Alan Knox

Alan Knox

Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.

He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.

Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.

The Disciples, the Apostles, and the Twelve

When I was growing up, I thought that the terms “disciples,” “apostles,” and “the Twelve” all referred to the same group of twelve men who followed Jesus around between his baptism and his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In fact, I often heard the terms combined as in “the twelve disciples” or “the twelve apostles,” and I rarely heard the terms “disciples” or “apostles” used to refer to anyone other than “the Twelve.”

Now, I understand that “the Twelve” were “apostles,” but other people were apostles as well. I also understand that “the Twelve” and the “apostles” were “disciples,” but other people were disciples as well.

Believe it or not, Matthew only uses the term “apostle” once. He uses the term “twelve” eight times. But he uses the term “disciple” over 30 times. A few times, Matthew combines the terms: “twelve apostles” or “twelve disciples.” That clarification (i.e., the fact that Matthew occasionally says “the twelve disciples”) indicates that at times Matthew is using the term “disciple” to refer to a group that does not include ONLY the Twelve.

It’s clear from reading the Gospels and Acts that many people – not just the Twelve – followed Jesus as his disciples. In fact, we learn in Acts 1, that at least 2 people – but probably more – followed Jesus from the time of his baptism by John and were still with the 120 when they were gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. (See Acts 1:21-23.)

Here’s a passage from Matthew, for example, that indicates that the term “disicples” was used to refer to more than just the Twelve:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:47-50 ESV)

Why is this important? Well, think about these questions:

Who was in the boat with Jesus when he calmed the storm? (“And when he [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him…” Matthew 8:23 ESV)

Who did Jesus teach privately? (“Then he [Jesus] left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’” Matthew 13:36 ESV)

Who did Jesus eat ‘the Last Supper’ with? (“He [Jesus] said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.”‘” Matthew 26:18 ESV)

In the same way, we know that other people (besides the Twelve) were referred to as “apostles,” especially in Acts and Paul’s epistles. Therefore, when we read that apostles said or did something, we cannot assume that the author was referring to the Twelve. (However, as an interesting aside, perhaps Matthais was chosen to replace Judas as one of “the Twelve” in Acts 1:15-26.)

This passage by Paul specifically points out this difference:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV)

Did you notice that Paul makes a distinction between “the Twelve” and “the apostles”? Notice that we see that Jesus also appears to “more than five hundred brothers (and sisters).”

So, we should be careful when we read these terms in Scripture. Otherwise, we might limit the scope and reference more narrowly than the authors intended.

Spiritual Gifts – Conclusion

The goal of this study and this series of posts was to study passages which included lists of spiritual gifts in order to determine what the writer was saying about spiritual gifts. As we’ve looked through these lists of spiritual gifts, there are several general things that we can take from our study.

First, the actual exercise, description, or definition of the gifts involved was never the emphasis for the author. In fact, we are never told exactly what the gift of apostleship entails. The gifts of tongues and giving are never described. We are not told how to exercise the gifts of prophecy or administration. The authors do not explain the differences (if there are any differences) between word of knowledge, word of wisdom, prophecy, teaching, exhortation, etc. Perhaps we can glean certain information about the various gifts from other passages of Scripture. But, if exercising, describing, or defining the gifts are never the emphasis of Scripture, then why do we emphasize this so much?

Second, we are never told to find out what our spiritual gift is. Never. Not once. Instead, we are told that God gifts us as He desires. He chooses how to use our speaking and our serving. We don’t decide. Think about this for a moment. If I speak to a group of people, some people may be taught, others may be encouraged, others may receive it as prophecy – all from the same instance of speaking. Which gift did I exercise? I suggest that I did not exercise any of the gifts. I simply spoke as God directed, and he used the speech as he chose – to teach some, to exhort others, etc. Perhaps, then, Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 4:10-11 would be the best to consider when we are going to speak or serve. We should not ask ourselves if we have the gift of teaching, but if we are speaking the words of God. We should not ask ourselves if we have the gift of serving, but are we serving in the strength that God provides.

