Gift - Its Use and Abuse
The more Science discovers about the human body, the more unbelievably complex it is revealed to be. Yet despite this bewildering array of chemicals, cells, tissues and organs, there is an underlining unity to all so that every part and particle is working for the good of the whole. Every cell and chemical has a designed function, and is set in a place whereby it can best discharge that function. For those that have eyes to see, there is clearly a divine blueprint behind it all––never, no not even in millions of years, could chance fashion such a confusing array of chemicals into the amazingly complex and organised arrangement that is the human body!
There is another body with which the Word of God draws a clear parallel. I speak, of course, of the body of Christ: “For even as the [natural] body is one and has many members, but all the members of the [natural] body, being many, are one [natural] body, so also is the Christ” (see 1 Cor. 12: 12). “The Christ”––the Head in heaven, and the body on earth (“which is the assembly”––Col. 1: 24) is, like the natural body, marked by both complexity and organisation, so that every member is working as part of a unifying overall scheme for the welfare of the whole. Thus “there are distinctions of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are distinctions of services, and the same Lord; and there are distinctions of operations, but the same God who operates all things in all” (1 Cor. 12: 4–6). Each member has his designed function and is set in a place where he can most effectively discharge that function. So it is that we read “But now God has set the members, each one of them in the body, according as it has pleased [him]” (v18)
This, then, is the system that God has ordained. Man, however, as always, has had other ideas. Thus he has interfered and tampered with the divine system, with incalculable and disastrous consequences for the Assembly of God. If “God has set certain in the assembly” (v28), then man has ignored that setting, and substituted his own. Thus on the one hand, some have a false liberty whereby anyone can turn his hand to anything; on the other, some have a false structure whereby gift is suffocated and suppressed. All such practices are a grievous hindrance to the effective working of the whole body––indeed those who meddle with what God has made are, in reality, the unwitting tools of the Enemy. The Enemy hates Christ, and therefore he hates that which forms His body here on earth. If he cannot destroy it, he will seek to wound or weaken it, thereby nullifying its effectiveness as a vessel for the display of Christ in this world. Thus Satan will do anything he can to either put a man out of his place––to remove him from his divine setting––or make him as ineffective as possible in that setting. He knows that God has formed the body in such a way, each member in his place and carrying out the service to which he was called, in order for the smooth operation of the whole. As a result, he is well aware that just as a bruised toe can make a man lame, so an ineffective member has an injurious effect on the whole body.
To be effective, a body must have all its parts operating in the way for which they were designed. We see this most dramatically in persons who have been paralysed. Where there should be activity and zest for living, there is immobility and dullness. The inaction of the muscles and nerves has a deleterious effect on the whole body. Again, consider an individual who has lost his arms, and has taught himself to paint with his mouth. Here the situation is brighter, but the body, is still not as effective as it might have been––it is not able to operate in the way in which it was designed. Things are no different in the spiritual realm. Christ has His body here on earth, to work for His glory in a scene which rejected Him, yet the Enemy has been very successful in reducing its effectiveness. Many of the members of that body remain atrophied through never having the courage or will to do the work to which their Master called them. Others have allowed themselves to be swathed in bandages of human regulation and order, which render any kind of useful activity more or less impossible. Still more, whilst enthusiastic, are occupied in service to which their Master neither called nor fitted them.
Now just as each part of the natural body is designed to carry out a specific purpose (the eye for seeing, the leg for walking, and so on), so in the body of Christ different members have different functions. We are not all the same, for “If the whole body [were] an eye, where the hearing? if all hearing, where the smelling?” (1 Cor. 12: 17). This variety is essential to the efficient functioning of the body. With this in view each member of the body has been given a gift. Gifts are the divinely given ability to do the work that God has given us. They are given for “for the perfecting of the saints; with a view to [the] work of [the] ministry, with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph. 4: 12). If there is any interference in the expression of these gifts, there will be a harmful effect on the work of “[the] ministry” and its objective of “the edifying of the body of Christ”. Consequently, the Devil has been doing all he can to upset this divinely ordained system. If there is an opportunity to abuse gift, then he will abuse it.
