Have you ever tried to rip a four-feet-long porcelain tile? Apparently, not many people have because it’s extremely difficult to find an affordable way to do it. After googling for a solution to finish my kitchen floor, I found a company called Vevor that offered a forty-eight-inch manual tile cutter for the low price of $117 and the promise of “no hassle returns.”
Within three days, the large box arrived on my back porch. However, it contained no instructions on how to properly use the machine. Resourcefully, I found a few Youtube videos of others using similar tools. After watching a couple, I was ready to try it myself. On the first tile, I applied pressure just as I had seen on the videos, and my tile snapped in half at the wrong place. After ruining one expensive tile, I tried one more time and failed before concluding that this cheap tool was useless. Good thing for no hassle returns.
Thus began my week-long conversation with “Irene.” She first wanted me to send her a video of me using it. Since I was unwilling to risk breaking a third tile, I refused and appealed to the company’s promise of no hassle returns. She told me that she needed to consult and would respond within three days. Five days later, she offered me $36. In response to my displeasure, she gave me two options: either $74 or a new tile cutter. Again, I refused this offer and insisted on a full refund. She finally relented. I got back $117, and she told me to keep the tile cutter. I now possess a completely useless tool—an instrument designed to accomplish a purpose, yet it sits idle on my laundry room floor, unable to fulfill the purpose for which it was made.
It occurred to me last week that something similar frequently happens in churches. The New Testament tells us that when someone believes the gospel and submits to the lordship of Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells them and endows them with at least one spiritual gift for the purpose of building up the church. Yet, we’ve replaced the New Testament call to “serve” the church with the call of American individualism to merely “attend” church. Therefore, for many Christians, the Spirit’s gift lies dormant in the box, unused and purposeless.
The topic of spiritual gifts is a major one in the New Testament. Paul provides in depth instruction on spiritual gifts in three places (1 Corinthians 12:1-31; Romans 12:6-8; Eph. 4:11). In 1 Corinthians 12:1, Paul writes, “Now concerning the spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.” He clearly believed every Christian needed to operate with a clear understanding of the gifts. Peter also instructed churches on the matter: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
Taking all these passages into account, Tom Schreiner defines spiritual gifts as “gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit that are designed for the edification of the church, which can be divided up as gifts of speaking and gifts of serving.” In the New Testament, the following gifts are listed: apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, discernment, teaching, exhorting, miracles, healing, service leadership, tongues, interpretation of tongues, giving, faith, and mercy. This list is probably not exhaustive.
Every single Christian has been supernaturally gifted by the Holy Spirit with certain abilities with which to serve his or her local church. Paul emphasizes two very important aspects of this process. First, the Spirit empowers these gifts “as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). In other words, we don’t have a say in how we’re gifted to serve the church. The prerogative for distributing the gifts belongs completely with the Lord of the church.
Second, the purpose of the gifts is never self-exaltation. God doesn’t give us gifts to set us apart from others so that everyone can see how talented we are. These are “gifts.” We don’t earn them. They are given for one purpose and one purpose only: to edify, or build up, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we are not serving other believers in the context of a local church, we are not using the gifts God has given us. We’re merely leaving them in the box. We’re also not submitting our lives to the lordship of Christ. The New Testament’s teaching on spiritual gifts affirms once again a vital truth: following Jesus means participating in his church. There’s no other way.