Last week, I had several very good conversations with people concerning various ways in which God uses people to serve the church. Some of these discussion were triggered by the “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology” seminar from several days ago. So, if you talked with me last week, you may see bits and pieces of our conversation here.
I’m going to cover these discussions in two different posts. The first – this post – will cover two fundamental categories of how God uses his people – through speaking and through serving. The next post – tomorrow – will cover how God uses some people in one locality or community, while he uses others across different localities or communities.
Friday night before the seminar, part of our discussion centered around the topic of spiritual gifts. As we know, there are several spiritual gift lists in Scripture (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 4:11). As Dave Black pointed out, though, while some are supernaturally gifted to do certain things (i.e. teaching), all followers of Jesus are responsible for doing these same things (i.e. teaching).
Thus, all are responsible for giving, while the Spirit uses some people’s giving in supernatural ways. All are responsible for helping, while the Spirit uses some people’s helping in supernatural ways. All are responsible for teaching, while the Spirit uses some people’s teaching in supernatural ways. Those whom the Spirit normally supernaturally gifts for teaching (for example), we can call “teachers” (or “prophets” or “shepherds” or “encouragers” or “givers” etc). But, this doesn’t remove the responsibility of all to teach (or prophesy or shepherd or encourage or give etc).
Thus, when I think about gifting and serving other people, I like to use the broad categories that we find in 1 Peter 4:10-11:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV)
In this passage, Peter takes the emphasis off of the individual gifts, and divides all types of work among people into two different categories: speaking and serving. (In this case, since we know that “speaking” is a way to serve, we can understand “serving” as “non-speaking”.) Furthermore, Peter indicates that when we speak or serve from love (4:8-9), as directed and enabled by God, then we bring glory to God.
The reason that I like these broad categories is that I do not have to be concerned about which particular gift I am exercising. In fact, when I speak, I am not supposed to be concerned about which gift I am exercising, because I do not know how the Spirit is going to use my words. Similarly, when I serve someone, I do not know how the Spirit is going to use that either.
My focus should simply be on speaking to or serving one another and allowing the Spirit to choose how to use my words or actions. In this way, we take the focus off of the one doing the speaking or serving and we even take the focus off of the specific “gift” being exercised as if we could choose which “gift” to exercise. No, our focus is on speaking and/or serving as directed by God and allowing the Spirit to use our speaking and/or service as he chooses.
Also, these broad categories remind us that both speaking and serving remain the responsibility to ALL followers of Jesus Christ. If the Spirit normally uses my speaking as teaching, this does not remove my responsibility to serve. If the Spirit normally uses my serving as giving, this does not remove my responsibility to speak.
However, recognizing these broad categories and the responsibility of all believers to speak or to serve does not change the fact that the Spirit does choose to use some people more in one manner than in another manner. Thus, we can recognize “teachers” and “prophets” and “givers” and “helpers” etc. Also, recognizing how God generally chooses to use our own speaking and serving can help us understand how he wishes us to work among the church. Certainly, there can be times that the Spirit chooses to work in different ways, and we should also be ready for that as well.
In this view, we can see how the authors of Scripture recognize that all believers are responsible for teaching, exhorting, serving, giving, prophecy, etc., while they also recognize that some are teachers, some are exhorters, some are givers, some are prophets, etc. While it can be beneficial to both ourselves and the church to know how the Spirit generally uses our speaking/serving, it is also beneficial to recognize that we are all responsible to speak/serve.