This article was written to accompany the ‘The Church‘ hangout.
- In what ways do you see individualism exalted in contemporary church?
- Are there ways this individualism creeps into the church?
‘God Is All I Need’?
It is a common mantra in today’s church to claim that ‘God is all I need’. There is certainly a good sentiment behind such words, exalting the sufficiency of God for salvation and for life, and echoes of verses such as: “My grace is sufficient to for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Nevertheless, the Bible would challenge this view with a different perspective.
In Genesis 2, we find a situation described where God has created the first human, Adam. Throughout Genesis 1 God had described his creation using the words ‘good’ and ‘very good’. Now, Adam has been placed in the Garden of Eden to work and to keep that garden. He has beautiful surroundings, a meaningful task, and most significantly he has God. If it were true that ‘God is all we need’, then Adam would be in an ideal situation, but instead, we read God expressing a negative view of something for the first time. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18) God was not all that Adam needed: he also needed to be in a community with other people.
The same idea is also expressed in the New Testament. The church is described as the body of Christ, with Jesus being the head. Individually, each of us is a member of that body, but we need both the other body members and the head in order to thrive. To suggest that God is all that we need is, in effect, claiming that we do not need those people that God has put around us, yet Paul specifically instructs us not to do this. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:21) We need God. We also need one another.
In the New Testament, there are many occasions that a command is given in the form ‘______ one another’.
- Try to think of as many examples as you can of this kind of verse.
The church is a community of people that need each other. We are better together. The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
John Piper expresses the idea this way:
“Everybody needs people, because God has set it up – here’s the key – to get more glory through a church and its interaction than through solitary little isolated individuals all over the world sending up their little prayers of praise in solitary closets and never getting anything from anybody, never giving anything to anybody. ‘Just me and God, totally satisfied, and you don’t exist. I’ve just got God, and that’s all I need.’
God looked at that possible world and said, ‘No, not a good idea. I will create an organic thing called, first of all, humanity, rooted in Adam as a covenant head. And then within that I will create a new people, rooted in Jesus Christ. And it will have many members. And these members are members one of another. And they all are channelling grace.’” (John Piper)
The Body of Christ
In a number of different New Testament passages (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:1-16; 1 Peter 4:7-11), the church is described as a body with Christ as the head. In each case, the point is made that individual members have different gifts and make different contributions, yet the whole church holds together as one.
A key verse in understanding this is, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7) It is worth dwelling on a few of the ideas in this verse.
‘To each…’ – This important phrase decentralises ministry from a chosen few to the entire body of Christ. Spiritual gifts are given to each person in the church, and this means that everybody has a part to play.
THINK IT THROUGH
Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-13
- Do you think it is possible for people who are not Christians to have spiritual gifts? Try to find evidence in the text.
‘…is given the manifestation of the Spirit’ – The spiritual gifts that we have are gifts from God. They are not things that we can take credit for or take pride in, but rather they are ways that the Holy Spirit is making his presence known through us.
- Is there a difference between spiritual gifts and natural talents? Why/why not? Is there any overlap?
- Is it possible to ‘get better’ at our spiritual gifts through training and practice? Why/why not?
‘…for the common good’ – The purpose of God giving the gifts is not for the benefit of the individual, but for the church as a whole. We can often approach the gifts individualistically by trying to discern which gifts we personally possess, but it would be much more accurate to assert that we have all of the gifts, as God has given them to members of our local church and we all share in the benefits that they bring.
In 1 Corinthians 12:14-26, Paul furthers this point. With reference to a physical body, he points out how ludicrous it would be if one member was to think of itself as either superior or inferior to others. There is no place for ego or for jealousy but rather for working together, each bringing the gifts that God has given us such that the whole church will be blessed.
Read 1 Corinthians 13
- Why do you think Paul has inserted this chapter in the middle of his teaching about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14? What issues surrounding the use of the gifts in Corinth was he attempting to address by doing so?