Third, the gifts and the categories are not as clear cut as we would like to make them. I’ve already mentioned that Scripture does not tell us the difference between words of knowledge, words of wisdom, prophecy, teaching, exhortation, etc. Most definitions and descriptions come from human attempts to pull out of Scripture what is not there. Even speaking and serving are not distinctive categories. Is the gift of apostleship a speaking or serving gift? Yes. What about pastoring? Yes, again. I think this is true for all of the “gifts”. They will all include aspects of speaking and serving. Even teaching – because we are told that teaching involves both what we say and how we live.

Fourth, love is emphasized in several of the passages that list spiritual gifts. Sometimes we only give a wink and nod at love, but without love, “spiritual gifts” are not spiritual gifts. As Paul said, I can speak or give or prophesy, but without love it's all nothing. Perhaps, the next time we prepare to speak or serve, we should start by asking ourselves if we are loving the people that we want to speak to or serve. If not, then we should start with that – work out the problems before we ever start to speak or serve. Otherwise, we are doing nothing.

Fifth, we are not given spiritual gifts for our own benefit. We are given gifts by God for the benefit of others. God uses our words and our actions to exhort, comfort, edify, etc. those around us. If we are more concerned with what we are getting out of our speaking or serving, then we are not exercising spiritual gifts. In fact, if speaking and serving for the benefit of others bring glory to God (which Peter says), then speaking and serving for our own benefit do not bring glory to God.

Sixth, spiritual gifts are never connected to leadership. I’m not saying that leaders do not have spiritual gifts. However, we do not choose leaders because of their spiritual gifts. I realize that this is contrary to much contemporary teaching, especially teaching surrounding the five-fold ministries. However, if these five gifted individuals are necessary for the birth or growth of a church, it would seem that Paul or someone would have been a little more clear. Even the spiritual gift of teaching is not necessary for a leader. A leader should teach – but then, every believer is supposed to teach. Instead of choosing leaders based on their giftedness, believers should follow those who best exemplify the characteristics that all believers are supposed to have.

Seventh, and finally, when the church gathers, it should not be a one man – or even a two man – show. In fact, every believer should expect to speak to or serve brothers and sisters whenever they get together with them. Multiple people speaking or serving one at a time is not disorder – in fact, this is Paul’s very definition of order. We miss what God wants to say to us and what God wants to do among us when we do not allow everyone to speak and serve as God directs. Will it be messy? Probably. But, people are messy, and we are fooling ourselves if we think our highly planned and efficient meetings keep people from being messy. If anything, our meetings hide the messiness, or sweep it under the rug, instead of actually dealing with people and their lives and their messes.

I would love to hear what you have to say about spiritual gifts.

Spiritual Gifts – 1 Peter 4:10-11

The final list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Peter 4:10-11. These two verses are part of a paragraph that beings in verse 7:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies - in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

In this passage, Peter combines all spiritual gifts into two categories: speaking and serving. Peter does not help us identifying which specific gifts belong to which category. In fact, Peter does not say that each spiritual gift easily fits within one of these two categories, or that these are the only two categories. Again, the emphasis is not on defining or describing the individual gifts.

In context and like Paul, Peter combines the concepts of sober thought and love with spiritual gifts. Remember that in Romans 12, Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts followed the exhortation to have a renewed mind and not to think too highly of oneself. Peter uses a similar verb in v. 7 to tell his readers to think soberly. Paul also echoes Peter insistence that believers demonstrate love. In fact, it is possible that spiritual gifts in verses 10-11 actually helps explain love in verse 8 (along with hospitality in verse 9). Either way, there is certainly a close connection between love and spiritual gifts.

Also like Paul, Peter recognizes that spiritual gifts originate with God and are as different as God’s “varied grace.” Peter also emphasizes that God is the source of spiritual gifts and the ability to exercise spiritual gifts when he tells his readers to speak as if they are speaking the sayings of God and to serve from strength which God provides. For Peter, there is no place for speaking human words or serving from human strength. Spiritual gifts are provided by God and are exercised through the words and strength of God.

This passage also links exercising spiritual gifts to worship. We bring glory to God when we speak the words of God and serve in the strength that God provides. This is worship, and exercising spiritual gifts encourages others toward worship. I’m not talking about “praise and worship,” as in music and singing. Instead, I’m talking about living a life in obedience to God that brings honor to God – this is worship. And, exercising spiritual gifts demonstrates and encourages worship.

