“God Has Appointed in the Church…” (1 Corinthians 12:27–31)
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear now the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 12:27-31.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, ESV
This is the word of the Lord that is given to us in love.
I will never forget the feeling of I had when I started my first real job. I had done some seasonal work, done some detassling corn, I had done some various occasional babysitting. Then when I was 15, I started my first real job working for a Papa Murphy’s Pizza. It was public, I was going to talk to real people in a customer-facing role. I remember as I came in my first day the excitement I had; the excitement of a new challenge, the excitement as I calculated how much I was earning every moment of the time I was there. Also, not just excitement but also some fear.
I realized that there was a lot I didn’t know. I didn’t know my expectations, I didn’t have the skills that I necessarily needed, and I didn’t really know my standing in the company except that I was at the very bottom. I just didn’t know what that really meant or entailed at the time, but in addition to excitement and some fear and uncertainty I also felt this sense of hope. It’s kind of a surprising experience, but I realized that I could be useful.
Everyone wants to be useful and here I had a job where I was going to do something, and I would be able to be useful. Nobody wants to be useless. This is something that God has put in our hearts, to want to serve a function and to have a purpose in life.
Well this morning I don’t know how well you may be navigating your life responsibilities and I don’t know how well you feel like you’re navigating your life responsibilities. I don’t know how well your skills and your training, and your desires line up with what you’re called to do or what’s expected of you on a day-to-day basis.
From the passage we’re looking at today, I have really good news that in the church you are not useless. In the church you belong. In the church you have a unique function that God has appointed specifically for you and without you that function won’t be accomplished. You’re useful in the church and in fact I want to tell you that the good news is you have one job in the church, which is to become increasingly useful to the church, to the body of Christ all the days of your life.
Our big idea today isSeek to serve the body of Christ.
There are three parts to the text that we’re looking at today.
1. You have a membership
2. You have a ministry
3. You have a mission
You Have a Membership
So, let’s start with the idea that you have a membership. Look at verse 27 Paul writes
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27, ESV
As we’ve been looking at the second half of 1 Corinthians chapter 12 Paul has been using this idea of the many members of the one body of Christ. There have been a few points where he’s given us these summary statements that capture the two sides of this imagery. On the one hand there’s a there’s a collective sense that collectively we are the body of Christ. Not that we are Christ, not that we’re dissolved into Christ, but that we belong to the body that he owns, the body over which he rules. Collectively we’re the body of Christ, that’s one side of it.
The other side is the individual aspect to it. Individually we belong to that body, as members of that body, as the limbs, the organs, the ligaments, the tissues, the various joints of the body of Christ. There’s a collective part and an individual part and this is the final summary sentence that Paul uses to capture the nature of this relationship.
When we start to think about our membership to a body though, we have to acknowledge right off the bat, and I’ve talked about this a couple of times, that our view of belonging, of membership in our culture is really remarkably shockingly scandalously low. 20 years ago, a book came out it was called, “Bowling Alone”, by a man named Robert Putnam. The book captured the phenomenon that this sociologist was seeing that in the past when people did social events, like bowling socially, they would do them with other people. Yet increasingly we have become more isolated as a culture, so that now when we go bowling, we very frequently do it alone.
So, he tracked the 25 years leading up to the year 2000, from 1975 to 2000, and he noted that club meeting attendance in that time dropped by 58%, and family dinners dropped by 43% and having friends over dropped by 35%. That was 20 years ago and these last 20 years we have become increasingly more connected virtually and digitally by our smartphones and our social media. You can find out what’s happening across the world with a live video feed right now. Yet in person we are more disconnected from one another than at any time in history ever; shockingly so, scandalously so. That was true before the extreme quarantine measures of the last few months.
As a culture we want to keep our options open, we don’t want to give up our freedom, we don’t want to be too tied down to anyone or anything, and we pay a price for it. We pay a price in increasing isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and even rising suicide levels. The reason is very clear, the Bible tells it to us right from the beginning of the story, that it’s not good for a man to be alone, it’s not good for a woman to be alone. What Paul is reminding us here in verse 27, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it”, is that isolation is not an option for members of Christ’s church.
Certainly, it’s for freedom that Christ set us free, but that’s freedom from sin, not freedom from other people. In fact, the whole reason that you were set free from your sin was so that you could be united to a people, made unified with a people. Christ has made you a member of his own body. Let me tell you this as bluntly as I can, you don’t have an option of remaining independent from the church of Jesus Christ. That’s not on the table, that’s not something Jesus has permitted you to do as a course of action. You don’t have the right to remain at arm’s length from the church.
