Are You a Gift or Gifted? (LifeLift #13)

lifelift podcast May 05, 2020

There’s something unique about the church, something sacred that goes far beyond bricks and mortar and the land upon which we build our houses of worship… something that even outshines her purpose. Other institutions own property. Other organizations have mission statements. Neither of those two  characteristics are unique to the church. In fact, other groups may have better buildings and even more strategic-sounding statements.

But none of them can ever compete with this: the church is a living being; the church is alive. Paul says he actually became a minister of the Gospel in order to teach this to people. That was his reason for serving (Colossians 1:25-27 ESV, emphasis added):

I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

At the Cross, Jesus not only performed something powerful in each of us (remember, we were all “included” in Christ), He also reconciled all of us into a single entity. 

In the Old Testament, He lived among the Children of Israel. In Jesus, He came near and walked with us (see John 1:14). Now, He lives in us. As we learned in the first part of this book, Jesus lives in each of us. For us to live… means for Him to live through us, expressing His very life in our words and deeds. We are now His dwelling place. 

Though His presence works powerfully in each of us individually, when we come together we express Him in an even greater way. As individuals, He lives through us. As a group, He is us.

That is, Christ literally reconciled all of God’s people into a single entity, a group that collectively expresses Him. In Ephesians 2:16-22 (ESV, emphasis added), Paul explains that Christ died so that He… 

… might reconcile us… in one body through the Cross, thereby killing the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 

For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 

In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

For sure, no one anticipated this. Not even the angels. In fact, Paul continues his argument above, stating that the church shows every living being in all of creation something God clearly intended to reveal from the beginning (Ephesians 3:9-10 ESV, emphasis added):

… to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Though every cosmic being missed it on the front end, when you look at God’s plans in hindsight, it’s obvious what He was doing. He wasn’t only going to walk with His people as He did with Adam and Eve in the Garden. No, He planned to walk with them and be in them and move through them…

As a result, Scripture uses a unique metaphor: the church is Jesus’ body.

 

The body of Christ in this world

Paul first uses the metaphor of the body in Romans 12:4-6 (NKJV, emphasis added):

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…

The metaphor appears in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (ESV, emphasis added): 

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free— and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Notice, Christ’s body has many members from many different backgrounds— just like we read a few pages ago in Ephesians 2. In the church, He’s reconciled groups who were once hostile to one another. The unifying factor is the Holy Spirit.

We also see this same image in Ephesians 4:4-6 (ESV, emphasis added): 

There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Scripture emphasizes the point: “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:28 ESV). 

Earlier in the book we learned that Jesus shows us who we are. He reveals what we’re really like (chapter 2). He also shows us what His church is like. Jesus reveals both who we are as individuals and who we are as a group.

When we look at Jesus, we not only see our personal agenda, then. We also, at the same time, see the agenda for the church. One pastor writes, 

The incarnation is not just an event; it also establishes an agenda, a set of plans to accomplish a goal. God’s agenda is for the church to be an incarnational community on earth, so that our very presence would reveal His grace and truth— and even glory.

 

The power is in the connection

As in a human body, the significance of the parts of the body of Christ is in the connection itself. Paul reminds us that “the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14 ESV). Paul reminds us of several important truths related to this connection.  

First, we all need each other. From time to time we may think we don’t need the church, but we do (1 Corinthians 12:15-21 ESV). 

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 

If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 

Think about it… 

  • How valuable is an eyeball without the head? 
  • Or a hand without an arm? 
  • Or a stomach without a torso? 

It’s somewhat odd to think about. 

And, the reality is that you must have a certain number of parts together or you don’t actually have a functioning body.

I mean, yes, Jesus is present when “two or three are gathered,” an argument many people use to avoid the larger church and simply  remain isolated (Matthew 18:20). The truth is that Jesus is always with us— even when there aren’t two or more of us (Matthew 28:18-20, Hebrews 13:5). 

Sure, it’s gotten en vogue to say something like “I love Jesus but I don’t like the church.”

Or, “I worship on my own…”

I understand. A lot of people have been hurt by “church people.” 

