7. Do you use your gifts?

A common feature of many churches is ‘one man ministry’, where one man provides the leadership and instruction.  This can present dangers for both minister and congregation.  In biblical Presbyterianism there is (or should be) corporate leadership which addresses some of these problems.  But a fully biblical model of church recognises that all Christians have been given gifts to use.  Continuing our Spiritual Check-up we ask: 7. Do you use your gifts?

1. The Giver of the gifts

All gifts come from the Triune God.  In particular:

            – Ephesians 4:7 tells us ‘to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it’.  By his atoning work Christ has purchased all that his people need.  Above all he has given the gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out at Pentecost (Acts 2).

            – The distributor of the gifts is in particular the Holy Spirit.  When Paul lists spiritual gifts he says, ‘All these are the work of one and the same Spirit and he gives them to each one just as he determines’ (1 Corinthians 12:11).

2. The diversity of the gifts

The New Testament gives several lists of the gifts of the Spirit – Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28, and Ephesians 4:11.  All believers are gifted – ‘he gives them to each one’ (1 Corinthians 12:11).  The diversity of gifts is striking.  Some are clearly supernatural, whilst others are more ‘ordinary’ (encouraging, showing mercy).  It seems the Spirit may enhance abilities already present as well as giving new gifts.  We must beware of creating an unbiblical hierarchy of gifts – if a gift is from God, it is valuable.  Some gifts are recognised by ordination, but all believers are to use their gifts (14:10).

3. The purpose of the gifts

            (i) To equip the church to carry out its mission.  Until Christ returns the church has work to do, and by giving gifts the Lord ensures that it is done.  The outpouring of the Spirit is linked especially to witness (Acts 1:8).  In providing those set aside for office, the Lord’s goal is ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service’ (Ephesians 4:12), to build up the church.

            (ii) To provide a foretaste of the age to come.  Already we experience something of the life to come, but its full enjoyment awaits the return of Christ.  In our experience of the indwelling of the Spirit and the gifts he gives, we have a foretaste of final glory.  Spiritual gifts indicate something of the quality of life that we will enjoy, in all its perfection.

4. The responsibility of the gifts

The great blessing of receiving gifts for service brings too great responsibility (Luke 12:48):

            – There is an accounting for our use of gifts in the church under the oversight of elders.

            – Chiefly at the last day we will give account (Matthew 25:31ff).  True believers have served faithfully, often in mundane ways, and the Lord will reward them richly.

6. Do you commune with the saints?

Western societies are generally characterised by individualism – a focus on the individual often at the expense of wider social relationships.  In contrast to societies in other parts of the world, western societies have weaker social bonds, they are more fragmented and give less attention to family and community life.  The church stands, or should stand, in stark contrast to such individualism.  All descriptions of the church in Scripture show it is a community, and historically Christians have expressed belief in the ‘communion of the saints’.  Continuing our Spiritual Check-up we ask: 6. Do you commune with the saints?

1. The covenant community

The church is not just another social club – it is the covenant community of the people of God.  This is the community to which the Lord makes his covenant promise ‘I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people’ (Leviticus 26:12).  We are in living covenant fellowship with God through Christ.  Fundamental to the church’s identity is union:

            (i) We are united to Christ.  Those who were dead in sins are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, made alive as he unites us to Christ in his death and resurrection (see Ephesians 2:5-6).  This is spelled out at length in Romans 6.  We have died to the old life of sin and are made alive in union with Christ to love and serve the Lord who loves us.

            (ii) We are united to one another.  As a consequence of being united to Christ, we are united to all of the Lord’s redeemed people.  This is reflected in in 1 Corinthians 12:27 ‘you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it’.  The believer is linked spiritually to every other believer: ‘we are members of one another’ (Ephesians 4:25).

2. The basic attitude

The fundamental characteristic of the body of Christ is love – ‘love each other as I have loved you’ (John 15:12).  The pattern of Christ’s love is to be reproduced in the church, a redemptive, self-sacrificing love (see John 15:13), a love that can be costly.  This is not primarily a matter of emotions we feel.  Christian love is a deep-seated desire to seek the best for fellow believers, what will enable them to be more like Christ and to serve him faithfully.  Note Paul’s concern for the Galatians ‘until Christ is formed in you’ (Galatians 5:19).  This love is a work of the Holy Spirit, an aspect of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22)

3. The mutual ministry

Love is meaningless unless made visible in action.  The communion of the saints means giving and receiving loving ministry within the church he bought with his blood and which is precious to us.  This requires thoughtful and prayerful consideration of the needs of others (Hebrews 10:24) and a willingness to be considered by others.  It is a ministry for every believer, not just for pastors and elders.  There is a range of ministry that will employ all our gifts – see 1 Thessalonians 5:11,14.  Material needs are included – 1 John 3:17.  The communion of the saints should be a great blessing and also a powerful witness to the world.

5. Do you delight in worship?

What distinguishes Christians from other people?  Many answers might be given, but above all Christians are distinguished by their worship.  This distinguishes them from those of no religion and from adherents of other religions.  This offers a valuable means of discerning our spiritual health.  Continuing our Spiritual Check-up we ask: 5. Do you delight in worship?

1. What is worship?

It is sometimes said, ‘All of life is worship.’  All of life is to be lived for God’s glory, but we need a more specific definition, faithful to Scripture.  ‘Worship is the activity of glorifying God in his presence with our voices and hearts’ (Wayne Grudem).  We acknowledge God’s greatness by performing the actions he prescribes, ‘in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 96:9).  In Hebrews 12:22ff the worship of heaven is described.  On earth we reflect something of that.

2. Whom do we worship?

Despite what our pluralist society tells us, all objects of worship are not equal.  There is only one God who is to receive worship – he is properly ‘jealous’ (Exodus 20:5) and will not give his glory to another (see Isaiah 48:11).  So whom do we worship?

            (i) The God revealed in Scripture.  We worship him as he reveals himself to be in the Bible, not in any way we imagine.  Only thus can we avoid idolatry.

            (ii) The God who is Triune.  Fundamental to truly Christian worship is the triune nature of God.  We worship one God in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

3. Why do we worship?

            (i) God is worthy of worship.  That is the fundamental reason.  We accord the Triune God the worship that is due to him: ‘you are worthy’ (Revelation 4:11).

            (ii) God commands our worship.  Worship is not optional.  His command is ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’ (Matthew 4:10).  We show love by obeying that call.

            (iii) We need to worship.  We were created for worship, as bearers of God’s image.  Thus worship expresses and feeds our relationship with the Lord – a crucial means of grace.

4. How do we worship?

            (i) Through Christ.  We come in worship consciously depending on Christ for access and forgiveness.  He is the ‘one Mediator between God and men’ (1 Timothy 2:5).

            (ii) In the Spirit.  Note John 4:24 ‘in Spirit and in truth’.  The Spirit must empower our worship – ‘worship by the Spirit of God’ (Philippians 3:3).  He fills us with holy zeal.

            (iii) By grace.  We and our worship are always imperfect.  We approach God seeking grace and forgiveness of sin.  We are to have the holiness that is essential (Hebrews 12:14).

            (iv) With discipline.  We must give ourselves to worship.  The Enemy will do all he can to hinder us.  We need a disciplined commitment to worship, showing how we value it.

            (v) With joy.  To spend time in the Lord’s presence with his people should rejoice our hearts.  It is a good test of our spiritual health: do you delight in worship?