Now in our culture that kind of gives us a little bit of the creeps, a little bit of a claustrophobia and I feel like I’ve just got to run away and be by myself for a little while when I hear this. Let me tell you why that’s actually extremely good news, because it means that you belong. You’re not someone on an island, you belong to a people, a real flesh and blood actual group of individuals who share in your suffering and who rejoice when you are honored. You have a membership in Christ’s body.
What does that membership mean? Well Paul’s purpose in telling us once again that we are individually members of the one body of Christ is for a purpose. The whole reason for using this illustration, this analogy is to remind us of the way the members of our own physical bodies function. They all have an individual role, an individual job, and it’s by all of those limbs and organs working together that you have an entire body. That’s what Paul means when he says that we have a membership, that not only do we have a belonging, a membership to the body of Christ, but you also have a ministry. You have a ministry in and toward the body of Christ.
You Have a Ministry
So, our second point looks at verses 28-30, you have a ministry. You are useful in the body of Christ. Now when Paul gets to verse 28, he shifts away from speaking figuratively. He’s not going to talk about the individual parts of our bodies anymore, he’s not going to talk about hands and feet and ears and eyes and a head. Instead he is going to speak about what those images were pointing to; officers that Christ has appointed in the church and gifts that Christ has distributed through the church.
Now Paul has made this point a couple of times in this passage and elsewhere, but once again in verse 28 Paul begins by noting that this is the choice of God, the arrangement of God. It’s not my choice, it’s not the choice of the elders, or the choice of you. This is the choice of God in the way that God has organized the church and God has appointed in the church. This is God’s sovereign choice on how he wants to organize his church.
Now look at what Paul does then, he gives us three offices, and then he lists out five gifts and the fifth one is kind of two gifts as we’ll sort of see. So, three offices; apostles, prophets, and teachers. Then he gives five gifts; miracles, healing, helping, administrating, and then the gift of tongues, various kinds of tongues which as you see in verse 30 both include speaking in tongues and also interpreting tongues. So, three offices and five gifts.
Now the reason that Paul starts with the offices, and we should notice that Paul sort of singles out the offices, is that he identifies these offices as different and we see this in a couple of ways. First of all, Paul talks about offices for these first three items, but then he talks about gifts for various functions in the other five items. Also notice that in the offices Paul numbers them; first apostles, second prophets, third teachers and then he doesn’t continue with that numbering scheme when he goes into the various gifts.
Now why does Paul separate out these offices? It’s because these three offices, these aren’t all the offices that are listed in the New Testament for the church. These three offices, in particular, have a first order foundational role in preaching and teaching the word of God, to point and to orient the whole church to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Look at what Paul does the first office he lists are the apostles. The apostles were a group of men whom Jesus explicitly chose to be his eyewitnesses in the world. We know that this was appointed to a fixed number of people because originally Jesus appointed 12 apostles and then one of those apostles, Judas, betrayed Jesus. After he did so and realized what he had done, he went and committed suicide.
After Jesus had been crucified and died and buried but then resurrected and then after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the remaining 11 apostles are reading the scriptures and praying. As they’re studying the scriptures, they realize that even the betrayal of Judas to Jesus was foretold in the scriptures. As they kept studying, they realized we have to fill that that missing office, Judas’s office. He said we can’t have that office empty, the scriptures tell us to fill it.
Then they give a qualification for this office that makes it very clear that this would be the last apostle appointed in this way and that once the apostles died there would be no more apostles to carry on their ministry in the same way. Peter said this is a qualification for replacing Judas as an as an apostle, peter said in Acts 1:21-22,
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
Acts 1:21-22, ESV
These apostles, their first job was to be a witness to the life of Jesus; to his ministry, his teaching, his great miracles that he performed his death and especially of his resurrection.
Now there was one extraordinary exception to this rule and it’s the exception of Paul himself. Paul was appointed as an apostle not because he had been with the other apostles the entire time during the coming and going of Jesus and his life and ministry and crucifixion and resurrection. No, the resurrected Jesus Christ personally appeared to Paul and appointed him to that that role and Paul acknowledges the strangeness of his apostleship in 1 Corinthians just a few chapters later. In 1 Corinthians chapter 15:8 he calls himself, his own apostleship, as one untimely born, it was strange.
The work of the apostles was for a time, it was to bear eyewitness testimony to who Jesus was and what he had done. That’s the first office that Paul names.
