“Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.” (1 Cor. 14:12)
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-13)
I have written in the past concerning how, under the temple worship model modern Christianity embraces, we have reversed the meaning of John 13 from “They will know you are My disciples by the love you have for one another” to “They will know you are my disciples by the love you show to them.” This is because under that model we do not experience true Christian community, and so we cannot show the world that kind of love. When the extent of what should be visible community is a couple of hours behind closed doors on Saturday night or Sunday morning, in temples the world has no interest in looking in to anyway, how can they possibly see it? So, to help us justify the way we have chosen to live, we turn John 13 around to where we still think we are doing Jesus’ will when we are not. This leaves most temple worshipers without a clue as to the meaning of discipleship, or of how to experience their Christian faith in real life. Under temple worship, discipleship and ministry is left to the professionals.
Likewise, most of those converted to modern Christendom have no clue what their spiritual giftings are because we have made the place where you find and develop your spiritual gifts “out there doing ministry” rather than within the body engaging community. Nowhere spiritual gifts are mentioned in the Bible is the instruction they are to be developed ministering to unbelievers. Everywhere, as the verses above reveal, they are to be employed for and inure to the benefit of the body. But again, when you have replaced true community with the counterfeit of temple worship, there is no “in here engaging community” to explore or develop within. You experience superficial fellowship with other believers for a few minutes and then enjoy the show up on stage. Ergo, the only place where Jesus is truly at work where you can discover your spiritual gifting is “out there doing ministry.”
Another topic I have dealt with extensively in these blogs concerns how Jesus’ first order of business after starting His ministry was to gather His disciples—His community— and likewise how the first order of business for the Holy Spirit once He arrived on the scene was to gather His community [the Acts 2 church]. Jesus went looking for His disciples before He preached a sermon, and the Spirit gathered the church of Acts before He sent out a single Apostle. Why? Because it is about the community of saints before it’s about reaching out. It’s about providing home base, where all the gifts are learned and all the strength and support is provided—where the training of faith and love is to take place among the brethren so when we do go out in to an unbelieving world we go strengthened and properly equipped to provide a proper witness, not just with our words but with our lives, that lifts up Jesus!
When Paul is instructing Timothy concerning who qualifies for the post of overseer or elder in the church, he warns him new converts are specifically excluded due to their immaturity and inability to face the wiles of the enemy. When all you have in the church today is new, middle-aged, and older converts because the system does little to help men look beyond the walls of their temples, it’s little wonder we have so few disciples who understand their giftings. Even if someone who doesn’t get the opportunity to know their spiritual gifts through experience in Christian community learns what they may be through one of many “tests” we can give them.
But what of using testing to discover our spiritual gifts? When I began my real estate career, I had to get a broker’s license. There were different broker designations, depending upon your experience and schooling. The ultimate license designation for any broker to have is Employing Broker, because with that license you can employ other brokers and build a larger business than just your own. While you could get what was called an Associate Broker license with class time only, you had to have two years of full-time employment in the business under an employing broker before you would be eligible for and employing license.
Why? You could not be trusted to truly know the business well enough to supervise others without hands-on practical experience. I can also testify to the fact that I, and every other new broker fresh out of real estate school, would be told to forget half of what they learned in class because they’d never use it in “the real world,” and much they didn’t learn in class would be what they would need to understand to successfully operate a business. There is no substitute for hands-on experience in the real world.
What our temples give us is converts who have had a lot of classroom experience in discipleship and spiritual gifting, but without the hands-on experience necessary. But then, I have also written extensively concerning the fact that our temples are classrooms, where professors teach and students learn, and without shepherds who lead their flocks out of the temple very few disciples will result. They in no way resemble the marketplace where Jesus raised His disciples through the balance of leading and teaching true shepherds employ.
In true community, there is need for extraordinary grace because no one has the market cornered on doctrine or wisdom, and everyone brings their baggage to the party. In community there is the need for extraordinary love, the kind of love Jesus spoke about for those who may not like you or agree with you. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” In community there is an urgent and real need to discover your spiritual gifts, because in community everyone comes to understand what is lacking and what is abundant. They come to understand, as Paul said, how the body suffers when certain members don’t contribute and how it rejoices when all do, and how God placed them precisely where He did to use their gifts to edify the body.
As it is with the litmus test of disciples, the realization and practice of spiritual gifts is not to be discovered “out there” in the fields of ministry. That process is to take place first “in here” in Christian community, but until we establish Christian community we won’t have that chance. But not to lose hope! Just as Jesus rescued community from the clutches of temple worship when He came to walk among us, I believe He’s doing it now preceding His second appearance to men! The Holy Spirit is orchestrating a groundswell coming from the bottom up rather than originating from the top down as we have become so used to in our temples. Normal, every-day believers increasingly frustrated by being captives of a religious system that has been holding them back are saying “Enough!” They’re tired of reading about all the exciting and fulfilling lives of the saints in their Bibles following a God who “is the same yesterday, today, and yes forever,” yet seeing nothing of that in their temples or their own lives.
They’re saying enough to mundane, milk-toast, spectator Christianity where there exists no “thrill of victory nor agony of defeat,” and thus none of the challenges that kilned the saints of lore because costless grace has everything covered. They want to get in the game! The men, especially, have checked out of the system, if not physically certainly spiritually and emotionally because they find the world has more to excite them than anything Christianity offers. But lately, God is leading a society formerly satisfied with materialism, security, and convenience to see how empty and shallow the promises of it all are. This is causing many of the converted to take a deeper look in to what following Jesus should truly look like.
For many years now I have been, and will continue to be, dedicated to the concept of restoring true Christian community, and snatching as many of the converted as I can out of the clutches of temple worship. As community was the first order of business, and the launching pad, for everything that transpired during Jesus’ first coming, so it must be now as we prepare for His second. We will not be known as His disciples by the world until they see us functioning in community. We will not truly understand our spiritual gifts until we develop them within community. In fact, I don’t believe much of consequence will happen until the Holy Spirit, at the direction of our Lord Jesus Christ, has restored community. It’s how it went down before, and yes we do serve a God “who is the same yesterday, today, and yes forever.”