“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.”
Paul taught that every Christian has an integral part to play in the strength and growth of the local church (Eph. 4:16; 1 Cor. 12). Have you ever wondered what your role is at Danville? You have unique abilities that God has given you and He expects you to “use them” (Mt. 25:14ff).
Starting in September we will study passages like Romans 12:6-8 in a sermon series designed to help you find your place. No member is unimportant, no task is trivial and no action is meaningless. You will be asked to follow along in the lessons with a pencil and check sheet in hand as we study these various gifts. By the end, you will better understand your strengths and be better equipped to serve the Lord (Eph. 4:11ff).
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
At the beginning of Solomon’s reign as king of Israel he went to one of the greatest high places in Gibeon (because the temple had not yet been built in Jerusalem) and worshiped the Lord there. It was there “the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night” saying, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kgs. 3:5). Driven by humility and a sense of inadequacy for the task set before him, Solomon asked God for wisdom to govern God’s people effectively.
God was so pleased with Solomon’s request He granted him the wisdom he would need to lead Israel but also blessed him with all the “riches and honor” befitting a king as well. Wisdom is no guarantee of success, however, as Solomon’s story plainly teaches (1 Kgs. 11). But following the “wisdom from above” (Jas. 1:13-18) results in the best possible life under the sun and makes it more likely to inherit eternal life (2 Tim. 3:15).
The Lord doesn’t have to appear to us in a dream to offer us wisdom. James 1:5-6 tells us all we have to do is pray in faith for wisdom and God will give it to us “generously” “without reproach”.
This is a significant statement. James is telling us that a faithful prayer for wisdom is guaranteed an affirmative answer. That is not true for every supplication we make. A prayer for better health, for instance, may not be met with an affirmative answer from God. There are many things we may pray for to which the Lord may respond with “No” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). But when it comes to wisdom, all we have to do is ask.
The important qualifier for this supplication for wisdom is the “faith” of the supplicant. We must ask “with no doubting” (Jas. 1:6). In other words, we have to understand what we are getting ourselves into when we ask God for wisdom and how He answers such a request. God doesn’t wave His hand over us and, Presto!, we are imbued with divine wisdom. Wisdom is gained in a couple of ways.
We sometimes gain wisdom from experience. Wisdom is the art of living well, discernment regarding the practical issues of life. Sometimes we gain wisdom through failure. Someone said, “Experience is the hardest teacher. It gives the test first and then the lesson.” When we make mistakes in life or fail to endure trials God expects us to evaluate those failures and learn from them. Why pray for wisdom and waste our failures by continuing in them? This is the hardest way to gain wisdom because it comes with the scrapes and, sometimes, scars of failure.
We can also gain wisdom from others’ experience. The reason we have wisdom literature in the Bible is to make us “wise for salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). We reject God’s generous gift of wisdom by not reading, studying and meditating on the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, James and the words of Jesus (Col. 2:2-3). Likewise, we reject God’s generous gift of wisdom when we neglect the wise counsel of our friends.
Let’s pray for wisdom but also diligently seek it and keep our hearts open to receive it. God grants wisdom to the faithful “generously” and “without reproach”. In Christ we have unlimited access to the treasures of wisdom!
“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”
(2 Tim. 2:20-21)
In 2 Timothy 2:14-19, Paul instructed Timothy to reverently handle the Scriptures and avoid the example of others whose teaching was “empty” and only led to “further ungodliness.” Paul wanted Timothy to be able to distinguish between those who belong to Lord and those who do not (2:19) by observing the content of their teaching (2:14-18) and the holiness of their behavior (2:20). This is a “firm foundation,” a bedrock truth: “The Lord knows who are His” based on these two criteria.
Paul illustrated this principle in v.20 by noting the different vessels in a house. Some are for honorable use, like fine china, and some are for dishonorable use, like a toilet. He then states that “if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable” (the false teaching and false living mentioned above in vv.14-19) he will become a vessel of honor.
Paul wanted Timothy and all Christians to view their lives as “vessels” for the Master’s use, instruments of God’s will “prepared for every good work.” How can we be fit for the Master’s use? We must first see ourselves as vessels to be filled up but also recognize that God must do the filling.
We have become vessels of dishonor
We were always meant to be in fellowship with God. God created us, in some sense, like Himself (Gen. 1:27). God so positioned us in creation (Psa. 8:3-8) so that we may enjoy a special relationship with Him. When we don’t have that relationship with God part of us will always be lacking. We will go on living incomplete, unfulfilled and empty lives.
