“God-Given Skills For God’s Kingdom Work” (Exodus 31-18 sermon)

I’m sure many of you life-long Texans are familiar with Jack Sorenson, the Texas artist, known for his western paintings, including this one of Santa Claus riding a horse. W.F. Strong, in his book, Stories From Texas, tells us that Sorenson once said: “I’ve always been able to draw, sketch and paint anything I put my mind to. I didn’t just discover it one day. I’ve always had it. God blessed me with a gift, and I try to honor that gift as best I can, in every painting.’” (p. 119)

Sorenson is not wrong. The artistic gift that he has, came from the Lord. That’s one of the things we have seen in our daily Bible readings in the second half of Exodus, where it repeatedly refers to Bezalel, a man to whom God had some given skills in craftsmanship. 

Monday morning in staff meeting, as we shared from our Bible readings, we talked about how the second part of Exodus is not always the most exciting of scriptures to read through — but there ARE some rich truths to be found there. And one of them is what we are going to talk about today: that God is the source of all the different skills that we possess, and we need to realize that we are responsible to Him for what we do with the gifts He has entrusted to us.  

I. GOD is the source of all our skills.

In Exodus 31:2-3 God says: “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship.” The Lord says here that the skill that Bezalel had, was given by Him – and so God subsequently instructed Bezalel to use that skill in the construction of the tabernacle for worship.

But God also said went on to say that not only did He give Bezalel this skill, but :6 goes on to say: “In the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill.” That is a very significant verse. God says there that every person who has a skill, HE has give it to them. “In the hearts of all who are skillful, I have put skill.” This means that there is no such thing as a “natural talent” or ability; there is no such thing as a “self-made man.” Whatever gift or ability anyone has, God says, it came from Him. 

Once I spoke at a church and while I was there I met a young man who was adept at mechanical things and working with his hands. He said he felt like God had gifted him with this ability. I had just “happened” to read this chapter in Exodus in my quiet time that morning, so I shared this verse with him and told him that he was right. According to this scripture, every ability we have has been given to us from the Lord.

Now many of us are familiar with the concept of spiritual gifts. When are saved, we receive spiritual gifts from the Lord. This is part of the Gospel. God made to love and serve Him, but we rebelled against Him and decided to serve ourselves instead. This is what SIN is. And the Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But despite our sin, God showed His “compassion” to us, and was “gracious” to us, as we talked about last week, which is the essence of His character, and sent Jesus to die on the cross and pay for our sins, so that we could be forgiven of our rebellion against Him, and return to Him as our Lord & God. When we turn back to Him, He forgives us of our sins, and sends His Holy Spirit into our lives, putting His “seal” on us as belonging to Him. And the New Testament repeatedly teaches that when the Holy Spirit comes into your life when you are saved, that He gives you a “spiritual gift” — a God-given ability to serve Him in the church: preaching, or teaching, or encouraging/counseling, or leading, deeds of mercy, and so on. We all have one of these gifts.

Now, throughout my generation (which is quickly becoming the “older generation”!) there has been the attitude that these “spiritual gifts” are from the Lord, for service in the church, but then we’ve acted like we also have these “natural abilites” and talents that we just happen to have, that don’t have anything to do with God or spiritual things. But what we need to understand is that it is not only “spiritual gifts,” but EVERY gift and ability is from the Lord:

— Like Bezalel, if you are a craftsman, that is from the Lord. 

— Like Jack Sorenson, if you can paint or draw, that’s from the Lord. 

— Like Eric Liddell, the Olympian in “Chariots of Fire,” one of my favorite movies, if you can run fast, that is from the Lord. 

One of the things the Bible shows us in this passage is that every gift and ability we have, has been given to us by God.

So we need to recognize that. What you can do well, realize that GOD gave you that. Our youngest son Michael was (and is) very intelligent. Once he sat behind a Greek professor who was speaking at our church in Louisiana and whispered “En arche yn ho logos.” The professor turned around and looked at this elementary age child and said, “That’s John 1:1 … in GREEK!” Someone once said to Michael, “You are very intelligent.” And very matter-of-factly, Michael said, “Yeah, God made me smart.” That’s the attitude we should have. Humbly recognize that God gave you whatever you have.

