22.4.18 – God Is Able And I Am Willing – Peter Cheyne

One definition of grace is: God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

One thing that is very obvious, when we read the Bible, is that very often people do what they are not capable of. Very often, God uses very ordinary people – people from humble beginnings or people who felt inadequate. We could list dozens of examples. It seems that God’s prefers to work through very ordinary people. God did what the person himself/herself could not have done.

Think of Moses – born to oppressed Jewish slaves in Egypt; a murderer who had to flee the country. And think of all his excuses when God called him: Who am I to do this? What if they don’t believe me? What if they don’t listen to me? What if they deny that You have spoken to me? I am not a good speaker. And then, when he had run out of excuses, he just said, “Please send someone else.” You know, in that story, Moses never actually said that he would do what God was asking him to do. It simply ends with God getting angry and telling Moses, “You will do it.” Moses was neither able nor willing.

And yet, God used Him in what was perhaps the biggest miracle the world has ever seen other than the resurrection – the parting of the Red Sea and the deliverance of the whole nation of Israel out of Egypt. Think of all the other miracles performed in Egypt or while traveling through the desert.

Moses didn’t have a lot of natural ability or qualifications but what spiritual gifts would you say God gave him? Maybe leadership, miracles, intercession… Grace: God did what Moses couldn’t.

Think of David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons and a shepherd – so insignificant that, when the prophet Samuel arrived to anoint the next king, no one thought to even invite David to the occasion. The rest of the family was there! Not David! And yet he became the greatest king Israel ever saw.

Did God give the shepherd boy supernatural (beyond the natural) abilities? Maybe faith, leadership (especially military success), wisdom, humility…

Think of the disciples. There was a bunch of losers if ever there was one – slow to understand, slow to believe, self-centred, always saying the wrong things, uneducated tradesmen. And yet, they did incredible things and became the foundation on which the church was built.

Think of the disciples when there was a crowd of 5000 hungry men. Jesus told them to feed the crowd. They had absolutely no idea what to do. They failed but Jesus still used them. The bread and fish multiplied in their hands. How exciting! Did they expect that? No way! God did what they couldn’t.

Think of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Did they go into that day thinking, “Right! Here’s the plan. We’ll take advantage of the crowd in Jerusalem right now. How about we get their attention by all speaking in different languages that we have never learnt and then Peter will preach this amazing sermon; they will be convicted; we will call them to repent and be baptised. Without a doubt, thousands will repent and we will start a church that will grow and spread to every nation”? Did they have that sort of confidence in their own ability? They had no standing, no ability but thousands were converted and the church was born and did spread throughout the world. Grace: God did what they couldn’t.

Most of us are fairly ordinary people. Could God do things through us that we cannot do ourselves? Maybe that is a hard question because we see these things in the Bible but not in our experience. We hear about Christianity exploding in the third world and amazing things happen. But not in New Zealand. Do we have any expectation of God working in power in our place?

In the Bible, spiritual gifts are called “grace gifts”, “charismata”. Through the grace gifts, God enables people to do what they could not do by themselves. As we have seen, over the last few weeks, God gives some spiritual gift, or gifts, to each Christian – to every member of the body (Rom 12:5-6; 1 Cor 12:7-11, 13). God enables every Christian with some sort of ability that is not natural for that person. Some are very dramatic gifts, like healing or prophecy, or miracles. Some are not, like maybe hospitality or wisdom or helping. Nevertheless, when a spiritual gift is used, there is the recognition that God is at work.

What did Jesus say about spiritual gifts? Nothing! Well, that’s not quite true! He didn’t label them “spiritual gifts” but He modelled the use of a wide range of spiritual gifts and He expected people to imitate Him. He gave the disciples authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. He used them to distribute the bread and fish to the crowd of 5000. When He washed the disciples’ feet, was Jesus exercising the spiritual gift of serving, that is, serving in a God-empowered, life-changing way? Yes? And then He told the disciples to do exactly the same thing.

In Matthew 19, Jesus seems to say that some people are gifted by God to be celibate.

But there is much more obvious teaching from Jesus.

John 14:12          Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

That is a mind-boggling verse, but let’s not let our boggled minds prevent us from listening to what Jesus said.

“Very truly I tell you…” Jesus is absolutely emphasising this. Listen up! This is important!

“All who have faith in me”. This is true of every Christian. The only requirement is faith.

“will do the works that I have been doing”. According to Jesus, every person who has faith will do the same sorts of things He did. That might boggle our minds if it isn’t our regular experience but it does seem clear, doesn’t it, that Jesus’ expectation was that His followers would do the same things He had done. And you know what? His followers did do the same things.

“and even greater things than these”. Oh my goodness! If doing what Jesus did is mind-boggling, doing even greater things is… I don’t know what it is! Can we even take it seriously? The general understanding, I think, is that Jesus is talking about the church as a whole, spread throughout the world. More would be done than He was able to do, limited to one location and a short time. If that is the case, again the expectation is that the church will be doing the sorts of things that Jesus did.

“Because I am going to the Father”. That’s odd! You will do these things because I am going to the Father. That could mean that Jesus’ ministry was being passed to the church. “I won’t be here so the mantle is passed to you.”

Or it could mean that Jesus’ going to the Father would occasion the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. A lot of John 14, 15 and 16 (i.e. the context of John 14:12) is about the Holy Spirit.

John 16:7            But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [or, the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

This is the key to the whole thing. Can we do what Jesus did? Or what Moses, David, or the Apostles did? No. Can the Holy Spirit? Can the Holy Spirit still do these same thing? Is God still capable of touching people’s lives in powerful ways? Is God still capable of healing? Is God still capable of giving someone just the right words for the occasion – words that heal or words that encourage or words that convict?

Jesus also said,

Acts 1:8               You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Christians, you will receive Holy Spirit power enabling you to be part of God’s mission to the world.

Let’s finish with an example. READ Acts 6:1-8. [Go to next slide i.e. vv.1-4]

Who on earth was Stephen? He pops up out of nowhere. All we know is that he was a disciple. When there was a dispute about the Greek widows missing out in the distribution of food, the Twelve had to find a solution. Should they distribute food? No! That was not what God had called them to or gifted them for. Their ministry was different. This is what the body is about – different parts with different functions. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” They could do it. It might even have been easier that teaching the scriptures but it was not what God had called them to, and it would be wrong for them to do it.

