in my own heart. Yet, as God and His gospel can only do, He assured me of His plan, His gifts and His design.
You’re Not John Piper
One of the most beautiful realities to come from all this is that only one man will ever be John Piper…and his name is John Piper. There’s only one Apostle Paul, one Moses and one King David. There’s only one Daniel Ritchie…and that’s exactly how God designed it to be.
God has fashioned the body of Christ to be deeply diverse in both ethnicity and equipping. He gave a multitude of roles and gifts in the church and each of those roles and gifts are arranged uniquely in the lives of those to whom God has graciously equipped. I’ll never be John Piper and that’s OK. John Piper will never be able to eat a cheese steak with his toes so I guess we’re even.
There ought to be a great confidence in knowing that God crafted only one YOU. There’s only one person with your likeness, your personality, your background, your testimony and your collection of gifts. God saw you as His field and His building. He carefully tended to you and crafted you just as you are with purpose. You are the person that you are and that is accomplished completely by the hand of God. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “it is by God’s grace that I am what I am.”
It is God’s grace you’re not John Piper. It is God’s grace that you are you.
Build on what you have
In the age of constant comparisons, it is easy for all of us to focus on and crave the gifts that we do not have. We peer into the lives of others and we see what we want to be. We glance into our own lives and we are left wanting.
Do not be concerned about the gifts that you do not have but instead pour yourself into utilizing the gifts you do have. As we see in the lives of Paul and Apollos – neither man was not concerned with the other’s gifts. They were solely concerned with proclaiming the King who gave them the gifts in the first place.
Christ is both the foundation and the One who builds the spiritual house. Paul is the man that Christ has charged as the “expert builder” of the house of the New Testament church. He’s using his gifts and expertise for the name and the glory of God. Each man “who plants and who waters “has a single purpose to go out into the fields and work the same harvest with what they have been given.
In the end, that is such an important thrust of this passage – use your gifts and use them well. Take advantage of the unique abilities and opportunities that God has granted you however small or big those may be. Use your talents faithfully and obediently knowing that God will produce the growth because the gifts – and the one to whom they are gifted – are His anyways.
Trust His gifts. Trust Him. He will take care of all of it.