Dear Radio Friends,
One more sermon on the church. There is one more aspect of the doctrine of the church that we yet wish to deal with today. As we have noticed, we cannot really separate our confession of the church from that of the communion of saints. The church is the communion of saints. It is the body of Christ of which all believers are members. There is therefore within the body of Christ as it becomes manifest in this world a certain organic life. We found in our last broadcast that simply having our names on a church membership role does not mean much if a person only fulfills the minimum required of him in the church. He is at best a weak member of the church. There is a life within the church and among its members that must be an integral part of the life of every child of God.
The Bible makes it very, very clear that this fellowship is not simply with God and with Jesus Christ. It is a fellowship that we share in with the saints! This is why we confess a communion of saints. We are members one of another. This means that we must live with each other, making one another a part of our lives. So, membership in the church is not only to be viewed from a legal point of view, but from an organic point of view too. When a person walks in unbelief he makes unbelievers a part of his life and communion. Believers make a life in the church with fellow believers. We live in and for church. This is an all important and essential part of our lives. Now, this we have applied in one area of communion. In our last broadcast we noticed that this has implications as far as the church as a whole is concerned. We asked ourselves the question: how can I use my gifts and talents and time for the church institute of which I am a member? We found that this placed on all of us as members here a financial obligation toward the church. It also places upon us the obligation to serve the church endeavoring to keep the unity of the church.
Today we are going to deal with a different aspect of this truth. Not only do we have an obligation toward the church as a whole, but we are called also to serve one another in the church. I must use my time and gifts in the service of my fellow members. And that because, as Paul points out in I Corinthians 12, we all have need of each other! This is going to be the content of our broadcast today. And we will address this because it too is a vital part of our being living members of the church.
Diversities of Gifts
Paul uses the figure of a body in I Corinthians 12. We read, for example, in verse 12, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” By means of this figure, God’s Word here calls attention to the various functions of the members of the body and how the functions of the various members are all necessary for the function of the whole. It is a good figure too. The Bible also uses the figure of a house or a temple. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:22, “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Likewise, Peter writes in I Peter 2:5, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” Obviously, the building to which these writers refers is the house of God or the temple. The church is one house—God’s house. The church is the place where God dwells. He lives here among His people. It is not as if Christ’s church simply belongs to God. God lives in this church. His presence is there. When believers gather together around His Word, then God is present and fellowshipping with His people. Already that blessed truth in itself has much to say about our place and calling in the church.
But what I am interested in today is the truth that God dwells in the midst of His church by His Spirit. The church is a habitation of God through the Spirit, Paul emphasizes in Ephesians 2. We are a spiritual house offering up spiritual sacrifices, Peter emphasizes in I Peter 2. The one unifying principle of the church is this: the work of the Spirit! We must recognize that work of the Spirit if we are to understand the communion of saints properly. It is important to know how the Spirit is working in the church among God’s saints.
The Spirit, remember, was poured out upon the church of Christ on the day of Pentecost. That Spirit is the Spirit of our risen Lord whom Christ sends forth to dwell in the hearts of His people. The Spirit applies to every believer individually the blessings of salvation in Christ. Christ has earned for us salvation on the cross, and Christ sends forth His Spirit into the hearts of God’s saints applying what He has earned to them. The Spirit is vital to our very salvation. When that Spirit enters our hearts, you and I become the abode of the Spirit. Through the Spirit Christ lives in us. That is true of every true member of the church of Jesus Christ. That is true of all elect believers. Christ lives in them by His Spirit. As that Spirit lives in our hearts He works in us the thoughts and the desires of Christ. Christ’s mind and Christ’s will become ours. As we have said, we have the heart of Christ in us! His mind is in us.
The Word of God exhorts the child of God, “Let this mind be in you that was in our Lord Jesus Christ!” We receive this exhortation because far too often the mind of Christ is not in us. The members of the church of Jesus Christ who ought to be living out of the Spirit of Christ fail to do so. Far too often what comes out is the works of the flesh, which are, according to Galatians 5:20 and 21, “wrath, strife, dissensions, heresies, and envyings.” When this happens, we forget what is our calling toward our fellow members of the church. After all, the fruits of the Spirit are, again according to Galatians 5, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, and meekness.” When these guide us in our dealings with others in the church, we can begin to understand what it means that we are an abode of the Spirit.
Paul tells us in I Corinthians 12:4: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Or again in verse 7: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” And once more in verse 11: “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” The Spirit of Christ as He dwells and works in the hearts of God’s people distributes to every member of the church certain gifts. Those gifts are just that: gifts. We cannot boast in them. We may not lift up ourselves in pride in them. The Spirit of Christ gives to us certain gifts by which He intends to build up and edify the church. The Spirit divides to every man individually as He wills. We draw on the figure of a building once more. All of us are as so many stones that God, the Builder, puts in the building of His church. We are living stones. The Spirit of Christ lives in us. That means that each one of us has his or her own unique character. There are no two stones that look alike. If we all looked the same, we would be a pretty drab looking building. But you and I are diverse— very diverse! Paul explains in I Corinthians 12:4, “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. Verse 5: “there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.” Verse 6, “there are diversities of operations, but the same God.”
Verse 4 emphasizes that the Spirit bestows on God’s people diversities of gifts. To each of member of the church is given his own unique gifts. Each member is given certain strengths. Some are given very logical minds. They are able to understand the doctrines of the church in a very clear way. Others are given steadfastness in the truth. Nothing will rock them. Some are given a high level of zeal, a joy by which we are gifted to speak with others about the truth. Some are given compassion and kindness. These feel for their fellow saints in their need and are merciful. Some are given the ability to teach, some to comfort, some to lead, some to say a kind word. God spreads these gifts throughout the membership of the church. I see it all the time. Some have several of these gifts. Some maybe have only one. But we all have them!