So, what qualifications did they look for in those who would distribute this food? Did they need to have a driver’s licence? Did they need to be wealthy or educated? Did they need a diploma? Were they high-profile in the church? No. They needed to be disciples; they needed to be followers of Jesus. They needed to be men. I am not at all sure why that was because lots of women exercise various ministries in the scriptures. But for some reason, God wanted men for this role. More importantly, the church was to look for men “full of the Spirit and wisdom”.

This was a welfare, or pastoral care, role. All it entailed was distributing food to needy widows. Surely anybody can do that. I guess, on one level, anybody could do that but the Apostles said, “No, this is not just a job; this is a ministry. To minister in the name of Jesus, people need to be filled with the Spirit and, for this role, they need wisdom. And so, seven godly men were chosen.

The result was rather surprising! Look at v.7. So, the word of God spread; the number of disciples increased rapidly and many priests were converted. How does that result from this food distribution plan? Maybe the word of God spread because the Apostles were freed to focus on that. But maybe it also spread rapidly because these meals-on-wheels men were spreading it. They were talking as they went from house to house. That is the value of the body working well. That is the value of having Spirit-empowered people, suitably gifted, engaged in the ministries that God has called them to.

Clearly, Stephen did far more than just deliver food. He was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit but v.8 also described him as being “full of God’s grace and power” and performing great wonders and signs.

As far as we can tell, they were just ordinary people who had faith in Jesus and were filled with the Spirit. Nothing in this passage tell us that Stephen was powerful or influential. Was he capable of great signs and wonders? No, he was full of God’s grace and power. He was full of God doing what He could not do.

In all of these instances, the ability came from God. When Moses said, “I can’t”, God said, “But I can. Are you willing?” Moses wasn’t willing. God proved His power through the various signs that He showed Moses, but still Moses wasn’t willing to be God’s servant – until the very end. He was very slow to yield to God but look at how God used him, when he did. God works through very ordinary people who are willing to trust Him and willing to be used by Him.

I think this raises two questions for us. Do we believe that God is able? This is a question of faith. Do we believe that God is able? It is not a question of our ability. God isn’t asking if we are able. He knows we are not able. Our ability is not the point. Grace is about God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The first question is: Do we believe that God is able?

But God does ask us the second question: Are we willing? Are we willing to let God work through us? If God said, “I want to give you the spiritual gift of leadership” could you say, “Lord, I am available. Use me. I have no idea about leadership but I hear you saying You will enable me. OK, use me.” Or, if He wants to give you the gift of healing, are you able to say, “I cannot heal but you can. OK, I am willing for you to do that”? What are your answers to those two questions?

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8.4.18 – Whatever You’ve Got, Use It – Peter Cheyne

If you can remember back far enough, you will know that we were looking at the concept of the church as a body. There are many aspects of that including that, the way God has designed the church, there is great unity There is one body. But there is also great diversity. There are many part in the body – many different parts. The passages that talk about the body, talk about those parts as being different spiritual gifts. Every Christian has some spiritual gifts that God has determined and God has given. And so there are all sorts of skills and abilities within a church. Some people have certain abilities. Other people have other abilities. When you combine all of those different abilities, the church can do heap of things.

No one individual can do everything. Everybody is required. We all need each other. And each of us is needed because God has designed this church and put in it who He wants to. So, He knows you; He knows what gifts He has given you and He knows how He wants your gifts to be part of the unique mix of this church. There are no redundant parts in the body. Every person is significant.

We defined spiritual gifts as any God-given ability through which God wants to work supernaturally and repeatedly.

Having had all of that introduction, over several weeks, we are getting a lot closer to thinking about our own gifts and discovering what they are. But we are not quite there yet.

First, I want to suggest that knowing and using your spiritual gifts is not optional. It is commanded. If you are thinking this is interesting but you are not planning on doing anything about it, listen to what the Bible says.

1 Peter 4:10-11   10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Someone might say, “Well, that just talks about gifts, not specifically spiritual gifts. So, maybe Peter is just saying I should use my time, or my money, or my natural abilities – other things God has given me. I’m not really comfortable with spiritual things. I’m happier with the physical. I’ll set out the chairs. I’ll provide food. I’ll arrange flowers. And it doesn’t say I must use my gifts, only that I should.”

By all means see this as referring to everything God has given you. By all means, use everything to serve others. But notice that it says to be a faithful steward – a faithful manager – of God’s grace in all its forms. If God has been generous in any way, then use that to serve other and bring glory to God. But if it is God’s grace in all its forms, then that includes spiritual gifts. Being a faithful steward of God’s grace means using your spiritual gifts. And notice it talks about “speaking the very words of God” and “serving with the strength God provides.” Peter is definitely talking about spiritual things. This is serving in a God-inspired, God-empowered, Holy Spirit way.

If this person thinks this is only a should, not a must, he should read…

1 Corinthians 14:1      Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

That is a command. Eagerly desire spiritual gifts. Are you eagerly desiring spiritual gifts? Here’s how to answer that question. Are you praying about it regularly? Are you watching people who are using their spiritual gifts and seeking their help in discerning and using your gifts? Are you experimenting so as to discover how God wants to use you?

This is not optional. God’s people are expected to – commanded to – eagerly desire spiritual gifts.

READ Romans 12:3-8

What do you see in that passage – maybe things we have talked about in previous weeks; maybe something about whether using our spiritual gifts is optional?

  • Our bodies are one but are made up of many members with diverse functions
  • Likewise, in Christ, we are many and diverse (in terms of having different gifts) but we form one body
  • Each member belongs to all of the others.
  • Eight gifts are listed
  • For each one, Paul says, “If this is your gift, use it. In fact, use it very well – according to the measure of faith you have, generously, diligently, cheerfully.
  • Don’t try to do something else. Don’t try to pretend you are gifted at something when you are not; do what God is calling you to do and has gifted you to do.

The use of our spiritual, gifts is not optional. The Bible says, “Whatever your gift, use it!”

How do you feel about that? Do you think, “No problem. I am already using my spiritual gifts”? Or do you think, “This is really exciting. I’m keen”? Or do you think it is a bit frightening – something you are unsure of or intimidated by?

