Given what we just experienced as a church last Sunday and as we move into a new chapter in our church history, it is very fitting that we are going to talk this morning about the body of Christ and spiritual gifts. Let me start with a qualification — this area of spiritual gifts is something that has been in the back of my mind for several years now, but I’m still a novice, a lot of it is totally new for me and I am still praying through it and learning as I go. Luckily, there are 3 passages about spiritual gifts — here in Romans 12, 1 Cor 12 and Ephesians 4 — so by the time we get to Ephesians, I pray that we’ll be much more familiar with this topic.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his[b] faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. ~Romans 12:3-8
Last week, a few of us attended a pastoral conference in Minnesota on the topic of prayer — wow, that feels like months ago — and one of the many things that God convicted me about was family worship. So at our home, we had our first family worship time this past week and I spoke from this text. And the Bible is rich in its depth, it’s filled with profound truths and we will spend the rest of lives trying to plumb its depths but we will only scratch the surface. At the same time, its message is simple enough for uneducated fishermen and even little children to understand. And so that was my goal, how can I explain this text in a way that my kids will get the main point?
And I said our family is like a team. Team Jesus. And we are all members of the same team. And we are all different. And I asked each kid, what is one thing your other brothers are good at? And we went around. And the answers were all different and I said, we come together with our different strengths and we cover our weaknesses. And because we are on the same team, we don’t have to compare when someone else in the family does something better than us. We can celebrate that person’s giftedness.
That evening, we had a time of prayer with our kids before putting them to sleep like we always do and Jeremiah asked Jackie after prayer, so Mommy, God and Jesus, they make the body, right? Jackie said, yes, that’s right. Then he asked, If they are not part of the body, it gets broken, right? Jackie said, yes, Jeremiah. And I heard that and I thought, I didn’t even say that, where did that come from, maybe Jeremiah should lead the next family worship time.
Now, I want to address briefly some misconceptions. I think the topic of spiritual gifts is scary to Baptists and to many other denominations. You read about the gift of prophecy and from our experience, we say, well, I’ve never met a prophet in all my years at church. Or you read about speaking in tongues and you say, how come I can’t speak in tongues? I am a Christian, I believe in the Holy Spirit, how come I can’t do that?
So many Christians don’t want to touch this topic of spiritual gifts with a ten foot pole. It makes us feel uncomfortable or inadequate and we label it as strange and weird. And granted, there are a bunch of strange and weird things like holy laughter. And so what ends up happening is that we throw out the baby with the bath water. And in many of our denominations, we ignore this topic entirely.
Some theologians go as far as to say, the gifts of the Spirit occurred in the first century and they ceased and since that time, God no longer gives such gifts. If you hold to this position, I don’t know what you make of our Pentecostal brethren. They are filled with something so perhaps the source of their power and miracles is evil spirits. Some actually say that. Never mind the fact that the Pentecostals are the most active in worldwide evangelism for the last few decades. I believe we have something to learn from them. That’s why I kind of like the Calvary Chapel statement of faith — they are grounded fully on the Word of God, but at the same time, they are open to the gifts of the Spirit.
Pentecostalism arose from the Azusa Street Revivial in 1906 so a little more than 100 years ago in our neck of the woods. That’s a historic fact and in the last few decades, there has been more theologians writing about the Trinity and specifically the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Francis Chan’s most recent book is entitled “The Forgotten God” and the subtitle explains the main idea — “Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.” I know I grew up in the Presbyterian church and I heard plenty about God the Father and Jesus the Son but almost nothing about the Holy Spirit.
So through the next two sermons, I am inviting you to think and pray through this important topic because it relates to how we are going to do church going forward.
I believe God does give gifts to this day. So the question is — why does He give spiritual gifts? To answer that, we have to go to Psalm 68.
Psalm 68:18 – When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious— that you, O LORD God, might dwell there.
