A few months ago, I had the immense privilege of counseling at the Junior High/Senior High Fall Retreat with my church. A lot could be said about the weekend, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll cut to some thoughts from the sessions, in hopes that they will be helpful, and possibly generate some discussion. Feel free to ask me individually about the rest, if you’d like.
Our theme passage for the weekend was Ephesians 4.1-16. We talked about what it means that we as believers are one in Christ. I’ll focus on only one aspect of our sessions because that’s what I’ve been thinking about most!
Ephesians 4.11-13 says,
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…
In other words, spiritual gifts are God’s building blocks of His church, the catalysts by which believers, as one body, are built up “into Christ”, to be a reflection of who He is (don’t take my word for it though; meditate on the passage yourselves!). When believers use their spiritual gifts the way God intended, the church body becomes a thriving and healthy reflection of Jesus. But when believers don’t know or ignore their gifts, the church body limps along and loses effectiveness, in much the same way that a one-legged man cannot walk efficiently.
Here’s the sad reality: many people in the church don’t think often enough about spiritual gifts. I don’t know about you, but I tend to think Paul’s lists of spiritual gifts must be talking about someone else, people “back in the day.” I often forget that God has and will equip every believer (past, present, and future) with these “body building blocks” called spiritual gifts. When I talked to my small group at Awaken, I discovered (not surprisingly) that most of them had never considered what their spiritual gifts might be. I hadn’t thought much about it either.
I hope my friends in church ministry who might read this know how much I dearly love them. However, I must respectfully speculate that this ignorance is due, at least in part, to a lack of teaching on spiritual gifts in the church. People don’t understand spiritual gifts because they’re not being taught to identify their gifts in themselves or their brothers and sisters in Christ. People don’t understand spiritual gifts because they’re never put in situations where they’re forced to identify and use their God-given gifts to build up the church.
In short, the majority of church teaching today focuses on how we as individuals become more like Jesus. Teachers talk a lot about killing sin and looking to Jesus, and that is GREAT! But where is our understanding that we are ONE in Christ? And as one body, we push each other to kill sin and look to Jesus (Hebrews 12.1-2), to become more like Christ. According to Ephesians 4, we do this by using our spiritual gifts. That implies that we must have at least some idea of WHAT OUR GIFTS ARE!
In all fairness to church leaders, I don’t believe the problem lies entirely with them. We as “common believers”, if you will, know Paul’s teachings on spiritual gifts. One would not be hard pressed to get a firm grasp on each gift that Paul names, simply by studying his letters. So part of our ignorance, no doubt, is linked to a mere unwillingness to study Paul’s teachings and ask God to reveal to us what gifts He’s given us. In short, we’re lazy. And our laziness is harming our church body.
What do we do? Probably the biggest application is to get to know Paul’s teachings on spiritual gifts. Understand that everyone does have these gifts, and we have them to build up the body of Christ in specific ways. We must ask God to reveal to us what our gifts are, and how we can use them for His glory. Also, we ought to put ourselves in situations to determine and use our spiritual gifts. If we have the gift of teaching, we should assume a teaching role in the church. If we have the gift of evangelism, we ought to evangelize frequently. If we have the gift of encouragement, maybe we should be a Christian counselor, etc. If we don’t know, we should try a variety of things until God makes it clear to us! Those are simply ideas; Christians can assume endless vocations and glorify God in each of them.
Why does it matter? Well, besides the (obvious?) assertion that we serve for the glory of God, we also do this because sometimes we’re blind to our own spiritual gifts. Oftentimes, it takes someone else to point them out to us. This can be done in the context of corporate service.
I’m not implying that Christians should only pursue vocations that cater to their spiritual gifts. Christians are commanded to do a plethora of things in which they may not be particularly skilled. So this idea that we as Christians should find and use our spiritual gifts does not give us a warrant to disobey certain Biblical commands because they may not cater to our particular gifts.
What I am saying is that we ought to foster this “one in Christ” mentality both corporately and individually. We have to realize that we are one of God’s instruments in the sanctification of His church. When we fail to do our part, the whole body suffers. Yes, we live to fight sin and to see and savor Jesus more in our own hearts. Again, yes and amen! BUT! Wealso exist in the context of a wider body of believers in order that we might help them to the same end.
I pray that I will so live and so serve as to “maintain the unity of the Spirit of in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4.3), both in my own heart and in my fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus. Read Paul, my friends. Let his insights point you to the all-beautiful Christ, building you up as one in Him.