The simplest form of abuse is to pretend that gift does not exist at all. Thus it is said that all gift ceased with the passing of the apostles, and that now some kind of human training is essential in order to serve the people of God. Not only is this theory utterly baseless, but it also renders irrelevant for our day the Scriptures which deal with the exercise of gift (Rom. 12: 6–8; 1 Cor. 14: 26–33 etc.). Certainly some gifts have passed away (the apostles, for example, were part of the foundation of the Assembly, and once the foundation was laid they were no longer required––see Eph. 2: 20), but there is no evidence whatsoever that gift in general is not to continue right through the present dispensation. Indeed, in the very epistle in which Paul prepares Timothy for the “last days” (2 Tim. 3: 1), he urges a rekindling of “the gift of God which is in thee” (2 Tim. 1: 6). At the root of this blanket denial of present–day gift is unbelief––an unwillingness to believe that a saint is fitted for service by virtue of gift without any human input at all. God’s idea is gift, man’s idea is training. Thus God is dishonoured in that man’s education is substituted for the gift of Christ. Teaching, for example, is a gift from God. Others may teach (for example: 1 Tim. 3: 2; Tit. 2: 3), but they are not teachers in the distinctive sense. Teaching is a gift, and therefore we either have it or we do not. Theological college can never make a man into a teacher––gifts are entirely in the hand of God, and we ought not to pretend that we can usurp His place and train our own teachers for the Assembly!
A more common error, is to effectively limit gift to a few selected individuals. Many Christians have been conditioned by religious teaching not to think much about gift at all, except in relation to their leaders. They see themselves merely as members of a ‘congregation’ rather than members of the body and so make statements like “I am not gifted”. How this contradicts the plain Word of God! “But having different gifts, according to the grace which has been given to us” (Rom. 12: 6). “Different gifts”––not some having gift, and others not, but all having different abilities. Again: “to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for profit” (1 Cor. 12: 7). “Each”––not some, but each. One more Scripture: “But to each one of us has been given grace according to the measure of the gift of the Christ” (Eph. 4: 7). Not some, but “each one of us”. The truth is that membership of the body of Christ confers upon us a function in that body, and hence at least one gift. Certainly “all the members have not the same office” (Rom. 12: 4), but all have an office! To say “I am not gifted” is in effect to say “I am not Christ’s”!
Another way in which gift may be abused is by neglect. Thus there are many who, whilst understanding the universal distribution of gift seem almost to delight in being seen as only possessed of what they regard as ‘minor’ gifts. Glorying in their humility, they say things like “I am only a help”, thereby excusing themselves for a life of relative inactivity. Genuine “helps” (1 Cor. 12: 28) are necessary, as indeed all the gifts are, but many who describe themselves as such are not real helps at all, but persons otherwise gifted who have never had the inclination to carry out their proper duties. Certainly, no one ought “to have high thoughts above what he should think” (Rom. 12: 3), but if God has given us a gift it is our responsibility to exercise that gift in the fullest way possible: “But having different gifts, according to the grace which has been given to us, whether [it be] prophecy, [let us prophesy] according to the proportion of faith; or service, [let us occupy ourselves] in service; or he that teaches, in teaching; ...” (Rom. 12: 6–7). False humility is reprehensible to God. Paul did not count himself to be worthy to be an apostle, (1 Cor. 15: 9), but he never denied or hid the fact, and his life was characterised by an earnest striving to live up to his responsibilities.
Even a “man of God” (1 Tim. 6: 11) may be guilty of neglecting the gift of Christ. Thus Timothy was told by Paul to “Be not negligent of the gift [that is] in thee”, and later “For which cause I put thee in mind to rekindle the gift of God which is in thee” (1 Tim. 4: 14; 2 Tim. 1: 6). The apostle obviously saw a need for a fresh input of vigour into the expression of Timothy’s gift which was perhaps wilting under the growing tide of evil. That is why he adds “For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion” (2 Tim. 1: 7). How this searches our hearts––who has not kept quiet when he ought to have spoken, or done nothing when he ought to have acted?
