These words from Hosea have resonated with me for nearly 20 years (Hosea 11:1-11),
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
5 “Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
6 A sword will flash in their cities;
it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
7 My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them.
8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
9 I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.
10 They will follow the Lord;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
11 They will come from Egypt,
trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,”
declares the Lord.“
First, we notice that it is God who figuratively taught Israel to walk. This is an act of grace. The creator of the universe endows his created ones…his children…with abilities and blessings. God freely gives these things. That makes these gifts and blessings an act of grace.
There are several words in the Greek New Testament that are translated “gift”. Two of them are connected with grace. Charis, the word for grace, can be translated gift in a few instances and the word most often used for grace is a variation of the word grace – charisma. The word we typically use to talk about someone’s charm didn’t mean that initially. It didn’t even mean that someone had a gift. Charisma was the gift itself and it was a gift freely or graciously given. Again, this points us back to the connection point between our gifts and God’s grace in giving them. The gifts we have, even the abilities we have are given by God and come with great responsibility – to use them in a way that honors the giver.
Now we have choices to make with the blessings and abilities we have. Do we use them for God and what God desires or do we twist them and use our abilities and blessings for selfish, even godless purposes? We see Israel doing the second in these verses where they take there figurative ability to walk and figuratively run from God to chase after the idols.
Embedded in these verses is the stone-cold truth that any blessing God gives us can be manipulated for evil rather than embraced and used for the God good intends. There is a human tendency to twist any gift God gives us. We are masters of self-interest. Ingrained in our flesh is to take any good thing and twist it up into something that no longer resembles the initial beauty it had when God presented us the gift. Any ability God gives us can be twisted, taking pure and holy blessings and abilities and turning them into weapons for spiritual warfare against other people. God give us the ability to speak and with our mouth we can use that grace-filled and profound gift and hurt others and curse God with it.
Even worse, we can see the people God puts before us as an inconvenience or an obstacle rather than a person with true dignity and value. When Peter and John saw the man begging at the temple gate they didn’t trip over him because the saw him…I mean really saw him. They looked right at him and brought him wholeness because this man had value too. What did they do? They took their God-given, Holy Spirit empowered ability to heal and used it for blessing.
What helps us get in tune with our gifts and helps us use them in a godly way? The Holy Spirit helps us with this. The gifts of the Holy Spirit in the early church were called “charisma”. As Christians it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the spiritual gifts we have as the adopted children of God. It is the Spirit who helps learn to walk and even run in a spiritual sense. The Spirit helps us in our weakness. This too is a gift…a charisma. It is all grace and should be used accordingly.
So the next time you are tempted to use your body, your ability, and your resources for sin…all things given gracefully by God…think about it again and make sure you are using them in a manner fitting of the one who gave you those things!