Hello again! As I said before, I haven’t been posting much over the summer for a variety of reasons. Thanks to everyone who has been praying for my family. Here’s a little post-summer update for those praying:
- We had a wonderful visit with my parents who came up from Alberta. We went everywhere and did everything.
- After a year of commuting from Ottawa as the Intentional Interim, our family moved to Carleton Place to be the Full-Time Pastor of Beckwith Baptist Church. We had a tonne of help, the move went very well, we’re loving our new home and glad to be local.
- A couple weeks ago my son Edison jumped (not “fell” as he is quick to point out) out of a tree, dislocating and breaking (exploding!) his elbow. Five hours of surgery and a couple nights in the hospital later he is at home and doing great. Physiotherapy still to come.
- We ended up cancelling our end-of-summer vacation because of Edison’s elbow. Consequently , ramping up for September has been challenging because we are still quite tired. Pray that we will rest in God while things around us get busier.
God bless you all and thanks for reading!
The End of The Foundations Series
Can you believe we started this series on January 20th! We’ve certainly covered a lot of ground in this series.
We’ve talked about what Discipleship is and have gone through the Five Solas to define the what the True Gospel is. We’ve studied what it means to be a Christian and a Church. We’ve talked about the importance of finding a mentor and being one to others. We’ve learned how to be intentional about our discipleship process and what the costs of following Jesus are. We’ve talked about repentance and preparing our hearts before we get into Kingdom work. And we have, over the past 7 weeks, been concentrating on the practical aspects of Christianity – the Four Core Christian disciplines which are: Prayer, Bible Study, Church Attendance and Serving Others.
I’m sure there are LOTS of areas of the Christian faith that we haven’t covered yet, but I think this is a good start and I look forward to compiling all of this into some kind of book that can be used to help new believers get a good start on their walk with Jesus.
Today we are going to cover another aspect of Serving Others. Last time I talked about general areas of service that are common to all Christians. This time we are going to talk about more specific areas of Christian service through the lens of the spiritual gifts God gives to us to serve Him and others.
Spiritual Gifts from the Holy Spirit
Let’s do this using 1 Corinthians 12 as our guide:
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.” (vs 1)
The Bible teaches that when we come to Jesus, repent of our sins, accept His free gift of salvation, and make Him Lord of our lives, that we are given special “spiritual gifts”. The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us one or more special abilities that we didn’t have before we were saved. He comes to live inside of every Christian (John 16:4-14) and brings a new capacity and desire to serve Jesus and His church. These Spiritual Gifts are given to us so we can fulfill the special purpose God has for us in this world.
No Cookie Cutter Christians
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” (vs 4-6)
This is a critical point that we all need to understand: There are many, many ways to serve God. There is no one, cookie-cutter, way to serve God, and it is impossible for us to contain within the walls of our church every possible way to serve God. There are “varieties of gifts… service… [and] activities” all designed and empowered by our very creative God.
This is why I can’t simply prescribe certain acts of service to you. Yes, it’s important for Christian leaders to have a good grasp on how to recruit, train and organize people so they can be effective – and there are some great practices that work almost everywhere (things like good communication, mentoring, getting feedback to improve…), but when it comes to Christian Service though your Spiritual Gifts, there is no way I could simply say, “Here are the 5 or 10 spiritual gifts and here’s how to use them.” God is far more creative than that.
In scripture we can find lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible, which are helpful (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; 12:28), but they are not exhaustive lists. In fact, many of the words used are more like categories than descriptions. For example, there are lots of ways to “teach” or “administrate” in the body of Christ around the world. So, I wish I could make understanding your spiritual gifts really easy, but God didn’t set it up that way. I would argue though, however confusing this is for us, His way is better.
Why? Because unlike Walmart, McDonalds, Target, or any of the other big-chain stores we can find all over the place, God has been very creative in the way He has designed His church. Every McDonalds you go to, no matter where in the world, is pretty much the same – not so for every church.
