Only 16 more days until Christmas! On that day I’ll open up a little gift from my mom
that looks a lot like this… (she likes gift bags). And inside will be… a gift card. I know this
because my mom is horrible at keeping secrets. But it’s okay that I know because I really wanted
a gift card this year – it sure beats my mom buying me clothes herself. In fact, I convinced her to
get me one. This way, I’ll get to choose exactly what I want from the store – what I need the
most – which is probably something that my mom would never pick out on her own.
I was thinking about how gift cards are so popular these days, and I realized it’s probably
because they represent the epitome of our cultural obsession with personal choice. With the
emergence of gift cards, we can now not only choose how to spend our own money, but also the
money of people buying gifts for us! So for most gift-receivers, gift cards are the perfect gift…
they put the choice and the control in my hands. But for true gift-givers – those people who take
great delight in giving just the right gift (like my mom does) – there’s something less satisfying
about giving a gift card. It doesn’t really feel very special… even if it’s what I asked for. But it’s
nice of my mom this year to let me choose exactly what I want… (because that is what I want –
to be able to choose exactly how I spend the gift)… I think.
The gift card is a little bit like the gifts that God gives us. For the most part, He lets us
choose how we spend them. God has given us all some very real gifts. I’ve listened to all of you
preach. You all are gifted. You may or may not feel like you are, but what God has given you the
ability to do up here… in expositing His Word and applying it to real life and compelling people
to action… is a rare gift. Some of you are very gifted academically as well. You can exegete like
nobody’s business and you love doing it. Some of you are gifted artistically. I’ve been in Matt’s
apartment and seen his paintings. He’s got a gift there. One of the gifts that we all share is our
education right here at DTS. I know we’ve heard this before, but what percentage of Christians
around the world – and throughout history – have gotten the opportunity to come to a place like
this and learn? We have been given great gifts. All of us.
So here’s the question: How will we spend our gifts? Will we use them to glorify Him or
will we use them to glorify ourselves?
We all know the right answer to that question. After all, why else would we be at Dallas
Seminary if not to serve God with our gifts, right? Well, when it really comes down to it, all of
us tend to use our gifts for our own benefit more often than we care to admit. It’s the most natural
thing for us… we don’t even have to work at it, it’s like falling off a log. When we preach we
hope that others will affirm our communication skills, which makes us feel special… like maybe
we have what it takes to be successful in ministry. We write detailed, thorough research papers to
remind ourselves that we have the academic acumen to hang with anybody else on the campus.
We complete projects just to clear another hurdle and get a grade so that we can just get through
the class and have the degree. We ask thoughtful-sounding questions in class to impress our
favorite professor so that maybe he’ll take a special interest in us. We casually mention to others
at church that we’re DTS students in order for them to respect our Bible knowledge and
dedication to God.
Yes, we can use our gifts to glorify ourselves. We can and we do… we do it all the time.
And interestingly, God seems to give us the choice to do just that. Like the gift card, he seems to
give us the freedom to decide how we spend our gifts. So quite naturally, we often spend them
on ourselves – on our own glory. But oh… we’re giving up a lot when we use our gifts for
ourselves. We’re giving up things we don’t even realize… things that cut to the core of who we
are and who we are meant to be. Unknowingly, we’re giving up things that we really want more
than anything else. That’s what I want to talk about today… Why we should use our gifts to
glorify God, not ourselves. Why we should use our gifts to glorify God, not ourselves.
To answer this question we’ll look at a key episode in the life of Isaac. Genesis 26
describes a series of events when Isaac chose to use a gift God had given him for his own
benefit, and the consequences that followed. As we examine this text, we’ll look at the reason
God gives us gifts, the choices we tend to make with our gifts, and the results those choices
bring. Let’s read Genesis 26…
1. Now there was a famine in the land—besides the earlier famine of Abraham’s time—
and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar. 2. The LORD appeared to Isaac and
said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3. Stay in this land for a
while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all
these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4. I will make your
descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through
your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5. because Abraham obeyed me and kept my
requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.” 6. So Isaac stayed in Gerar.
God gives us gifts for His glory. God gives us gifts for His glory. The obvious gift that
has been entrusted to Isaac here is the renewal of the covenant made with his father Abraham.
Talk about a big gift. And it was indeed a gift… Isaac hadn’t done anything to earn it. So Isaac
obeyed God and stayed in Gerar. Now, he also had with him another gift from God that he had
received earlier… a gift that was crucial to the fulfillment of this covenant… his wife Rebekah.
Remember why Rebekah was such a significant gift – she wasn’t from Canaan, but from Nahor,
from Abraham’s family. She was specially chosen by God for Isaac and through Rebekah the
Abrahamic covenant would be fulfilled. So Isaac enters Gerar with this special gift Rebekah.
Like Isaac, we have also been entrusted with special gifts that God intends to use for His
glory. As we’ve already discussed, I think most of us are conscious of that fact, and it’s probably
one of the reasons you’re here at DTS. However, I suspect that – like Isaac – we are not usually
conscious of the significance of God’s design for these gifts. To me it’s almost amazing, given
that significance, that God gives us the choice of how we will use those gifts. Yet he does. Let’s
keep reading and find out how Isaac chose to use the gift of his wife Rebekah.
7. When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,”
because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me
on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”
We tend to use our gifts to gain security and significance. We tend to use our gifts to gain
security and significance. The first thing Isaac did when he arrived in Gerar was to follow in his
father’s footsteps and use his wife Rebekah as a tool for his own security. I wonder how Rebekah
felt about that. “Honey, I know we said we promised in sickness and health, but I don’t
remember saying anything about ‘in the land of the Philistines.’ So just pretend you’re my sister,
so they can have you if they want you, and I won’t have to die defending your honor.” Rather
than bringing glory to God by trusting Him, Isaac used the gift of Rebekah for is own security.