Therefore, in this passage, Peter encourages his readers – and us by extension – to think rightly and to love completely by exercising the spiritual gifts that God has provided to them. They are to exercise these gifts as God provides the means and opportunities, and they are to do so in order to bring glory to God.

Spiritual Gifts – Ephesians 4:11

The last spiritual gifts list found in Paul’s writings is in Ephesians 4:11. The context for this verse is found in Ephesians 4:7-16:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:7-16)

In this passage, Paul lists four types of spiritual gifted individuals: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. (In a previous post, I have described why I consider these to be four categories instead of five. See “Ephesians 4:11 and the Five-Fold Ministry.” In fact, I’ve covered this entire passage previously. The summary post is called “Ephesians 4:7-16 and Consistency.” There are links to the other posts in the series at the bottom of each post.) There is some overlap between this list and the other lists. Primarily, apostleship, prophecy, and teaching has been mentioned before. However, this is the first time that Paul has mentioned evangelism or shepherding, which seems to be associated with teaching. Once again, Paul does not describe how these specific individuals function. Instead, we see the results that come about when spiritually gifted individuals exercise their gifts for the benefit of the church.

Once again, Christ is the focus of this passage. In fact, Christ “measures” the gift (Ephesians 4:7); he is the “measure” of maturity (Ephesians 4:13); and he “measures” each one’s part (Ephesians 4:16). Christ is the one who descended and ascended. Similarly, Christ is the one who gives spiritual gifts to the church through its various members. Specifically, in Ephesians 4:11, Paul emphasizes that Christ is the one who gives the gifts. While this is not obvious in many translations (“And he gave…” – ESV, NASB), other translations try to bring out the emphasis found in the original: “And He Himself gave…” (NKJV), “It was he who gave…” (NET, NIV), “And He personally gave…” (HCSB).

Thus, the focus of this verse is not on the individuals, but on Christ. Because of his gift the church can be built up. Unfortunately, the focus is usually shifted to those with the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, and these are often called “equipping gifts” because Paul says that they “to equip the saints.” However, this stretches the text beyond what Paul says, and ignores the fact that the verb form of the noun translated “to equip” here is often used of all believers (i.e. see Galatians 6:1 where the same verb is rendered “to restore” instead of “to equip”).

So, again, the focus is not on these specific spiritual gifted individuals, but instead the focus is what Christ does through any gifted individual. Christ gives spiritual gifts so that he may equip the church through all of the individuals as they exercise their gifts. According to this passage, when gifted individuals exercise their spiritual gifts, the church is built up to maturity in Christ Jesus. That maturity is demonstrated when the church is not carried away by false teaching and when the church works together – each person working as Christ gifts them – to build up itself in love. Again, love is brought into the working of spiritual gifts. This is not an add-on, but an important aspect of working together.

Therefore, Paul makes this list of spiritually gifted individuals to demonstrate that the church is brought toward maturity in Jesus Christ when those gifted individuals exercise their gifts in love. Again, the focus is not on individuals, but on Jesus working through individuals to mature his church.

Spiritual Gifts – 1 Corinthians 14:26

The fourth list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 14:26. This is the introductory statement of a long paragraph which I believe ends at the end of this chapter (1 Corinthians 14:40). However, for the purpose of this discussion, we can look at just this one verse:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

(I’ve discussed this verse in detail in a series on 1 Corinthians 14. The conclusion of this series is called “Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 4,” and links to the other parts of the series are at the bottom of that page.) In this passage, Paul seems to list how various people implement their gifts, and not necessarily the gifts themselves. Thus, the lesson would be related to teaching, and revelation would be related to prophecy. Tongue and interepretation seem to be directly related to the gift with the same names. But what about hymn? Perhaps hymn would be a method of implementing the gifts of exhortation, or word of knowledge, or some other gift. Again, this list differs from the previous lists in this section of 1 Corinthians and it also differs from the list of spiritual gifts in Romans 12.

What is the purpose of this list? In this list of spiritual gifts, or perhaps in this list of ways to implement spiritual gifts, the emphasis is on the participation of each person, and on the purpose of each person’s emphasis. As each person comes together with other believers ready to exercise their various spiritual gifts, they all should have one purpose in mind: building up other believers, that is, helping them mature in Jesus Christ.

