Meditations on Christian Ministry

Romans 12:6  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Verse 6. "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith." The subject of " gifts," as brought before us in 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4, and Rom. 12, is one of the deepest importance to the student of the New Testament, and to all who would understand the constitution of the church of God, and who would be found acting therein according to His mind. But it would be quite out of place to attempt even a brief sketch of so great a subject here; we will merely notice the difference between the gifts in Corinthians and Ephesians, before proceeding with our chapter.
In Corinthians, they may be regarded, for the most part, as the manifestation of divine power, and as signs and wonders for the unbelieving. " Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not." The Corinthians being unspiritual and fond of display, over-valued the sign-gifts because they were a manifestation of power before the world, and gave themselves a certain importance. It was no doubt thought a very grand thing to be able to speak in tongues without having learned them, and to work miracles. But this vanity is not peculiar to the Corinthians, though eloquence and intellectual attainments had always a great charm for them. The servant of the Lord now, as well as then, has to watch against investing himself with the importance of his gift and thereby attracting attention to his person. And this may be even when there is true devotedness, and when the Lord may be using his gift for blessing to others. Riches, time influence, learning, and natural eloquence, are gifts, in Well its miraculous power to speak in languages not previously learned, and ought to be used for the glory of God and the good of others, remembering that we are accountable to Him for every gift He has bestowed upon us.* The servant who misapplies any gift or talent which the master has conferred upon him, is unfaithful to his trust; he may be misspending, or using for own importance and advantage, that which has been entrusted to him for the glory of the Lord and the welfare of His people.
(* Not that money can be said. to be amongst. the gifts which Christ bestows upon His church. Still the possession of it is ii very -weighty responsibility indeed.)
The apostle evidently mourns over the Corinthians because of their failure as to the gifts of God. Their love of display before the world, rather than the enjoyment of God Himself in His word, and the edification of His saints, was a gild to him. He therefore endeavors to convince them of their mistake, by showing them that tongues are one of the lowest forms of the Spirit's operations, and prophesyings one of the highest. After contrasting the two at great length, he half reproachfully says, " Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." The refreshment, comfort, uplifting of the heart—the edification of the saints, should be one grand object of the christian teacher. He who, ministers Christ and His work to the soul, out of the fullness of his own heart, is the minister who always edifies and never disappoints. The sign gifts in the early church were for a distinct purpose and ceased when that object was accomplished. " God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will." Heb. 2:44God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Hebrews 2:4).
In Ephesians the character of the gifts is very different. The blessed Lord, as Head of the church at the right hand of God, is seen as the giver. In Corinthians the Holy Spirit is the dispenser of the gifts. This marks the difference; the former is affection, the latter is power, ecclesiastically viewed. Besides, the gifts of Ephesians abide with the church, " For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." In Corinthians the gifts may be regarded as spiritual powers; in Ephesians as spiritual persons. " And lie gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." The two aspects of gifts, however—the power of the Spirit and the affections of Christ—are perfectly harmonious. Power is needed, but a Person, not a power, is the true object of the affections of the church in all ages.*
(* See Lectures on 1 Cor. 12 and xiv. by W. K.)
In Romans, the character and application of the gifts are somewhat different to both Ephesians and Corinthians. Here it is more the question of ministry in connection with the membership of the body. Responsibility flows from being members of the body of Christ, and every one members one of another. This is a truth of such vital, practical importance, that I would have thee, O my soul, give it thy best and thy most prayerful attention. The connection is so intimate both with the Head and the many members, that all are affected either favorably or unfavorably by thy service. " And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." And forget not, I pray thee, that though the outward manifestation of the church's unity be broken up, and in this respect a ruin, thy responsibility is the same. The standard of divine truth remains unchanged, and couldst thou admit a lower standard than the good and perfect will of thy God and Father? The " one body" is not in ruins. None but real Christians have the privilege of membership here; but as all such are members of that body, whether they be externally united in christian fellowship or not, our love ought to be cultivated and cherished towards them, simply on the ground of their union with Christ. This is the only truth that will deliver thee from the strange principle of independence in a unity, and from all sectarian partiality. We ought to add our hearty "amen" to the prayer, " Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity."*
(* Haldane on the Romans, vol. iii. p. 83.)