There is something I would like us now to work on in groups. I have printed off 12 Bible passages that talk about the purpose of spiritual gifts. I would like you to please firstly identify the purpose and then put them into 3 or 4 categories. In other words, put similar ones together and then name that category with whatever it is that makes them similar.

Get feedback on the categories that groups have decided on.

Question: What do those purposes say about whether using our gifts is optional?

The passages

1 Corinthians 12:7

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

1 Corinthians 14:2, 4

2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit… Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

1 Corinthians 14:3-4

3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

1 Corinthians 14:5

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

1 Corinthians 14:12

So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

1 Corinthians 14:18-19

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. 

1 Corinthians 14:24-25

24 But if an unbeliever or an enquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’

1 Corinthians 14:26

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Ephesians 4:11-12

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:16

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

1 Peter 4:10

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

1 Peter 4:11

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

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18.3.18 – When The King’s Away – Peter Cheyne

The following was part of a more interactive service. You will see that it consists largely of qurstins and possible responses. It was based on Luke 19:11-27, the parable of the ten minas

Activity

  1. Select 2 people in the congregation
    1. To one give 10x $10 notes
    2. To the other give 5x $10 notes
    3. Tell both to have the money ready to swap with the people in this exercise if they ask.
      1. The first is to swap only with the first “servant”
      2. The second is to swap only with the second “servant”
    4. They don’t have to make it hard. They can even have the money visible if they choose.
      1. But they should not tell anyone they are doing this prior to the exercise
    5. Select 3 “volunteers”
    6. First volunteer
      1. I will give you $20. I want you to make it work.
      2. There is one person in the congregation who will swap it for $200. Your task is to find that person.
      3. However, there is also one person who, if you ask him/her will take your money off you. (In reality there is no one who will do this.)
      4. If you get the $200, bring it back to me.
    7. Second volunteer
      1. The same as above except that there is a person who will give him/her $100.
    8. Third volunteer
      1. I will give you $20. I want you to make it work.
      2. The idea is that you could find a person who will swap it for much more but there is also the chance of losing it. Therefore, you hide your $20 somewhere.
    9. Wait until the first 2 servants return with their money
      1. Summons all three servants
    10. Ask the first servant how much he/she has gained.
      1. Congratulate him/her
      2. Give him/her a certificate declaring him/her to be mayor of 10 cities.
    11. Ask the second servant how much he/she has gained
      1. Congratulate him/her.
      2. Give him/her a certificate declaring him/her to be mayor of 5 cities
    12. Ask the third servant how much he/she has gained
      1. Ask why?
      2. Condemn him/her.

Bible reading

Next week is Palm Sunday. So today I wanted to do something that reflected Jesus’ journey towards the Cross but not get the sequences wrong. I wanted something that preceded Palm Sunday.

In Luke, the thing immediately prior to the account of Jesus entering Jerusalem is a parable – called the parable of the ten minas. It is very, very similar to the parable of the talents but also significantly different. Listen carefully and have your Bibles open because I am going to ask some questions about it.

A mina is a quantity of money – about 3 month’s wages. In our terms that might be ¼ of the average individual annual income i.e. about $12,000 – so a substantial amount of money.

READ Luke 19:11-27

Reflection

Why did the nobleman give the money to the servants?

  • 13 – put this money to work
  • 15 – accountability “to find out what they had gained with it”
  • They were to be his managers and to make a profit

What sort of man was this nobleman?

  • Trusting – he gave them control of his money
  • Generous – the rewards were great
  • Expected results. Tough. High level of accountability

Why did Jesus include the detail that the servants hated the master?

  • If this is about Christians, surely they don’t.
    • Or do we? Are we still naturally resistant to Jesus?
  • Or is it about mankind, in general? God has been generous to all of us but also expects results. Humans want independence from God.
  • NB Jesus will return as king whether we like it or not.

Why did the third servant do what he did?

  • Fear or failure
  • Or was that just an excuse? Was he lazy or simply disobedient?
    • His fear excuse doesn’t really stack up. Why wasn’t he more afraid of the nobleman?

Was the king too tough on the third servant? The story ends with very harsh language.

  • Our natural inclination is to say “Yes”
    • So, are we saying that Jesus is unjust?
  • A nobleman has a right to expect his servants to do what they have been told to do.
    • Jesus will be judge and can expect His people to do as they have bene told.
    • Otherwise, we are saying that people can disobey God and God must accept it.

What is the significance of the statement “to those who have, more will be given”?

  • People who use what they have will find that God uses them more and more. Those who have bene faithful in little things will receive bigger opportunities.

Why did Jesus tell this story?

  • We are told
    • 11 – because He was nearing Jerusalem and the people thought the Kingdom of God was going to appear now
      • It is not yet. There will be a time when the king is absent.
        • But He expects His servants to faithfully be about His business, doing what they have been told to do.

Why did He tell it just before entering Jerusalem?

  • The king was going away
  • This story is about what we do in this period while the king is away.
    • It is not theory. It is immediately applicable

What are we to be doing while the King is away?

  • Many things. And are we?

What is the one thing that Jesus specifically tells us to do that we are most afraid of?

Does this story say anything about spiritual gifts?

  • We are to use what we have been given
  • We will be accountable for not using them

Resources

Cities

  • Whangarei
  • Auckland
  • Hamilton
  • Tauranga
  • Gisborne
  • Rotorua
  • Napier-Hastings
  • New Plymouth
  • Whanganui
  • Palmerston North

 

  • Wellington
  • Nelson
  • Christchurch
  • Dunedin
  • Invercargill

 

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11.3.18 – Always Serving – Peter Cheyne

I have been embarrassed that we are in Lent – we are approaching Easter – and I have been talking about the church as a body, and about spiritual gifts – which are important but it would be terrible if we didn’t give proper attention to the suffering and victory of Jesus. And Lent is a time to prepare. We shouldn’t just arrive at Easter and think that we can worship appropriately if we haven’t taken some time to prepare.

So, I thought today we might talk about both.

READ John 13:1-17

I am guessing that you think this is going to be a sermon about washing feet, following the example of Jesus. After all, that is what Jesus said: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.” And you are right, in a way. We are to imitate Jesus but I want us to see how Jesus served using a variety of gifts here.