After the teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul tells the believers in Corinth that love must be the foundation of everything that they do and say (1 Corinthians 13). Remember that Paul also included instructions about love with spiritual gifts in Romans 12. This teaching on love should not be considered to be separate from spiritual gifts, but a very important part of Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts. It is impossible to properly exercise spiritual gifts without understanding and exercising love first.

Next, after teaching about love, Paul distinguishes between gifts that are easily understandable (such as prophecy) and gifts that are not understandable (such as uninterpreted tongues). When the church meets together, only gifts that are understandable should be exercised, because only understandable gifts can build up the church.

Following 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul gives guidelines to help the believers build up one another. These guidelines follow from the character of God, whose character is one of peace, not of disturbance. Thus, even as everyone comes together ready to build up others, there still needs to be order (one at a time) so that everyone can participate and everyone can be edified.

Therefore, Paul uses the list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:26 to give examples of how believers can exercise their spiritual gifts when the church meets together. However, the list is punctuated with the command to make sure that everything done is done for the purpose of edifying other believers.

Spiritual Gifts – 1 Corinthians 12:28-30

The third list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30:

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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30)

Paul lists the following spiritual gifts and gifted persons in this passage: apostleship, prophecy, teaching, working of miracles, gifts of healing, helping, administrating, various kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues. Once again, Paul does not define or describe the various gifts.

Interestingly, there are two lists in this passage, but the two lists are not identical. Most of these gifts are listed in the previous section (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). However, teaching is not mentioned in the previous passage, and the gifts of administration and helping are unique to this list. Also, there are some gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 which are not mentioned here (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, discernment). It seems that Paul was not working from a “standard” list of spiritual gifts.

Prior to this passage, Paul has just completed a long section where he used the “body of Christ” metaphor to encourage believers to see themselves as part of one another, working together for a common goal. He has exhorted them to recognize the importance of each individual and the necessity of each person’s gift for the health of the body.

In this passage, Paul reminds his readers that it is God himself who chooses how to apportion the spiritual gifts. The believers do not have the right nor the ability to choose their spiritual gifts. As we will see later, believers do have the capacity or the potential of exercising any spiritual gift, if God so desires. However, at this point, Paul says that this is not the way to God generally works within a group of believers. Instead, God chooses the various gifts that a person should or should not exercise based upon his will in building the health of the church.

Since Paul has just told the Corinthians that no spiritual gift is more important than another, it would seem that he does not enumerate apostles, prophets, and teachers because of their importance. Instead, it would seem more likely (given his previous teaching) that he is simply using the ordinal numbers as a rhetorical device, much as we would number chapters in a book without necessarily specifying the relative importance of those chapters.

What can we learn from this list of spiritual gifts in context? God chooses the gifts that he desires for each of us to exercise – we don’t choose. God does not gift everyone in the same way.

Spiritual Gifts – 1 Corinthians 12:8-10

The second list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. This passage is part of a paragraph that includes 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Let’s examine this list of spiritual gifts in context:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

In this passage, Paul lists the following spiritual gifts: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Paul lists gifts and the individuals gifted in this list, but he does not say anything about the specific gifts themselves. The only common gift between this list and the list in Romans 12 is the gift of prophecy.

This passage contains the first of three lists of spiritual gifts and gifted individuals in 1 Corinthians 12, a section that deals predominately with spiritual gifts. However, we should still consider each list separately to try to determine why Paul used the list.

In these particular verses, the reason for the list seems clear. In four sentences (vs. 4, 5, 6, and 11), Paul emphasizes the varieties of gifts within the unity of God. The gifts are described as gifts, service, and activities in verses 4-6. But, as Paul says, though the gifts vary, they each have the same purpose: the common good. And, though the gifts vary, they are each given as God through his Spirit desires.

This lists of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are simply examples of the “varities of gifts” that are given according to the will of God and for the common good. This sets the stage for the following passage concerning the body of Christ. According to Paul, every member of the body is important, and every gift is important. There are no unimportant parts of the body of Christ. In fact, Paul will say that the parts that seem unimportant are actually considered more important and are given more honor by God.