The apostle's comparison of the human body to believers as one body in Christ is beautiful and appropriate, and also illustrates the character of christian ministry within the limits of the known members of that body. This truth, however, be it observed, does not touch the Christian's individuality as a man in Christ, or as a man of God amongst men, or as an evangelist to the regions beyond, or in any way as to his personal responsibility and blessing. We are now speaking of the nature and sphere of christian service as defined in the chapter before us. And here the apostle shows, that it would be as unreasonable for all Christians to have the same gifts, as for all the members of the human body to have the same office; that the diversities of gifts and offices are necessary to the perfection and usefulness of the body of Christ. " There are diversities of gifts," says the apostle to the Corinthians, " but the same Spirit." This weighty truth was much needed at Corinth and everywhere. Like them we are disposed to talk a great deal about the greater gifts, and leave very little room for the exercise of the lesser. But we must remember that although the gifts differ in measure and character, they all come from the same source. And wherever there is such a state of things, either from pre-arrangement, or from strong partialities, as to shut out the lesser gifts, the Spirit is quenched, the assembly loses the benefit of the diversity of gifts, and ceases to act in accordance with the mind of God.
Hast thou a gift, my soul? Remember then, that the sphere of its exercise is the church of God, without reference to locality; but see that it is a gift—a positive gift of God—not an imitation of others, lest thou shouldst become a troubler of the saints of God, a hinderer, not a help to their worship.
We will now take a brief glance at the various gifts here enumerated by the apostle, and may the Lord give thee spiritual discernment to see which, or how many, are thine.
Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith." The general idea of prophesying is the foretelling of future events, though not limited to that office. We accordingly find the term prophet applied in a more general way in the Old Testament. The bearer of the message from God, whether relating to things present or things to come, is called a prophet; and so is the interpreter of the divine message. Of Abraham it is said, "He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee and thou shalt live." (Gen. 20:77Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine. (Genesis 20:7).) Moses, as the great interpreter of the mind of God to the Jews, is frequently spoken of as a prophet.
In the New Testament, those called " prophets," and classed with apostles, had a perfectly distinct mission from Old Testament prophets, and must carefully be distinguished when studying the word of God. " And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets." These were the two classes of workmen whom God especially used at the very beginning, when laying the foundations of the church; hence they are sometimes called " foundation gifts;" but there is no reason to believe that they were long continued to the church, though at different periods in her history there have been men raised up to do something like the work of apostles and prophets; such as the different periods of great revivals, and the Reformation. The apostles were the inspired, infallible, authoritative messengers of Christ; the prophets were only occasionally so, but explained to others with great clearness, what they themselves had learned from the holy scriptures, or from inspired men. "Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge...." " He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." Thus we see they had a special gift for the proper expounding of all scripture, and for the proper application of it to their hearers.
The New Testament prophet was also as the mouth of God, delivering the particular communication he had received, whether designed for instruction or exhortation. No form of ministration gave the hearer such a sense of the immediateness of the divine presence as prophesying, or such a certainty that the mind of God was being expressed. Thus it was the most intimate and direct dealing of God with the soul through man as His messenger. As an illustration of the peculiar power of this gift, nothing can be clearer than the case of the woman of Samaria. " Go, call thy husband," was the voice of God to her guilty conscience. She felt she was in the searching light of His presence, and at once confessed her sin. All was reality now, she concealed nothing. " The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly." These words brought the conviction home to her heart that she stood revealed before God Himself, and that He who spoke to her was His prophet. " The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet." John 4:10-1910Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. 11The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? 12Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? 13Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: 14But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. 15The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. 16Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. 17The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: 18For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. 19The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. (John 4:10‑19).
And now, after thy careful and repeated meditations on this precious gift, what are thy thoughts as to its value? Only one deep, earnest, fervent desire to possess it. Lord, give me this power, is my constant, heartfelt prayer. A thousand times I have mourned my feebleness here. Highest in character, and most desirable of all the gifts, as it gives the anxious inquirer to feel that God is speaking to him, not the servant; that it is the voice of God lie hears, not man's; that it is the authority of God he must bow to, not the conclusions of the preacher. There may be many teachers and preachers, whose ministrations may be a comfort and blessing to others, but who are strangers to this divine art—this power of putting the soul in direct contact with God Himself, and setting the soul in the light of the divine presence.
Only one other thought, and we pass on. Whatever gift, or gifts, we may have from the Lord, all must be used in subjection to Him and regulated by His word. Even prophecy must be "according to the proportion of faith." We must never go beyond our measure; if we do, we shall end in the flesh, though we commenced in the spirit. Unless a man's teaching is in full accordance with scripture, he has no right to consider himself entitled to the confidence of others, however great his gift. So says the apostle, " If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." This is authoritative and unchangeable. The Lord give us to judge all by His own word; whether speaker or hearer, teacher or taught, we have no other standard.