Think of it this way: I have a friend who is building a house, and there is a limited selection of things they can use to create it – wood, stone, mud, fabric. God doesn’t have that limitation. He designs the church more like a living organism which changes and adapts to its environment. Certainly, He keeps the core the same (just like we share about 50% of our DNA with a banana, and about 98% with a hamster), but God uses the parts in different ways to create new and amazing churches which are adapted to the environment around it. Let me give you another example:
God Designs Churches Like Flowers
We all know that there are lots of kinds of flowers (check out this gallary). This flower, called the Rat’s Tail has a special perch built in so that birds can land there and be able to get to it so it can be pollinated. This other flower comes from a vine known as the Marcgravia Evenia and has special concave leaves which work like satellite dishes. This helps them to be found by bats who travel using sound. The bats get the berries, the plant gets pollinated and their seeds get spread around.
God designs churches the same way He designs flowers. He has created lots of kinds, in vastly different areas, each special in its own way, each needing a different set of strengths and features. At their core they are the same – they believe in Jesus, are empowered by the Holy Spirit, guided by the scriptures, have a teacher and people who take care of each other, and desire to spread the gospel – but how they do that varies because of the people, the environment, and the unique needs and culture of the community.
So, I can’t really tell you exactly what God wants you to do. I don’t know what you are good at, much less what your spiritual gifts are, or the special assignment that God has for you. What I can do is to give you an understanding how God designs a Church.
Who and Why?
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (vs 7)
Who gets Spiritual gifts? Every Christian. Why do they get them? “For the common good.” Which means, in context, “for the church’s good.” They are given so that the church can be healthy and strong. If you are a Christian, then you have been given a gift that is meant to be used to help your church (and by extension the worldwide Church) serve God and fulfill His purpose for us in the world.
Which is why we all need to be knowledgeable in our spiritual gifts, be developing them, and then work out of our own spiritual gifts. Because, when we’re not, we cripple the church. If I’m doing your job, I cripple the church. If I don’t exercise my spiritual gifts, I cripple the church. That’s why it’s important we figure out what they are, and then use them! One of the best things about working out of our spiritual gifts is that when we do we experience a much more joy in our lives – because we are doing what we are meant to do.
God’s Design, Not Ours
To illustrate this, Paul explains the organization of the church as being like the human body.
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (vs 12-20)
Paul’s point here is that God is the one who arranges the parts of the church, gives the gifts, calls people to service, and puts them where they need to be – for the good of the church. This is not our work, but His. It is our call to be obedient to Him. In Jesus’ church, individual people don’t elect themselves to positions of responsibility. When we as a church start to look for people to serve in a ministry, lead a small group, be a deacon or an elder, we are not begging for volunteers, we are placing before the church the opportunity to serve God in the place that He has told you to be. We are simply asking everyone to help us figure out what God is doing with us.
In the Baptist Church, elections and ministry teams are not meant to be a constant, desperate plea to simply plug people into the man-made positions we’ve come up with. Instead, each person in the church is meant to come together, work out of our faith, be sensitive to the Spirit of God, and try to determine see who God has already appointed for these tasks and coming into agreement with Him.
If He chooses to appoint someone, then we respond with obedience and thanksgiving, and enable them do the job God has called them to do. If God chooses not to raise anyone up, then we are NOT going to force ourselves beyond His will and put people into areas of service that don’t belong there. We are NOT going to simply put a warm-body into a position because we’ve decided, in our own wisdom, it must be filled. That would be like grafting a foreign limb onto our body, or taking a piece from one part of our body and gluing it somewhere else. It’s unnatural and unhealthy. GOD is the one who arranges the members of the body, not us. And He arranges them properly and with a purpose far beyond our abilities. We only mess things up when we assume we know best and try to outsmart Him.
