|In Your Church, Lord, Be Glorified!
March 21, 1999 / Romans 12:4-8
Ephesians is the New Testament epistle that most aggressively affirms the grandeur of the church in Godís scheme of things. Paulís powerful little epistle exalts Christ as the one through whom God has brought together all his eternal purposes (Eph. 1:10), and it speaks of the church in terms of Godís mission for it: "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:10-11).
The church exists to demonstrate Godís wisdom to a heavenly audience. In its immediate context, this verse is probably pointing to the uniting of Jews and Gentiles in a single body. He has redeemed us by Christís blood, forgiving our sins and lavishing us with his rich grace (Eph. 1:7-8). There is an even larger sense, however, in which the church provides the arena within which Godís "manifold" (i.e., multicolored, diverse) wisdom reveals itself.
For the purposes of this lesson, I want you to think of the church in terms of the opportunity it affords not only multi-racial groups but multi-talented persons to function as a collaborative enterprise for the glory of God. People with different personalities, gifts, and interests are united in Christ to make known the fulness of Godís wisdom, compassion, and activity among human beings.
Wouldnít all of us say we believe the church is Christís body in which the diverse parts contribute to the health and function of the whole? Would we not cite the New Testament metaphor of the church as a body in which eye, hand, and foot ó along with all the other diverse parts ó coalesce their contributions for the sake of the whole? Donít we sing: "In your church, Lord, be glorified, be glorified"?
If this much is true, then every local church needs the loyal support, commitment, and participation of its membership. Every one of its members has a necessary role ó but not the same role ó in Godís purpose to make himself known through that body. Each one is responsible for the health, growth, and efficient exertion of energy in that church. The challenge is to live what we say we believe on this point.
Your Place in the Family
With an orchestra, having a skilled conductor is pointless without people playing a variety of instruments. There need to be violins and horns, cymbals and keyboards. Some instruments need to blare, and others will need to be so mellow and soft that an audience may have difficulty distinguishing them. There may even need to be a piccolo! The larger the orchestra and the greater the variety of instruments, the wider the range of music that can be played. There will be more fullness and resonance to each note, and people will come from far and wide to hear the music.
It is essentially the same in athletics. No matter how good the coach, he or she is limited by the athletic giftedness of the players. Even with a "star player," there will have to be a supporting cast. You need a point guard, but you have to have a center too. You need shooters, but you need ball-handlers and passers. And some players make their greatest contribution by rebounding or setting picks. Basketball is a team sport.
But are music and athletics essentially different from business? A well-trained and enthusiastic sales force still needs a product ó a good product. But the best and most-in-demand product in the hands of a super-effective sales team still needs people to fill orders, pack product, and ship it on time. Then somebody needs to be monitoring the inventory. And somebody surely needs to be prompt in billing and collecting. One person does not a company make, cannot be a basketball team, will never be an orchestra.
By the same token, one person canít be a church. Neither do you need ten or fifteen percent of a churchís membership doing what eighty-five or ninety percent simply observe. The orchestra needs a piccolo, and the hoopsters need rebounders. The widget company needs a CPA, and the church needs every member using the ability God has given her or him for the sake of the whole.
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a manís gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully (Rom. 12:4-8).
I have a place, gift, and function in the church. So do you! And the multifaceted wisdom of God is vindicated when we function together for the sake of the whole. I donít want to do your job in the church, and I must be more careful not to step up and do what some of you can do. If you are working hard in a ministry role but find no personal joy and satisfaction in it, you are probably misplaced in terms of what God wants you to do. You need to do your part, and you need to move over to permit others to work beside you and share the responsibility.
Iím sure we believe this, but weíve got to become better at living it. But letís think less in terms of orchestral, athletic, or business models. Letís think of the church in terms of the family of God. In every biological family, there are different roles for husband and wife, parent and child. There are both routine chores and occasional special opportunities. But thereís something for everyone to do. And the larger the family gets, the more there is to be done! And the same thing is true in the family of God. When somebody tells me "I want to be part of a small church so Iíll feel needed," I admit to having to resist the temptation to laugh. The bigger the family, the more chores there are to be done!
Now you may not have found your niche yet. Or those of us who are leaders may have failed to help you find that niche. But we are doing everything we know to do on our end to help you discover and plug your spiritual gift (or gifts!) into the life of this local church. Meredith Moseley has recently started offering a class to meet that specific need. Some of you have already gone through the class, discovered roles here for which God has equipped you, and put your gifts to work.
Every child in the family of God is equally important to and loved by God. But we are not equipped with the same personalities, abilities, and passions. Therefore we do not have equal responsibility to every ministry. So it is vitally important to our efficiency as a church family and your satisfaction as a member of the family to know your spiritual gift and how to use it.
A sixteen-year study of 350,000 people in the American workforce revealed that four out of five of them hold jobs that donít match their abilities. That same study also suggests that the five most commonly used guidelines for hiring are of little value in predicting how well an applicant will do in a particular position. Youth, education, experience, race, and sex are not the primary ingredients to success, the research said. What makes a person fit or unfit for a given job are certain built-in aptitudes for certain types of work.