Now gift, if properly exercised, exalts the Giver––Christ (Eph. 4: 7–8). However, where gift is over–magnified, the focus shifts from Christ to the gifted vessel and we are then treading very close to idolatry. On this account Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians: “Who then is Apollos, and who Paul? Ministering servants, through whom ye have believed, and as the Lord has given to each. I have planted; Apollos watered; but God has given the increase. So that neither the planter is anything, nor the waterer; but God the giver of the increase” (1 Cor. 3: 5–7). Gift in others ought to be valued and respected, but it ought never to serve to take the eye off Christ and on to man. “Come and hear Mr so and so”––the messenger made more prominent than the message. Even something as sublime as gathering together unto the Lord’s name (Matt. 18: 20) can degenerate into meeting on the basis of the doctrines of one or two gifted individuals.
Much more dangerous than glorification from others is self–glorification, where gift is used, not for the edification of the body (Eph. 4: 12), but to exalt self. The equivalent in the natural body is a malignant tumour––a growth that works entirely for its own self–interest and to the detriment of the rest of the body. Sadly, there have been many such cases in the Assembly of God, and we do well therefore to consider how one of the most gifted servants of God described himself: “...me, less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3: 8). If gift is properly exercised, then in the words of John the Baptist “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3: 30). Where gift is used for display (as was clearly the case at Corinth), it is self and not Christ that has the pre–eminence. Certainly we are to “desire earnestly the greater gifts” (1 Cor. 12: 31), but the apostle goes on immediately to speak of love––and love “does not seek what is its own” (13: 5). Indeed, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (vs1, 2). Gift is always exercised for the good of others––not to give me a name. Personal ambition ought to be repugnant to every lover of Christ. “Seek that ye may abound for the edification of the assembly” (1 Cor. 14: 12).
Sometimes an individual may imagine that he is more gifted than he actually is––be deluded into thinking he is something which he is not. Many genuine souls go into what is commonly known as “the ministry” without having any real qualification from God. Or a man may have a tremendous grasp of the Scriptures and fool himself into believing that qualifies him to be a teacher. He may get himself an audience but these are generally those easily pleased folk who delight in listening to the incomprehensible in the belief that it must be spiritually profound! The fact is, a teacher is only a teacher if he has the ability to convey to others what he has. An interesting Scripture in this regard is Gal. 6: 6: “Let him that is taught in the word communicate to him that teaches in all good things”. The one taught in the Word does not take for himself the place of teacher, but communicates what he has to those gifted to teach. Again, it is an abuse of gift to assume that if a man can preach the Gospel well, then he must be able to give a suited word to the saints, or that if he can teach the saints, then he is the best man to appeal to the unconverted. These things may be true, but we should not extrapolate from the one thing to the other. It is a great mistake to expect a visiting brother to expound the Word, preach the Gospel, address the Sunday–school, speak to the troubled, and remedy every local difficulty. Few are able for this, and in any case it comes very close to clericalism in all but name––one man doing everything.
This leads on to another form of the abuse of gift––namely its suppression. In much of Christendom a brother can only preach to the saints if he is an “ordained clergyman”––if he has passed through some human ceremony. Apart from the fact that there are no clergy in the NT record, it is a fact that ordination in Scripture (of which there are various shades of meaning) is never used to convey gift, or legitimatise its use. The only possible exception to this is the case of Timothy (1 Tim. 4: 14; 2 Tim. 1: 6) who clearly had a gift given to him, not directly by God, but via an apostle. Yet this example raises considerable difficulties for the supporters of modern–day “ordination”, the most fundamental being that it was clearly an apostolic act (the hands of the elderhood merely expressed fellowship with what Paul did). There are no apostles today, and therefore it is grossly dishonest to pretend to have the ability to reproduce such an act. Apart from this example (which the words “through prophecy” suggest was exceptional anyway), the NT gives no support to the current widespread system of ordination. Now a man who is “ordained” through human means may be gifted or he may not. His licence to serve depends not on his gift from God, but on his ordination from man. Thus there may be a man in the congregation who is gifted to teach, but cannot, because he is not ordained. Man’s ceremony takes precedence over God’s gift. Sometimes a man is allowed to speak with the permission of the clergy. Again, it is man and not God, that is presented as the final authority. Of course God is very gracious and where hearts truly seek after Him, He will find channels to circumvent such human obstructions in order that His people might be blessed––but this does not alter the fact that the divinely chosen path by which the Assembly is to be edified is by the free expression of gift. At the other extreme, others boast of having achieved ‘true’ liberty by dispensing with a vicar––yet whilst clericalism is certainly a hindrance to gift, it does not follow that by jettisoning the cleric, free expression of gift is achieved! These practice ‘any–man ministry’ whereby anyone, irrespective of gift, can “minister” to the saints. This is a brazen bypassing of God’s will in setting “certain in the assembly” (1 Cor. 12: 28). Again, man’s will is seen to take precedence over God’s will. Gift must be recognised, not ignored.