When I say that, something inside of me says, “This is inappropriate. This is an incredibly sombre and holy time and we talk about Jesus using spiritual gifts which seem exciting and fun.

But you know what? I think that internal check indicates that I have a wrong idea about spiritual gifts. Wrongly, I have an impression that spiritual gifts are like party tricks. You know, wouldn’t it be great to go around healing people? Wouldn’t it be fantastic performing miracles and prophesying? Even that unmentionable word “evangelism” would be fun if it was all done in the power of the Holy Spirit and masses of people were converted. But party tricks during the Last Supper? No, it just wasn’t that sort of occasion. Party tricks while Jesus was on trial or being killed? No, it is offensive to think like that.

So, where am I wrong? The spiritual gifts God gives us are not party tricks; they are ways to serve. That is really important for us to understand. Spiritual gifts are not party tricks; they are ways of serving. Jesus kept on serving and ministering to others throughout, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is about serving in the power of God. The fact that Jesus kept on serving, despite facing death, is just incredible. And what He said about washing feet actually is very relevant: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet. Now that I have modelled serving, using the gifts God has given me, you also should serve using the gifts God has given you.”

But was Jesus really using spiritual gifts during this time? On the screen is the list of spiritual gifts that we put together last week. Can you see any there that Jesus exercised in the few verses we read?

  • 1 – knowledge, faith
  • 2 – hospitality???
  • 4-5 – serving
  • 7 – prophecy
  • 8 – wisdom
  • 10 – teaching
  • 11 – discernment
  • 17 – exhortation/encouragement

Might we also say that Jesus exercised the gift of leadership? Pastor (shepherding)?

Let’s read a few more verses. READ John 13:18-20.

Again, there is prophecy there – not just in the sense of knowing what would happen. Jesus said, ‘I am telling you now before it happens.” But it is prophetic in the broader sense of speaking God’s words. As we mentioned last week, Jesus said that He never said anything that came from Himself. He spoke only words that came from His Father. Everything He said was prophetic, including these words. There are some really profound things that He said here.

We also see the pastor’s, or the shepherd’s, heart in the words, “I am telling you this so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” This is the pastor investing in His flock, preparing them. They are going to experience all sorts of grief and doubt and fear and a sense of failure and so many other emotions, but Jesus spent this whole evening – and of course there is lots more that we haven’t read – He spent this whole evening preparing them: ministering to them, teaching, them, serving them. This is the Shepherd caring for the sheep.

We might also see Jesus the evangelist in this verse. His expressed desire is that they believe in Him. Again, His death is going to raise all sorts of questions about who Jesus really was and whether He was still worth believing in and following. But, if they could look back and say, “This happened exactly the way Jesus said it would” that would strengthen their faith – help them to know that Jesus really is the Messiah. Jesus the evangelist is giving them reasons to believe.

Maybe one other gift we see here – actually two other gifts – are in the last five words we read: “the one who sent me”. Jesus was sent, by God, into our world. The literal meaning of an apostle is someone who is sent. And coming from heaven to earth is the ultimate cross-cultural mission.

Maybe I am stretching things a bit further than you are comfortable with. My real point is that, in 20 verses, we can see Jesus ministering in quite a list of ways that match up with the spiritual gifts. Clearly there is nothing party trick’ish about this. It is not showy or contrived. It is just the natural way Jesus operated – always working, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the good of others – for the common good.

We could keep reading. Chapters 13 through to 17 all describe Jesus’ ministry to the disciples powerfully. We would see lots more teaching, comforting, encouraging, pastoring… Think of the words at the beginning of chapter 14: “Do not let your hearts be troubles. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

People have been quoting those words, at funerals, in particular, for twenty centuries. They are words of hope and comfort. Heaven is real; there is a place reserved for you in God’s house. Trust Him.

And there is a whole lot of teaching about the Holy Spirit. Jesus was leaving but He would return – in the person of the Holy Spirit. They would not be left alone like orphans. The Holy Spirit would be their advocate, their comforter, their teacher, the very presence of God with them. The Great Shepherd was preparing His sheep for their whole future.

His pastoral heart is visible when He explains His motivations for ministering to them this way.

  • 13:19 – I am telling you these things so that you will believe. Likewise, in 14:29.
  • 15:11 – I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
  • 17:13 – I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
  • 16:1 – All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.
  • 16:33 – ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’

Do you hear Jesus’ heart in those things?

  • I want you to believe.
  • I want you to have complete joy.
  • I want you to not fall away. You are going to face opposition and danger and temptations and doubts. I am preparing you because I want you to be able to stand.
  • I want you to have peace. There will be trouble but, remember, I am greater; I am victor; I have overcome the world.

Isn’t Jesus the most amazing pastor? Those are the motivations Jesus explicitly stated but we could add others that are very obvious. All of the teaching about the Holy Spirit. I want you to know the constant presence of God, enabling you and helping you in so many ways.

I want you to have hope.

John 16:20-21     Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

The whole of chapter 17 is a prayer for them – and for us. Jesus no doubt exercising His gift of intercession. (So, there’s another gift.)

What if we added material from the other gospels? What if we carried on and studied the deep, deep prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where, incidentally, Jesus performed a miraculous healing, putting back on the chopped off ear of the High priest’s servant? (There’s another gift.) What if we looked at how Jesus conducted Himself throughout His trial and the Crucifixion itself? We would see on-going, Holy Spirit-led, supernatural faithfulness and serving.

In the passages about spiritual gifts there are a number of verses explaining the purpose of the gifts. We might look at this more fully again in the future but very briefly now, there are three purposes. The most general statement is in 1 Corinthians 12:7: The Holy Spirit gives these gifts “for the common good”. They are not just for us as individuals. They are for the good of everyone.

  1. They are not just for us as individuals but we can benefit from their use.

1 Corinthians 14:2 says that those who speak in tongues, speak to God. Tongues are a way to pray. And v.4 says that those who speak in tongues edify themselves. There is some personal value. The individual grows and is built up.

But 1 Corinthians is very clear that those gifts that serve others are far more valuable. Personal growth, sure, fine, but the far bigger purpose is to serve others. We might say that Jesus’ pray in the Garden of Gethsemane was for His own comfort and He needed that time with His Father to come to the point of submission and faith. No problem with that but it is also apparent that Jesus spent a lot more time focusing on the disciples and preparing them.

