The purpose of this series has been to look at practical aspects of assembly life. In this final study I wish to look at the exercise of gift.
There are three encouragements I would like to offer. The first is to encourage Christians to utilise their gift. The second is to encourage younger Christians to identify their gift and to seek to develop it. The third is to encourage our sisters to maintain a scriptural position in connection with the exercise of public gifts.
Use Your Gift
Scripture teaches that every Christian has a gift or gifts given by God on or after salvation. Paul draws a parallel between the human body and the local church (1Co 12:4-11,14-27). God designed the human body and allocated different roles to its various members. Paul indicates that God gives a gift to every member of the assembly in the same way. While these gifts may vary in prominence, each gift is necessary for the benefit of the assembly. There are no vestigial organs (v27).
Although the distinction is not hard and fast, spiritual gifts differ from natural talents, that is, the abilities we all possess from birth or acquire by training. Of course, natural talents can be dedicated to spiritual purposes. Where would we be without a handyman in the assembly? He is worth his weight in gold. Where would we be without a good precentor to raise the singing? But it is important to recognise that God gives such talents to the saved and unsaved alike. While natural talents can be dedicated to God, they are distinct from spiritual gifts.
At times, natural and spiritual gifts can resemble one another. For example, someone may have a natural talent for oratory. But that is not to be confused with the gift of teaching or preaching. Churchill was a masterful orator but his ability with words was not a manifestation of the Spirit.
Another important distinction is that between spiritual gifts and abilities that are common to every Christian. No one is a gifted meeting attender. We are all able to attend the meetings. No one is gifted to worship. We are all worshippers. So, there are things we should do just because we are Christians, not because we have a gift to do them.
The New Testament has a few gift lists. There is a heavy emphasis on miraculous gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 (see vv8-10,28), no doubt because of the Corinthians’ absorption with the spectacular. The mini-list in Ephesians 4:11 is biased towards foundational gifts because Paul is primarily thinking there of the universal Church rather than the local assembly. I suggest that the list in Romans 12:6-8 is the most pertinent today. It is not dominated by sign gifts, and it deals with everyday assembly life.
It is important to note that this list is dominated by the oral gifts of prophesying, ministering, teaching and exhortation. This emphasises the importance of the preacher and teacher to assembly life. But in addition, Paul includes gifts that most Christians might not consider to be gifts. He speaks of giving (v8). I don’t think that this is ordinary giving (otherwise some might be tempted to say it was not their gift!) but people whom the Spirit has endowed with unusual generosity. It may be, in addition, that God has ordered their life so that they have the means to give. Their ability to give and their desire to give is a work of God. “Ruling” is mentioned as a gift of the Spirit. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul describes the personal qualities that should be possessed by an elder. Here he emphasises that ability to lead the people of God is a gift of the Spirit. Since leadership is an ability that develops over time, this is a gift that is not given at salvation. He also mentions the gift of showing mercy. The fact that this is identified as a gift indicates that some have this gift and others do not. This certainly reflects my experience of life. Most of us are quite hardnosed. But among the Lord’s people there are those whom the Spirit has gifted with a capacity for mercy that makes them stand out from others. They are valuable people to have in the assembly. When tempers flare and hard words are exchanged, they bring the gentle touch of mercy to bear. Since mercy sits alongside many other Christian qualities, it may well be that the list in Romans 12 is not exhaustive.
So, the challenge is to use those gifts God has given to bless the assembly and the Lord’s people generally. We all have at least one gift. Let us use it.
To be continued…