If you ever observed the construction project of a tall building being erected in the heart of a city, you quickly realize that there are many people involved in the project. You might see a group of metal workers on the fourth floor welding foundational structures together. Maybe to the side you see a different group of people laying down stones to cover up the metal frame. A little ways away from the building you observe some people studying various blueprints to see where to go from here. You can also imagine the designers and engineers drawing those blueprints, figureing out how the building should look and what type of materials should be used to hold up the weight of the structure.
Numerous people, with varying abilities are involved in a building project. The bigger the building, the more people are involved. The church of Jesus Christ is the greatest spiritual building that has ever been built. Every true believer has been cleansed and redeemed with the blood of Christ, and has been empowered by the Holy Spirit for the work of ministry-their role in this building project.
The Foundation of the Church
For us to understand our place and significance in this building project, we need to first observe the very beginnings of the church. We need to realize that at one point the foundation was laid and we are all building on that foundation.
Jesus promised his disciples in John 16 that, after he ascends into heaven, he will send them a Helper, the Holy Spirit, who will teach them all things. At Pentecost (Acts 2) the Holy Spirit ascends on the disciples and remarkable things start to happen- there was a loud thundering noise, “and divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them”. The people in Jerusalem (many of whom traveled from far countries) came to see what was happening and each of them heard the disciples speak their own language. They exclaimed “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
From that very moment the building project of the church began. The apostles were given a unique leadership and gifting in the early stages of church formation. We read that those who believed the message about Jesus, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The apostles, as well as the New Testament prophets, were essential in laying down the foundation of the church. Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”. These two giftings were unique to the early church era. Because these people laid down the foundation through revelation, we now have the full and completed revelation- that is, the Bible.
The Building of the Church
So what happens after the foundation is laid? We read in Eph. 2:23: “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” From the apostles to the present age the church is continually being built up by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables each person in the body of Christ with unique spiritual gifts in order that each person may exercise their gifts to serve and edify the church of Christ.
There are four clear passages that provide us with a list of spiritual gifts: Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. The list includes apostles, prophesy, teaching, exhorting, miracles, healing, service, leading and more. Although this is not an exhaustive list, (since each list slightly differs from the other) yet these provide us with a general idea about what these gifts look like in the church.
The gifts are bestowed on all true believers by the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion. We read in 1 Cor. 12:11, “all these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills”. No one chooses their gift; the Spirit autonomously gifts each according to His will- “but as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Cor. 12:18). Just think for a moment- the Holy Spirit, in his unlimited knowledge and wisdom chose to give you your gift. Thus, each member in the body of Christ is indispensable!
The purpose of these gifts is clearly stated in 1 Peter 4:10, “as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (also see Eph. 4:12-16). The main purpose for spiritual gifting is to build up the body of Christ. These gifts are not given to us for personal spiritual enrichment, even though we do receive joy when we exercise them.
These gifts are other-centered; they are meant to bless others. In 1 Cor. 12, apostle Paul illustrates spiritual gifts as being various parts in a body. Each member is extremely important for the function of the whole body. An ear cannot serve itself- it is meant to serve the body. If it hears that danger is near, the ear is not to keep the information to itself, but is meant to transfer this information to warn the body, and ultimately save itself. Just imagine an eye that stops serving the body- it will ultimately hurt itself as well. Our gifts are not given to be kept for ourselves, but to exercise them in blessing and growing others up in Christ.
As yourself: Do I serve others with the gift that was given to me? Do I grow in my gifting so I can bless others more? If you have the gift of hospitality, do you seek ways to be more hospitable? Do you seek to open your door to all people? If you have the gift of service, do you seek for ways to serve? Do people sense that you are available for them? If you have the gift of mercy, do you look for ways you can pour out mercy upon people? If you have the gift of teaching, do you study diligently in order to be more equipped to teach well?
The Holy Spirit has gifted Christians in the beginning of the church with unique gifts for establishing its foundation. Now that the church has a firm foundation, the spiritual gifts are given to each person by the Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit for the building up of the church of Christ. May we use our gifts accordingly.