United in Service
Topic: English Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
[Unfortunately, an audio recording of this sermon is not available.]
When we started this series on unity, I mentioned to you that unity, in the New Testament, is a major issue, both doctrinally and practically. Since we have been made a family in Christ, we need to act like it.
Last week, we focused on the passage in Philippians which emphasized Christ’s desire that our church be standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side-by-side for the faith of the gospel.
That commandment tells us that, as a church, we’re supposed to be fighting together in order to keep the faith, defend the faith, and proclaim the faith.
And what we’re going to be focusing on today is a very familiar component of the Christian life. For most of you this probably won’t be something new, but it should serve as a helpful reminder for one very important expression of our unity.
I’d like you to turn with me, one more time, to the book of Ephesians. I told you a couple weeks ago that Ephesians is 3 chapters of doctrine and 3 chapters of application.
Two weeks ago, we focused on the doctrine section. Every believer has been united to Christ, and as a result of that union, we receive the spiritual blessings of election, adoption, redemption, protection, reconciliation, and edification.
We are united to Jesus. We are forgiven because of His sacrifice on the cross, and we are entered into a spiritual family.
And the basic message to us Christians in the New Testament is this: You’ve been made part of a new family, so act like it. Live out the truths of who you are. Walk in newness of life.
And walking in that newness of life will most definitely include walking in unity.
Look with me, like we’ve done before, at Ephesians chapter 4, verse 3. This is what Paul, and ultimately Jesus, wants for the church. He wants us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Why is unity such a big deal? Well, look at the next few verses. “4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to figure out the key word from those verses, right? What’s the key word there? … One!
We are one in Christ Jesus. We’ve been united. We’re all part of the same family, the same team.
But, here’s the point Paul is going to make next—being one doesn’t mean we’re all the same. We’re not talking about uniformity. We’re talking about unity. We’re all valuing the same thing. We’re all pursuing the same ultimate goal, but we don’t all look alike.
Look at verse 7. “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.”
Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, has given each of us a measure of grace. That’s talking about our abilities. That’s talking about the contributions each of us makes to the team, to the family.
The most evident and visible contribution that a member can give to the church, as a whole, is formal instruction. That’s what we’re doing right now. If you asked someone, what does Luis do for the church, the easy answer is: “He preaches on Sunday mornings.”
Preaching is part of my role here as a pastor and an elder. In fact, teaching is part of all the elders’ role as leaders in the church. That’s why the requirements for an elder say he must be able to teach.
When Paul thinks about the church, the first people he lists are those who lead and teach the congregation. Look at verse 11. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers”
The word we use today for a shepherd of the church is “pastor,” which is interchangeable with “elder.” Jesus gave the church pastors. He gave the church elders. Why? Not just so that they can teach. A pastor’s goal is not just to pass along information. Look at the goal with me in verse 12—"to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
My job as an elder is to equip you for work, to equip you for ministry (or service) That equipping has a doctrinal component, and it has a practical component. I want you to understand the truths of Jesus Christ, and I want you to live out that truth and proclaim it to others.
On a Sunday morning, the teachers are probably the most prominent members of the church, but we are not supposed to be the only ones doing the work. We’re all called to do it together.
If you are a teacher here, this is your main objective—to see people mature in their faith so that they are equipped to work, equipped to serve, equipped to minister. That’s what Jimmy and Erick are supposed to be doing with the youth. That’s what Angel is supposed to be doing with the Young Adults. That’s what the Spanish ladies ministry is supposed to be doing. That’s what our Family Life Groups are supposed to be doing. And that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.
We’re not just passing along information. We’re not just trying to create a closer Christian club. We are here to equip. And if you have been coming for some time, and you don’t feel like you’re being equipped for the mission of helping others know Jesus better, either we’re doing something wrong, or you’re doing something wrong.
From a doctrinal perspective, verse 14 says you should be learning to recognize and confront false teaching. And then from a practical perspective, verse 15 says we should all be growing up into Christ.
Jesus is the Head, and we are the rest of the body. And according to verse 16, if we’re all working properly, and if we’re all connected properly, we grow and we build ourselves up in love.
This is one of the major images the Bible gives us for the church. We are a body.
I’m sure you know this already: the human body is unlike any machine in the world. It is incredible! God made it like that. It grows. It adapts. It heals itself. Obviously, because of the fall, the human body is flawed with weakness. But in those times when all the parts are working, it is amazing. I would say it is the most impressive machine in the world. The parts are working together. And God calls all of us to do our part in the body.