Therefore, the author does not list spiritual gifts in this passage in order to discuss how to exercise each gift, but instead to show that the gifts are given for the good of other people – in other words, there is one purpose in spite of the fact that there are many different gifts.

Spiritual Gifts – Romans 12:6-8

The first list of spiritual gifts that I will examine in this series is found in Romans 12:6-8. These two verses are part of a larger paragraph that either includes (depending on your English version) Romans 12:1-8 or Romans 12:3-8. Whether or not the first two verses should be included in this paragraph, they certainly set the background for Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts and the remainder of the book of Romans. Therefore, let’s include them in our examination:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:1-8)

The gifts listed in verses 6-8 are prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and mercy. In this passages, both gifts (prophecy, service) and the ones exercising the gifts (the one who teaches, the one who exhorts, the one who contributes, the one who leads, the one who does acts of mercy) are variously addressed. As we will see in later passages, this blurring of distinction between the gifts and the ones exercising the gifts is common for Paul.

In context, Paul begins by encouraging his readers to offer themselves to God as spiritual worship or spiritual service. They do this by first renewing their minds and learning what God desires from them. It is interesting that Paul moves from his readers renewing their minds to not thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think. He moves from not thinking too highly into spiritual gifts.

Paul says that each one has been given gifts according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. In spite of the fact that the gifts are different, the common attribute is God: “God has assigned,” “one body in Christ,” “members one of another.” When exercised according to the will of God, the different gifts do not fracture the body, but serve to bring the body together.

These gifts are often called “motivational gifts.” Some explain that everyone is given at least one of these gifts and are motivated to serve others through one or more of these gifts. However, Paul does not indicate that this list of gifts is different or special compared to other lists, nor does he indicate that this list is exhaustive, nor does he indicate that people are motivated to use one or more of these gifts. These are distinctions that others have placed on this passage in order to distinguish this list of gifts from other lists of gifts.

Instead of emphasizing motivation, Paul emphasizes that each person should exercise the gift or gifts that they have been given by the Spirit. They should not think too highly of themselves and attempt to exercise a gift that they have not been given. The body has many members and all are necessary; therefore there are no unnecessary or unimportant gifts. While Paul does not spell this out in this passage as he does in others, it does seem to be the focus of his passage.

Importantly, Romans 12:9 begins by describing “unhypocritical love.” If anything, the desire to offer spiritual service to God in hypocritical love is the motivation for each individual to exercise their specific gifts. As we think about how to serve God and as we think about the unhypocritical love that God is creating within us by his Spirit, we are motivated to serve others.

The question is how are we going to serve others? Are we willing to serve others in the way that God has chosen to gift us, or are we going to try to serve others in a way that we consider to be more important? According to Paul, we should not think too highly of ourselves, we should recognize that God has gifted us according to our faith and by his desire, and we should serve others with the gifts that God himself has chosen to give us. Otherwise, we are trying to serve with hypocritical love.

Spiritual Gifts - Introduction

This is the opening post for a new series about spiritual gifts. I don’t plan to describe each spiritual gift and how to exercise each spiritual gift, because I don’t think Scripture primarily approaches spiritual gifts in this way. While scholars write chapters and books and multi-volume works describing how to be an apostle, or how to speak in tongues, or what it means to prophesy, the authors of Scripture did not spend much time explaining these things.

So, what does Scripture tell us about spiritual gifts? That’s what I hope to determine through this series. I plan to examine each passage of Scripture that lists spiritual gifts, gifted persons, or even the result of exercising spiritual gifts. I plan to study those lists in context to determine what the author was saying about spiritual gifts in general. As I see it, that would include the following passages of Scripture: Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, 1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Peter 4:10-11.

I’ve decided to examine these texts in canonical order – that is, the order that we find them in the Bible. However, it would also be interesting to examine these passages in chronological order – that is, in the order they were written – to determine if there is any development in the understanding of spiritual gifts.

For the most part, though, I think we can learn about spiritual gifts by examining what each author says about them in context. There are similarities between each passage, but there are also differences. By comparing the similarities and the differences within the context of each section and letter, we can try to determine why the author chose to write about spiritual gifts at that particular point in his letter, and what he was trying to accomplish: that is, what did he want his readers to know or do based on his teaching about spiritual gifts.