The second office is the office of prophets. Now the prophets were similar to the apostles in some ways, and different in other ways. The apostles were not eyewitnesses to Jesus, that wasn’t their role. They were people who were appointed to the office of prophets who had never directly, personally seen Jesus, but they received directly the word of the Lord by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
These prophets were like the apostles of the Old Testament, like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel. But the difference is that these prophets of the New Testament were not like the old by looking forward to the coming of Jesus, the prophets of the New Testament were appointed to their office of prophet to clarify what Jesus had done, who he was, what he had accomplished. They received direct revelation from the word of the Lord by the inspiration of the Spirit to give insight and illumination to who Jesus was, and what Jesus would do when Jesus eventually returns.
So, the apostles and the prophets work together to bear witness to who Jesus was and to clarify by the word of the Lord who Jesus was. Which is why Paul in Ephesians 2:20 says that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. The apostles and the prophets worked together to lay the foundation of Jesus Christ. The apostles bore firsthand eyewitness testimony and the prophets prophesied the word of the Lord.
Which means that now that the foundation has been laid. The word of the Lord has been given to tell us about who Jesus was and to give us more insight into why that was important that he was what he was and what that means for our life and our salvation. That has been laid down in the scriptures. The foundation of the word of God of the Old and New Testaments, which point us to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now that the foundation is laid, that work is finished, it’s been accomplished. Earlier in 1 Corinthians Paul was using that same imagery talking about the building of a building. He said that he, as an apostle, had laid the foundation like a chief master builder. Then he said in 1 Corinthians 3:11, “for no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.”
If someone were to argue that we still needed apostles or that we still needed prophets, what they are implicitly saying is that the foundation we have in the Bible that points us to what Jesus has done once for all is not enough. They are saying that we need another foundation, because the foundation we have is somehow faulty or it can’t bear the weight of modern society and that’s false. The Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation we need, and the apostles and the prophets bore witness to him to lay the foundation once for all.
These first two offices did their job, they did their work and we have the remaining fruit of that, in the Bible, to bear witness to Christ. Now their work is ceased, which is why we do not have apostles or prophets.
What about the third office, the office of teachers? Well this group of people weren’t eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These also do not receive direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. These officers, these teachers, are given by Jesus to the church, not to build a new foundation but to build on top of the foundation.
Paul says, I’ve laid the foundation you can’t lay another foundation but someone else is building on the foundation to build up the church. The foundation is set, but the church has to continue to be built up until Christ returns. So, this office of teacher, or as Paul calls them in Ephesians 4:11 the pastor teachers, this office will continue until Christ returns.
Now this is my office, I’m a pastor, I’m a teacher. This third office is referring to what I am called to do. I don’t lay another foundation, if I ever start laying another foundation that’s the time you should remove me from the office of pastor teacher. My job is to preach and teach the word of God that was laid once for all in the foundation given to us by the apostles and prophets, recorded for us in the scriptures. My job is to continue to preach this first order foundational message of the word of God that orients us all to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
So again, these three offices are singled out. Why are they singled out, because this is the beginning of what the church’s body has to be? It has to be built as a building on a foundation of Christ. The apostles and prophets have laid that foundation, but then it needs to continue to be ministered and taught and proclaimed, the word of God, so that the body continues to grow.
Paul makes this very clear in Ephesians chapter 4, where he says that the reason the teachers have to keep teaching is so that the rest of the body can know what to do for all the other aspects of ministry. What the apostles, prophets, and teachers do, that’s not everything that’s contained and accomplished in the church. That is simply the first order foundational work that has to happen for everything else to happen properly.
So, in Ephesians 4:11 Paul writes a similar list and he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and the pastor teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. The whole point of this work, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:16, is so that the whole body joined and held together by every joint, every member, every part with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
These offices are given to build up the church so that the rest of all the parts and pieces and joints and organs and limbs will work properly so the whole body will be built up in love. That’s why these offices are set out first. Yet Paul by no means to suggest that that’s all that we do in the church.
The next thing that Paul does is to list five gifts. Now I’m going to make an assertion that you may or may not agree with. I’m not going to have time to defend it this morning, we’re going to talk about it more when we study 1 Corinthians chapter 14. If you have questions about this assertion, please come talk to me.