We were made as empty vessels waiting to be filled up. As Paul’s language suggests, we are designed to be receptacles of God’s fullness (see Eph. 3:19). We notice this in the way we are designed. Our five senses are all constantly searching, receiving and filing information away in our brains to draw upon later. We are being “filled up” so to speak. However…
We chose to fill ourselves with the wrong things. We invited poisonous thoughts, images, sounds, etc. into the vessels of our lives through our eyes, ears and hands. But even when we fill ourselves with the garbage of sin, we still remain incomplete because we were designed to be filled up with God’s truth. Nothing short of the divine can “complete” us.
We can be vessels of honor in Christ
We are empty without Christ. That is why Christ came down in the form of a man. The fullness of deity dwells in bodily form and we are made complete in Him (Col. 2:9-10; 3:10). Outside of Christ we are vessels filled with sin but still empty inside. Only in Christ can we be filled up to all fullness of God (Eph. 3:19).
We are ignorant without Christ. Outside of Christ we are vessels filled with knowledge but still empty of the truth. As Paul puts it, we are “ignorant,” futile in our thinking, “darkened in our understanding.” But in Christ we can be filled with the true knowledge that transforms us into the people we were always meant to be (see Eph. 4:17-24) .
We are powerless without Christ. Like a toy without batteries we are useless and impotent without Christ. We have no power or strength to get through this life and overcome its problems. But Jesus said, “I have overcome the world” and He can be that power that works with in us (Eph. 3:16, 20). Obviously, we need Christ to become vessels of honor. But exactly how does that happen?
We must appeal to God to cleanse our vessel
We must be purified by Christ. For us to become vessels of honor fit for the Master’s use, that which dishonors us (sin) must be taken away. This we simply cannot do on our own (1 Pet. 3:21; Col. 2:11-14). In baptism, God can erase every sinful and dishonorable charge against us in a moment if we have faith in His powerful working.
We must continually empty ourselves of impurity. If we value what Jesus has done on our behalf then we will live in such a way that rids our life of impurity and dishonor and fill it back up again with God’s wonderful truth (2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Thess. 4:1-7). Even though children of God are already cleansed by Christ’s blood (1 Cor. 6:9-11) they must still continue to put off the old man and his sinful ways (2 Cor. 7:1; Col. 3:9-10).
We must continually fill ourselves with God’s truth. We can’t be content with simply avoiding evil. We must fill the vacuum with the gospel (Col. 1:9; Phil. 4:8). Removing evil is only half the battle (Mt. 12:32-34). Remember, we were made to be filled up. Our hearts cannot remain empty for long. Therefore, we must intentionally pour the gospel into our hearts every day so there is no room for anything else.
When Christ has cleansed and filled our lives we will finally be vessels of honor fit for the Master’s use. But even then, what are we but instruments of God’s will to be used for His glory? (Lk. 17:10; Rom. 6:12-13)
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
(1 Timothy 3:14-15)
The Household of God
Paul wrote to Timothy giving instruction on “how one ought to behave in the household of God,” which he identified as the “church of the living God.” There is a sense in which the church is God’s covenant family in which He is the Father of all fathers (Eph. 3:14-15). His children “behave” as they “ought” within this spiritual family as they treat each other like brothers (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1-2; Gal. 3:25-29). Cornelius the centurion was “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2) which would have included his wife, children and perhaps even his servants.
Another way to understand God’s “household” is to see it as the dwelling in which God takes up His residence (2 Cor. 6:16). The church is elsewhere described as God’s “temple” (1 Cor. 3:16), “dwelling” (Eph. 2:22), “spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5), or “household” (1 Pet. 4:17). The church is an organic, holy, spiritual home for God to live.
Being then a living house for God to dwell Paul emphasizes the Christian’s “conduct” (NASB) or behavior or manner of life (cf. Eph. 2:3; 2 Cor. 1:12; Heb. 13:18). This behavior is not limited to the times of assembly for worship because God's household is not the church building. Paul is not giving a set of instructions that only apply to how we act in the assembly, but teaching us how to behave at all times as God's people.
A Pillar & Ground
Furthermore, Paul calls God’s people a “pillar.” Paul was writing to Timothy, a younger preacher working with the church in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). The city of Ephesus was famous for their magnificent temple dedicated to Diana which housed an enormous image of the goddess that the locals believed “fell down from heaven” (Act 19:35). Great pillars held up that temple ceiling providing stability and sturdiness.
The church is to function like a “pillar” in the same way. The apostles had reputations like “pillars” (Gal. 2:9), figuratively supporting the Jerusalem church. They were integral parts that held up that living structure. Acting as a “pillar,” God’s people are to prop up acting as a “support” (NASB) or “buttress” (ESV) or “bulwark” (NET). The word “support” denotes steadiness, something that is settled and firm and unmoving (a related word is used in 1 Cor. 15:58). The thing that God’s people are to support is “the truth.”