  1. The gifts are intended to build up the church.

That is both bringing unbelievers to faith – 1 Corinthians 14:28-29 talks about sinners being brought to conviction when they experience God through these gifts – and growing believers. Various passages talk about encouraging, strengthening, comforting, equipping God’s people, the church growing up as each part does its work.

That is what we see in Jesus right through this time before His death – building up the church, encouraging, strengthening, comforting.

  1. The gifts are given so as to bring God glory.

1 Peter 4:11        [use your gifts] with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our model. Spiritual gifts are not party tricks. They are not even, primarily for our own benefit although there are benefits. What Jesus models is a constant use of God-given ability to build up the church – both bringing people into the church and strengthening and maturing the church – always wanting to bring glory to God. Jesus was always serving – even in the face of death.

Jesus, we want to be like You. We want to minister to other like that. We want to bring glory to God.

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4.3.18 – What Are These Spiritual Gifts? – Peter Cheyne

The Bible portrays the church as a body. There are many lessons that can be drawn from that image but two words that crop up a lot are “one” and “many”. There is one body made up of many parts. We have focused to some degree on the one – the unity of the body – but let’s turn to the many.

What are the many parts that the Bible refers to? The body passages talk about the diversity of spiritual gifts and, therefore, the diversity of ministries within the church. Different kinds of gifts… different kinds of service… different kinds of working (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

I am sure you will remember too that these passages say that God has given to every Christian some gift, or gifts. Every one of us, assuming we have come to faith in Jesus, has at least one of these gifts. Do you know what yours are?

Today we are not going to identify our individual gifts but simply list the gifts the Bible talks about. Having said that, of course, it might be that as we talk about them, it becomes obvious to you that God has given you a certain gift. Or you might realise that someone else obviously has some gift.

The main passages that list spiritual gifts are Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12 although there are others. Let’s read them and identify the gifts as they occur. When you hear a gift mentioned, repeat it. So, if the reading mentions prophecy”, call out “prophecy” and Zheng will press the right key on the computer and hopefully that gift will come up on the screen.

READ Romans 12:3-8

Prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, mercy

READ 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-31

Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues

Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administration, tongues, interpretation

What about other passages? We have looked at Ephesians 4:11-12 recently. It talks about gifts that Jesus gives to the church but then lists five roles rather than gifts. In other words, it talks about the people and their ministries rather than the gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Three of those are listed as gifts in other passages and we can assume that God enables people for those roles with the relevant gifts. So we can almost certainly add evangelists and pastors.

READ 1 Peter 4:9-11

Is hospitality a gift? Hmm, it is not clear. It doesn’t say so; it is just that it is in the verse before Peter talks about using our gifts. Really he talks in somewhat general terms – of speaking and serving, so there are perhaps a number of gifts that fall under each of those headings – speaking gifts and serving gifts.

1 Corinthians 13 is obviously in the same context as 1 Corinthians 12. There Paul repeats a number of the gifts already mentioned but he adds two: voluntary poverty so as to give to the poor, and martyrdom (giving my body to be burned).

In Ephesians 3:8-9 Paul talks about his having been given the grace gift of preaching the gospel to Gentiles. That could refer to the gift of evangelism or it is specifically about cross-cultural evangelism – in other words, mission work.

1 Corinthians 7:7-8 suggests that celibacy is a spiritual gift. Jesus may also have said that celibacy is a gift, in Matthew 19.

Exodus 31:1-5     Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘See I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.

So, Holy Spirit-enabled craftsmanship. What about physical strength? Samson had supernatural strength. It clearly wasn’t natural because, without the Holy Spirit, he was weak.

What about music? I am not aware of any biblical text that specifically talks about music being a spiritual gift or a result of a person being Holy Spirit empowered. But there are a lot of skilled musicians in the Bible: David, the musicians in the Temple etc. It is certainly possible that many of them were Holy Spirit enabled. We will come back to that in a minute.

What about intercession (prayer)? Again, I am not aware of any verse that says it is a spiritual gift but there are certain people in scripture who are exceptional pray-ers, e.g. Epaphras (Col 4:12).

How many gifts are there? It is interesting that there is no definitive list. There are various incomplete lists and a lot of overlap between them. It seems that the lists just give examples and different lists list different examples. Prophecy and teaching are mentioned more often than others. Is that significant? Maybe they are gifts that are particularly valuable in the sense of helping people hear God.

1 Cor 14:1           Follow the way of love and eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

Prophecy is given some priority. Why? We will come back to that too.

The nature of the lists suggests that there is not a specific number. We have listed 29 and there could well be more. Or maybe some aren’t. So what qualifies as a spiritual gift? Let’s consider music as an example.

A spiritual gift is any God-given ability through which God wants to work supernaturally and repeatedly. Many people are highly skilled musicians. They have a natural ability with music. Even our natural abilities are God-given, of course. And music can be powerful in stirring people’s emotions. But is God at work? If the musician is not a Christian, or is even an atheist, could you say that this was a God-given gift through which God was working supernaturally? It is certainly God-given but we probably wouldn’t say God was working through it. Now, of course, God can use anything. He can use the musical talent of an atheist but that is likely to be an exception not something that He repeatedly does through this individual.

On the other hand, you could have someone who is less technically proficient but whom God uses powerfully. When this person makes music, somehow, God uses that music to speak or to minister into people’s lives. It is not just the person’s skill; it is not just the power of the music; it is God.

An example might be David’s playing when King Saul was demon-possessed. Somehow David’s music calmed Saul. You could say that music can do that but Saul’s problem was spiritual and you do not solve spiritual problems with natural solutions. It wasn’t just the music. It was God working supernaturally through a gift that He had given David.

Likewise, many people are hospitable and it can have a huge influence. But there are some people whose hospitality God seems to use in powerful ways. When you leave the house of a naturally hospitable person you really appreciate that person for the way they made you feel welcome and important and honoured. But when you leave the house of a person with that spiritual gift, you know that God has done something special in your life through that person.

What do these gifts mean in practice? What is the gift of prophecy, for example?