Our Response to His Design
Next Paul addresses our response to how God arranges the body.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.” (vs 21-24)
There are two ways we can mess this up: Not appreciating our own gift and judging the way other people serve. We need each person to do what God has built and gifted them to do, and allow them to do it. Don’t look at another believe and envy their spiritual gift because God is a good Creator who knows exactly how you are designed, and a good Father who knows the perfect gift to give you to make you happy. If you are a behind-the-scenes servant, be thankful because that means you don’t get the jabs those in public areas get. If you are an administrator, don’t envy the prophet because you don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes. If you’re a prophet, don’t envy the one who does healing because God needs both of you.
We also need to be careful not to judge other believers – or other churches – about how they are designed. It’s wrong to look at another Christian church and judge what they are doing. It’s like looking at a flower and saying, “you don’t smell right to me, so you must be a mistake.”
Let me give you another flower example:
This flower is not only the biggest flower in the world, but also the worst smelling. Its odor is about the same as a decomposing mammal and that’s how it gets its name — it’s called the Corpse Flower because it smells like a rotting corpse. Many of us would look flower and say. “Why are you so big? Why are you so stinky? You should change be a little smaller, a little more manageable. How can people enjoy you if you’re so big? And you should smell different too. You should be more pleasant and attractive. God likes pleasing, pretty flowers – not flowers like you.”
But no! God designed it to attract beetles and flies. Its red tinges make it look like meat. It is designed by our Heavenly Father to do exactly what is supposed to do and fulfil a very special role in the forest.
In the same way, there are some very faithful, Christians and Christian churches that are going to look, sound, act and smell different than we would like – but are doing exactly what Jesus wants them to do! They are serving His purpose. God gifts His church with the right people to do the jobs He wants.
Paul gives a couple examples of types of Christians we sometimes look down on – even in our own church. Some people are a “weaker” part… but they are “indispensable”. Think of some of the weaker parts of your body, and how important they are. Like your eyes. They can’t take hardly any punishment… a grain of sand shuts them down… and yet they are very important, right? Some people are eyes. But there are other parts of our body that are “treated with special modesty”… and we wouldn’t give them up, right? There are some parts of the Christian body that need to be taken very special care of because they are very special people. They don’t need to change to become what we want them to be – they need protection so they can serve God in the way He created them to joyfully serve!
In contrast, there are other people who don’t need any special treatment at all. They’re like a fist, or knee, or elbow in the body of Christ. They might not be very delicate, they might make a mess now and again, but they can take immense punishment for long periods of time, and they can protect the other members of the body, and can fend of wolves, and other attackers… and we need them. We shouldn’t tell them to soften up, or to quit doing what they do. Nobody wants soft fists and bones… that’s a sickness. If you had something coming to attack your body, and hurt one of your “weaker parts”, wouldn’t you want to make sure that the strong parts of your body were ready to do their job?
Therefore we must be more thankful for the different churches in the world, the different parts of our church, and for the many different kinds of people that make it up.
Interdependent By Design
God did something pretty amazing when He designed the church. He not only gave us all gifts, but also big holes in our abilities. He made us with strengths and weaknesses. Why? So we would need each other. In his famous poem, John Donne said:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
Paul says it this way:
“But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (vs 24-26)
We need each other. The Christians that are here today are not here by accident. We are meant to serve each other, honour each other, and care for each other. We are to be concerned for each other, because when one part suffers, everyone else suffers too. Maybe it’s not a visible effect on you… maybe you don’t feel like someone else’s problems hurt you… but ask any cancer patient if they would have liked to know if something inside of their body was messed up long before they felt the pain of the problem. Early detection of problems in the church is important—and eventually it will affect you.
We’ve already talked a lot about how we can care for one another, so I don’t need to go through that again, but we all need to be reminded to practice it.
I need you and you need me. That’s how God built His church. We all need to help one another find their spiritual gifts, encourage one another to use them, share our needs so we can practice them, pray for God’s guidance and strength to follow Christ to where He wants us to be, look at what’s going on around us and ask the Holy Spirit within us what He wants us to do, and seek to share and grow our love for one another by serving one another. When we do that, we honour Christ, worship God, and please the Holy Spirit.
Let me close the way that Paul closes this section as he talks about our Spiritual Gifts and Serving Others:
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (vs 27-13:8)