Some will interpret this verse to say that the church has a monopoly on truth, that the church alone can dispense the truth, and that the truth depends on the church. This reasoning is dangerous and (ironically) untrue. The truth does not originate in the church. The truth does not depend on the church. Rather it is the other way around!
The truth originates from God being His very words (Jn. 17:17; Psa. 119:160). The truth came by Jesus (Jn. 1:14-18), Himself being the living embodiment of God’s word (Jn. 1:1, 14; 14:6). Jesus identifies the Spirit of God as the “Spirit of truth” who would guide the apostles into “all truth” (Jn. 16:13). This He has done (1 Cor. 2:10-16; 2 Pet. 1:3; Jd. 3).
The truth is something divine, originating in God and revealed in a final authoritative way in Christ (Heb. 1:1-3). He has authority to dispense truth because it belongs to and originates with Him. There is “only one Lawgiver and Judge” (Jas. 4:12). His followers have no authority over His truth because it is His and not ours. We have no authority to change it, legislate it or manipulate it. It exists independent of us and is not ours to tamper with. Jesus is the foundation of the church (1 Cor. 3:11). The church is the product of truth. In other words, the truth is what begot us, caused us to be born again (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:22-23, 25).
Why do men feel they have authority over the truth? Why do we hear of “the church” (of England, Catholic, etc.) amending or making law? Who has authority over the law in a kingdom, the citizen or the king? The “household of God” is not a democracy but a kingdom. We cannot, as citizens of the kingdom, feel that we have any power over the truth or that the truth depends on us in any way. The truth predates us. The truth begot us. The truth will exist without us.
Putting it All Together
How then does the church function in relation to the truth? We play no more and no less than a supporting role. In one sense, the church is grounded in the truth. In another sense, the church is to hold up and exalt the truth. The church consists of those who gladly receive the truth (Jn. 18:37), sincerely obey it (1 Pet. 1:22-25), zealously defend it (Phil. 2:15-16), openly proclaim it (Eph. 4:25) and powerfully prove it (Eph. 3:10).
Though the truth exists despite its reception by men, its power and effectiveness is demonstrated by its product: the church (Jn. 8:31-32). The “conduct” of God’s “house” is God’s testimony and an effective conduit for His truth to be proclaimed (1 Thess. 1:8). Someone once said, “the church gives truth an objective existence." May God grant us grace to think humbly concerning His truth. Let us be content to receive it, to live it out and share it with others being products of its power.
“…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.”
In a congregation the size of Danville it is easy to feel left out. The Bible is clear that this should not be the case in any congregation. Every member has an integral role to play. Paul makes this very point when he compares the local church body to a physical body (1 Cor. 12). Sadly, rather than trying to find our role within the local church we instead compare ourselves with others who have a more ‘prominent’ or public role.
If I can’t do what he/she is doing, we reason, I don’t have a part to play. Or in the words of Paul, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body” (1 Cor. 12:16). This flies in the face of logic: “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (1 Cor. 12:17-20)
If you are reading this and feel like you don’t belong allow me to ask a few questions:
When it is announced someone is sick, do you:
Or do you:
When you think we don’t get together enough, do you:
Or do you:
When a soul is saved, do you:
Or do you:
When the church doesn’t seem friendly, do you:
Or do you:
When Bible classes seem dull & unimportant, do you:
- Make sure you are attending each class?
- Come prepared to discuss God’s word?
- Dig into the lesson to make the very most of it?
Or do you:
- Not show up for class?
- Come to class but never contribute with questions or comments?
- Complain that the class is uninteresting and not challenging?
When a member misses the assembly, do you:
- Find out what is going on?
- Check up on him regularly?
- Make sure he has a ride to the assembly?
Or do you:
- Complain about his weak faith?
- Gossip about him to others?
- Even notice he is missing?
If you are feeling left out of the congregation, perhaps the first thing you should do is “examine yourself” instead of examining others (2 Cor. 13:5; Mt. 7:1ff). If you feel you don’t have a part to play in the work at Danville what exactly are you doing about it? If you notice things are not the way they should be then take it upon yourself to be the agent of change. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and we are to follow His example (Phil. 2:3-4ff). Waiting for someone else to do something about it only perpetuates the problem. Complaining behind closed doors or bickering to other members will make things even worse.
If you feel left out at Danville then get to work and you will quickly find your place. There are Bible studies to be had. There are souls that need saved. There are classes that need taught. There are events that need planned. There are sick who need visited. There are members who need encouraged. There are prayers that need led. There are hurting members who need comforted. (see 1 Cor. 12:21-26; Rom. 12:3-8)
There is work to be done and we all have our part (Eph. 4:15-16). We each find our place by working together in love.