Gifts and Calling of Stewards
The gifts and calling of the stewards of the Spirit are interrelated. Since spiritual gifts are not to be wrapped in a napkin, but used, the possession of a gift that would make for the edification of the church constitutes a call for its exercise. As the possessor of such a gift seeks to serve Christ by its use, he commends himself to the church so that his or her gifts may be recognized(Rom. 16:1, 2). As Paul was called to be an apostle, so every Christian is called to be a saint, and is granted gifts to exercise in mutual ministry (Romans 1:1, 6, 7). Paul’s calling, of course was to a special and foundational office in the church, but the principles are the same. Paul serves as an apostle because of the gift of grace given to him. He sometimes designates his office by the term ‘the grace given me’ (Rom. 12:3, 6; 15:15, 16 ).
Individuality of Gift Patterns
Our calling is of one Lord, to one hope, in one faith, but to many individual ministries or functions. Every Christian has a function to perform. Not all functions require public recognition for their proper exercise: a man may show mercy to a sick friend without needing anyone to recognize his ministry, or even to know of it. But if someone is to administer diaconal funds on behalf of the church, or to become a regular hospital minister in the name of the church, public recognition is necessary. Church offices as they are presented in the New Testament require groupings of gifts. A teaching elder, for example, must have gifts to rule as well as gifts to teach. Yet the constellation of gifts that an individual possesses are uniquely his own.
The individuality of gifts implies, therefore, that gifts are granted in a measure. No one but Jesus Christ possesses all the gifts of the Spirit in their fulness. Since gifts are measured, a man is not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think (Rom. 12:3). The Christian must judge soberly as to what his or her own gifts are (1 Cor. 7:17; 2 Cor. 10:13). Further, these gifts form a pattern. Paul’s analogies to the members of the body suggest that. When Paul tells Timothy to stir up the gift that is in him, he is saying, in effect, ‘take care to fulfil your function’ (2 Tim 1.:6). On the one hand, the fruits of the Spirit conform us to the image of Christ, and make us resemble one another. On the other hand, the varying patterns created by the gifts of the Spirit cause us to differ from one another. We are, therefore, identified by our gifts. What I am to do in serving Christ’s body is an expression of who I am in the Lord. A harmony exists in Christian identity and vocation that cannot be found outside of Christ.
It is well to remember that each Christian is a new creation in Christ. It is not merely the gifts freshly granted of the Spirit that are new. One’s ‘natural’ gifts are also new in the Creator Spirit. Since all gifts are granted for service, we discover them not in the abstract, but in use. In the love of Christ, we seek to serve others. To be effective in that service, we may desire greater gifts than we have received. We may expect to grow in the effectiveness of our own ministries as we seek to build up Christ’s church.
When all our gifts are marshalled in the service of the Lord, we will be faithful stewards (2 Cor. 4:1, 2; 1 Pet. 4:10; Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10). This does not mean that all our gifts, natural and spiritual, will come into full use. The purposes of Christ’s kingdom set priorities for us. Since our goal is not self-realization, we need not worry about ‘wasted’ talents. Heaven offers time enough, in any case!
The case of Samson warns us that spiritual gifts may be misused. Paul knew that some of his opponents were preaching Christ out of envy during his imprisonment in Rome (Phil. 1:15). The Apostle takes pains to warn against both envy and pride in the use of the gifts of the Spirit. Most importantly, all the gifts lose their meaning apart from love, love that recognizes the indebtedness to others of the gift that has been received (1 Cor. 13; Rom. 1:1; 14:15; 1 Cor. 9:16-23).
Patterns of Gifts in the Ordering of the Church
The pattern of the gifts of the Spirit granted to individuals establishes and supports a pattern in the structure of the church. The church is a body; in an organism there is both life and structure, ardour and order, to use the phrase of J. E. L. Newbigin. Often there has been tension between the advocates of vitality and structure in the church. At times this has been seen as a struggle between the spiritual and the institutional. But it is a mistake to equate the Spirit with life and not also with order. The Creator Spirit moves upon the face of the waters and brings order out of that which is without form and void. Paul must tell the rather frenzied Corinthians that God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. His instructions, he reminds the church, are not lacking in inspired authority, given of the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:33-40). The life of the Spirit is organic life, ordered life, life in the discipline of the family of God, in the structure of the Christian temple.