Here’s the assertion; some of these gifts that Paul lists in this list have also ceased like the office of the apostles and the prophets. Some of these gifts have ceased and the reason is the same as for the apostles and the prophets, they did their job. They had a first order foundational work of laying the foundation of Christ and now that foundation is laid, we don’t need their use continually because God has already given us the Bible to point us and orient us all to Christ.
Now again I don’t have time to defend that this morning. We’ll talk about that more, but if you have questions please come talk to me because we can look at some of the other scriptures and consider them together. The gifts that I’m arguing that have ceased are the gifts of miracles, the gifts of healing, and the various kinds of tongues that Paul lists in verse 28.
The miracles and the healings these gifts were signs and wonders that were primarily associated with the ministry of the apostles. The function of these gifts was to confirm and to authenticate the message of the apostles. They were given to confirm that the eyewitness testimony that the apostles were giving was true and it was accurate, and here’s the confirmation you’re seeing signs and wonders miraculous healings performed in your midst.
Then when we get to the tongues, the tongues were kinds of prophecy, we know that from a variety of places. When we talk about the word tongues, the word tongue is kind of a King James Old English way of saying what we would use the word language for. The word is just language, but it’s sort of a holdover from the King James Bible that we still call this the gift of tongues. It’s better to call this the gift of languages.
We don’t usually often speak of the Greek tongue and the Hebrew tongue, we speak of languages. What happened in the early church was that just as you had some people, apostles and some others, who were associated with their ministry, who were given the gift of performing signs and wonders, miracles and miraculous healings to confirm and authenticate the messages of the apostles, so you had people who were equipped to speak in other languages. They could prophetically, spontaneously preach the word of God in other languages that they didn’t actually know so that the word of Christ could get to other people and other people groups who spoke other languages. That’s what happens in Acts chapter 2 and that’s what Paul is talking about here.
We don’t need miracles or miraculous healings anymore, although God still can and does perform miracles, he still can and does miraculously heal, but we don’t need people with the gift of miracles or the gift of healings in our midst because that function has ceased.
God has confirmed his word by his Holy Spirit. Now when we read his word our eyes are opened, our ears are open, our hearts are softened to believe what the Bible says and that’s how God authenticates and confirms his word. We don’t need those who can exercise miracles and healings anymore.
As for the tongues we don’t need people to spontaneously start preaching Christ in other languages, we need Bible translators to put the word of God, given once for all the foundation of the message pointing to Christ once for all, we need that translated into new languages that don’t currently have the word of God in their own tongue, their own language. That work is like the gift of tongues in some ways but it’s very different from what was happening in the early church.
Now that we have the once for all laid foundation of the Bible those gifts, I’m simply asserting I’m not giving a full argument for them, have ceased. They’ve done their job. We have the word of God once for all now.
We should notice though that there are two other gifts that haven’t ceased, they have an ongoing role. The gifts of helping and administrating. These aren’t foundational gifts that laid the foundation of the church. Now that work is done these are gifts that have ongoing use to build on that foundation, for the building up of the body of Christ.
By the gift of helping Paul is talking about gifts for mercy ministry. This is very clear from how he himself uses this word in Acts 20:35. He’s speaking to the church at Ephesus and he’s giving them his farewell address and he says,
35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35, ESV
Mercy ministry, helping the weak, we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus how he himself said it is more blessed to give than to receive. Now in the church this gift has an active ongoing role, it’s primarily exercised by the deacons who lead us in areas of generosity and of mercy toward those in our midst and those in the wider community. Yet it’s not the sole possession of the deacons. This is a gift that some of you have to exercise various ways of helping others around you.
The second gift, the word of administrating. If you put a job description out there and said you were looking for someone who could do administrating you’d probably think secretarial kind of work, very detail-oriented kind of work and that’s extremely critical, but that’s not the kind of work that Paul is talking about here. The word that Paul used here is a little bit unfortunately translated as administrating, it’s the word that’s used to describe the pilots of ships.
In Acts chapter 27:11, when Paul is on the ship on his way and he goes to Malta and then to Rome, that’s the word describe the pilot of the ship. Then in Revelation 18:17, that’s the same word used there.
Anthony Thistleton, a man who is maybe the most learned commentator on 1 Corinthians, he wrote just a giant commentary and then another one because he hadn’t said enough in the thousand-page version. He summarizes this by saying that this is the ability to formulate strategies, someone who can perceive what opportunities or dangers lie in this or that direction, just like a pilot would navigating through a rocky harbor.