Furthermore, it must be all the gifts, not our carefully selected choice. What would we think of a man who accepted he had one leg, but pretended the other did not exist? A company that professes to recognise gift, but then screens out what it perceives as unfavourable elements is putting itself in a position of being wiser than God. As a point of fact, God’s messengers to His people are sent not invited, and we are responsible to listen to the message from God whether we like it or not. It is easy to arrange speakers suited to our taste––far more challenging to recognise those that God has sent. Inviting someone to speak is not wrong––what is wrong is if a brother cannot speak unless he is invited. Certainly all should “be done comelily and with order” (1 Cor. 14: 40), but we want divine order not human order! There is no NT Scripture that suggests a brother must be invited in order to address the saints. Acts 13: 42, 16: 9, and 28: 23 are sometimes brought forward, but these have nothing to do with ministry in the Assembly––these passages all relate to those who were not Christians. Actually, there is no essential difference between the invitation to speak from a clergyman and the invitation to speak from a company (or part of a company), if one cannot speak without that permission. Of course, there is a responsibility upon the saints to ensure that public ministry delivered in their presence is “edifying” (Eph. 4: 12), but that does not give them the right to lay down a rule of “invitation only”. The reason there was spiritual poverty in Israel was that they were not willing to listen to what God said to them. He sent messengers to them but they “beat one, killed another, and stoned another” (Matt. 21: 35). They would rather have prophets of their own choosing, who gave them messages they found agreeable (see Jer. 5: 30, 31). If we are not deluded, we too will recognise that we live in a day of spiritual poverty, a day of which it is said “according to their own lusts will heap up to themselves teachers, having an itching ear; and they will turn away their ear from the truth, and will have turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4: 3–4). Here we have people choosing their own teachers––men who will tell them what they want to hear. Of course if you shut your ear to divine teaching you will invariably be receptive to teaching from another source, with calamitous results. The fact is, we have no right to choose our teachers, or the teaching they are to deliver. It is God who has “set certain in the assembly: first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers…” (1 Cor. 12: 28). We may ignore or suppress them, but we cannot alter the fact that they are there––and if there, we are responsible to acknowledge their presence, and allow the free expression of their gift.
These things ought not to be dismissed out of hand. Just because there may be many saints expressing themselves in the Assembly does not mean that the liberty of the Spirit of God is there! Individuals with gift may be ignored or suppressed. If persons are invited to speak then they may be invited on the grounds of personality, for being likeable, or merely being perceived to be ‘orthodox’ or ‘uncontroversial’. Actually, God’s real messengers have always tended to be unpopular and unorthodox––as the record of OT prophetic history testifies. Virtually every prophet who ever lived was either ignored, or attempts were made to shut him up. Of course, those who did that were not only ignoring the prophet, but they were ignoring God––and the principle is the same in our day. If a man is gifted, then that gift has been given by the Lord to the Assembly, and it is a snub to Him to ignore it. Let us ensure that we have real liberty, not simply an outward appearance of the thing!