In particular, the ministry of the church is ordered of the Spirit to the goals that we have been examining: the goals of the worship of God, the edification of the church, and the evangelization of the world. The gifts of the Spirit to these ends are gifts for the ministry of the Word, the ministry of order, and the ministry of mercy. Further, these gifts are granted to some in greater measure; their stewardship needs to be recognised in the church. We may therefore distinguish between the general office of every believer and the special offices recognized for those with outstanding gifts in these areas. The mediatorial office of Jesus Christ is unique, standing above all office in his church… –The Biblical Theology of the Church, EDMUND P. CLOWNEY
Is having a ministry the same as being in the ministry? As we track the thinking of Clowney what emerges is a clarity that is often lacking in many churches. Vocation is a broadly encompassing term. It has, though, a particular application when it comes to the Christian life especially as that life is lived out in the context of The Ministry of the local church.
As you can see, what is meant by ministry is often thrown around without regard to just what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. Then again, even the body of Christ takes clarification. If what we are speaking of is the universal church, it is obvious that those in heaven are carrying out a ministry quite unique. If what is meant is the body of Christ visible, we have another view altogether.
The organ of the visible church is best expressed as the local assembly. For, it is from this primary unit that all other earthly forms of church government and growth, as well as individual and family Christian life, derive their purpose and structure. As we see in Ephesians 4-6, the particulars of headship and relationship are formed along the lines of the mystery which Paul calls the church. The end of all is the maturing of the body of Christ through the maturing of individuals expressed in plurality, by their coming to a fulness of the knowledge of the Son of God in such a way that the Church is capable of putting on the whole armor of God.
I know it has often been viewed that the armor is an individual panoply. And though I do not discount the idea, the context of Ephesians is the matured body of Christ, the mystery of which Paul is speaking, the church which is to put on the whole armor. To that end, God has given gifts to his church, particularly, uniquely, and as is often the case, discretely (just as there can be only one husband). Ephesians, of course, is not the only place we find the matters of giftings. Still, it is for this one end that all the gifts are given- having been built up in love as a temple of God made of living stones, the church might stand in the day.
There is an old adage, “Do what you can with what you’ve got where you’re at.” It is said this way in Ephesians: “…rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” The idea expressed by work with his own hands is idiosyncratic ability. As Clowney remarks, it is not the purpose of the gifts and callings to lead one to self-inquiry and self-benefit, rather, God has gifted each according to the measure of Christ for the benefit of others. In fulfilling whatever calling God has called one to, and exercising the gifts each possesses by the operation of the Spirit, the body of Christ is built up so that in the end it will stand a unified new man having put on the whole armor of God.
As we see in Revelation, it is individual churches which are being examined in the day of the Lord, or to put it in John’s words, the Lord’s day. The day of the Lord’s visitation is the vital outlook. It is not for the individual to look to his own end, so also it is not for the church to look to its own end. The purpose of all things is the glorification of Christ in suffering with him, and it is that which is the hope of glory to which we are to point.
To summarize Clowney, then, our mission is to call together the people of God for their mutual edification so that the church as a body will boldly proclaim the promise of God to as many as the Lord will call through the ministry. By that means we will grow and remain healthy. It is a corporate endeavor, each part supplying what the others need. This by no means confuses the various roles within the gathered assembly. To the contrary, by seeking to serve with one’s giftings and calling within the mutual community of believers, the body parts are identified. It would seem too simple to say that the church is very much like an infant growing to mature adulthood fully exercising the rights of a son equipped with the proper tools of a soldier arrayed for battle against the forces of darkness, and going out into the world to accomplish that work. Yet that is precisely the organic reality of the mystery.