By the term “administrations” in verse 5 is meant “services”—our own abilities and talents to serve others. This is another way in which we are so diverse from each other. God has called us to so many different vocations in life. Some are talented one way and others another way. Some are given an artistic flourish, some are nuts and bolts type people. Some are given business savvy, others are given administrative qualities. Many women are gifted in caring for a family, gifted in the home and in helping others in the church. The list can go on. The Spirit gives us these diversities of talents that are distributed to God’s people in different quantities and levels.
The third term, “operations,” used in verse 6, means the works or functions we serve in our lives. Some are wives, some are mothers, some are husbands and fathers, some are leaders in the church, some are young, some are old, some are single, some are widowed, some are alone for other reasons. Some are ministers, elders, deacons. Some belong to the office of all believers in the church. Children, parents, grandparents. We all have our own place in the church, and each, in his calling, brings forth the operations, the works, of the Spirit. All these are the gifts that the Spirit divides individually to the various members of the church—who are the body of Christ.
Profit for All
Why does the Spirit distribute these gifts to the various members of the church? Well, not in order that they might horde their time and talents to themselves. Not in order that the members might selfishly use these for their own advantage and the advantage of their family only. These gifts are distributed for the glory of the church! We are the temple of the living God. God dwells in us. And that makes the church beautiful! We are beautiful together, saints of God! Not by ourselves, but together as we are cemented into the walls of the church. An artist that is truly an artist knows that the beauty of anything consists in the correct symmetry, the perfect blend of colors, the perfect shades of dark and light, and so forth. The beauty of the church is the perfect blend of stones in its walls that fit together so exactly that the building when looked upon is glorious. The Spirit distributes to us our gifts and talents and places in this life in order that we together might beautify the church! When our time, talents, and virtues are blended together in the church there is peace and harmony. When others behold us working together in such a blend of these things, then we are beautiful to them! There is nothing more attractive to others looking in than when God’s saints are using their gifts on behalf of one another in the church.
And that is not where it ends either. God uses this to bring glory to His own name! The psalmist teaches us that God beautifies you and me with salvation! He does this by the work of His grace in our hearts. He cleanses us in the blood of Christ. He sanctifies, washes us, scrubs from us the filthiness of sin. He conquers sin in us, and by His grace He makes us beautiful. In this way we reflect His beauty and grace. When others see in us the beauty of God, then it is God who is ultimately glorified, because it is the work of His grace. His name receives the praise. Very concretely! “Look at what God has done for them! Look how He works in their hearts and lives. Look at that church! It is beautiful! Obviously, God works there!” God glorifies Himself through us by means of the gifts He divides to us by His Spirit.
What then is our calling in light of all this? What does this doctrine of the communion of saints call us to do? We receive these gifts, Paul explains in I Corinthians 12:7, in order that we might profit everyone else in the church. We receive these gifts for the good of the whole. This has negative implications as far as our lives in the church are concerned. Ephesians 4:31, 32: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” If we are to put our gifts to use for other saints, then certainly the works of the flesh that are in us can be given no room in our lives. We mentioned earlier what the works of the flesh are. But, as often as God Himself tells us to put off the works of the flesh, we are so quick to ignore Him. We rather let envy, anger, hatred, malice, desire of revenge have their way in us. We do this because our sinful flesh has a powerful hold on us! So strong a hold that sometimes we are not even willing to admit these sins in us.
The positive implications of using our gifts to benefit our fellow saints are also given us in Scripture. Romans 12:9-17: “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another;…distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality…. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.”
Need I explain these exhortations that the Word of God gives to us here? Our calling toward one another is clear. We are to use the gifts, the time, the talents, the place God gives us in this world for the sake of other members. To use the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, Q& A 55, “everyone must know it to be his duty readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts for the advantage and salvation of other members.” Our actions, our words, our thoughts must be pure. The Spirit must live in us and guide us in what we do. We must actively guard ourselves—not just say, not just do, what comes to mind first. How many hurting and hateful words have been spoken simply because we did not rein in our sinful thoughts. How many stinging remarks and painful gestures have we not shown to others simply because we did not control our anger or our malice. We simply sinned! We may even have been right, but we sinned in the way we dealt with others. How insensitive we can be when we allow our sinful flesh to get the better of us. And there is not one who is guiltless. Love the neighbor as ourselves. Hurt when your neighbor hurts. Joy when he joys. Weep with him and laugh with him. Be a good companion to him and give counsel and advice as they are needed. Admonish in love and encourage by esteeming others better than yourselves. May we be led by the Spirit to walk in this way, that the church might be beautiful and God might be glorified!
We make quite a confession here, do we not? Sometimes we are witnesses against ourselves! So much is involved when God’s people in faith confess that there is a holy, universal church, the communion of saints. This must be a confession that we do not merely make with our mouths. We must make it with our hearts! We do confess this with our hearts, correct? We do believe there is a church that God has chosen and gathered throughout time? We do believe that we are called to join ourselves with that church where she is faithful to the calling God has placed upon her? We do believe that in this church we will find the communion of saints, correct? If you are not a part of that church in this world, then may God so work in your heart by His grace and Spirit, not only to see the need for Christ and salvation, but also to see the need to join yourself with the body of Christ in this world. May God also lead you to that church institute that is faithful to Christ her Head. For those of us who are members of such a church, may we be reminded of our calling among the saints. God grant us the grace to walk our confession in the midst of Zion.
Walk about Mt. Zion and consider her strength and her beauty. I am and forever shall remain a living member of that church! God preserve us there together with our children in our generations by His grace! God bless His church.
Dear Radio Friends,