Like Isaac, it really doesn’t take much for us to use our gifts in similar ways – usually to
try and gain a sense of security or significance. It’s just so tempting and easy to do that because
we all crave security and significance, and using our gifts is the number one way to try and get
them. There’s a scene from the original Rocky movie when Rocky’s talking to Adrian the night
before his big fight with Apollo Creed. He says, “I just wanna prove somthin’ – [that] I ain’t no
bum. If I can just go those 15 rounds and that bell rings and I’m still standing I’m gonna know
then that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.” There’s a part of all of us that’s
crying out, “I just want to prove something… if I can just preach well… or get great grades… or
have people tell me I’m smart or talented, or that I’m making a difference for Christ… then I’ll
know I’m not just another bum from the neighborhood… then I’ll feel secure and feel
significant.” And so like Isaac, we leverage our gifts to grasp onto a sense of security or
significance. We spend them on our own glory rather than on God’s. So let’s take a look at what
happened when Isaac made this choice.
8. When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked down
from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. 9. So Abimelech summoned Isaac and
said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac answered him,
“Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.” 10. Then Abimelech said, “What is
this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would
have brought guilt upon us.” 11. So Abimelech gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who
molests this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
When we spend our gifts on ourselves, we miss out on what we really want. When we
spend our gifts on ourselves, we miss out on what we really want. On the surface, Isaac got what
he wanted with his lie. We don’t know how long… but for a while Isaac’s lie seemed to give him
exactly what he wanted – security. Nobody killed him over Rebekah. Even after Abimelech
uncovered his deception, the end result was physical safety for Isaac – a decree from the king
that no one could touch him. On the surface, it seems that Isaac got what he wanted, even though
it came at a cost. But in actuality his decision ironically led to great insecurity for Isaac. Verses
14 and following tell us that the Philistines became envious of Isaac and eventually drove him
out. That began a long series of conflicts with the Philistines, where they kept filling up in his
wells with dirt. Also, chapter 27 tells us that near the end of Isaac’s life his deception came back
around to hurt him, as ironically it was Rebekah who pulled the wool over his eyes with Jacob’s
blessing. So the security that Isaac wanted – that he lied in order to obtain – actually played out
to create enormous insecurity. The ultimate irony is that the security that Isaac craved he already
had back in verses 1-6. And yet he risked God’s promises in search of something that God had
already given him.
For us, just like for Isaac, our choices to use our gifts to gain security and significance
ironically result in insecurity and insignificance. The thing of it is, on the surface it all seems to
work like we want it to. We use our gifts as a source of significance and security and people
affirm us and we think we feel more secure and significant. We could all point to a half dozen or
more people of the top of our heads that seem to be using their ministry gifts for their own
benefit and it’s working out great. They have big churches or an influential following, perhaps a
lot of money, perhaps just a lot of people who look up to them. Not all of these people are using
their gifts for their own glory, but many of them probably are, right? And can you really tell the
difference anyway? Didn’t they get what they wanted? Don’t they have security and
significance? Didn’t they kind of get away with it? And if we’re honest, when we catch
ourselves daydreaming, don’t we desire some of that for ourselves?
Not so fast, my friends. We must be careful what we envy. When Jesus saw a very
similar type of man in the gospels his comment was, “He has received his reward in full.” Is that
what we really want… a little bit of influence or a little bit of money? I don’t think it is. Also,
many of those people we’re describing are the very definition of insecurity. When you base your
sense of security and significance on your gifts, then your sense of security is barely skin deep.
You’re only as good as your last sermon or your last lecture or your last painting. Most of these
people live in constant anxiety over what others think about them. Significance? They feel no
sense of true significance. Remember Rocky? He won that fight with Apollo Creed… but it
obviously didn’t give him the significance and security he thought. Why do you think there was
a Rocky 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6? He had to keep fighting. We become slaves to whatever we depend on
for security and significance. We become slaves to whatever we depend on for security and
significance. If we depend on our gifts for these things we’ll never really get what we want.
We’ll have to keep going to them over and over to find what we’re looking for. So, when we use
our gifts for our own glory rather than for God’s, we actually risk missing out on the very
security and significance that we seek.
So what must we do? We must use our gifts for God’s glory, not our own. Use our gifts
for God’s glory, not our own… because otherwise we’ll miss out on true security and ultimate
But how? The only way that we can be free to do this is by resting in the true security and
ultimate significance that are already ours in Christ. You see, the great irony is, like Isaac, we
already have what we really want. Security and significance is actually found in only one gift – a
gift that we did not earn and could never boast about. Our true security and ultimate significance
is planted firmly in the fullness of the gospel. Actually believing this is the only way to stop
using your gifts as tools for your benefit. When you get this – when you really believe it and trust
it, then you will be free to use your gifts for God’s glory rather than for your own, because you’ll
recognize that you already have the only true security and ultimate significance.
Let me close by applying this principle to the gift card story. Let’s say that my mom gave
me this card but what she didn’t know is that I already owned the store. There was nothing I
could buy with this card that I didn’t already own. Then it would be completely logical – and
easy – for me to thank my mother for the gift, but then give it away or the benefit of someone
else. This Christmas Day, let the gifts serve as reminders of what God has entrusted to you. You
have the choice to use your gifts for His glory or for yours. Remember the security and
significance you already have in Christ and use your ministry gifts for God’s glory, not your