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Part I: Who Are the Gifted?
Some people have more obvious gifts than others…
… But in fact, everyone is gifted.
When people get into the wrong field, they can switch.
“Gifted” is a prolonged response to a reader question:
Is there a Biblical model for how people struggle with the kinds of issues gifted people have today - e.g., underachievement, being uncomfortable with the spotlight, not fitting in because of something you do well, having so many talents that you don’t know what to choose, etc.?
For many years I had this quotation from George Herbert Palmer (1842-1933) on my office wall:
I am defeated, and know it, if I meet any human being from whom I find myself unable to learn anything.
I can honestly say I’ve never been defeated – I’m 62 years old, and I’ve never met anyone I couldn’t learn something from. (I’ve met a few that I didn’t
learn anything from, but that’s my fault, not theirs.) Every person I meet can teach me interesting stuff that I don’t know, like how to match the texturing on the rest of the wall exactly
when putting in a patch, or why small black holes evaporate before they suck up the entire universe.
I first noticed that everybody is better at something
than I am when I was a little kid, primarily because the grown-ups around me paid attention when I
knew more about something than they
did. Consequently I never fell into the trap of believing (as so many well-educated people do, I’m embarrassed to say) that getting a Ph.D. showed I was any smarter or better than the fellow who swept my office.
All this leads to the Hunter Theory of Human Development: Everybody is gifted. For the next few weeks, we are going to look at the Biblical position on giftedness, beginning with some of the gifts that we normally recognize right off the bat.
Some people have more obvious gifts than others…
Physical beauty: Moses, Esther (Exodus 2:1-10; Esther 2:1-17) (8/30/2010)
One of the most obvious gifts is great physical beauty. God made Moses and Esther physically attractive, and it was precisely their attractiveness that put them into a position to do the job he had in mind for them.
Intelligence: Solomon (1 Kings 3:3-28) (8/31/2010)
What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the phrase “gifted children”? You might think about music or chess, but you probably think about academic achievement. The Biblical figure most noted for the kind of intelligence that leads to academic success is, of course, King Solomon. He is credited with numerous wise decisions, such as the one we read about today, a plethora of proverbs, a Song, and the book of Ecclesiastes. He was responsible for building the first Temple in Jerusalem, for enriching the kingdom of Israel to fabulous heights, and for making numerous political alliances. Very bright guy. The scripture makes it completely clear that his intelligence was the result of a direct gift from God (vss. 11-12) and that his people valued his wisdom (vs. 28).
It’s interesting that Solomon refers to himself as “a little child.” Solomon is one of the few kings whose age at the time of his ascension to the throne is not given. Estimates range from about 13 to about 20.
When I retired, one of the things I told my interns was to stay focused on the things that will matter 50 or 100 years from now. Although we aren’t going to read about Solomon’s later life, it’s pretty clear that when he started accompanying his wives to their idolatrous shrines, he also started making dumb decisions in a number of other areas. What did he expect? He asked God for understanding and got it, and then he lost focus on God and lost the understanding as well. Sigh. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
Charisma: John the Baptist (Luke 1:63-80, 3:2-18) (9/1/2010)
Do you remember that kid in high school who was friends with everyone, the one everyone wanted to be with? Of course you do, because that was a very charismatic kid.
Charisma is a Greek word that means a favor bestowed. Charisma comes from charis, which is a broad word that means grace, graciousness, goodwill, thanks, gratitude, and – importantly for us today – attractiveness. When we talk about charisma in English, we generally mean “personal magnetism,” an attractiveness that has little or nothing to do with the physical beauty we thought about a couple days ago. The Bible shows that charisma is always bestowed by God, usually upon individuals.
Charismatic people are born to be leaders, because everyone wants to be their follower. There are quite a few charismatic leaders in the Bible – Moses, all the judges, some of the kings and prophets, Jesus, and John the Baptist are the main group. Think about John the Baptist. He lived way out in the boondocks, he didn’t give parties, and he wasn’t even particularly polite to the people who came to visit him. But everybody wanted to visit him! Matthew 3:5 says that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him” (see also Mark 1:5). John 1:23-24 says that even the Pharisees sent him messengers. Everybody wanted to talk to him, they wanted his advice, they wanted his baptism. He had the gift of charisma.
Musical Talent: Asaph (1 Chronicles 16:1-7, 35-38; Psalm 81) (9/2/2010)
One of the most obvious gifts, and one that tends to show up at very young ages, is musical talent. We read about Asaph
, a musician contemporary with David, a couple months ago in our study of Chronicles. We’re going to read about him again today, because he is one of the most talented musicians mentioned in the Bible. We’ll also read the lyrics to one of his hymns, which was apparently written to be accompanied by a gittith, which is a kind of harp.