C.S. Lewis said our talents are given to us by God when He created us. He said, we have no more right to proud of our abilities than we are the color of our hair. They were GIVEN to us. And He said the way to deal with the temptation to pride about our abilities is “NOT to depreciate the good things we are tempted to be proud of, but to remember where it comes from.” (C.S. Lewis, Yours Jack, p. 102)

Lewis is saying, you don’t have to put on a “fake humility” when someone compliments you about some ability you have, and say, “Oh I am not very good” — when you KNOW you are! — instead, he says, just humbly remember where it came from. It came from GOD, not YOU! Don’t cut down what God gave you. Just acknowledge that it came from Him. 

The Bible shows us here that this is true of every talent, gift, and ability we have. It is all from the Lord. Thank Him for it. Tell others you know it came from Him. As the old song says, “Praise GOD from whom all blessings flow”!  GOD is the source of all our skill.

II. WE are responsible to use our skills to further God’s Kingdom.

In Exodus 36:1 the Lord speaks some more about Bezalel and others. He says: “Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the Lord has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.” 

Again we see here, God says “in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding.” GOD gives us these skills, we just saw. But then He goes further here. He says those to whom He has given these skills “shall perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary.” Those words, “shall perform” are key here. It’s not enough that a person like Bezalel or Oholiab are given skill and understanding by God; He says they are then responsible to PERFORM what He asks of them, USE those God-given abilities He granted. 

And this is true not only for Bezalel and Oholiab. This is our responsibility too. Whatever gift, talent, or ability God has given us, we are then to USE in the service He has set before us. We don’t choose the gifts we are given by the Lord; but we ARE responsible for what we DO with them. History is replete with examples of people who were given great talents by God, but who did not “perform” in accordance with what they were given. Perhaps you aware that you possess certain spiritual gifts; but the question is, how are you USING them?!

After the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson went to Europe for an international peace conference. Attending along with him was the Secret Service agent E.W. Starling, who faithfully served several presidents. Starling wrote of the conference:  “From what I could gather a great was said and very little was done. On January 15 I wrote in my diary: ‘As we were leaving … it fell to my lot to put a lap robe on the President’s knees, and be said to me in an undertone, ‘I am glad to get away from them. It is nothing but a talk shop.’” (E.W. Starling and Thomas Sugrue, Starling of the White House, pp. 126-127)

President Wilson was frustrated because that international conference, which could have made a difference in the world, did not. All they did was talk. “It was nothing but a talk shop.” But here’s the thing: can the same thing be said of many of our churches? We talk about the gospel; we talk about missions; we talk about how Jesus is Lord; we talk about the importance of serving Him. But are we DOING it? Are we going? Are we serving? Are we sharing? Or are our churches just “talk shops”? 

And each of us should apply this personally as well. Do we just talk in church about the gospel, or do we ever share it with anyone? Is missions something we say we “support,” whatever that means — or are we personally really giving, praying, and going on mission. Is missions and ministry something you are really DOING personally, or is all this just a “talk shop”? 

God told Bezalel and Oholiab, I have given you skill and understanding. And now I want you to PERFORM with it. And He is saying the exact same thing to every one of us. He has given you some gift, some talent, some ability, some time, and He doesn’t just want you to be a “talk shop,” He wants you to USE what He has given you, in some way, for His Kingdom work. 

God can use whatever gifts He has given you, in His kingdom work. For example, the Bulgaria trip I was just on was what they call a “vision trip,” meaning I went not only to minister, which I had some great opportunities to do, but another of my main purposes was to kind of “scout out” what all opportunities there might be for our church members to be involved over there, to help reach the unevangelized peoples in the Rhodope Mountains. And I saw a number of different things:

— they need people to teach English to high school students this June

— they have a special needs camp where you can serve kids and families.

— They are asking for businessmen, and financial planners to help them with training.

— Do we have anyone with the ability to fish?! They said they’d like a team to come over and fish in a big lake that is right by that village where there is only one Christian man, to build relationships with town leaders and people there, just preparing the way for future ministry work.

There are SO many different gifts you can use to help share the gospel over there.

And it’s the same with the Port Ministry. What I love about this ministry is that it is SO accessible. You don’t have to go halfway around the world to Bulgaria to use your gifts to serve. You can touch the world right here in our country through our Port Ministry 

— You can visit trucks and ships and talk to men, give them Bibles, and toiletries, and look for opportunities to witness to them.