Now, apart from Ephesians 4, the two passages that most directly talk about the body of Christ working together are Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.
I’m going to ask you to turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 12. First Corinthians chapter 12.
If ever there was a church that botched up what it meant to be united, it was the Corinthian church. This church had a lot of problems, and Paul addresses them in this letter. But the first problem Paul deals with, and he comes back to it repeatedly, is their lack of unity.
In the opening chapter of the letter, Paul says: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
The people in Corinth were an arrogant people. They were a boasting people. And in their rivalry and competitiveness, they started to develop little cliques that separated themselves from one another.
In the church, it is inevitable that you get to know some people more than others—that’s not inherently sinful. But the problem is when those groups starts to draw lines between themselves. And they start creating a barrier between the people.
In chapter 3, Paul says to them that their jealousy and their strife means they’re acting like mere men. They’re not living like co-citizens of heaven. They’re acting like the people of this world.
And one specific way these jealousies and rivalries could be seen was in the way people were serving in the church. It’s not that nobody was doing anything. It’s that rather than working together for the gospel, the church had turned itself into a competition.
How many people are in your Bible study? How impressive was that person’s sermon? How tasty was the dessert that person brought? Or, to put it more in our context, whose salsa got finished first at the picnic? … That’s not what Christians are supposed to be focused on.
We all need to be serving, but as we serve, there are some foundational truths that we need to keep in mind. They’re not complicated principles, but they are easily forgotten. Let me give you three basic principles for thinking about how we serve in the church and as the church.
Number one, you need to know that all our abilities come from the same Provider. We all have the same Provider.
Look with me at First Corinthians 12, verses 4 and 5—"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord.”
That word “gifts” refers to what you’re capable of, or to what you might do well in. We’re all capable of different things that serve in the church. And we all have different levels of capabilities in that, right? Each of us has our own unique combination of how we can contribute. And we have differing degrees in those abilities.
On top of that, verse 5 says, there are varieties of service. That’s talking about the function of the gifts. So, even if two people had the exact same skill set, they would still put their gifts to use in different ways and to different degrees.
So there’s a variety of gifts and a variety of service. But, verses 4 and 5 tell us, they all come from the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same Provider.
Those of you who feel like you have more abilities than others can be tempted to boast. You’re tempted to compare yourself with others and elevate yourself. Maybe you’re tempted to hoard ministry or to judge others.
And those of us who feel like we have less ability or are given less responsibility can be tempted to feel resentful. We can give in to self-pity, which doesn’t honor God and which isn’t productive.
All those responses are wrong, and they can be confronted if we remember that all our gifts and abilities come from the save Provider.
Verse 11 says the Holy Spirit portions gifts out to us individually, just as He wills. Verse 18 says God arranged the members in the body, each of them, as He chose.
This isn’t like the candies falling from a piñata. And we’re all scrambling to get what we can. This is talking about a personal gift, an individual gift. The Holy Spirit, individually, portioned out to you what you have.
Earlier in chapter 4, Paul says he doesn’t want the Corinthians to be puffed up in favor of one against another. And then he gives them this question: “What do you have that you did not receive?” Answer: “Nothing.” Everything came from God—your abilities and the results. And then Paul asks: “If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
We need to all keep this truth in mind. Whatever abilities, whatever gifts, whatever contribution you or anybody else makes to the church, it all comes from the same Provider. It all has the same Person as its source.
So if you have a problem with your gifts, before you take it up with anybody else, take it up with God. And if you’re faithful with a little, maybe He’ll give you more. But go to Him first. He is the Provider of our gifts.
There is also a second principle to keep in mind for all this. Someone might be thinking: “Well, yeah, we all got something from God, but I’m the one who put it to use. So don’t I get some credit here?”
And the answer to that is, No. You cannot take ultimate credit for your effort either. And that’s because not only do our abilities come from the same provider, but they are carried out by the same power. That’s the second truth. We all have the same power.
Look at verse 6—“And there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
Imagine, if you will, that we’re all going out to do some kind of construction project. And each of you gets some kind of power tool. Some of you get a drill. Some of you get a nail gun. Some of you get a sander. Some of you get a reciprocating saw. And some of you get the chainsaw.
Well, no matter what power tool you got, they all need some kind of power source, right? They’re all dependent on electricity, or compressed air if you want. Remove that power source, and the tool is useless.
Well, Paul is saying, the power source behind whatever gift you’ve been given is God Himself. He gave us the gift, and He empowers the gift. He is what makes it effective.
