Members Of The Body Of Christ
Proper Use Of Gifts

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 60c of 83


6  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;  7  Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;  8  Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:3-8).

[Church life is integral to the life of the believer. Thus, as Paul begins to exhort his readers on how to live the Christian life, he begins with instructions for the church. We have see how Paul emphasises that the members of the church must have a proper self-estimation. In this concluding instalment of our exposition on the text, we must consider his exhortation to members of the church to use their gives zealously and contentedly. —JJL ]

3.   Members of the Church Must Exercise their Gifts Zealously and Contentedly

Now, as in the case with verse 4, there are many who think that the apostle is here talking about official demarcation of duties. They say that Paul is telling the church that whenever anyone is assigned a function, he must not intrude into the duties of another officer. The deacon’s role is to serve tables, they must not be involved with any spiritual oversight in the church; the elder’s role is to rule, they must not be involved in teaching in the church, etc.

Well, whatever may be derived from other passages, it is not difficult to see that the apostle Paul is not in these verses talking about different offices, but different gifts in the church. He says “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us,” not “Having then offices differing according to the appointment of God…”

Therefore, we agree with the astute commentator Robert Haldane:

“It is quite obvious that the apostle is not distinguishing offices, but gifts. Every gift does not require a different office. Many of the gifts require no office at all.”

It is clear that Paul is talking about gifts and not offices here. He is not talking about the role of different officers in the church. He is saying: God has given each one of us as members of the church different gifts, and we must use them zealously and gratefully.

Indeed, in saying, “Having then gifts different according to the grace that is given to us,” he is suggesting that every member in the church,—not just the officers,—has at least one gift to serve in the church. This doctrine is taught clearly elsewhere in the New Testament. Consider:

·         1 Peter 4:10—“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

·         1 Corinthian 7:7b—But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

·         Ephesians 4:7—But unto everyone of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

It is clear, isn’t it? As long as you a member of the church, God has given you a gift to serve as an important part of the body. It does not matter whether you are young or old, male or female, highly educated or lowly educated, rich or poor, you have at least a gift from God to serve as a useful member of the church.

We must therefore seek to discover our gifts; and learn how to use them effectively. What is a gift? Well, a gift is any quality or skill or talent that can be used for building up the church of Christ!

But how can you discover your gift? Well, very simply by trying to help out, or to do good in the church. Since gifts are for the edification of the church, if you find yourself able to contribute well to a particular aspect of the life of the church, then you are discovering your gift!

Now, Paul lists 7 gifts here. It is obvious that he is not listing the gifts that are to be found in the church exhaustively, because elsewhere he speaks of other gifts too (e.g. 1 Cor 12:4, 9, 28). So these seven gifts are just a representative of the “manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). I suppose if we were to try to list the gifts exhaustively, it would include gifts for administration, languages, music, writing, cooking, carpentry, witnessing, caring the sick, maintaining the website, etc.

But let’s look briefly at Paul’s seven examples, namely: (1) Prophecy; (2) ministry or serving; (3) teaching; (4) exhorting or encouraging; (5) giving or contributing; (6) ruling or leadership; and (7) showing mercy.

a. Prophecy

6b whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; …

What is the gift of prophecy? A prophet is a herald who makes known or explains the will of another. When Moses complained to God that he was slow of speech, God told him to bring Aaron along when he went to see Pharaoh. He said: “See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet” (Ex 7:1). Aaron was to be Moses’ spokesman, as the prophets of God were God’s spokesmen.

A prophet of God makes known or explains the will of God. In the Old Testament days, God often revealed His will in regard to the future to His prophets. So Old Testament prophets could often foretell the future.

During the days of the apostles, before the New Testament canon was completed, there were still prophets who received special revelation from God through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 14:29).

But with the completion of the New Testament canon, God reveals His will in regard to the present and the future through His written word. Therefore, the gift of prophecy today, is no different from the gift which God gives to preachers or ministers of His Word.

Or to put it in another way: There are no more prophets in the original sense of the word. Only pastors or teachers remain in the church. Pastors or teachers are those who are given the gift of prophecy today!

Now, Paul instruct those who prophesy or preach to do so according to the proportion of faith.

What does he mean? Well, take careful note that Greek for the words “proportion of faith” (v. 6) is entirely different from the words for “measure of faith” (in. v. 3).