Of course possession of a speaking gift is not a licence to speak. As Scripture says “If any one speak––as oracles of God; if any one minister––as of strength which God supplies” (1 Pet. 4: 11). There is such a thing as knowing when to speak––in order that “God in all things may be glorified” (v11). If I speak at all, then I must speak God’s message, and in God’s power. However, God has given certain gifts, and we ought to expect exhortation, for example, to come from “he that exhorts” (Rom. 12: 8), and teaching from those gifted as “teachers” (1 Cor. 12: 28). Of course God is sovereign, and can raise up a brother to speak a word who might never be called to speak again in such a way, but it is God who has structured the body so that “all the members have not the same office … having different gifts” (Rom. 12: 4, 6). It will be obvious to any mind subject to the Word that, apart from exceptional circumstances, “[the] work of [the] ministry” (Eph. 4: 12) is to be carried out through gift.
In the natural body, the most healthy state is achieved when all the members are functioning properly. Things are no different in the spiritual body. Let us, therefore, take these things to heart and enable gift to be used rather than abused!
All Hands on Deck
If God had a ship, I wonder how many of us would be crew, and how many would be passengers? A peculiar question you might think, but is not the analogy with the Church of God obvious? How many of us are passengers in God’s Assembly—content to sit back and let others do all the work? It is almost as if we had already entered into our rest, as if Christianity was some kind of pleasure cruise! Let it be stated once and for all: GOD’S SHIP CARRIES NO PASSENGERS! Those of you who are ‘meeting attendees’, whose Christianity does not extend beyond taking communion and listening to the sermon, and whose faith simply consists of being a ‘member’ or in ‘fellowship’—you know little of what it means to be a Christian. Could you call yourself a servant of the Lord when you excuse yourself from service? God’s ship carries only crew!
So what of the crew? For a ship to sail well, not only must the crew be at work, but the instructions of the captain must be attended to. It is not sufficient for the crew simply to work, otherwise all would be disorder and confusion—they must subject themselves to the central command! The captain of the Christian ‘ship’ is Christ—hence the need to hold fast the head, (Col. 2: 19). The body must obey the voice of Him “who is the head, the Christ: from whom the whole body, fitted together, and connected by every joint of supply, according to [the] working in [its] measure of each one part, works for itself the increase of the body to its self building up in love”, (Eph. 4: 15–16). Yet what do we see generally speaking? Nothing less than men following their own wills rather than the one will which should be paramount! We see Christians occupied in work for which it is obvious that God has not fitted them, and busying themselves in tasks for which they have no ability. The Bible reveals the will of God, yet we see direct Scriptural commands such as those relating to the service of women, being brushed aside! More remarkable still, is the position of so called ‘clergymen’, who in their use of the term ‘reverend’ not only take to themselves a title that belongs to God alone, (Ps. 111: 9 A.V.), but assumes that most, if not all, gift resides in those ‘ordained’ whilst the mass of the people, (‘laity’) are there simply to listen. I admit that in recent years this view has been somewhat modified, with the members of the ‘congregation’ being encouraged to exercise any gift they might have. Nevertheless this is all done in subjection to the ‘pastor’ as overall leader rather than the Head in heaven, and it is thus to be feared that God’s captain has been relegated to the position of adviser, or at best ‘joint–commander’!
So then let us look at the position of those whom we shall call passengers—the mere church attendees. To be in the Church is to be in Christ’s Body, (Eph. 1: .23), where “God has set the members, each one of them in the body, according as it has pleased [him]”, (1 Cor. 12: 18). The body is the living part of the Assembly—all those Christians alive at any one moment—and if the body be living, then every member ought to show signs of life! In the human body if any part ceases to work and becomes non–functional then the whole body becomes weakened through the unfair burdens that are put on the remaining members—and it is no different in the spiritual sphere. Yet how many passengers there are in the Church of God! Satisfied to let others do the work, contented to receive, yet never give. Or so occupied with their own frailty that they never lift a finger or open their mouths. Either way self is before the mind and not Christ. All of us have been given something to do—every part of the body has a function to perform—and we must do it. Scripture tells me that, “to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for profit .....dividing to each in particular according as he pleases”, (1 Cor. 12: 7, 11). Every Christian has a spiritual gift from Christ—no part of the body has been designed without a function. To say that I have no gift is in essence to say that I am not a member! False humility will not do: there is a pride in shrinking back in case one is thought vain, as well as in pushing oneself forward. If I claim I have nothing to do, then I need to ask myself why I am not in heaven already! We are left here to work. Gifts are not for optional use: they are given by the Head “with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ; until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, at [the] full grown man, at [the] measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ”, (Eph. 4: 12, 13). To ignore gift, whether in myself or another, is to betray a lack of love for Christ and His Assembly. The gift I have may be small, like a help, (1 Cor. 12: 28), but it is still a gift! I have a part to play in the body, and that part is as important as any other, for the welfare of the whole depends on every part being operational: “And if the ear say, Because I am not an eye I am not of the body, is it on account of this not indeed of the body? If the whole body [were] an eye, where the hearing? if all hearing, where the smelling?.....But much rather, the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary”, (1 Cor. 12: 16, 17, 22).