Here’s the issue, though: human body parts can’t stay alive— much less thrive— on their own. Dismembered arms and legs forfeit connection to the life source by losing connection to their body. As a result, they die. 

In the same way, it’s impossible to properly connect to the Head (Christ) without maintaining healthy connection to His body. To connect to one implies connecting to the other!

Second, we’re all an important part of the body, the church. Paul reminds us that even the parts of the body— the people— that we may feel have a minor role are actually crucial to the health of the church. 

Think about it: if you were required to cut off 5% of your body right now, which part would you hack off? 

The answer… is none! Human bodies don’t function well with any part missing. 

Nor does the church. 

Paul clarifies this, too (12:22-25):

… the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. 

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

There is something unique that “every joint supplies,” according to Ephesians 4:16, something which, “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (ESV).

Third, we share the experience of others in the body. About once a week I step on a Lego piece that’s been left behind by one of my boys. My bare foot immediately shoots a signal through my entire body, causing shockwaves of intense pain. 

You’ve probably experienced something similar. A small sore on your arm causes your entire body to feel sluggish. An achy throat prevents you from even going to work.  A sore muscle keeps you grounded from the gym.

Paul tells us the church should be the same way. When one person in the body suffers, everyone feels the pain— just like our human bodies. Notice what he says (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV): 

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

In another letter we read, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

We are, literally, Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. We’re all parts of that body. Yet body parts don’t really make sense— or function— apart from the body as a whole. In a real sense, we need each other to present a complete picture of who Jesus is. We need each other to actually experience Him in the fullest way possible, as well.

 

Your gifts come alive… as you’re connected

A few chapters ago we looked at part of Phillip’s story. He was one of  the seven men chosen to be the first deacons (Acts 6:1f.). After persecution rattled the early church, he moved to Samaria where he led a revival.

Although he was originally tapped to minister with His hands while the apostles ministered with the words, we later see him lead a full blown regional transformation. That revival included— 

  • Physical healings (Acts 8:7)
  • Freedom from demonic oppression (8:7)
  • Mass conversions (8:12)
  • The baptism of a local witch doctor (8:13)

Phillip’s capacity for ministry increased from managing the distribution of food to widows in the first megachurch to something… different. 

His story continued beyond that revival. Peter and John traveled from Jerusalem to Samaria to pray that the new disciples might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-15). When they returned to Jerusalem, Phillip traveled towards Gaza.

The reason Phillip left Samaria was because an angel told him to do so, implying an ongoing relationship of intimacy and hearing the voice of God and His messengers. While on the road, he came near the chariot of a man who had just traveled to Jerusalem to worship. The man happened to be the Chief Financial Officer of Ethiopia.

The Holy Spirit instructed Phillip to approach the chariot (Acts 8:29). As an important official in the government, the sojourner was likely heavily guarded. Phillip complied, anyway, and led the “Ethiopian eunuch” to faith in Jesus as he rode with him. 

Along the way, the Ethiopian saw a body of water. He remembered Phillip’s words about baptism and asked if anything prevented him from taking the plunge. Since nothing did, at the official’s command the chariot stopped. 

Phillip baptized him, signifying that this foreigner had also been “included” in Christ and— as a result— become part of His body. 

The story gets even more interesting, though. Luke tells us that as soon as they emerged from the water, something startling happened— something we haven’t seen occur since the days of Elijah. Notice (Acts 8:39-40 ESV, emphasis added)—  

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Phillip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Phillip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Phillip, the one who began as a deacon teleported away from the baptism and continued traveling, preaching as he went.

 

Equippers of ministers or saints who minister? 

Later in the book of Acts, Paul and Luke meet Phillip. He's no longer referred to as a deacon. He’s formally called an evangelist. Luke writes that when they arrived at Caesarea, they “entered the house of Phillip the evangelist.” Luke clarifies that this wasn’t just another man who happened to have the same name. He says that this Phillip “was one of the seven” (Acts 21:8).

