Fish or Cut Bait?

It is wretched work which gifted men make who either do not know or do not advert to the nature and right use of the gifts with which they are endowed. (Matthew Henry, Commentary on 1 Co. 12)

When we say "fish or cut bait" it's a way of saying we have to make a choice. Usually some crisis or turning point in our life forces us to make that choice. That choice is often forced on us by the situation such that we are in the position where we can no longer delay but simply have to choose one way or the other.

What I mean here, though, has an added dimension. This also has to do with finding and sticking to your calling. We don't make the choice there. Jesus does the calling and the choosing, not you and me. Our responsibility is to do what He has called us to do. If He says, you go fish, then you fish. If He says, you go cut bait, then you cut bait. The bait-cutters don't try to fish and the fishermen don't cut bait. And, there's a good reason for this.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit; there are many different ways of serving, but it is always the same Lord. There are many different forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all. The particular manifestation of the Spirit granted to each one is to be used for the general good. (New Jerusalem Bible)

In this chapter of Corinthians Paul goes to great lengths to discuss the variety of spiritual gifts that the Lord has provided to us. Paul points out three important things.

First, we are not all alike. We are given different gifts, ministries (ways of serving), and forms of activity. In verses eight through ten he lists many of the gifts of the spirit. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues, are the ones he lists. In verse twenty-eight he lists the forms of service: apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, helpers, etc. Paul makes it clear that these are all from the same spirit and are given on an individual basis.

Second, no one should consider a particular gift to be more or less important than another. Jesus has built His body of believers from diversity of gifts and all are intended to be a part of that body. No one should think that because they don't have the "big" gifts then they are of less importance. Those with gifts that put them out front must also understand that there is no point of personal pride in that. All the gifts of the spirit are given in order to show God's glory and power.

Third, the gifts of the spirit are for the building up of the body of Christ. These gifts are not for our own pleasure or wellbeing. The gifts of the spirit are given for the good of all. It is through the proper use of these gifts that the body of Christ is built.

Unfortunately, what usually happens is one of two things. Either people don't use their gifts, or they take on a calling they have no gift for. Both of these actions bring division (schism) to the body of Christ.

If someone without the proper gift to interpret and explain scripture tries to teach they end up spreading false doctrine. Not only are the saints not well taught, the true teachers then have to spend half their time cleaning up the mess. If people buy into the false doctrines, pretty soon you have a war going on over doctrine. If the false teachers had not spoken in the first place, and the true teachers had spoken, the problem wouldn't be there.

The same is true for prophecy. False prophets create such confusion that the true prophet can't be heard. Congregations split over who is right and who is wrong and spend all their time sitting around condemning the other side. This does nothing to build the body of Christ but works the will of the adversary instead.

In other cases, a person without the Lord's calling will make such a mess of things that everyone gets turned off on the whole thing. The gift of healing is a perfect example. All the false healers do is convince people that God doesn't really heal. It makes it very difficult for those with a gift of healing to get the job done, since no one believes it is possible and won't seek them out.

The same can be said for people with a gift for prayer, encouragement and support. If they are not there to provide those things, someone without the gift is likely to try. Usually, that just makes things worse.

So, each of us has to find and follow our calling from the Lord. When people don't do that, when they either forgo the calling or try to take on a calling they don't have, it will divide and weaken the congregation. This is why we have to "fish or cut bait."

But how do you know who is and isn't given a certain gift? How do you find out what gift you have been given and what calling you are to pursue? Simply put, you ask Jesus and then listen until He makes it clear to you. In addition, there are several clues that can help.

If the Lord has put a calling on someone, He will also simultaneously give that man or woman the ability to accomplish that calling. It may be material provision, or a certain skill, or in many cases an unforeseeable opportunity to use the gift. Generally, the person's gift will manifest itself in many ways. Someone with a calling for evangelism is probably going to be a good speaker even before they come to know the Lord. They may not recognize the gift or even be aware of it, but others around them will generally see it and acknowledge it. We can look at what has happened in our lives and see how the Lord has been training us in preparation for what we are called to do.

When someone takes on a calling that is of the Lord, they will usually encounter persecution as a result. I'm not talking about the normal things we all go through anyway. Persecution from the world is part of every Christian's life and we all have to go through things that will get in the way of what we need to do. But, when you start doing the Lord's work, the adversary isn't going to sit still. He will try to get you off course in order to prevent you from doing what you are called to do. But, when you are pursuing your calling, persecution won't make any difference. If the Lord wants a thing done, there is nothing the world can do to stop it. He will make a way for you if you remain faithful. He will provide the means and opportunity to fulfill your mission. If the persecution prevents you from doing something, then it may not be persecution. It may very well be an Angel of the Lord standing in your way.

Likewise, if you try and run from the calling of the Lord, you will find yourself in trouble. Remember the story of Jonah? If you try and run from the Lord's calling, you can end up in the belly of a fish (or worse) until you get your head on straight.

Here is another clue: when you follow your calling it won't matter to you one bit what anyone else thinks. If you're sitting there obsessed with other's opinions, needing to prove yourself to them, then you've got a problem to deal with. You need to sit down with the Lord and work it out. These gifts of the spirit are not for the purpose of making someone feel all puffed up with pride inside. They are for the Lord's work and glory, not ours. They are for the building up of the body not the individual. If there is any feeling of pride or ego associated with it, then just stop and get right with Jesus first.

Finally, there is no need to proclaim it to the world. When God put Joshua in charge of leading the Israelites over the Jordan river into the promised land, He specifically told Joshua that He, God, would magnify Joshua so that the people would know Joshua's position. (Joshua 3:7) You see, there is no reason to declare oneself to others. The Lord will declare the truth about those that He has called. All you have to do is remain in His will and do what He says. He will do the rest. To put it another way, you don't have to put up a big sign saying "GREAT FISHERMAN HERE." All you have to do is go out and catch fish. Others will see it and figure it out.

If you don't know what your calling is, then stop what you are doing, sit down, ask the Lord to show you, and then pay attention. He may speak to you directly, or He may show you indirectly. But, whatever the means, you will come to know it with certainty if you are open to His voice.

The main things to remember are that 1) the calling is of the Lord's choosing, not ours; 2) each calling has gifts that will make it possible; 3) all gifts of the spirit are important; 4) the purpose of the calling is to benefit the body of Christ; 4) the sooner you submit, the better it's going to be for yourself and others.

So, fish or cut bait - what's it gonna be?


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