Let us now look at the ‘crew’, and more particularly at the insistence by some, of the need for ‘clergy’. This is the word which specially marks out a class distinguished from the ‘laity’, and distinguished by being given up to sacred things, and having a place of privilege in connection with them which the laity do not have. How remarkable then, when we go to God’s Scriptures, to find that the exclusive ministry of one man or of a number of men in a local company has not a shred of support! What we do find is each member having a gift, and this was put into the common treasury and all were richer by it. What we do not find is a congregation gathered round one man as the minister! At best, the man, if gifted at all, is scarcely likely to have every gift. Suppose he is an evangelist, and souls are happily converted, but he is no teacher and cannot build them up. Or he is a teacher, sent to a place where there are but few Christians, and the mass of his congregation unconverted men. There are no conversions, and his monopoly on the preaching must keep the evangelist out! (not that in some irregular way the need could not be supplied, for God is sovereign—still it would be irregular). How the activity of the Holy Spirit must be quenched in such a system! How could the ship make any progress with most of the crew prevented from exercising their skills? Some speak of the need of ‘ordained’ ministers, as if the authority of a college, or self–styled ‘bishops’, is required before gift can be exercised. Yet if we look at the N.T., we find nothing about ordination to teach or to preach. You find people going about everywhere freely exercising whatever gift they had; the whole church was scattered abroad from Jerusalem except the apostles, and they went everywhere preaching (literally evangelising) the Word. So with Apollos; so with Philip the Evangelist. There is in fact no trace of ordination by the church at all. Of course we know Timothy received a gift by prophesy, by the laying on of Paul’s hands with those of the elders; but that was gift, not authorisation to use it. So he is instructed to communicate his own knowledge to faithful men, who should be able to teach others also, but there is not a word about ordaining them. The case of Paul and Barnabas at Antioch is hardly worth noticing in this regard, for prophets and teachers are made to ordain an apostle, and an apostle who totally disclaims being that “of men or by man”, (Gal. 1: 1 A.V.)! In Rom. 12: 6–8, the possession of the gift is the warrant to use it, no intervening authorisation being so much as hinted at; while in 1 Cor. 12: 28 it is “God has set certain in the assembly;” and in verse 4–11 it is unmistakably the Holy Spirit alone who is looked on as the ordaining one. 1 Pet. 4: 11 tells me that “If anyone minister—as of strength (that is, capacity) which God supplies.” Permission to preach from men is worthless, permission from God is vital.
Furthermore, the exercise of gift, although subject to the directions of the Word (for example: 1 Cor 14: 26–33), is in no way dependant on the will of the body, but of the Head. God’s ship is not a democratic vessel! It is the prerogative of the Captain, rather than the crew, to direct operations, He has given, He has placed in the body such and such a joint; and they are responsible to the Head for the fulfilment of their functions. Nowhere do we read of the ministry of one being made subservient to that of another: Paul was an apostle, yet he could not order Apollos around, (1 Cor 16: 12). It is good to have the support of one’s brethren, (Acts 15: 40), but responsibility to Christ cannot be set aside: ultimately the servant is answerable to his Master alone. Nor, indeed does the Church have the right to choose it’s ministers, but is rather bound to receive those whom God has sent. It is the Lord that chooses, the Lord that gives the gifts—for His Church.