Now in the church just as the deacons lead us in the work of helping, the elders are primarily charged with the responsibility of giving direction to the church. There are two kinds of elders in the church and Paul has already mentioned the office of teacher, so here it seems that he’s talking about ruling elders, those who give exercise and exercise oversight over the church by giving the whole church direction in a formal and an official capacity.
Just as we said that the helping gifts weren’t the exclusive possession of deacons, so these leadership and guidance gifts are not the exclusive possession of the elders. Many others have this gift to exercise and give direction and guidance informally and unofficially to one or more people that they help in their lives.
Well that’s the list in verse 28. Preaching a list is hard. Why though does Paul give us this list? Well Paul in verses 29 and 30 tells us very clearly why he’s listed out these offices and these gifts. He tells us this by asking a series of questions, not because he doesn’t know the answer but he’s making a point. These are rhetorical questions, he’s making his point by asking the questions.
Even though he hasn’t given an exclusive list of offices and gifts there are other gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11. Paul didn’t really talk directly about the office of deacon and elder, which you can read more about in Titus chapter 1 and 1 Timothy chapter 3 Paul’s point here is to show us that no one has all these gifts.
Look at verse 29,
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 1 Corinthians 12:29, ESV
The point that Paul is making, the way he’s written this, is to say no one has all of these gifts or not all of us do any one of these things.
So, three conclusions from this section. The first conclusion, from looking at this list of gifts and what Paul asks in verses 29 and 30, is to say that first of all you certainly do not have some of these offices or gifts. Now you may think that that list is longer than I do, and we’ll talk more about that in 1 Corinthians 14 and I want to talk with you in the meantime if you have questions.
You certainly don’t have some of these offices, you can’t be an apostle, you can’t be a prophet, those roles are ceased. You can’t have some of the gifts of miracles and healing and tongues. Those gifts have ceased.
So, you don’t have some of these gifts, but you also don’t have any or all of the remaining gifts, and remember this list isn’t exclusive there are other gifts listed elsewhere. Paul’s point here is that not all are teachers not all are helpers not all are administrators or guiders pilots.
The third point that Paul makes here is that because you are individually a member, because you have a membership, you do have gifts. That is, you have a function, you have a ministry in the body of Christ. Whether these refer to you or not, you have a role, a function that God has appointed for you in his church.
You Have a Mission
How then do you know what that gift is? That’s the million-dollar question. So we all want to know what’s my gift, how should I seek to serve the body of Christ? Well I think Paul gives his most practical direction on this point, perhaps in the whole Bible in the very next verse. In verse 31, which tells us our final point, Paul tells us you have a mission. Look what Paul says there are two sentences in verse 31.
31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:31, ESV
Look at the first sentence, Paul says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” This word for desire means to be jealous for them in order to zealously seek for them. At first we read this and this is surprising, didn’t Paul already tell us to be content with our gifts back in verses 15 and 16? Didn’t he tell the foot not to want to be a hand, didn’t he tell the ear not to want to be an eye?
Well Paul here is not telling us to devalue our gifts or to despise other gifts that we don’t deem as important in the church. What he is saying here simply is that there are some gifts that are given to the church that are simply more useful in building up the body of Christ. Now let me show you where Paul is going. When we get to chapter 14:5 Paul makes this kind of a comparison what are the higher gifts, what are the greater gifts, what are the better gifts.
He talks there and compares about the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy. Now again when we get to this, we’ll talk about why the scriptures teach that those gifts have ceased. Talk to me in the meantime if you have questions. But listen to the logic that Paul employs here in 1 Corinthians 14:5 Paul says,
5 Now I want you all 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 built up. 1 Corinthians 14:5, ESV
What are the greater gifts? These are the gifts that build up the church the body of Christ. When we have this principle in mind, the gifts you should be seeking, the gifts you should be desiring, are those which build up the body of Christ.
This leads well and helps us to understand Paul’s next sentence in chapter twelve where he says this, “and I will show you a still more excellent way.” Now this last sentence is transitioning into verse 13. The still more excellent way is the way of love. What Paul is doing here is transitioning, it’s not just love on its own he’s saying let me show you everything I’ve been talking about and how you can do it according to the way of love.
The way of love is to seek not your own good by your use of the gifts, but to seek the good of others. This is the mission. You do not need to figure out how you can best promote yourself and puff yourself up against other people, but to figure out what would be the most useful thing for the body of Christ for you to do right here and right now.
So what do we make of this? How do we apply this great text on spiritual gifts? Well two applications this morning.
