Yesterday I wrote about Satan's Great Desire which is to bring about disunity in your local church, somehow convincing you that the people in your church are no longer worthy of your love. I ended by giving the encouragement that God has equipped us to build and maintain this kind of unity and that all we need to do is use the tools he has equipped us with. How has he equipped us? According to Ephesians 4, he has given each of us a spiritual gift that is to be used to build unity through service to one another.
This area of spiritual gifting is noticeably Christ-centered and along the way Paul makes three big points:
First, Christ is the giver of gifts. Paul goes all the way back to Psalm 68 and shows that this Psalm speaks of the resurrected Jesus giving gifts to the people he loves. These aren't gifts wrapped in paper that we can open and put on display, but gifts in the form of abilities we possess. Christ doesn't toss these gifts out to Christians in a random way, but thoughtfully and deliberately gives a gift to each person as he sees fit. Christ has a plan in giving out these gifts. He is the one who determines who will receive each gift and how much of that gift each person and each community of Christians will receive.
Second, Christ gives gifts that are diverse. If we look throughout the whole New Testament we'll find several lists of these gifts and when we put them together we find that there are at least 20 of them; there are undoubtedly many more than the ones listed. What we see is that Christ gives out diverse gifts. In this letter Paul gives a partial list and one that focuses specifically on teaching. Some Christians are given gifts of teaching and here he lists apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. The job of these teachers is not to do all the ministry or to use all the gifts, but to shepherd and teach and equip every Christian to use his own gift. These teachers are to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Why? So each one can then use his gift in a fuller, more comprehensive way.
Third, Christ's gifts are given to bring unity through service. Paul makes a surprising statement here. He says that I am not the minister of my church; neither are the other pastors. Who are the ministers? Everyone is! The pastors are the shepherds, the equippers, the leaders, but we are all ministers. We are to do this work together.
There are profound implications to this. This brings into focus a passage like Titus 2 which instructs older women to disciple younger women—to do that work of ministry. Your pastors simply cannot disciple young women to love their husbands and children nearly as well as some of the older women can. So we need older women to do that work of ministry! Now we see that the work of visiting those who are sick or caring for those who are in need is the job of each one of us. We are all to minister to one another.
This leads us to one important application: You need to plant yourself in a local church. Why? Because you need the gifts of the Christians there and they need your gifts. There is a church that is incomplete without you and you are incomplete without that church. You do not have all that you need, all that is necessary for your growth in holiness.
Each of us needs to learn how the Lord has gifted us and each of us then needs to use our gifts to minister to one another. How do we learn how we are gifted? We serve! We just do the work of the ministry, whether that is setting up and cleaning up or visiting people in hospital or making meals or doing one-on-one discipleship, and we allow the Lord to reveal our strengths and open up opportunities. In your church you may find that you have teachers and evangelists, encouragers and discerners and servers and so many others. And that's perfect because I'm sure you then also have people there who need to be served and people who lack discernment or people who are desperate for encouragement or people who need to respond to the gospel. The Lord has made it so that each of us has a gift designed to serve the people around us.