Verse 11 says the gifts are empowered by one and the same Spirit. That truth keeps us from boasting, and it keeps us dependent on Him. It keeps us praying. And it keeps us giving glory to Him, rather than ourselves.
Philippians 2:13 tells us, it is God who works in us, both to will and to work. That means that God is the One who gives you the desire to work. And He’s the One who makes your work effective.
In Colossians 1:29, Paul is talking about his ministry, and he says: “I toil. I struggle. But I do it with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.”
At the end of First Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 10. Paul says: “I am what I am by the grace of God. I worked harder than everyone else, but it wasn’t I, but the grace of God with me.”
That’s a statement from a man who recognizes that God is the One who powers His ministry. Do you keep that in mind? Do you remind yourself of that? It’s all by the grace of God. It’s all because God cares about His glory.
This truth is supposed to impact every single contribution we make for the body of Christ. Every conversation with a brother in Christ, or every act of service intended to encourage and help is to be done relying on the power of God.
The Apostle Peter speaks about our gifts in First Peter chapter 4. And he talks about love. He talks about hospitality. He talks about forgiveness. And then he says: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
It’s not our grace. It’s God’s grace through us that we’re responsible to express. And so, Peter adds, “whoever speaks, should speak as one who speaks oracles of God. Whoever serves, should serve as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
God has provided you with a gift. And He’s called you to put those abilities to work, to whatever degree you’re able, but always remembering that the power comes from Him. We all serve using gifts given by the same Provider. And we all serve by the same power.
Lastly, this is principle number 3, our gifts and abilities all serve the same purpose. We’re all supposed to have the same purpose.
This comes from verse 7—“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
The goal of all the gifts and abilities you’ve been given, no matter how amazing or ordinary you think they are, is to benefit the common good. It’s for the good of the church.
That’s saying the same thing Ephesians 4 was saying. When each part is working properly, making its contribution, the body grows. The body builds itself up in love.
All the theological or the practical discussions about spiritual gifts will be meaningless if they don’t lead you to actually do something that will benefit the church.
In the Corinthian church, the people’s giftings and abilities had become a way for them to elevate themselves, to make themselves stand out among the rest. So they were concerned about who could pray the best or who could preach the best or who could teach the best or who could organize an event the best. And with that concern, they had missed the entire point of the abilities they had.
The gifts given to you and to me by the Spirit of Jesus Christ are intended for the common good, for the benefit of the rest of the church. They’re not given to you simply so that you can enjoy some kind of personal, spiritual sensation.
Let’s take music for example. It’s one thing to grab a guitar and have a private jam session. Or to use it so that others are impressed by what you can do. It is another thing entirely to use that instrument to serve and to lead and to help others focus on Christ.
And that’s the same thing that can happen with any other function in the church, whether that be preaching or cleaning the kitchen or greeting a visitor. However you contribute, it should be for the purpose of drawing others closer to Jesus Christ.
By the way, this principle, given to us by God, assumes that we are all serving. It assumed that we’re all making a contribution. All of us have a responsibility to be serving in the church and for the church.
One of the ways that a conversation about spiritual gifts gets misguided is that people start thinking: “What’s my gift?” And they get so consumed in that question, that they neglect actually serving in the church in a meaningful way.
I would say, that much better than asking, “What’s my gift?” is to ask yourself, “How can I contribute? Where can I serve?”
First Corinthians 12 has a list of gifts, and Romans 12 has a list of its own too. But more important that trying to identify what all the gifts mean and what your own gift is, is the idea that you’re supposed to be doing something for the benefit of the church.
In Romans 12, it’s like Paul is saying, “It doesn’t matter what your gift is, or what task is available to you, just do something! And do it with the right attitude” If your gift is service, then serve. If it’s teaching, then teach. If it’s giving then be generous.
But never, in any biblical discussion of gifts, do we get the idea that ONLY those who are especially gifted at something should be doing it, or that those who are gifted should ONLY be doing that one thing. That’s not how it works.
Otherwise, we wouldn’t even be giving money. Only those with the gift of giving would have to give. And only those with the gift of help would clean up after themselves. Or only those with the gift of exhortation would be encouraging other. or only those with the gift of faith would be praying. That’s not how it works.
Of course, we’re going to find that some people are more suited for something than others. But when you hear about some kind of need or some kind of opportunity, your first question shouldn’t be, “Am I one of the best people in that?” or “Do I find that to be personally satisfying?” Your main question should be, “Is that a way that I can benefit the church? Will me helping in that serve the common good?”