The common perception is probably that you are a prophet if you can predict the future but prophecy is much more than that. Anyone who has a gift for knowing what God is saying and who speaks God’s words into a situation is exercising the gift of prophecy. Sometimes God might reveal something about the future but that is just one aspect of the gift. So, for example, someone might stand up in a meeting and say something and there is the sense that God just spoke to that meeting. The people there were alerted to what God wanted to say into their situation.

A biblical example might be when Nathan spoke to King David using the story of a poor man who had been ripped off by a wealthy man. David was angered by that injustice and then Nathan said, “You are that man. You have done that to one of your poor subjects: taken his wife and had him killed.” When he said “You are that man” David was convicted knowing that God had spoken directly to Him.

Deuteronomy 18:18 provides a pretty good definition of prophecy.

Deut 18:18          I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.

I will put my words in His mouth and he will speak them. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. He once said that He had not spoken anything from Himself but the Father who had sent Him had commanded Him what to say (Jn 12:49). Everything He said was prophetic – it came from God.

That possibly explains why the Bible says to eagerly desire the spiritual gifts especially the gift of prophecy. Imagine if everything we said was what God wanted said in the situation; everything we said was from God and we were just passing it on. Imagine the conversations! Wouldn’t that be a fantastic gift – to be God’s spokesperson. God says “eagerly desire the spiritual gifts especially that gift of speaking God’s words.”

Are there others on the screen that are a bit of a mystery?

Wisdom: the ability to make good decisions. The gift of wisdom would be the ability to say just the right thing that enables someone else to make a good decision. It might be saying the right thing to a person who is struggling – something that enables them to see with new clarity or to have the courage to act. It might be coming up with the solution when a groups is struggling to make a decision.

Knowledge: could refer to the person who is fantastic at handling information that God uses. Or it could refer to the supernatural ability to know something that could not have been known naturally. Jesus used that gift, for example, when He said to the woman at the well, “You are right in saying you have no husband. You have had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.”

She went back to her town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” She had just experienced something supernatural. She had encountered God. It was clear. How otherwise could this man know these things about her? That is what led her to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That is the power of the spiritual gifts.

I remember hearing a story once about a man travelling on a plane who looked at another passenger and saw the word “adultery” written across his forehead. He asked him if they could talk privately. He told him what God had revealed and the man repented and was saved.

That is the power of spiritual gifts. God works through us and when God works, things happen. If we work in the natural, that has no power but if we work in the supernatural, it is God who is working.

Are there other gifts up there that are not obvious?

God gives these gifts to every Christian. If you are a Christian, do not say that you don’t have any gift because God says you do. He wants you to work in the supernatural. He gives different gifts to different people but together we form the body of Christ. Are you keen to use your gifts? Do you want God to work through you? Do you know what your gifts are? We will keep working on this.

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25.2.18 – The Terrible Consequences Of Not Recognising The Body – Peter Cheyne

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Wow! That is not a gentle Jesus meek and mild passage is it. Paul does not mince his words. He condemns the Corinthians for what they are doing. He says he cannot praise them. Their meetings do more harm than good. There is a bit of cutting sarcasm. What they were doing could not be called the Lord’s Supper. And he talked about them being under God’s judgement.

Does God really make people sick and cause them to die because they are not observing the Lord’s Supper properly?

Here it is in black and white! There is a lot of talk these days about how a loving God would never judge anybody. But that is not what the Bible says – by any means. The god those people are talking about is a different god because the God of the Bible certainly does judge things that are wrong. That is one of the many great things about Him. He is a God of justice and righteousness. What is wrong is wrong and God will deal with that. Some people prefer to invent a god they like but it is important that we get to know the God of the Bible. Very clearly, the teaching here is that God does judge and He judges in real ways (sickness and death) and because of real-life things such as the way people took Communion.

So, what on earth could be so serious as to warrant this reaction from God – and this negative reaction from Paul? It centres around the body of Christ which we are considering at the moment.

1 Cor 11:29         For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgement on themselves.

Without discerning the body of Christ. That is the problem. And again in v.34 it is apparent that it was the way they were eating that was resulting in judgement.

1 Cor 11:34         Anyone who is hungry should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgement.

Eating and drinking without discerning the body of Christ. What does that mean? What were the Corinthians doing wrong?

The body of Christ could, of course, refer to the literal, physical body of Christ, crucified on the Cross. Or, it could refer to the church. Which is Paul meaning here? I suspect Paul is being deliberately ambiguous – that he intends it to have two meanings, both of which are true.

Without a doubt Paul is referring to the actual body of Christ. Vv.23-26 contain the words that are used in almost every Communion service: For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

You proclaim the Lord’s death. The bread and the wine represent the Lord’s broken body and shed blood. Clearly, that is talking about the crucifixion. It is not talking about the church. It is very obviously talking about Jesus’ body on the Cross. Then Paul links that with the sin in the Corinthian church, in the very next verse.

1 Cor 11:27         So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

In other words, the Lord’s Supper is sacred and not to be treated lightly. The bread and the wine are hugely significant because they represent the body and blood of Jesus. What could be more sacred than His sacrifice and His suffering on the Cross. We should never receive the bread and the wine casually or, as Paul puts it “eat the bread and drink the cup in an unworthy manner”. If people think that they can come to Communion and it is all just a bit of a laugh, or even something that doesn’t require much thought, then they are dishonouring what is sacred. The Cross speaks of the righteousness of the holy God in judging sin. He is not to be taken lightly. But it also speaks of the love of God Who gave His Son to take that penalty so that we might be forgiven. That profound love of God that was willing to suffer more than we can even imagine, is not to be sniffed at. The right response, when we think of the Cross is to fall on our faces in wonder and awe, and repentance, and praise and gratitude. Anyone who can saunter past the Cross chatting about the weather or the cricket, shows disdain for the sacrificed body of Jesus.

Obviously people who have no idea of its meaning will not honour the Cross, but the Corinthians claimed to have faith in Jesus. What excuse would they have for treating Jesus’ death unworthily?