The words “proportion of faith” may literally be rendered “analogy of faith.” That is: “according to the proportion of faith” simply means in accordance with the “faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

Now, when Paul wrote Romans, the canon of Scripture was still not completed. So what Paul is saying is that those who prophesy must do so in harmony with the Old Testament as well as the body of truth already revealed through the apostles and the proven prophets in the church (cf. Gal 1:23; Jude 3, 20).

But, today, the canon of Scripture is completed. The gift of prophecy no longer involves extra-biblical revelation. So what Paul is saying to us, is that those of us who preach must do so in accordance to the truth of the Scripture, —accurately. Preachers are heralds of Christ. We must never speak our own opinion. We must only speak what we firmly believe Christ wants us to speak.

b.   Ministry

7a Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: …

The term ministry translates a Greek word from which we get the English word ‘deacon.’ So the apostle is probably speaking about the gift of getting things done. Most of our deacons would have this gift. When there is something to be done in the church they will get it done—whether it has to do with the arrangement of furniture, or the collection and distribution of funds, or the purchase of things necessarily for the church, or washing or the feeding of the members of the church when they come for worship.

We should take note that many of these things can be done by ordinary members of the church who have the gift of ministry. Deacons should have the gift of ministry, but in that they are called into an office of responsibility they are in a position to help co-ordinate or oversee the various things to be done; but other members in the church must labour with them or they will be overwhelmed.

So let us consider if you have the gift of ministry.

·         Are you good at printing and publication? You can help out with the bulletin.

·         Are you good at cooking? You can help out in the lunches.

·         Are you good with your hands? Has the Lord has given you gifts for repairing things? Many of our chairs and lecterns need repairing. Will you contribute your gift?

·         Are you a tidy person? Our church office and library badly needs a tidying up.

·         Are you good with audio visual equipment? We need people to overhaul the system, to man the PA and to do recording and other work. Will you contribute your gift?

·         Are you good at computers, we need a team to maintain the website. Will you volunteer to be part of the team?

c. Teaching

7b or he that teacheth, on teaching; …

Now the gift of teaching is especially given to the pastor-teachers of the church. They must especially labour in word and doctrine. And they are responsible for the spiritual education of the church.

But what about the rest of the members? Well, I believe that there is a sense in which other members can also be given gifts to teach! Part of the qualification of ruling elders is that they must be apt to teach, and they are called to feed the flock. I believe they are also often given gifts of teaching, so that though they are not to preach, they may teach.

What about other members of the church? Can they also have the gift of teaching? Yes! Remember how Aquilla and Priscilla taught Apollos. The fact is that while the pastors and elders should teach publicly there are other members who are also given gifts of teaching. They can teach in private, one to one, and in ad hoc situations.

So for example, though our deacons are not called to teach as part of their office, they may also teach if they have the gift to do so! When they visit the families they will have to teach or exhort according to the gifts that the Lord gives them. What do they teach? They may teach the families about how to manage their material resources. But that is not all! According as God has given them the gift of teaching and exhortation, they should be prepared to open up the Bible to instruct if necessary.

It is an error to say that deacons cannot instruct the members of the church. Of course, if a deacon should be unsure of certain doctrines, then common courtesy would require the deacon to refer the matter to the elders.

But it is an error to draw such a sharp distinction and say only the pastors and elders may teach, and all other members in the church may not teach one another. I am afraid that this is a terrible error that has crept into the Reformed church and has stifled the life of the church. No, no; if God has given you a gift of teaching, you may and you must teach so long as you are not teaching contrary to the doctrine of our Confession.

We must distinguish between the ministry of the Word in the church and the covenant life of the church. The ministry of the word is to be handled by the pastors, and to some degree by the elders who are called to feed the flock. But in the covenant life of the church, members must teach one another. Indeed, it is our duty to teach one another!

How do we know this is our duty? Well, did not Paul remind us that we are to teach one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Col 3:16)? And likewise did not the writer of Hebrews admonish his readers by saying that they “ought [already] to be teachers” (Heb 5:12).

Now, of course, Paul forbids women from teaching in the church in any official capacity (1 Tim 2:12). But does he forbid women to teach altogether? No, he told Titus to instruct the older women to teach the younger women (Tit 2:3-4)!

What about the men? Does Paul forbid those who are not elders in the church to teach? No, he does not! You will not find the prohibition anywhere in the Scripture. We can infer that preaching is to be done by pastors and the elders are responsible for the feeding of the flock, but where do you find in the New Testament that non-elders are banned from teaching in any capacity?

Now, in order that all things may be done decently and in order, the official ministry of the word in the church—should be handled by the pastors assisted by the elder who are, —as part of their qualifications, —apt to teach and have been examined by the church.