The Spiritual Gifts
In the Bible, there are several lists of spiritual gifts, and though there is a lot of commonality between them, they are not identical. Because of this, it is safe to conclude that none of the lists were designed to be the definitive list to which nothing could be added, but they were rather a collection of prominent examples. These lists can be synthesised into a combined list, discussed below, and it may be possible that there are other spiritual gifts beyond those listed.
Prophecy (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Eph. 4:11) – The gift of prophecy is the ability to speak on God’s behalf through receiving supernatural revelations. These could take the form of words or pictures, and a New Testament example of somebody with this gift was Agabus (see Acts 21:10-12), who prophesied that Paul would be imprisoned if he were to go to Jerusalem. Prophecy was to be used for the good of the whole congregation, “The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” (1 Corinthians 14:3) Whilst prophecy is helpful, it must be weighed to check that it is truly from God. “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21) This would involve considering how consistent the prophecy is with scripture, how helpful to the congregation, and how credible the prophet is (see Matthew 7:15-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:29, 37).
Service/Helping (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Pet. 4:11) – This gift is very practical and involves working hard to meet practical needs, and often involves collaborating with others in order to help them complete a task. A New Testament example of somebody with the gift of service is Persis, “who has worked hard in the Lord.” (Romans 16:12).
Teaching (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 4:11) – The teaching gift is about explaining truth to others in ways that are clear and easily applicable. It can involve teaching a congregation (preaching), a small group or on a one-to-one basis. Having some measure of a teaching gift is a pre-requisite for a person becoming an elder (see 1 Timothy 3:2). New Testament examples of teachers include Priscilla and Aquila, who “took him (Apollos) aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26)
Exhortation (Rom. 12:8) – This is sometimes translated ‘encouragement’, and involves spurring others on in their faith. A prominent New Testament example was Barnabas, whose very named means ‘Son of Encouragement’ (see Acts 4:36).
Generosity (Rom. 12:8) – The gift of generosity means being willing to give abundantly. This will tend to have a financial element to it, but will also include being generous with possessions, home, and time amongst other things. This gift was possessed by Tabitha, who was “full of good works and acts of charity.” (Acts 9:36)
Leadership (Rom. 12:8) – The gift of leadership involves inspiring and equipping others in the pursuit of a God-given vision. Biblical leadership differs from worldly leadership, in that it is not about rank or prestige but about servanthood (see Mark 10:42-45). An example of somebody with this gift was James, who steered the church through a contentious issue in Acts 15 by bringing clear leadership and authority into the situation.
Mercy (Rom. 12:8) – The gift of mercy allows a person to feel particular compassion and empathy for those who are struggling, and to support and care for them in their need. A good example is Luke, who was the only one to stay with Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome (see 2 Timothy 4:11).
Utterance of Wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8) – This gift is the supernatural ability to speak with insight into people’s lives and situations that is not immediately obvious to everybody. An example of this is Jesus himself, when he was presented with a seemingly lose-lose question about paying taxes, and was able to give the response, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
Utterance of Knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8) – Someone with this gift will receive pieces of knowledge from God that could not have been known to them in any other way. Examples include people’s names, life situations, and often specifics of medical conditions. Again, Jesus provides an excellent example as he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” (John 4:17-18)
Faith (1 Cor. 12:9) – The gift of faith is a particularly strong trust in God to do what he has said, even when this seems difficult or impossible. Stephen had this gift, and is described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 6:5)
Healing (1 Cor. 12:9, 28) – This is the supernatural ability to physically heal people in Jesus’ name. Peter and John showed this gift as they instructed a beggar by the temple to, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) Elders in churches are instructed to pray for people under their care that they would be healed (see James 5:14).
