Assembly Nuts & Bolts: Exercising Gift

Find Your Gift

I suspect the gifts of the Spirit exercise a kind of gravitational pull on those that possess them. What God has implanted usually finds a way of expressing itself. But one occasionally finds people who have either never thought about their gift or if they have, do not know what it is. If God has given us all a gift specifically tailored to the work He wants us to do, it is important to know what it is.

Gifts are not the preserve of males. As Romans 12 makes clear, gifts include the gift of mercy and giving, gifts that are available to brethren and sisters alike. This may encourage us to think that God can equip saints to exhibit to an outstanding degree some of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). The gift of being a “help” (1Co 12:28) is available irrespective of gender.

For those brethren who are unsure if they are gifted to preach or teach, I would suggest starting with a Sunday School class or some similar exercise. If you want advice, ask an overseer or someone whose judgement you trust.

Bible knowledge and a knowledge of God are also vital accompaniments to gift. If you have no understanding of your subject, your messages will be shallow. If you are not in fellowship with God, your messages will lack power. In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul encourages Timothy to “stir up” the gift he had. It would seem Timothy had become discouraged and perhaps fearful. He was not exercising his gift of preaching. As a flame is stirred with a poker or fanned by bellows, Paul encourages Timothy to apply himself to the exercise of his gift. Sadly, there are some who do not stir up their gift. As a result, everybody loses out.

Of course, the public gifts bring their own difficulties. Because they are public and because the flesh likes the limelight, people can have a skewed sense of their abilities as a preacher and teacher. This can become a difficulty where there is no or insufficient control over who speaks. One of the potential disadvantages of an open meeting is that it gives opportunity to those who are not fitted (or not sufficiently fitted) to inflict themselves on the saints. In this scenario, it is important that elders should get a grip of the situation. In Corinth (which lacked an effective oversight), the prophets exercised restraint on one another (1Co 14:29-32). Overseers should exercise this function. They should restrain those who lack gift (or those of limited gift) from grieving or, at least, boring the saints. By the same token, they should encourage those who have the ability to help the saints.

So while it is important to know your gift, it is also important to have a good sense of the degree of that gift. Some have greater measures of gift than others.

Limits on Gift

There is an increased openness in the assemblies today to the idea that sisters should engage in preaching and take leadership roles. This is the product of a number of factors. Society has embraced the value of equality, and feminism is a powerful influence in the land. While equality of treatment is in many ways a scriptural value, difficulties emerge when the pursuit of equality is used to eradicate the differences in function that God has mandated between males and females. The doctrine of headship allocates different functions to males and females in the home and in the assembly. There is a strong challenge today to Christianity’s historical commitment to the idea that the husband is the head of the house (Eph 5:22,23), and males are designated the role of leaders in the church (1Ti 3:2). The answer is to see that Scripture does not equate submission with inferiority. A good illustration of this is the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Lord Jesus was divine and equal with the Father. But the Son submitted to the Father (1Co 11:3; Php 2:6). Scripture does not understand the submission of one person to another as proof of inequality.

Plainly, women were taking a public role in Corinth and prophesying (1Co 11:4,5). Paul’s first critique of that state of affairs is to notice that in doing so the sisters had uncovered heads and thus in symbol were denying their submission to the man (vv5,13). But in chapter 14 he moves from the symbolic realm to the practical realm and forbids audible participation entirely (v34). But the underlying reason is the same in both cases. Scripture does not support sisters exercising authority over the brethren whether that is in a role of leadership or in a teaching ministry in the assembly (1Ti 2:12).

The teaching ministry of women is described in two key passages. The first is the teaching ministry of a mother. Mothers are encouraged to teach their children at home (2Ti 1:5; 3:15). The second is Titus 2:3-5, which describes the teaching role of older sisters. Their ministry is directed at younger sisters. The topics covered in this passage have a common thread: they relate to home life and the private sphere. I consider that the instruction here does not take place in a church gathering, nor is it organised by the assembly. It is a vital ministry, but one conducted informally and privately.

Some consider Titus 2:3-5 as giving sisters a broader right to teach. This is not the place for a detailed treatment of the subject. My views are well summarised by Norman Crawford, who wrote in connection with Titus 2:3-5 that it “does not give any authority for a woman to have ministry meetings for women, but it does give her responsibility to teach privately about subjects where the teaching is best given by another woman.”[1] I would respectfully agree with his words.

We can be confident that God will not gift someone to engage in a ministry that Scripture forbids. What, then, do we make of the fact that in the religious world around us women pastor churches, speak at conferences and lead seminars? I would respectfully suggest that the answer is all around us. Wherever we look, we see women communicating confidently and capably, whether it be in politics, education or the workplace. There are many women who have a natural talent for public speaking. But in light of the fact that Scripture teaches that “it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1Co 14:34), we can readily see that the Spirit would not gift a sister to engage in a ministry that Scripture forbids.

I acknowledge that this is a sensitive topic. It is important that we take our lead from Scripture and not from other Christians, no matter how much we like or respect them.

[1] Norman Crawford, Gathering Unto His Name (Glasgow, Scotland: Gospel Tract Publications, 1986), 159.