Are you surprised to find that the same thing is also true for being effective in the things of the Lord? Yes, there are some gender and experience requirements for being a shepherd-overseer to the church. But the primary emphasis in kingdom ministry is on qualities that go far deeper than age, sex, or education. He wants his people to use the unique traits that are built into our personalities. And he certainly wants us to honor any special gifts put into our makeup by the Holy Spirit. We function best and accomplish most for the Lord when we do what weíve been made to do. We invite frustration and fruitlessness in trying to be something weíre not.
When the church was established two millennia ago, God chose to distribute a series of supernatural miraculous endowments among his people. These special abilities enabled the church to "hit the ground running." So some could preach the gospel in languages they had never studied previously. Others could work miracles of healing as a sign to onlookers. Still others were given gifts of supernatural discernment.
Regardless of oneís view of the modern charismatic movement and its claims to these miraculous endowments, clearly there were other special gifts from Godís Holy Spirit that the church would need across time. They are necessary for the teaching of the Word of God to unbelievers and for the nurturing of the church. On my view, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 most likely refer to the miraculous gifts. The context of Romans 12, however, inclines me to the view that Paul was enumerating special gifts of the sort God is always giving to and using in his church.
To the degree that church leaders are effective, their role is not to perform the ministry functions of that church but to train, equip, and liberate the members of that church for ministry. Thatís why I said earlier that I have to fight off laughing when someone says he or she prefers a small church where there is more work to do. If by "work to do" they mean opportunities for stand-up-before-the-crowd functions, maybe they are right. But if they mean real life-changing service to people, the more people God brings together in a church the more opportunities there are for ministry.
"Church work" is not simply what happens in the corporate assemblies of the church. It is the conscious and deliberate use of the special abilities you have to the glory of God. The claim I hear occasionally that "five percent of the churchís members do ninety percent of its work" is patently absurd. Anyone who would say such a thing simply doesnít know how to identify the work of God in this world.
Getting back to the list of spiritual gifts named in Romans 12:4ff, the commonest and most often-needed of these special endowments may be glad and eager mercy and useful service to people around you. Most of this ministry doesnít go on in the Sunday assembly. This is what happens when a mentor spends time with a teen, when a teacher gets in touch with her students, or when one of you comes alongside another who looks sad and discouraged. It happens when people here who can repair cars or plumbing help older members or single moms who canít. It happens when our teens serve a family where somebody is hospitalized or elderly by doing his or her yard work. Itís what happens when one of you sends a gift certificate for some local restaurant to your Sunday School teacher or to one of our shepherds. It happens when you allow people in your small group to share their hurts or frustrations, and you pray with them.
Closely related is generous giving. Some of the most generous givers in any church are unknown to most of the members. They arenít trying to call attention to themselves. They are simply trying to see that the needs of the larger body are met through their wealth that they acknowledge to be from God. Yet generosity isnít measured simply by the amount of oneís gift but by the deliberate exercise of responsible stewardship by people of more modest means. The sociological research says that Baby Boomers and Busters donít carry their share of the churchís financial responsibilities. I donít believe that is true at Woodmont Hills, for I know there are young couples with children in this church whose first budget item is their tithe to the Lord.
By the way, did you hear about the $1-bill and the $100-bill that got folded together in someoneís wallet? The big bill started bragging. "Iíve had a great life," he said. "Iíve been to all the swanky hotels. Donald Trump himself plopped me on the table in one of his casinos. Iíve been in the wallets of Fortune 500 board members and have flown first-class from one coast of the United States to the other several times!" In awe and respect, the dollar bill replied humbly: "Wow! Nothing like that has ever happened to me. But I have been to church a lot."
Prophesying and teaching are special gifts from the Holy Spirit. Prophecy is the ability to speak Godís word to the moment. It is the special gift of having the right word to say at difficult times. It is as if God can shed light right into your dark corner when that person speaks to your situation. Teaching isnít quite the same as prophecy, though the two are certainly related. Teaching is likely the commoner gift of being able to take people into the Bible in a systematic way. It is the gift of being able to make biblical themes clear and intelligible to people who want to see the big picture of Godís working across time to save his human creatures.
Then there is leadership. It is the ability a certain percentage of people have been given to inspire the rest of us. This spiritual gift involves the ability to visualize future possibilities, to work under pressure, and to generate results. Spiritual leaders have a passionate concern for what is right, for what will honor the Lord.
The church is the family of God, and the call of God on each of our lives is to fill our role in the family. I canít do your part. You arenít responsible for mine. Together we supply our parts, and God makes the body function as a healthy organism.
If you know your niche for serving God in this church, God bless you! Stay at it. If you donít quite know how to "plug in" yet, let some of us lead you into the discovery of your gift and how it can serve this body of believers. If you still need more time for healing, nobody is going to tell you to walk on your broken legs. But one of the sure signs that you are healing will be the stirring of your heart to find a place to minister. Donít fight that urge when it begins to surface.
The one role we donít encourage anyone to accept for yourself is "spectator."
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