Miracles (1 Cor. 12:10, 28) – This gift enables people to perform supernatural signs of various kinds that reveal the power of God. Paul had this spiritual gift and it is written that, “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12)
Distinguishing between Spirits (1 Cor. 12:10) – Also known as discernment, people with this gift are able to supernaturally perceive the involvement of God (and his angels) or of Satan (and his demons) in an event, situation or person. Peter showed this gift when he rebuked Ananias for lying to the church about the proceeds from selling property. “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?” (Acts 5:3)
Speaking in Tongues (1 Cor. 12:10, 28) – The gift of tongues allows a person to praise God in other languages. These are sometimes human languages (see Acts 2:6) and sometimes angelic languages (see 1 Cor. 13:1). Paul states that he himself possesses this gift. “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” (1 Corinthians 14:18)
Interpretation of Tongues (1 Cor. 12:10, 30) – When a word is brought in tongues in a public setting, it is not a blessing for those hearing unless they can understand it. The gift of interpretation shares what was brought in a tongue with everybody else present. “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret.” (1 Corinthians 14:13)
Apostles (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11) – The gift of apostleship is about leading the advance of the gospel into new areas. People with this gift serve as fathers to local churches and spearheads to church planting movements, particularly in unreached areas. Some have argued that part of the ministry of apostles is the writing of Scripture, and whilst many of the early apostles did this, it does not correspond with the office as many apostles did not write Scripture, and others wrote scripture who cannot personally claim apostolic authority (e.g. Mark, Luke, Jude and probably the author of Hebrews). The Canon of Scripture is closed, and being an apostle does not authorise anybody to add to it. There are many Biblical examples of apostles, for instance, Peter (see 1 Peter 1:1) and Paul, Silas, and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:6, see also 1:1).
Administrating (1 Cor. 12:28) – This gift is about organising people, communities and events. It includes a keen eye for detail and an ability to enable things to run smoothly. The seven men appointed as deacons in Jerusalem in Acts 6 possessed this gift.
Evangelism (Eph. 4:11) – The gift of evangelism gives a person supernatural fruitfulness in sharing their faith with other people. An example of this is Philip, who is described as “Philip the evangelist” (Acts 21:8).
Shepherding (Eph. 4:11) – Shepherding is about caring for people pastorally. People with this gift are good at showing compassion for others, guiding them forwards in their walk with Christ, and providing them with godly counsel. This gift is seen in John’s writing, for example, consider how he addresses his readers in this verse, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)
- Would you agree with the way the gifts are defined above? What changes (if any) would you make to these definitions?
- For each of the gifts, consider which people in your church community possess that gift. Why not let them know that you see that gift in them?
Worshipping as the Body of Christ
THINK IT THROUGH
- Is the contemporary idea of a ‘worship leader’ a Biblical one? Justify your answer.
The answer to the above question would vary depending on how the role of a ‘worship leader’ is defined.
It would be wrong to place on the shoulders of a singer with a guitar the responsibility of bringing a congregation into God’s presence. Jesus has already done this decisively and has given us free access to the throne room of heaven. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near…” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Further, this process of ‘drawing near’ should not be seen as the responsibility of a ‘worship leader’ either. They can certainly help, but it is by the Holy Spirit that a congregation draws near to God. The discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, particularly with view to the ‘manifestation of the Spirit’, seems to be primarily focussed on public gatherings. Worship is led by the Holy Spirit giving manifestations of himself to members of the body. The role of the elders anchoring the meeting, supported by the musicians (and ‘worship leaders’), is to create space for this and help people respond to what the Spirit does.
This is elaborated upon in much more detail in 1 Corinthians 14, with a detailed discussion of the use of spiritual gifts in public meetings. “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26)
THINK IT THROUGH
Read 1 Corinthians 14.
What are some of the guiding principles for the following issues surrounding the use of gifts in public meetings?
- Orderly worship
- Sensitivity towards outsiders
- Public speaking in tongues
- Public use of prophecy
The reason that God gives people different gifts and different ministries is to build up the church. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
- Do you believe that spiritual gifts are always permanent, or might somebody be given a gift for a particular moment or for a season? Can you support your answer Biblically, and from your own experience?
- In some circles, the idea of ‘church online’ is becoming more prominent? Do you think the idea of being the body of Christ can work in this way? Why/why not?
- Ephesians 4:7 says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”How does this verse speak into our understanding of spiritual gifts? Are you using your gifts in accordance with the measure you have been given?