We’ve been learning at Trinity CRC how the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to glorify God and build up the church. (This connects with what we believe about the priesthood of all believers, that all believers are gifted by God to serve him and one another, which, in turn, connects well with Reformation Day today!) Usually when Christians talk about spiritual gifts, things like administration, creative ability, serving, and wisdom come quickly to mind. Those are indeed important gifts Christ gives the church and it’s a great idea to discover, celebrate, and use the gifts God has given you.
But when the apostle Paul talks about gifts in Ephesians, he doesn’t begin by listing things. Paul emphasizes that the gifts God gives the church are first of all people! The gifts Christ gives the church to help it grow in unity and maturity include “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” It’s a diverse mix of people – and I personally do not take it to be an exhaustive list of the kind of gifted people with which Jesus fills the church. What’s more, I’d dare say you can see yourself somewhere in this list of people.
Yes, on one level, apostles were those who saw the resurrected Lord and were commissioned by Him to tell others what they had seen. But, as Ben Aguilera writes, if you’re the kind of person who creatively thinks about the future and builds bridges over barriers, you are like “the apostles” listed in Ephesians 4, “helping others see, feel, and touch the love of God” (this and the rest of the non-Bible quotes in this paragraph come from Ben Aguilera’s devotional). When Paul says “prophets,” imagine deep thinking Christ-followers (perhaps like yourself) who “encourage” – even challenge – more people to follow Jesus instead of just going with the flow of culture, sometimes even church. When Paul says “evangelists,” think of words like “recruiter” or “inviter,” which might be you if you have ever “welcomed a stranger, helping them get involved in the life and work of a community.” Among the synonyms for “pastors” in the original Greek are “caregiver” and “guardian;” if you have “deep compassion for the needs of people,” you have a pastoral streak in you. Some people reading my blog are already “teachers,” so that one’s not a stretch, but even if teaching is not where you get your paycheck, you may have biblically grounded wisdom that “makes the Gospel understandable and clear” in everyday life, in your words and actions.
At this point, some people might be tempted to say that these are roles only for men. Would you be surprised to learn that the Bible shows both men and women serving in each of the categories of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers?
Or you might say you’re too old or too young to serve like that. Would you be surprised to learn that John received the visions that became the book of Revelation when he was an old man? Would you be surprised to learn that some of the disciples were likely teenagers (maybe even tweens) when Jesus called them and that Paul needed to remind Pastor Timothy not to let anyone look on him because he was young?
Just within the categories of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher there is diversity in the Bible. There is diversity within the roles themselves and, on top of that, all sorts of different people – male, female, young, old – have filled these roles since the time of the early church. And we haven’t even touched on how early Christians differed in marital status (Peter was married; Paul single), blue collar and white collar occupations (Levi worked in finance; other disciples fished for a living), and polar opposite political convictions (Levi collaborated with the Romans while Simon the Zealot came from a group plotting the overthrow of the Roman regime). Yet they grew in unity and maturity as they worked together.
My point is this: The gifts God gives the church are first of all people – including you and me – even in all our diversity and differences. No one in Christ can say, “I’m not a gift to the church.” On the contrary, God is at work in all who are in Christ. We each have something unique to contribute, and the church is lacking when any one person holds back. As God’s people, we are called to see ourselves and one another as God’s gifts to the church.