“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘when he ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’” (Ephesians 4:7-8)
Ray Stedman, a former American pastor, once likened life in the modern church to spectator sport. He said it was very much like football – 26 men down on the field, desperately in need of rest, and tens of thousands in the grandstands, desperately in need of exercise. John Stott, a well known English minister, has compared the way many churches function to a bus. The minister does all the driving while the congregation are the passengers slumbering in peaceful security behind him.
However, according to the apostle Paul, life in the church was never meant to be like this. He tells us that to every person in the church “grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. Further, he goes on to say that Christ “gave gifts to men”. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 12:7, he says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”. This means that no Christian is without a spiritual gift. There is no such thing as a non-gifted believer. All of us have received a gift; and this gift is “measured out” – it represents a certain quantity of Christ’s grace. In other words, spiritual gifts are not earned or won.
Incidentally, since these gifts are “given,” we don’t get to choose them. We may find this hard to understand, particularly as we are living in a consumer world where we are accustomed to having choices. We are often told that we can have anything we want and that we can set out minds to do anything we choose. For many people, even in the church, life is like a McDonald’s drive through – you just order up what you want. However, God doesn’t work that way with spiritual gifts. He alone knows the various needs in His church, and He gives to every Christian accordingly. As Paul says, “He distributes to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:4).
Now why is this gift given? Well, Paul says that it is given “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Spiritual gifts are not principally for our own enjoyment. One of the heresies that have plagued the church for centuries is that Christianity is essentially a spectator sport. The idea is that those who do the real work of ministry are the paid professionals – the ministers and staff – and the rest of us can just sit back and relax like Friday night football. You know the scene – half a million people lie like couch potatoes on their sofas and watch 26 men struggle furiously at Suncorp Stadium. I call it “Foxtel Christianity” – that is Christianity as spectator sport. The vast majority do nothing; they are just entertained by the efforts of the few.
Well, Paul is not interested in spectator religion. He reminds us that God wants everyone in the congregation on the field. Each of us has a gift from the Holy Spirit that can be used to build up and strengthen the church. Are you using it? Do you have a gift of teaching? Is it being employed? Do you have the capacity to care for others and help them? God says you are meant to be using your gift to strengthen other Christians as well as for the work of the church.