It would be interesting to try to determine the scriptural definition of each spiritual gift, such as teaching, or service, or giving, or words of knowledge. But, remember, that will not be my purpose in this series. Perhaps someone else will choose to do that study. For now, I hope you will take the time to follow this series, and add your comments so that we can help each other learn what Scripture tells us about spiritual gifts.

Mutual Edification and the Church: Conclusion

This is the conclusion of a series examining what Scripture says about the purpose of believers gathering together. In short, I believe that Scripture shows through example, principle, and command that Jesus’ disciples should seek to build up (“edify”) one another (“mutual”) whenever they get together (“church”).

I began with an “introduction” to this series. Next I showed several “examples” from the Book of Acts of believers getting together in which several people took part in encouraging or strengthening the church. These examples are primarily in narrative form. In the next post in the series, I looked for “principles” in Scripture that would help us understand our mutual responsibility of building up one another. These principles were usually given in command form (not narrative), but they are not specifically given in the context of believers gathering together. In the fourth post, I discussed two “commands” in Scripture related to mutual edification that are specifically given in the context of believers gathering together.

These examples, principles, and commands cover almost the entire time period of the New Testament, from not long after Jesus’ ascension until the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. They either describe or are written to different groups of believers in different places at different times with different backgrounds. While most of the passages I examined come from Luke or Paul, there are similar passages by other authors.

For a quick example, consider the teaching about spiritual gifts from Peter. He writes:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. (1 Peter 4:10–11 ESV)

While Peter does not say specifically when, where, and how these gifts are to be used, it is in a context of caring for other believers (“keep loving one another” in 1 Peter 4:8 and “show hospitality to one another” in 1 Peter 4:9). If Peter agrees with Paul (which seems likely), then he would also conclude that God gives spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see 1 Corinthians 12:4–7).

When Christians talk about the church meeting—“worship service” if you prefer—the assumption is usually that believers should gather together to worship. Recognizing that Christians are to worship God always in all aspects of life, the reason for coming together is sometimes termed “corporate worship.”

Unfortunately, I think this leads to misunderstandings and confusion. Yes, believers are to worship when the meet with other believers, simply because every aspect of their life is to be lived as worship to God.

Instead of asking “should we worship?” when we gather together, we should be asking “how do we worship when we gather together?” We demonstrate our worship to God when we obey him and give ourselves to him. According to Scripture, when the church meets together (that is, whenever two or more disciples of Jesus are together), we worship (that is, we obey God) when they mutually edify one another.

Both parts of the term “mutual edification” are important. The whole church should be involved in the meeting, and whatever happens should serve to “build up” the church.

Unfortunately, the meaning and extent of the term “edify” or “build up” is too big for the final part of this blog post. Suffice it to say (for now) that edification (at least) means helping our brothers and sisters live in way that honors God or helping our brothers and sisters live more like Jesus Christ. While this might include teaching or singing, it goes far beyond teaching or singing.

There are many “commands” accepted by Christians today that are only found in examples, principles, or commands. However, the concept of meeting together for the purpose of mutual edification is found in all three: examples, principles, and commands. What else do we need before we start following these examples, principles, and commands when we meet together?

Mutual Edification and the Church: Command

I believe that Scripture clearly points out that the church should assemble (whenever believers get together) for the purpose of “mutual edification.” Scripture does not tell us exactly what actions should be taken when the church meets. But, in this series, I am attempting to show that Scripture demonstrates the purpose of the gathering of the church through example, principle, and command. So far, I have “introduced” this series, and I’ve presented some “examples” and “principles” found in Scripture. In this post, I examine commands in Scripture related to the church gathering together for the purpose of “mutual edification.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I make a distinction between “commands” and “principles” based on context. “Commands” are given specifically in the context of believers gathering together, while “principles” are not.

There are at least two specific passages in which commands are given related to believers gathering together for the purpose of mutual edification. The first is found in 1 Corinthians 14—the entire chapter—and specifically verse 26:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV)

Before this passage, Paul talks about the superiority of prophecy compared to speaking in tongues when the church is meeting together. He says that prophecy is superior in that context because prophecy builds up the church while speaking in tongues (without interpretation) only builds up the tongues speaker.

