The Holy Spirit has gifted believers in order that those who constitute a local assembly may be built up spiritually and numerically. This will only happen as each individual believer recognizes their gift and uses it for the profit of all. Like Paul in his epistles, we would like to instruct but also to challenge saints as to the use of their gifts. He writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 1, ‘Now concerning spiritual gifts brethren I would not have you to be ignorant’. Elsewhere, he is concerned about individual believers exercising their gifts. He writes to Timothy, ‘Neglect not the gift that is in thee’, 1 Tim. 4. 14. Again he challenges Timothy, ‘Stir up the gift of God’, 2 Tim. 1. 6. As he closes the Epistle to the Colossians he challenges another brother, ‘And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry [service] which thou hast received in the Lord that thou fulfil it’, 4. 17. Paul is deeply concerned about individual believers exercising their gift in the local assembly and this article seeks to echo that concern.
It is important to note from these verses that the three persons of the Godhead are each involved in the spiritual gifts that believers have. This adds a great dignity to the subject and should cause us to exercise the gifts diligently and with godly fear.
Verse 4 informs us that it is the Holy Spirit who gives the gifts.
Verse 5 informs us that it is in the service of the Lord Jesus that gifts are used.
Verse 6 informs us that it is the Father who works out His will and accomplishes His purpose as these gifts are exercised in the local assembly.
Each of the three main passages of scripture that teach us about spiritual gifts place emphasis on a different person of the Godhead. Romans chapter 12 deals with gifts in relation to the Father, ‘According as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith’, v. 3. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 deals with gifts in relation to the Holy Spirit, ‘But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal’, v. 7. Ephesians chapter 4 deals with the gifts in relation to the person of the Lord Jesus, ‘But to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ’, v. 7. We should never think lightly of, or handle carelessly, the gifts that God has given to us. We should value them and make every effort to use them as God intended.
Why has God given gifts to men? What is their purpose? In three phrases in these verses we are told the answer to these questions. The risen Lord gave gifts to men:
1 ‘for the perfecting of the saints’. ‘Perfecting’ means full preparation, to make fully ready – ‘that the saints might be fully equipped’.
2 ‘for the work of the ministry’ – with a view to occupation in service.
3 ‘for the edifying of the body of Christ’ – with a view to building up the saints, promoting in them growth in wisdom, godliness, holiness, joy, etc..
Thus, through the bestowal of spiritual gifts we are fully equipped to be occupied in the service of God and, in doing so, promote growth and spiritual enrichment in the lives of God’s people. God’s design is accomplished when, through the exercise of the spiritual gifts, He sees growth and development in His people. As each one of us exercises our gift we benefit the rest. ‘But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal [to profit the rest]’. We may each ask the question, how are God’s people being helped by the exercise of my gift in the local assembly? How much am I using my gift in the service of the Lord?
In both of these passages Paul uses the illustration of the human body in order to demonstrate that just as the human body is one united whole, but made up of many different parts, so the local assembly is one entity, but it functions by use of a variety of spiritual gifts all of which are absolutely essential to the functioning of the whole. The illustration of the human body is introduced in Romans chapter 12 in order to emphasize that each man is not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. Believers must act humbly in the use of their gift. The Amplified Version says, ‘not to have an exaggerated opinion of his own importance’.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul introduces the illustration of the human body in order to show that there is diversity of gifts in the local assembly, but they all work together in unity. There is a link with this teaching in Ephesians chapter 4. In verses 1 to 6, Paul writes of the unity of the body of Christ, ‘one body, one Spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all’ [my emphasis]. Then, in verses 7 to 16, he shows us that, together with that unity, a variety of gifts has been given, so there is diversity. There is harmony (unity) produced by diversity. In the local assembly there is a variety of gifts, but as they all function and play their part they are used by God to produce a united whole.
Clearly, as we read verse 15 of 1 Corinthians 12, there were some in the assembly at Corinth who were considering the gift God had given them and, because in their opinion it was not as important as the gifts imparted to others, they had decided there was no point in using it. So Paul turns to the illustration of the human body in order to show the folly of such an approach. He takes the foot as considering itself to be an unimportant member of the body. ‘Look at me’, it says. ‘Here I am at the base of the body in a position where I am hardly noticed. I am unable to do the variety of functions the hand does. So, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body’. Does such a statement make it any less part of the body? It certainly does not!
As I sit in my study typing this article into my computer, I realize that I need my Bible, so that I can look up a reference for my article. Try as my hand might it cannot reach into the lounge and pick up my Bible. It needs my feet to take me into the lounge so that my hand can pick up my Bible. Although the foot may be hardly noticed and unable to function as the hand does, it is, nevertheless, a necessary and essential part of the body. Just as all the members of the human body are all essential and totally interdependent, so it is with spiritual gifts. Each is vitally necessary to the proper functioning of the whole. If you are not exercising your gift as God intended, then the local assembly to which you belong is not functioning as it should.
It is clear from verse 21 that there were those in the assembly at Corinth who were regarding the gift they had been given as so important that they could do without some of the others whose gifts they considered to be far inferior to their own. So, Paul, continuing the illustration of the human body writes, ‘And the eye cannot say unto the hand I have no need of thee’. Nobody would question the fact that the eye is a vitally important member of the human body. However, it needs all the other members, like the hand, if the body is to function properly.
If I now have my Bible on my desk in my study but my computer keyboard stops me from having it directly in front of me, I cannot focus properly on the words. Try as it might, there is no way in which my eye can bring my Bible closer to it for it to be in focus. It requires my hand to reach across and hold it in a position where my eyes can focus and read the text. Every member is necessary and every gift is necessary! Equally, all the gifts are not vested in one person.
In the next article we will explore the distribution and discharge of spiritual gifts.