From Serve Us to Service
The Body of Christ is a wonderful thing. It is where Jesus dwells. It is where He continues to do what He began in the Gospels (Acts 1:1). Still today, Jesus is at work in and through His Body.
Few New Testament writings describe this Body as completely as does Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. There Paul shows how the Body of Christ is based on, and flows out of, the unity and diversity of the Triune God. In 1 Cor. 12:4-6 Paul says that the Spirit grants to all the members of the Body spiritual gifts (charismata). The Son, on the other hand, assigns ministries (diakonoi) to every gifted member. These are opportunities to exercise one’s spiritual gifts in ways that edify other believers. Note that God does not give us gifts so that we might simply boast or brag of them. God desires us to serve and to use those gifts as the Lord Jesus directs us and in the place of His appointment. Finally, Paul says that God Himself grants us the energemata – the power – to use our spiritual gifts in an effective way.
We must never forget this. All those who are born of the Spirit of God are members of Christ’s Body on this earth. In each one of us the Spirit has come to dwell. To each one of us He has given a gift, which Paul calls a “manifestation of the Spirit” (v. 7). This truth is foundational to all we do as the people of God. For if we neglect Paul’s teaching on gifts, the church becomes just another organization. Everything is done to operate and build the organization, and all our energy is poured into that. But we must never think of the church as a human organization that operates programs on behalf of its membership. The biblical church functions when its members are using their infinite variety of abilities and aptitudes for mutual edification.
This is the divine blueprint for the church, and many believers today are rediscovering it. When I wrote my essay The FDR-ing of the Church, I had this group of people in mind. They are Americans (and others) who have come to realize that just as economic freedom is an essential requisite for political freedom, so spiritual freedom is a requisite for the Body of Christ to operate according to God’s design. The “fecundity of freedom” that made America the greatest nation in history in the nineteenth century succeeded for one main reason. It enabled people to cooperate with each other without coercion or central direction. By dispersing power, the free market provided an offset to political power. Undoubtedly, the main source of the economic revolution was private initiative operating in a free market open to all. People received little help from the government, but they also experienced little interference from the government. The narrowly limited government of the nineteenth century had little concentrated power that endangered the ordinary man.
All of this changed with the Great Depression. The depression was widely interpreted as a failure of free market capitalism. That myth led to a new vision of America. Emphasis on personal responsibility was replaced by emphasis on the person as a pawn controlled by forces beyond his control. Government increasingly undertook the task of taking from some to give to others in the name of security and equality. One government policy after another was established to regulate our pursuits. I believe these developments were produced with good intentions, but the results have been disastrous. Even the strongest supporters of the welfare state agree that the results have been disappointing. Americans no longer have a “can do” mentality. The human freedom proclaimed so eloquently in the Declaration of Independence is today a bare shell of what it once was. And today, as we clamor for the government to “serve us,” a new class of “civil servants” spends larger and larger fractions of our income supposedly on our behalf.
Fortunately, the tide is turning. In America there is a growing recognition of the dangers of big government. This shift in thinking is being reflected not only in the political sphere, but also in the religious one. There is a budding Christian subculture that is beginning to take Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts seriously. For them, the work of the church is not something to be done by hired professionals. It is more than running meetings and perhaps doing a little missionary outreach. It is more than teaching Sunday School and heading up committees. The church is a Body in which the Spirit of God has distributed gifts to every member.
This is an amazing truth. It means that there are no insignificant members in the Body of Christ. It is not just those who lead our “worship services” that have gifts. Each believer has the ability to do something to encourage, strengthen, and help other Christians. You are only fooling yourself if you think that because you cannot preach or teach or lead you are not a member of the Body.
When you see the church as Paul sees it, you will stop thinking that only the teachers or leaders are important. You will see that the Triune God has designed the Body with beautiful balance. No one person has all the gifts. No one person can do it all. This is the message of Paul; this is the message of the New Testament.
Have you moved from “serve us” to “service” yet?
November 24, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.