It was an Old Testament practice that a victorious army would return to their city with a train of captives, prisoners of war, and with all the spoils of war in tow. The army that won was able to take whatever and whoever they wanted as their plunder. The victorious army became rich with possession and prisoners. Frequently, after such a battle, the king would receive gifts from the army. It was kind of like a tithe. They gave gold and prisoners to him for him to use to run the country. Hopefully, if the king was a good king, the riches would get redistributed among the people to give them a better standard of living. These riches would be given as gifts to the people, and be used to provide better roads, better armies, and more food.
When Psalm 68:18 says that he received gifts from men, the writer David has in mind this idea of the king receiving a portion of the spoils of war that the army had brought back, SO THAT the king could then turn around and give gifts to people who were not able to go off to war. That is the historical background of Psalm 68:18.
Christians, we are the body of Christ and He gives each of us gifts. And we receive this gift and we exercise our gift with the full knowledge that Christ won the war and He conquered sin and death. Every time we use one of our spiritual gifts, we do it in full view that Christ is the Victor. That’s why God gives gifts to His people to remind us of Christ’s victory.
What is the purpose of these gifts?
Rom 12:4 – Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Looking at this passage alone, we understand that we are all members with different functions or different gifts and together we form one body where there is a sense of belonging. And if you stick to this body metaphor, then there is a sense in which a body is limited and your body parts belong to the entire body because there is a connectedness. My arm is short and slightly muscular veiled under a thin layer of fat cells and if you put my arm on Daniel’s body, it would look funny because he is thin and lanky and not as muscular. Christians, we are not floating body parts who are amputated and moved from one church body to another. No, there is a sense here in connectedness and belonging, and commitment to one another.
And so in a church, we want to encourage a sense of belonging, meaning you are not just a face in the crowd. We are a small enough church so it is quite a reasonable goal that each of us who are part of this church and attend week after week can actually know everyone else in this church. That’s my prayer.
Ekklesia is a local assembly and Paul definitely had the church at Rome in view as he wrote out the list of spiritual gifts found in Romans 12 because he doesn’t mention apostles but he does mention apostles in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians 4. It’s because apostles in a strict sense were eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection and no one in the church at Rome was an actual eyewitness to the risen Christ.
So on one level, the purpose of the gifts is to be an active member of a local church where we all belong to one another.
But on another level, when we read Ephesians 4, we get a slightly grander and broader reason why God has gifted His church.
Eph 4:11-13 – 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The gifts are given so that the church can display the fullness of Christ. So now the question is — How? How are we the fullness of Christ? I do not display the fullness Christ by myself. You do not display the fullness of Christ by yourself. This local church does not embody the fullness of Christ by itself — we try and we do a much better job collectively than any one of us could individually but we fall far short. All Christians around the world and throughout time comprise the body of Christ and it is this universal church that displays the fullness of Christ.
Christ, when He was here, had the ability to teach. He had the ability to show mercy and to serve others. He had the ability to heal. He had the ability to discern the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. He had the ability to administrate tasks to other people. He had the ability to preach the Word of God. He had the ability to lead his people like a shepherd leads a flock. He had the ability to give generously and joyfully from what he owned. He had the ability to lead others to faith.
But when Christ left, He was no longer here to do these things, so He took all of His abilities and passed them out to the church and He’s been doing it ever since for each church in every generation. That why when Christ ascended, He gave gifts to men.
There is not one person today who has all the gifts. Some people have more than one gift, but the point is that every single Christian has at least one spiritual gift given to them by Christ. And it is the universal church that is the body of Christ, doing on this earth what Christ began to do while He was here among us.
This means the local church is our training ground. It’s where we put biblical principles into action. It’s where we belong to one another. It’s where we carry each other burdens and suffer together and laugh together. But there is a danger when we turn inward and become a Christian ghetto and shut out the world outside because we also end up shutting out other churches. There are so many God-honoring churches out there that display the fullness of Christ in an area that we are sorely lacking. So we need to be open to how God will speak to us from other churches, other pastors and church leaders so that this church will be better equipped to display the fullness of Christ here in Pasadena.