Athletic Talent: David (1 Samuel 17:8-11, 23-50) (9/3/2010)
Who’s the best runner in the Bible?
Adam, because he was first in the human race. HAHAhahaha.
My husband watches the NFL Hall of Fame inductions every year, and he comments about the number of top athletes who mention, in their acceptance speeches, their faith in God or the importance of Jesus in their lives. As well they might! Athletic ability is one of the highly visible gifts. Paul often used athletics as a model for Christian behavior, saying that we should fight to the finish, run the race set before us, and obtain the crown of laurels.
David had so many wonderful gifts that we often forget what a terrific athlete he was. The first thing we learn about David is that he was good-looking, the second is that he was a good musician, and the third is that he was a dead shot with a sling. Does he say, “Yeah, right, I worked hard, right, and I deserve this award, like, because I’m big and strong”? No. He says, “You come to me with a sword and a spear and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” David did work hard, because tending sheep and killing lions and bears is hard work. Nevertheless, he puts the credit for his abilities right where they belong: with God.
… But in fact, everyone is gifted.
Gifts vary: 1 Peter 4:10-11; 2 Corinthians 3:5-6a, Romans 12:3-8; Matthew 25:14-15 (9/6/2010)
Last week we looked at several gifts that are greatly admired by other human beings. When we say that someone is “gifted,” we are most often speaking about intellect, musical talent, athletic ability, charisma, or physical beauty. Many other gifts are mentioned in the Bible, however, and it is important for us to remember that they are all equally valuable in God’s eyes. The Bible is clear that everyone – every single person – is gifted with some especially valuable skill, or talent, or field of knowledge, and that each of us is enjoined to use our own gift in God’s service.
Craftsmanship: 2 Chronicles 2:13-14; Exodus 35:10-36:4 (9/7/2010)
I love to watch workers who come to do things at my house, like plumbing, or tiling, or texture coating, or repairing stuff, or building cabinets, or pouring concrete. I always learn something interesting (usually that I don’t ever want to do it myself). I love to see the banners and quilts and bulletin boards and alter linens and baptismal fonts and handouts and websites that members make for the church. Except for the occasional quilt, one banner, and a couple websites, I’ve never done any of that. The skills of the craftsman and craftswoman come directly from God, and they are indispensable for the proper running of the Church or the world.
Scholarship and Teaching: Daniel 1:3-6, 17, Daniel 2:20-23; James 3:1-2, 13-17 (9/8/2010)
School’s back in all over the country. Parents are breathing sighs of relief, and some students are just breathing sighs. A few students and most teachers, however, are excited to be learning and teaching. Learning and teaching are two of the most wonderful gifts. (Of course, this is me talking, right?) The scriptures place learning very high on the list of important things to do (e.g., Deuteronomy 5:1 and many proverbs). In fact, the Greek word translated “disciple,” mathetes, comes from the verb matheo, “learn” or “study.” So a disciple is really a student.
Paul puts teachers right behind apostles and prophets in their weight of responsibility (1 Corinthians 12:28-29). On the other hand, I can’t think of any other gifts that come with a warning from the Theologian General (well, except maybe money). Teachers are supposed to know better, so if either they or their students get into trouble, it’s their fault.
So, as I have said at least once before, you really need to read the Bible for yourself. We should all be lifelong learners of what God has to teach.
Administrative Ability: Exodus 18:1-26 (9/9/2010)
There are people who really know how to run programs. They have a real gift for getting the right person in the right job, for organizing big jobs into smaller chunks, and for keeping track of budgets and timetables. Some of the famous Old Testament figures who had this gift are Jethro, whom we read about today, Joseph (Genesis 41), and Daniel (Daniel 6). In the New Testament, we see that the apostles weren’t all that great at administration, so they delegated to people who were good at it (Acts 6). The gift of administrative ability is essential in both the Church and the world.
Many gifts: 1 Corinthians 12:4-30 (9/10/2010)
Let’s review. We tend to have a rather limited view of what it means to be gifted, and even among the abilities, talents, and skills that we recognize as gifts, we tend to admire some gifts more than others. I hope the past two weeks have made it clear that this is a non-scriptural position. (That means, “wrong.”)
In expressing the scriptural position, Paul – along with many other Biblical writers and several parables of Jesus – says:
1. Everyone is gifted;
A few months ago in Sunday School, one of our fellow readers said that back in high school she visited a church that believed every Christian should speak in tongues. They prayed over her and laid hands on her, and when she still didn’t speak in tongues they looked askance at her. These folks needed to read their Bibles a little more carefully.