“Discerning the body of Christ” would then mean that people were eating Communion without recognising the sacrifice – without seeing in it the cost of the Cross – without remembering the horror that Jesus endured – the terrible scourging, the nailing to the Cross, the suffering of hanging from those nails and the ultimate death – without remembering that Jesus took in His body, our sins and died for them. If the Lord’s Supper does not take us back to the Cross where we see the broken body of Jesus and the shed blood, and we remember that He died for us, then we have not discerned the body of Christ. We have seen it only a strange meal or a religious ritual but we have not recognised again the true horror of what the bread and wine represent. If we haven’t discerned the body of Christ in all of this, then we have taken Communion unworthily. Jesus had said, “When you do this, remember me.” They were not remembering Him. And this passage warns that there are consequences of that.

That is why Paul says (v.28) that everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. We need to take time to remember what this is all about and we need to look at ourselves and be sure that we know what we are doing and we are sincere in what we do.

Generations of Presbyterians before us had services on Saturday night in order to prepare for the Lord’s Supper in Sunday morning. They wanted to be sure that they were in the right place to take Communion and, if they needed to repent of sin in their lives before receiving Communion, then they took time to examine themselves and to repent. And, if they didn’t feel they were in the right place, then they would not take Communion. It was too holy to take lightly.

No doubt it is possible to take that too far. Some people might never feel they were “good enough” when, in fact, Communion is for those who have failed and who seek forgiveness. They shouldn’t stay away from Communion. They should come to Communion. Communion is where they can receive that forgiveness. But it is true that it is absolutely necessary that we take it seriously and we examine ourselves.

But there was something else going on in the Corinthian church as well. They were divided. This is where Paul gets a little sarcastic. In v.19 He says, “Oh of course there have to be divisions don’t there. If you weren’t divided, how would we know who were the really godly ones who have God’s approval?”

Because of their division, what they were doing simply could not be called the Lord’s Supper. Jesus was saying, “Don’t attach my name to it. It is not my supper. I do not approve of what you are doing. Don’t call it “Christian”. It is not Christian.” That was because their division had led to selfishness. It seems that some of them were getting to this meal early (and it would have been a full meal together that included the bread and the wine.) Those early birds were having their own feast, and getting drunk. Others could not get there until later –perhaps the slaves who didn’t get off work until later; v.22 talks about those who had nothing – and they, who were probably in most need of food, were missing out because others had eaten it all. This is terrible. In a church, people were taking advantage of their privileged place to simply look after themselves. As a consequence, their brothers and sisters were left to go hungry.

Paul said, “Do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? Do you show contempt for the church that God has said is one body?” So, on the one hand, they were ignoring the Cross; on the other hand, they were showing contempt for the church. So, not discerning the body of Christ seems to mean both forgetting the sacrifice the bread and wine represent, and not recognising the nature of the church. V.27 links their eating and drinking with not recognising the Cross. Vv.22, 34 link their eating and drinking with not recognising the church. They were taking Communion without remembering that this was a family meal, not an opportunity to pig-out.

We have talked before about how central unity is to the body image. There are many parts but one body. We have talked about how important unity is to God. His master plan is to unite all things under Christ. But the Corinthians had forgotten that they were meant to be a body. They had forgotten the nature of the church. They thought these events were all about them. They were blind to the body of Christ.

It does perhaps shock us to read a passage about God’s judgement on people in the church but let’s remember the purpose of judgement. Look at v.32.

1 Cor 11:32         Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

The reason God judges is to turn us around before it is too late. He judges now because He doesn’t want to have to judge us later. Discipline now is designed to redeem us. A loving God does judge. Judgement is an expression of love from a God who wants us to be saved.

Both the Cross and the church are enormously important to God. Both are holy and are to be treated as holy. As we come to Communion, look at the Cross and see the body of Jesus. Remember that the bread and the wine represent the sacrifice of His body for you and your sins. Know that God wants us to be saved because He loves us. But also, as we come to Communion, look around at the people here with you and see the body of Christ. These are the people that God has united you to in the one body. You do not do this alone; you do this with your brothers and sister. We are joined together as intimately as the parts of the body are joined. You might say, “These people and I are one body. I need them and they need me. I love them and I will serve them.”

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18.2.18 – A Body Given Gifts By God – Peter Cheyne

We have been looking at the church being described as a body. Last week we focused on unity, on the fact that there is one body. The first part of our reading today is a repeat from last week and you will hear the word “one” repeated over and over again. But then, in v.7, we have a “but”. The church is one but…

READ Ephesians 4:1-16

In that passage we have a chain of purposes. God gives some people certain gifts, why? So that they can help all God’s people serve. Why are all God’s people to serve? So that the body of Christ might be built up. What is the result when the body is built up?

Let’s start with the end result and work our way backwards seeing how that end result is accomplished.

This passage finishes with a vision for the church, from v.13 onwards.

  1. Until we all reach unity in the faith
  2. And unity in the knowledge of the Son of God
  3. And we become mature. How mature? Attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

This is what God’s church can be like. This is God’s plan and why he has given spiritual gifts. Are you inspired by this vision for the church?

  1. It is united

That is worth dreaming of and working towards isn’t it? Imagine being part of a church where the people were of one heart and one mind and committed to each other in love.

People often speak as if broad diversity in the church is a positive thing. It is good to have a diversity of views – even conflicting views. This is all part of our individuality and our freedom to believe what we want. But God doesn’t think that way. Acts 4:32 says that all of the believers were one in heart and mind – same beliefs, same passions and hopes, same vision. United in achieving it.

That verse (Acts 4:32) then says, “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” That is a measure of their unity and their love for one another.

  1. United in the faith

What does “the faith” mean? It could refer to saving faith. In other words, everyone in the church has been saved. Everyone has come to saving faith in Jesus. The church is a united group of people who have been born again.

Sometimes “the faith” means the things we believe – the Christian faith. In that case, this unity would be a unity of belief. We all hold to the same things.

Or faith could refer to our trust in Jesus in everyday life. We live by faith. We act because we believe Jesus will keep His promises. If Jesus says “Go” we go. So, imagine a church where the members are all people of faith trusting Jesus and obeying Him, because we trust Him.

Let’s assume Paul intends all three of those things. This is a church of saved people who know the truth and who live adventurously and obediently each day, trusting God. Wow! What would that look like on a daily basis?