But nowhere are we told that it is a sin for brothers in the church to teach one another or even to teach in the Sabbath classes if they have the gift and are called upon by the elders to do so.

It would be a sin for the women to teach in the Sabbath classes for it would be to teach publicly, but though it is better for the elders to teach the classes, it is, I believe, no sin for the brothers to be involved when the need arise. This is especially so if the Sabbath classes are like those in this church, where it is not so much the education arm of the church, but a means to support the parents in their instruction of their children.

I think many of us, for fear of the many abuses we have experienced in the past, have swung to an extreme position where we find ourselves stifled as believers. But this is not what Paul is teaching us in the Scriptures.

d. Exhorting

8a Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: …

Now, exhorting is slightly different from teaching. Charles Hodge puts it well when he says: “Teaching is addressed to the understanding; exhortation, to the conscience and feelings” (Hodge).

Some of us are better at exhorting, but others are better at explaining things, which is teaching.

Now, the gift of exhortation is especially given to ministers of the gospel just like the gift of teaching. Ministers of the gospel must especially teach and exhort.

But again, the gift of exhortation, like the gift of teaching, is often given to other members in the church too. I think of some of our sisters. They are not very good at teaching, but they are good at exhorting. They encourage the elders in private by exhorting them to continue to labour on without fear or favour of men. Do you know how it lifts up the hearts of the elders when they receive emails or short messages from those who have the gift of exhortation?

Dear reader, do you have the gift of exhortation or encouragement? You may not be able to teach but you can exhort. You must exercise your gift in private. The spiritual health of the church is in some ways tied to the exercise of the gift that the Lord has given you.

e. Giving

8b he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; …

Now, if you are not already convinced that Paul is talking about gift rather than offices, this ought to convince you. I can’t think of an office of a giver!

On the other hand, there are some of us who have the gift of giving. These are always the first to see a need and always ready to give when they see some specific needs.

Those who have the gift of giving are sacrificial and sensitive in their giving.

Do you have the gift of giving? You must continue to give liberally, with simplicity, not expecting return and not letting your right hand know what your left hand does. God loves a cheerful giver.

f. Ruling

8c he that ruleth, with diligence; …

Now, this is a gift that is especially given to the elders. Indeed, I cannot think of how under normal circumstances it should be given to the ordinary members of the church, for otherwise there will be many chiefs.

Well, those governing must do so with diligence not negligence. The must rule zealously, not lazily or half-heartedly. The government of the church, in correcting abuses, preventing disorders, and in the administration of discipline, calls for constant vigilance and fidelity.

g. Showing Mercy

8d he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

This again certainly cannot refer to an office, but to a gift. There are some in the church whom the Lord has given the gift of showing mercy. They are full compassion. They are always ready to visit the poor or the sick.

Do you have the gift of mercy? Take heed to Paul’s exhortation show mercy with a cheerful spirit, not grudgingly.

Remember that kindly acts must be seen to flow from a loving concern for the sufferer, for as Calvin puts it—‘if [the sufferer] observes a gloominess on the face of those who help him, he will take it as an affront.”

Conclusion

What more shall we say? Let us remember, dear Christian reader, that the Lord has given gifts to everyone of us to enable us to serve as an important part of the body Christ.

It does not matter whether you are young or old, male or female, highly educated or lowly educated, rich or poor, you have at least a gift from God to serve as a useful member of the church.

Do you know what your gift is? Is it one of those listed by Paul? Or is it something else?

If you know your gift, do not hide it. If your gift must be exercise in an office, seek the office! Do not bury your gift or the church will suffer because of you.

If you do not know your gift, remember to discover it by resolving to do good in the church. Do not ask what the church can do for you, but ask what you can do for the church; and begin to do it. If you are serious about it, you will find your gift. You will find yourself being used by the Lord to build up His church with your gift.

Remember to use your gift cheerfully and gratefully. Every member of the church must play a part in the body. Every member is needed. Only do not despise the gift that God has given you. Do not hide your gift in the earth. Use it for the glory of God and the edification of the saints.

Is your gift small and insignificant in your eyes? Do not despise the day of small things. Take heed to the exhortation of Paul to Timothy, stir up the gift of God that has been given you (2 Tim 1:6). If you will use what proportion of gift God has given you, you can fan it to flames. You can be even more useful to God than what you are already and one day you will hear the Lord say unto you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, … enter thou into the joy of the Lord!” Amen.

—JJ Lim