1. Belong to the body of Jesus Christ. The Bible is full of hard painful truths about our status outside of Christ. In Ephesians 2:2 we read that we were like the rest of mankind, children of wrath. In liturgy today we talked about the seed of the serpent. We were born into a line of people who were condemned along with the serpent and along with the devil and outside of Christ. In Ephesians 2:12 Paul says,
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Ephesians 2:12, ESV
We are alone, we are disconnected, we are isolated, and we are condemned before God. But the Bible also announces this first order, foundational gospel truths that are borne witness to in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, particularly in the work of the apostles and prophets who laid the foundation of Jesus Christ, to declare who he is and what he has done for us.
That although our Lord Jesus Christ was the eternal son of God, he became as a child of wrath for us, he took our punishment and our curse in our place. What we deserved he took it for us. Although Jesus Christ was the rightful heir of the kingdom, he allowed himself to be cut off, cast out, and condemned by his own people and even to be cut off, cast out, and condemned by his Father in Heaven.
He did this for us in our place. Because our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered the punishment that we deserved, and because he exhausted the wrath of God against us, and because he arose victoriously over God’s condemnation on the day of his resurrection, and because he’s ascended to the right hand of God to reign forever, he has made a way for us to be accepted. He has made a way for us to be reconciled, a way for us to belong to the body of Christ.
If you don’t believe in Jesus for your salvation, you are still cut off. You are still under condemnation. You are still disconnected from God. You are still among the children of wrath. The promise of God is that if you turn from your sins and turn toward Jesus Christ in faith you will be forgiven, you will be brought into the family of God, you will belong to the body of Christ in membership to him. Belong to the body of Christ by believing in Jesus.
If you know Jesus, you might have some American ideas about the church. That the church is there and it’s fine and I guess they host things on Sunday, and there can be some benefit there, but I really would like to keep my options open, keep things at arm’s length by not joining a church. Let me urge you that is not an option in the church of Jesus Christ.
He has not left it for you to choose the path of aloneness, you are not a lone ranger Christian. You are called into a people, a body, a particular congregation of people who know you, who will share your sufferings, and who rejoice when you are honored. Belong to a body, a congregation, a particular church of Christ.
2. Seek to be as useful as possible to the body of Christ. So often when we talk about spiritual gifts, we imagine that we need to take some mystical spiritual personality test to find what my gifts might be. Then we come to this passage and Paul tells us that’s not at all what this looks like. He’s so practical here, he says earnestly desire the useful gifts, earnestly desire the higher gifts, earnestly desire what is greater by being more useful, by being in accord to the still more excellent way of love.
Now that doesn’t mean you need to be an officer in the church, all are not teachers, all are not ruling elders, they all are not deacons. It also means you don’t need the most visible role in the church. The parts of the body, as Paul mentioned earlier, that seem weaker are indispensable to the body. God gives even the most unpresentable parts of the body, perhaps those whose gifts are in generous giving or intercessory prayer, which Jesus says don’t do that in front of people do it in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. God has so composed the body as to give greater honor to the parts that are unpresentable.
The mission that you have is simply to seek to serve and to love. Now I want to say if you’re wondering what that looks like for you, this is a great item to discuss with the elders of the church. We don’t have all the answers, we don’t have all the wisdom on things like this, but part of what it means to be called as an elder is to be gifted by Christ to give guidance, to give direction, to be that pilot for the church as a whole and for individual people. Again, that doesn’t mean we’re infallible on this, but the scriptures teach that Christ has given these particular gifts to elders.
This means that we don’t have your function. There’s sort of two parts to this, we can help you figure out your function, but we don’t have the gift to do what you are gifted to do. We can’t perform what only God has appointed you for to perform in the church, but we want to help you be as useful as possible to the body of Christ. So, come talk to us if you don’t know how to be useful. No one wants to be useless. The good news is you can be useful in Christ’s body.
Brothers and sisters, you have a membership, you have a ministry, you have a mission. Jesus Christ has set us free from sin in order to bring us together as his body, so that we can serve one another and build the body up in love, so that every part and every joint is functioning properly. You have a mission to figure out how to do that as well as you possibly can.
Heavenly Father we pray that you would give us grace as we seek to serve the body of Christ. Open our eyes to Jesus, the first order foundational gospel about him. Help us to see his glory, to hear his good news, and to love him from the bottom of understanding hearts. We pray for your Spirit, for these gifts, and we pray that you would make us useful in your body. Not to us be the glory for that, Father, but to you we pray this in Christ’s name and by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.