  1. United in the knowledge of Jesus

Remember that, for Jews, knowledge was not about having facts in your head. It was about experience. You know because you have experienced. Here is a church where everybody is experiencing Jesus. These Christians hear Jesus speaking – through the scripture or through the Holy Spirit or whatever. They are talking to Jesus and knowing their prayers are being heard. They are experiencing answers to those prayers. When they go through hard times, they experience the comfort and the faithfulness of Jesus. As people of faith, they are obedient and so they minister to others and they see Jesus doing things. They experience the living Jesus changing lives. They walk each day with Jesus.

  1. They become mature

What does maturity look like? It looks like Jesus. Maturity is being like Jesus. That is what it says here: we become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ; becoming just like Jesus. There are various passages that show that the goal of our growth is to be like Jesus: Christ-likeness.

This is fascinating to think about. What would a church be like if it was filled with Jesuses? Imagine what the relationships would be like if everyone imitated Jesus. Imagine the knowledge of the Bible. Imagine the wisdom and the learning in conversations. Imagine the love for the disadvantaged. Imagine the passion for reaching out with the gospel, calling people to follow Jesus. Imagine the lack of problems and the lack of any need to deal with bad behaviour. Imagine the impact on our community when people see this group of people who are just like Jesus. Imagine how the community would come to the church for help, just like they came to Jesus. Or maybe not come to the church but the church would go to the community, like Jesus did. Imagine the dedication to making disciples just like Jesus did.

It is worth thinking about what we would be like if we were like Jesus. And what would our church be like? How would we think? What sort of people would we be? What would we do each day if we were like Jesus? If you want to ponder this and imagine the church as God intends it to be, I have printed a sheet on which you can record what Jesus is like and what a church of Christ-like followers would be like. I would love to hear your thoughts. This is God’s vision for His church.

As this passage says, the result of that is individuals who know what is true and are not influenced by every latest teaching or conned by false teacher – deeply rooted, not tossed back and forth by the waves. They live the truth in love. Their actions, their interactions, their speech, everything is truth combined with love. That is Christ-like. As a result of that there is continued growth towards Christ-likeness – growing up into Him who is the head. Growing up into Christ.

Can you imagine a church like that? Is it possible? How does that happen? Well, let’s work backwards through the chain of causes.

How is the church built up towards this goal? V.12.

The church is built up in this way when the people of God serve. It doesn’t say it here but from other passages, we can be pretty confident that we can say, “when the people of God serve using their spiritual gifts”. As God’s people minister to each other and minister to the community, using the supernatural gifts God has given, the body of Christ is built up.

God’s vision for the church depends on God’s people serving. That is reinforced at the end of this section.

Ephesians 4:16    From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up, as each part does its work.

The growth comes from God but it is also true that the body builds itself up. We cannot sit back and just wait for God to do it. The body has a responsibility to build itself up. Every ligament is important. The body is joined and held together by every supporting ligament. The body builds itself up in love as each part does its work. God’s church grows as each part does its work. In other words, you are a part of God’s plan. Just as our physical bodies are not healthy, or not fully able, if some parts close down, so it is in the church. The church is not healthy if some members are not serving. If you are not doing what God has called you, and gifted you, to do, we all suffer. The whole body is weakened.

So, let’s keep working backwards. What is required for the members to be equipped to serve? V.11

Amongst the spiritual gifts Jesus give people are these five (or four): apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. I say “five or four” because it is unclear whether the last two are two distinct gifts or one. See how it is “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers”. The last two might be bundled together. Just for simplicity sake, let’s assume that it is five.

Why does Paul lists just these five? If we look at Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4, we find a list of twenty spiritual gifts. From other passages we could add another 5. And even that is not necessarily exhaustive. The might be yet other things that are spiritual gifts. So, why these five here?

It seems that these are leadership gifts. All of the gifts are about serving in one way or another but these ones seem to be about serving as a leader. One of the reasons for saying that is that the passage explicitly says that these gifts are given “to equip His people for works of service”. We are all called to serve, using the gifts God has given us but these five gifts are designed to equip people to serve.

I’ve been using “serving” and “ministering” interchangeably because “ministering” means “serving”. The Prime Minister is literally the Number One servant. Some translations of v.12 say, “To equip His people for works of ministry.” In fact, the Greek word used here is diakonia, from which we get the word deacon – very appropriate today as we ordain Glenys as a deacon.

So, let’s assume that God sees me as a leader and has given me one of those five gifts. My responsibility is to equip you to do what God has called you to do. I am not the minister. You are the ministers. I am not responsible for doing your work but I am responsible for equipping you to do it. Maybe a parallel is that you are the team but I am the coach – or maybe a player-coach. And, if the team doesn’t perform, you know who normally gets the sack! The coach, because he/she is responsible for training the team. Don’t blame the team; blame the coach.

Fortunately, in our situation it is not me alone. Blame Rachel as well! And, in fact, the elders. Our responsibility is to equip you for ministry.

So, working backwards, what makes that possible? God equips leaders. God gives these spiritual gifts. Using me as an example what gift has God given me? (I recognise that, if I say what gift I believe I have, you might be horrified at my lack of self-awareness) However, all of my experience would suggest that my primary gift (out of these five) is teaching, with perhaps a little bit of the apostolic and a little bit of the prophetic, but very little of the pastor or the evangelist. This would be a very sick church if you relied on me for pastoral care. But that is the nature of the body. Rachel, and others of the elders, are obviously much more pastoral, than I. That is why we need all the diverse parts. The elders have all done an exercise to identify which of these gifts we have. Other people have gifts that I don’t. I have gifts they don’t have. But as each part does its work, the body is built up.

That brings us back to the “but” in v.7. The church is to be absolutely united – in every sense “one”. There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, but God has also designed diversity. God doesn’t care what race we are, what age we are, whether we are male or female, rich or poor, what social status we have. None of that means anything to God. What does matter is that we are Christians. As Christians we all stand before God on exactly the same basis: we are forgiven sinners who have been adopted as His children.

But God does care about our different ministries. We all have different callings and different gifts. That diversity is important because it requires that diversity for the church to grow and be united. All of the different parts are needed. When each part does its work, the church grows and becomes more united.

Our physical bodies grow and mature. Likewise, the body of Christ is to grow until we are united in faith, united in our knowledge of Jesus, and mature – like Jesus. That growth happens when the parts of the body are healthy and doing what they were designed to do. Every Christian has spiritual gifts that are to be used but some have particular spiritual gifts designed to equip God’s people for their ministries.

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