— You can use your driving skills like Cliff Tubb did to take sailors to the Ministry Center or to Walmart

— You can use your practical cooking ability to make a meal for Monday luncheon or use your servant ability to help serve it.

There are SO many specific, practical things you can do in the Port Ministry, with whatever ability you have. I hope you’ll go to the table in the foyer after the service and sign up to attend a training on specific ways you can be involved.  

And it’s not just about missions; it’s the same right here in our church too. For our church to function effectively, EVERY person needs to use the ability God has given them to serve in some way: praying, serving in the nursery, giving, teaching, on and on. There’s something you can do. Remember, God never intended for this church to be a “talk shop;” it’s to be a WORK shop; where hundreds of us are using our gifts and abilities to serve God. 

God wants you to use the gifts He has given you, to further His kingdom.

NOTE this: He does NOT expect you to use the gifts He has NOT given you to serve Him! Looking at this passage, God did not give all the people of Israel the gift of being able to work as skilled craftsmen; He gave that to Bezalel and Oholiab. They were expected to perform with what God had given them. And in the same way, you and I are not responsible to use gifts and abilities we don’t have. God just wants us to use those He DID give us. 

This actually takes a lot of pressure off. You’re not responsible to use skills you don’t have. You are just responsible to use what He did give you. What can you do? What did God give you the ability to do? Do that — and do it for the Lord and His kingdom, and don’t worry about what you can’t do.

For example, I have shared with several people recently, something I read about C.S. Lewis, that he had the ability to remember every single thing that he ever read. That is just a gift from God. And I must say, I really envy that gift. A few months ago, I pulled this certain book off of my bookshelf, and thought, “Now THAT looks interesting!” And as I began reading it, I thought, “This is really good; I have never read this before.” And then a few pages later I turned the page — and came to a place where I had highlighted something and made a note about it!  I HAD read it — and I didn’t even remember it! I just wish I had that gift of C.S. Lewis’ to be able to remember every single thing I had ever read.

But you know what? God didn’t give me that gift. So I am not responsible for a gift He did not give me. You know what I need to do? I just need to be faithful to practice the gifts that God DID give me. If I do that, that’ll keep me busy enough!

And the same is true for you. Maybe you’d say, “Man I wish I could sing in the choir,” or preach, or teach — but God didn’t give you those gifts. Listen, you are not responsible for gifts God didn’t give you. But you ARE responsible for the gifts He DID give you. What are you doing with what God gave you? THAT is what you’re going to be accountable to God for. And you ARE accountable to Him for them.

In Matthew 25 Jesus told parable of the talents, where a master gives his slaves a talent, a measure of money, to invest until he returned. They each invested their money, but one slave was given only one talent, not as much as the others. So he thought he’d just bury it in the ground until the master returned. But when he did come back, the master rebuked that slave for not doing anything with what he had been given. He wasn’t reprimanded because he only had one talent; he was reprimanded because he didn’t do anything what he HAD been given. 

And the same thing is true for us. You may say, I didn’t get very much talent-wise from the Lord. I’m not a great soloist, or preacher, or teacher, or some of these gifts churches often value. You are not responsible to God for gifts and talents you did not receive. The question is: are you using what God DID give you in some way?

— So you can’t preach; can you watch kids in the nursery?

— So you can’t sing; can you help mow the grass?

— So you can’t teach; can you drive men in the Port Ministry?

Can you give to help someone go to Bulgaria? Can you PRAY for people who are on mission and who desperately need God’s protection and blessing?

The question is not what CAN’T you do, but what CAN you do? You are not responsible to use a gift God didn’t give you. What you ARE responsible for is what God DID give you. Use whatever He DID give you, to serve Him and help advance His kingdom here on earth. THAT is what you are going to be answerable to Him for one day, just like in Matthew 13. Did you bury the time and ability God gave you, or did you use it? 

Every one of us should find some specific ways to answer the last question on your note page: “How will I use the gifts, skills, and time God has given me, to further His Kingdom here on earth?”

Remember: God doesn’t want this church to be a “talk shop.” He wants it to be a “work shop” for His kingdom. 

And God doesn’t want YOU to be a “talk shop” Christian, who talks a big game about things you aren’t really DOING anything about. He wants you to USE whatever gift or talent or ability He has given you, for His kingdom.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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