Some who serve the Lord are highly gifted naturally. It takes no imagination to recognize the talents of servants of the Lord such as Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, and Paul because some of them were greatly successful in the natural world, nor is it difficult to envision others being successful had God’s will not intervened. It may be tempting for the rest of us with more ordinary gifts to excuse our lack of service as being due to a dearth of talent. But the Lord would remind those of us with such inclinations of the twelve apostles. In the book of Acts, Luke provides us with a contemporary assessment of two of the leading apostles, Peter and John. So far from being bowled over by their abilities, some in Jerusalem who heard their preaching and observed their behavior “understood that they were uneducated and untrained men” (Acts 4:13). The word translated uneducated means “unlettered” and is sometimes even translated as illiterate. Though Peter and John certainly were not illiterate, their academic skills would never pass muster. The second word used to describe them, untrained, is, in the Greek idiotai. It is not difficult to recognize the English word that derives from that Greek term, which in its noun form, means “ignoramus.”
Far from being a handicap to service, having a lack of spectacular talents may prove especially useful in God’s service. In fact, it seems that the Lord frequently prefers such individuals. After all, we discover Paul writing to the church at Corinth: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not” (I Cor. 1:26-28b).
Whether based on reality or perception, a lack of spectacular skills is not an excuse to slough off serving the Lord. The story is told of a Roman soldier who explained to his guide that he had to take a particular journey. When the guide warned him that such a trip would probably result in his death, the soldier replied, “It is necessary for me to go; it is not necessary for me to live.” Battles are fought and victories are won in the Lord, not because of superior talent but because of exceptional dedication, not because of great ability but because of great submission and self-sacrifice.
Paul offers two reasons that God is pleased to use “lesser lights.” First, it is “so that no man may boast before God” (I Cor. 1:29). He intends for us to trust in and rely on Him rather than on any ability or advantage we might have in the flesh. Until we place our confidence in Him alone, we are not what He has saved us to be. Second, it is “so that . . . him who boasts [will] boast in the Lord” (v. 31). God’s work is to glorify Himself, not man. Any man who is truly serving the Lord will find himself about the business of glorifying God, not himself.
Not one of us has ever been hampered in doing the Lord’s will because of a lack of gifts. In many cases, we may have come short because we did not avail ourselves of the instruction, training, or experience needed to hone them properly. God puts no premium on our carelessness or indifference, but He made no mistakes in gifting us and has matched our service opportunities to the abilities He has bestowed. Again, we cannot use inadequate gifts, talents, or abilities as a legitimate excuse not to serve. What we lack is the Roman soldier’s determination, at any and all cost, to accomplish the task set before us. Have we buried our talents in the ground like the unfaithful servant in the gospels? Or have we misused them for our own satisfaction, fulfillment, or self-aggrandizement? What rich opportunities have we squandered? Those who tagged Peter and John as “uneducated and untrained men,” nevertheless, “began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13b). Now, that is a talent worth using.
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