Following 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul gives a few guidelines related to prophecy and tongues speaking. Again, priority is given to prophecy because through prophecy the church is directly edified, while through tongues speaking (without interpretation) only the tongues speaker is edified.

It is also clear in this chapter (especially 1 Corinthians 14:27–32) that Paul expects several people to take part in speaking while the church meets. He even provides for the possibility that someone may speak even though that person had not planned or prepared to speak (at least where prophecy is concerned, but I believe this applies to any speaking that provides direct edification, such as teaching) (see 1 Corinthians 14:30).

The wording in the ESV at the start of this verse (“When you come together…”) is a little misleading. The verb “come together” is subjunctive with a subjunctive conjunction. Together, they should probably be translated “Whenever you come together….” Thus, Paul is making an appeal for working together for the purpose of edification any time and on any occasion that the believers meet together.

A similar passage is found in the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19–25 ESV)

I included the entire paragraph because it sets the instructions of considering one another, encouraging one another, and not forsaking to meet together in the context of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his position as our high priest.

In this passage, the author specifically says that the believers should think about one another so that they can provoke (a very strong word, usually used in the negative) one another to love and good works. He relates that this cannot happen if they stop meeting with other believers, but that it can happen if they encourage one another. (Although the ESV translates the “one another” with “stir up” instead of “consider,” the term “one another” is actually the direct object of the verb “consider.”)

As far as the mutuality of this passage is concerned, it would seem that the same ones who are instructed to “draw near to God” and to “hold fast the confession of our hope” are also the ones who are instructed to “consider one another to stir up love and good works.” In other words, this applies to all believers, not just certain ones.

In the context of the Book of Hebrews, the idea of “encouragement” includes both moving away from certain things (i.e., sin and deceit) and toward other things (i.e., love and good works). This is very similar to the idea of “building up” that we’ve seen before, even though the term “edify” is not used here.

So, in this two passages at least, we see clear commands within the context of gathering together that believers should work together in order to help one another in their walk with God—i.e., build up one another or encourage one another.

Mutual Edification and the Church: Principle

I believe that Scripture clearly points out that the church should assemble (whenever believers get together) for the purpose of “mutual edification.” Scripture does not tell us exactly what actions should be taken when the church meets. But, in this series, I am attempting to show that Scripture demonstrates the purpose of the gathering of the church through example, principle, and command. So far, I have “introduced” this series, and I’ve presented some “examples.” In this post, I examine examples in Scripture of the church gathering together for the purpose of “mutual edification.”

While many of these “principles” are actually “commands,” I’m separating them for one particular reason. The passages that I list as “commands” are specifically given in the context of believers gathering together, while the passages I list as “principles” are not given in that particular context.

When it comes to finding principles relating to believers gathering together, the main problem is deciding where to start and where to stop. It is almost impossible to read one paragraph of the New Testament without finding some principle or instruction related to the relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Consider, for example, and as a starting point, the “one another” commands of Scripture. These are always given within the context of two or more disciples of Jesus being together. How can you have a “one another” without having more than one, and thus a meeting of believers, and thus, the church. Here a few that specifically seem to apply to “building up” one another (although all of the do):

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13 ESV)

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. (Romans 15:14 ESV)

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13 ESV)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace… (1 Peter 4:10 ESV)

In would be difficult to understand how these commands could be carried out when believers are not meeting together. And if some want to suggest a special type of meeting of brothers and sisters (“Sunday worship service”)—a differentiation which is not found in Scripture—it would still seem that these principles would apply.

There are a few passages that specifically show principles of interrelationships between believers that lead to mutual edification.

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you [who lead you] in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:12–15 ESV)

In this passage, Paul does not specifically state that these things should happen when the church is gathered together. But the instructions here cannot be carried out without more than one disciple of Jesus being together. It would even seem that the instructions for all the “brothers (and sisters)” would be in the same context as “those who labor among you.”

Here is another one that shows even more clearly that the church must work together (“mutual”) in order to build one another up (“edification”):

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:11–16 ESV)

In this passage, Paul clearly shows the important principle of mutual edification—that the whole church must work together in order to build themselves up in Christ.

Through the “one another” passages and many others, it seems that mutual edification is a consistent principle throughout Scripture. The authors of Scripture expected the church to work together in order to help one another in their life in Christ.