Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Spiritual Gifts and the Gathered Church“. The post was triggered by my thoughts when reading Robert Banks’ book Paul’s Idea of Community. If you haven’t read this, I would highly recommend it! God has gifted all of his children, and the church needs all of those people to function (through their gifts) in order for the church to grow in maturity. I think its fairly obvious that this is not happening; and it is fairly obvious that the church is not maturing.
[UPDATE: Thanks to my friend, Joe, for pointing out that my last statement above is too broad. I agree with him. Instead, I should have said this: In many cases (perhaps most?) this is not happening in the context of the church gathering; and this affects the maturity of the church in those cases.]
One of the most interesting books that I have read in the last few years is Paul’s Idea of Community (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994) by Robert Banks. In one part of this book, Banks discusses the purpose of Spiritual gifts for believers, especially when believers are gathered together:
We have seen how gifts were distributed to every member of the community by the Spirit and that through their mutual sharing these were exercised amongst them. Guidance on matters affecting the communityâ€™s life was principally granted to members when they met together to discern what God required of them. They received this guidance from the Spirit through their exercise of gifts of knowledge, revelation, wisdom, and so on. In all this Paul never tires of insisting that every member of the community has the responsibility to impart the particular insights they have been given…
Thus, the most characteristic setting in which the community received guidance was when Christians assembled to share and evaluate the gifts given to them. Here, in a variety of complementary ways, the guidance was conveyed through each to all and through all to each.
Both nurture and discipline within the congregation, then, should arise spontaneously from the concern of every member for the quality of its life and the involvement of every member in decisions affecting the whole. (137-138)
Banks describes exactly what Paul writes about in 1 Cor. 12:7: Spiritual gifts are given for the benefit of others, not for our own benefit. Perhaps, Acts 13 includes the best biblical example of the Spirit communicating to the community through the gifts of those within the community:
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 ESV)
Notice that it was in the context of exercising spiritual gifts (i.e. to the benefit of other people – 1 Cor. 12:7) that the men were serving the Lord. (Now, I know that the ESV says the men were “worshiping”, but the word is probably better translated “serving”.) While they were serving people and the Lord, the Spirit communicated both to the men being sent, and also to the church. The men listened, and the church listened. The Spirit spoke. The people responded. Interesting, this passage says that both the church “sent” the men and that also the Spirit “sent” the men.
Scripture only gives two requirements for someone to exercise their gift when the church is assembled: whatever they do must be motivated by love (1 Cor. 13) and must edify the church (1 Cor. 14:26). No gifts should be refused, and no gifts should be elevated above the others – as long as the gifts are used to edify other people. Similarly, the people should be given the opportunity to use their gifts when the church is assembled, and they should be reminded that God holds them responsible for this. In other words, if someone is in charge of the meeting time, that person should make sure that others are given opportunity to edify the church. And, the people gathered should be reminded that God wants them to participate and expects them to participate in building up the body.
Do you expect God to communicate to you through the Spiritual gifts of the entire body, or just through the gifts of a few leaders within the body? Do you expect God to communicate to the church through the Spiritual gifts that he gives you? Are you obedient to God in building up his church and allowing others (with different gifts perhaps) to have the same opportunity?