English has several ways of asking a question:
2. All gifts are important; and
3. Not everyone has the same gift.
“Are you going to the store?” is a neutral request for information.
Greek has these identical three ways of asking questions, and in vss. 29-30, Paul is not asking for information, he’s asking a quasi-rhetorical question that assumes the answer “no, not everyone has this gift.” Everyone has a gift, or maybe many gifts, but not everyone has the same gifts.
“You aren’t going to the store, are you?” is a quasi-rhetorical question that assumes that no, you aren’t.
“You are going to the store, aren’t you?” is a quasi-rhetorical question that assumes that yes, you are.
When people get into the wrong field, they can switch.
Amos started out as a herdsman and vinedresser.
Amos 7:1-17 (9/13/2010)
Every once in a while I hear someone say, “I’d really like to [do whatever], but it would take me X years, and I’d be Y years old by the time I finished.” I always want to respond, “How old are you going to be in X years if you don’t do that?”
One problem that gifted people have – especially academically gifted people, but others, too – is that too often they get into the wrong field by mistake. They are good at so many things, and so few subjects are taught in grade school! Later, having invested four years of college, or maybe two or three years in a job, they think they are stuck forever in the profession they started out in.
Great news! The Bible says that if you are in the wrong field, you can switch! We are going to visit with five people who decided – or who had it decided for them – that they were in the wrong business.
When the high priest of Israel says to Amos, “Go on, get out of here! Don’t prophesy here any more,” Amos responds, “Hey, I didn’t even start out to be a prophet!”
King Saul started out as a herdsman.
1 Samuel 9:1-5, 10:14-26 (9/14/2010)
For a long time after the children of Israel came back from Egypt, they were led by tribal elders and occasional judges. Then they decided that they wanted a king, so God told the prophet Samuel to anoint a king for them. Saul son of Kish started out as a herdsman, but then he was selected to be the first king of Israel. Sometimes people decide on their own to switch jobs, and other times it is decided for them. Either way, gifted people are responsible for doing the best job they can.
Jephthah started out as a gang leader.
Judges 11:1-11 (9/15/2010)
Jephthah got off to a rocky start. The illegitimate son of a prostitute, he was driven out of town by his half-brothers. Apparently he had the gift of charisma – like most of the judges – because he immediately attracted a band of followers. You might think that Jephthah is my token example of a gifted person who never made good, but you would be wrong. When the tribe got into trouble with the Ammonites, the elders remembered Jephthah’s charisma, and they probably also figured a gang leader was just the man for the job. They offered him the position of judge in exchange for leading them in battle. Although he was justifiably skeptical when they first came to him, Jephthah accepted. He led the tribe of Gilead to defeat the Ammonites, and he was their judge until his death six years later.
I suspect Jephthah died of a broken heart. If you want to know why, you’ll have to read the rest of his story for yourself in Judges 11 and 12.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John started out as fishermen.
Matthew 4:18-22; John 21:1-8 (9/16/2010)
What are some of the jobs that didn’t exist when you were a kid? Astronaut? Software developer? Laser operator? Heart transplant surgeon? Telemarketer? Computer technician? Sometimes gifted people don’t start out in the right field because the right field doesn’t yet exist.
When Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John were kids, there was no job description for “Christian apostle.” They more or less had to invent the job description as they went along. Jesus gave them a clear mission statement: ”Go into all the world and make disciples of every nation.” As you read the New Testament, however, you can see that they are figuring out the practical details of how to do that years and even decades later (well, not James, who was martyred very early). Probably one of the reasons Jesus chose these men to be his inner circle is that he could see special talents that they had for applying the principles he taught them to new and changing situations.
Gifted people (remember, that means you) should never be afraid to try something new. It may be exactly what you are gifted for.
Paul started out as a persecutor of the Church.
Acts 7:57-8:3, 9:1-5 (9/17/2010)
One of the most astonishing changes of occupation recorded in the Bible is that of Paul. Paul was a scholar, whose teacher Gamaliel was one of the all-time famous rabbis, both for his scholarship and his piety. Unlike his teacher (see Acts 5:34-39), Paul was also a violent bigot who hated Christians so much that not only did he search for them door-to-door in Jerusalem, but he even obtained authorization to hunt them down when they fled to other cities.
Imagine the astonishment among Jews and Christians alike when Paul became a Christian apostle! Paul remained a scholar throughout his life, using his knowledge of the Old Testament in the development of Christian theology. His skills in rabbinical-style argument are apparent in many of his letters. This shows again that old skills are useful in new occupations.
is coming soon.
Who Are the Gifted?
The Gift of Wealth
Mentoring the Gifted
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