Summary: The church is defined, shaped and equipped with the gifts necessary to help the church to grow.
When your favorite athletic team takes the floor or the field, all the players are dressed alike. But, no one considers this a liability. And it isn't. Their being dressed alike is one indication that they are a team and that they have a common purpose. However, if you look closely, you will see a different number on each uniform. And besides that, the players will have different skills and will play different positions. That's the way it is with successful athletic teams, and that's the way it is with the church, too.
In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul presented a compelling case for church unity. Perhaps some of Paul's critics, ancient and modern, would raise a protest: "What a smothering climate! I'd choke in such a church! If everyone fits into the same mold, where is spiritual freedom? This borders on tyranny."
Paul realized as we do, however, that genuine unity is an asset, not a liability. Whether it be a family, a corporation, an athletic team, or a church, the group that has its act together and that is together has a better chance of success. Athletic teams with a winning tradition speak glowingly of team unity.
Only when discord strikes does the team come apart at the seams.
Take any of the examples just mentioned, though ... family, corporation, athletic team, church. In each case, it's the variety as well as the unity that brings success. In each case, people with differing skills and differing gifts are needed. A basketball team made up entirely of seven-footers who could dunk the ball and snare rebounds at will but couldn't dribble would be impressive, but only before the game began. The opening tip-off would signal the beginning of their downfall.
Paul contends that variety is needed, and provided for, in the church. What creates such variety? Spiritual gifts! "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (4:7). What does Paul say about spiritual gifts?
Gifts Define The Church
Gifts of Grace
As we think of spiritual gifts let me begin with some disclaimers. Spiritual gifts are not personal merit badges of achievement like in the boy scouts. Spiritual gifts are not trophies for meritorious service, like the gold watch you get when you retire after a lifetime of service to the company. Spiritual gifts are not church awards given to someone after achieving perfect attendance or teaching a class for several years.
Spiritual gifts are also not a thermometer to register the temperature of the spiritually elite. People have contended that this or that gift, such as speaking in tongues, is the supreme gift of the Spirit. Therefore, since they themselves just happen to have that gift, they should be considered to be the spiritually elite people.
Spiritual gifts are not given to divide or to rank the people of God. They have a much more noble purpose than that. Spiritual gifts are grace-gifts. The Sprit gives these gifts to us; we cannot possibly earn them.
Personal Gifts For Corporate Use
If Christ gives gifts to the church for its mission, how does He do it? He does it through giving gifts to the members of the body called church. This is the only way to endow the church with gifts. All the gifts are given to build up the church, to help it realize its potential value and mission. They are not given for personal enhancement. They exist solely to edify and magnify the church.
When a popular vocalist was interviewed on national television, the interviewer asked him how he became interested in music. He stated that he sang in the church choir at the age of seven and discovered his gift of music. So he took the gift into the entertainment world and used it to become wealthy .... at least before he went bankrupt.
When Paul speaks of gifts, he is talking about using those gifts to build up the church. Gifts are not provided to enable you to gain personal or commercial advantage.
Given To All
Paul says that "each of us" has been given a gift (4:7). The Spirit did not overlook or neglect anyone.
You may say, "God obviously overlooked me when he passed out the gifts. I am not gifted to do anything special. I am just a plain ordinary person."
Listen: You were not overlooked! You simply have not discovered or acknowledged your gift. You await one of the greatest moments of your life, the minute you discover your gift or gifts. Dr. Frank Stagg, New Testament professor at Southern Seminary stated years ago, "No one has all the gifts, but all have at least one gift."
Some people think that just because someone is ordained as a minister or a deacon, that person has all the gifts. This simply is not true. Ordination rests on the recognition of a person's giftedness for ministry, but ordination never was intended to declare that the candidate possesses all the gifts. Expecting one person to have all the gifts is totally unreasonable.