Here’s the significance of the title evangelist: it’s one of the five ministry roles we see in Ephesians 4. Paul tells us that when Jesus ascended to His throne and poured out the Holy Spirit (and the accompanying spiritual gifts) He also did something else: Jesus not only gave spiritual gifts to His people He also gave them spiritual leaders to encourage, equip, and empower them in their growth.

There are five of these roles (Ephesians 4:11 NKJV, emphasis mine):

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…

These ministers are sometimes referred to as “five-fold” leaders. The name you use isn’t as important as recognizing what they’re called to do. We read their function— why Jesus gave them to us— in the very next verse (which is really part of the same sentence). He gave them (Ephesians 4:12 NKJV, emphasis mine)— 

for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…

Re-read it. Paul explained that the “job” of the leaders of the church is not to do ministry themselves but to equip others to do ministry. God gave these leaders to us in order to help us become a fully functioning body of Jesus (Ephesians 4:13,15-16 ESV).

… 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…

… we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

In many churches, the congregation leads— through boards and committees and votes and bylaws and even Robert’s Rules of Order. Don’t laugh. I’ve been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it! 

When congregations lead, they often shift the responsibility for ministry to their pastors. They want them to visit the hospitals, lead the Bible studies, and pray for the sick. 

“Why would we do that?” they often ask.

And— “That’s what we pay them to do!”

Ummm… no. 

Though they should never step away from active ministry, the Biblical paradigm is the exact opposite of what most churches actually do:

  • Pastors (and other leaders) should lead well and delegate most of the ministry to the members of the Body
  • Members of the Body should serve well and empower the five-fold to lead

By the way, this is exactly how Jesus oversees His church today. He delegates virtually all of the ministry to the Body, and He leads. 

Remember what the apostles did in Acts 6? 

They led with the Word of God and prayer, delegating the majority of the hands-on ministry to others (see Acts 6:3-4).

None of us can do the work that Christ calls us to do on our own. Together, we comprise the Body. Though Christ is with all of us personally, when we walk together He’s present in a more profound way. As Paul writes (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV), 

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

The previous image illustrates this visually. The church is the body of Christ… and we are all members of that body. Collectively, we are His presence. As such, it’s imperative that those called to equip actually empower the saints to fulfill their ministry. 

 

Equipped and set

The word equip literally means “to make fit, to train, or to prepare.” Some Bible commentators remind us that equip is the same word used to denote setting a broken bone. In a real sense, when we “equip" someone we are placing them at their proper place in the body- just as  a surgeon does!

What’s the difference between these leaders and other members of the body?

Well, some theologians say it like this: Most Christians have gifts, these people are gifts. 

And: Most Christians express gifts, these people embody gifts.

The distinction we’ve created between “clergy” and “laymen” doesn’t exist in the New Testament. We do, however, see the distinction between those who are called to be equippers and those who are called to minister. Regardless of their role, everyone is called to build the body of Christ.

Jesus gives equippers to the church in order to empower them for the work of ministry. He gives spiritual gifts to the members of His body in order to enable Him to express His supernatural power and presence to those around them. 

 

Back to connection

There’s something else we read about Phillip. Luke tells us, “He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied” (Acts 21:9).

Most Bible scholars agree that these four women weren’t just prophesying via the gift of prophecy that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 14, but that they too were the embodiment of one of those leadership positions.

That leads us to the follow-up question: How did Phillip move from one role to the other? How did he shift from being a minister to an equipper? 

And what about his family? How did they grow? 

The honest answer is that we don’t know. The Bible doesn’t provide us with a formula. However, Psalm 92:13 reminds us that “Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish” (NKJV). 

You see, the more we connect with the body, the more healthy we become and the more we grow. Notice what happens as the leaders equip us (Ephesians 4:14-15 ESV, emphasis added): 

…we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ

We become like Christ. Like Phillip, we grow. Yet, we don’t reach that goal on our own. We reach it together. 

This leads us back to connection with the body. Our gifts most often come fully alive when we’re connected. A spiritual gifts test or skills assessment is just a tool to show you where you might be gifted. The true verification is in the action. And, the more we use the gifts in the context of close relationship, the more helpful feedback we receive and the more we grow and develop those gifts.

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