Lastly, let us consider those crew–members who while working, seem to pay little attention to the matter of gift—the exponents of ‘every man’ ministry. As we have already seen, every Christian has at least one spiritual gift. It is when these spiritual gifts are put to use that we have Christian ministry–for I define ministry to be the exercise of gift. For some, their ministry is public utterance of the Word—be it evangelism, teaching or whatever—provided they have the relevant gift. (Others, women included, have a ministry that could be of a less vocal nature—helps, healing and so on). Each has his allotted sphere in which he is to work—the eye the seeing, the ear the hearing and so on—for “all the members have not the same office”, (Rom. 12: 4). If these specific functions are ignored the whole body becomes confused and unbalanced. What kind of ship would make any headway under such a system? Of course there might be exceptional circumstances where a part might be called upon to do a function for which it was not particularly fitted—if the arm was paralysed, the leg might be used—but this would be so exceptional as to demand a manifest signal from God as to it’s authenticity. For example, God has a right in his church to raise up a man to say a word, and it may be an important word, who might not be called upon to speak again—to be used only for that particular purpose. It cannot be emphasised enough however that exceptional circumstances never make a general rule.
Leaving aside such unusual cases however, I firmly believe that normally ministry is the expression of gift. “Body truth”—the doctrine of the body of Christ—is popular in many circles today, and there is a corresponding emphasis on each of us playing our part. This advance is to be welcomed, but not where the Head is not held fast, (Col. 2: 19), and where there is a degeneration to a situation where anybody can try his hand at anything, provided it appeals to him! Such blatant overlooking of the gifts that God has set in the Assembly is no more obvious than in the field of ministering the word to God’s people.
What we see then are attempts to expound the Scriptures from persons who are obviously far from capable, ministry from brothers who are plainly not qualified for the task they are undertaking, and teaching from those who are assuredly not so gifted! The painful result is that the Church is not built up, and the Holy Spirit is quenched, (1 Thess. 5: 19). In exceptional circumstances I do not deny that God might use any to give a needed ‘word’ from Himself, but regular ministry supposes the presence of gift. The man who sermonises on a regular basis yet has not the appropriate gift is a definite hindrance to true ministry of the Word. Such a man has neither the right nor the capability to occupy such a position. It is self–will, or the will of the people, or at best delusion, that has placed him there—certainly not God’s will.
It is widely felt that a good knowledge of the Scriptures qualifies a brother to teach. Not so. The teacher, if he be that, must be able to get the subject across to his audience. There may of course be dullness on their part, but the divinely gifted teacher is able to get his listeners to grasp the teaching of Scripture. Put simply, the teacher (under God’s hand) is able to impart understanding. Such ability is a gift of God.
I observe too, and with alarm, the assumption that a person with ability in the Glad Tidings is presumed to be a capable minister of the Word to the saints. How many successful evangelists think themselves capable of writing books on theology! The reverse also applies, whereby we also see the assumption that a minister of the Word to the saints is assumed the best candidate for the preaching of the glad–tidings! This is to blur the distinctions between the gifts and to overstep the boundaries of the functions allotted us in the Body of Christ. Indeed it is clericalism rearing its ugly head again—the assumption that a man can do everything. What would we say if the ship’s cook attempted to lecture on navigation? The idea would be absurd! Yet this is, in effect, common practise in Christianity! Scripture tells me that “having different gifts, according to the grace which has been given to us, whether (it be) prophecy, (let us prophecy) according to the proportion of faith; or service, (let us occupy ourselves) in service; or he that teaches, in teaching; or he that exhorts, in exhortation”, (Rom. 12: 6–8) The eye cannot do the work of the hand, nor the hand that of the eye, for “God has set the members, each one of them in the body, according as it has pleased (him)”, (1 Cor. 12: 18). The general ministering to one another, (1 Pet. 4: 10), is put on the basis of “each according as he has received a gift.”
The Christian ship is not a ‘free for all’—we are to be under the directions of the Captain—Him who is “the head of the body”, (Col. 1: 18). Much activity may seem admirable but it is not the way to blessing. The Christian’s object should not be to do a great deal, but simply to do what he is told! We may have many views on how the ship should be run, but if these do not emanate from the Head then this is nothing less than the spirit of mutiny! The Captain issues the commands and we are all ministering servants. Let us see that we perform the service he has given us!