You know, I think that a lot of our ideas about corporate church or church administration are way too connected to the secular business world. In the secular business world, or even in professional sports, everything is catered to the people. You have quarterbacks and you have running backs. You have shortstops and you have pitchers and you have catchers. You have salesmen and you have janitors. And nobody is supposed to trade places. You specialize and you get better at what you do. That what makes things successful. That’s how you win. That’s how you stand out.
But the goal of the church is not to beat the world at its own game. The goal of the church is to glorify the Father. And for His glory, He has chosen a body of people, as Paul reminded the Corinthians, where not many are wise, not many are powerful, and not many are noble, according to worldly standards.
God chooses the weak and the foolish to shame what the world says is strong and wise.
So, just remember that church life is going to be messy. It’s great when things go perfectly smooth, and everyone feels like they’re in the right spot, but that takes time, and that’s not mandatory for us to do what Christ has called us to do.
Sometimes, you end up doing something you don’t think you’re great at, because that’s where the need is. Whether that means helping with kids or with the Youth, or helping with coffee and bread, or helping with whatever new ministry may come up.
Just keep this in mind: The gifts you have been given are not FROM you, and they are not FOR you. They’re not for you personally. They are for the church as a whole. The gifts you have been given are not FROM you, and they are not FOR you.
So, you and I need to do what we can to bring Christ’s vision of a united church, serving together for mutual edification and the proclamation of the gospel.
And this brings me to the final portion of our message today. I really don’t want this to be some kind od academic exercise, where you’re furiously taking notes to share in your FLG this week. I want you to simply listen with an eager heart. And think about how God may have you serve in the church.
As we end our time together, I just want to run through some very practical ideas with you. Okay? These are some practical ways or practical ideas that you can starts putting these principles into action.
And if you’re already doing some, great. But like Paul told the Thessalonians, “excel still more.” Keep growing. Keep looking for ways to do more and to do it better.
Number 1: Don’t undervalue what you are contributing. Think about what your current contribution is and thank God for the ability to serve. Don’t worry so much about what you can’t do; focus on what you can do. Paul told the Corinthians that the feet shouldn’t be jealous of the hands. So again, don’t worry about comparing yourself to others, just think about what YOU can do.
Secondly, don’t undervalue the contribution of others. Give thanks to God for how others are serving. It’s so easy to focus on what isn’t being done, that we forget what has been done. Somebody set up the chairs. Somebody put out tables and prepared coffee. Someone is helping take care of the children. Someone is playing music. When you take this kind of mindset, it fosters unity and it opens your eyes to how others are serving.
Just to give you one biblical example, in 1 Timothy 5, Paul mentions the widows who devoted themselves to prayer. Their physical strength is gone, but they are vital to the church. So again, don’t downplay the contributions of others. Thank God for them, and encourage them in their service.
Number 3, consider starting a new ministry, or a new component to an existing one. Elders don’t have to do this. We equip. We support. But maybe there’s a ministry God is calling you to start. So start planning. Start talking to other people, and see where it goes. YOU are the church, folks. Not just the pastors, not just the staff. YOU are the church. Start small, and see what God does.
Number 4, connect with others. This is a way to bounce ideas off each other. It helps you sharpen them and they sharpen you. And maybe, these kinds of conversations, focused on serving in and through the church, lead to more service for Christ.
Connected to this, number 5 is: open your home. Open your home. Open it to neighbors and open it to members of the church. This allows your hearts to gather. First Peter 4 talks about hospitality in connection to gifts. Find a way to put a meeting in your home on the calendar. It’s going to be very difficult to serve together if we’re not living together.
Number 6 is: Meet practical needs. Meet practical needs. First Peter also talks about meeting the needs of others. And Romans 12 says is as well. If you hear about a need, just give to it, whether it’s something formal or informal. Jesus said “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” In other words, just give. Jesus also said: “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Your heart follows your wallet. So if you want to feel more united to what others are doing in the church, give for those kinds of activities or service.
Lastly, and this is number 7: Listen with the intent to serve. I’m talking about the way you listen and participate in the sermon, or in a class, or in your FLG. You’re not a passive recipient. this is the way you listen in a CPR class, right? You want to be ready to put this to use if the time calls for is. The same should be true for Sunday morning. This is a time for you to be equipped to do something for the name of Christ. Listen like that. Listen with an eager attitude.
And then as we go out to serve, as we go out to use our gifts, we will be united in heart and in mind, recognizing that our gifts are from the same Provider, they’re carried out in the same power, and they accomplish the same purpose.