Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gifts and Roles

Not too long ago I wrote a post regarding Ann Graham Lotz and her rejection at a Pastor’s meeting by pastors who didn’t want to hear her message to them (based on their 1 Timothy 2 bias). And that got me to thinking that, in accordance with 1 Timothy 2, so many believers have a presupposition that gifts are tied to gender, that, if you’re a man you have access to all the gifts (no restrictions), but if you’re a woman, you can’t be a pastor, teacher, elder, deacon (?), and so forth. And I will approach the 1 Timothy 2 bias in our discussion of the passage as well as all three of the Pastoral Epistles soon. For now, I am going to spend time examining what Scripture has to say about the gifts and how they are given. How are the gifts distributed? What makes one person eligible for a gift and another ineligible? What criteria does God assess in a person that gives them “dibs” on a gift (if any)?

There are three passages that approach the subject of spiritual gifts and their distribution: Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:1-16, and 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. We will examine each of these passages now.
What does Romans 12 tell us about the gifts and their distribution? Paul sets up an analogy to help us see how the “body” of Christ works by comparing the workings of the church to the physical body: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function…” In order for a body to function, to have its many needs met, there must be many members. It makes sense, that, the foot can’t do what the liver can do, or the lung can’t do what the eyes can do. What good would it do if we had 12 body parts that all did the same thing and didn’t do anything different? All the other physical needs of the body would go neglected.

But Romans 12:6 answers the question about how gifts are distributed—“Having gifts that differ ACCORDING TO THE GRACE GIVEN TO US, let us use them…” First, Paul states that we have gifts; God has given gifts to His church. Next, they are gifts THAT DIFFER! Everyone does not receive the same gift(s). Last but not least, the gifts are given to us based on the amount of grace God dispenses to each individual. Paul doesn’t write here that gifts are dispensed based on gender. Your gender doesn’t mark you for some gifts or make you ineligible for them; it’s all based on God’s grace, how God chooses to favor you or not.

Ephesians 4 is another passage on the gifts God has given His church. Ephesians 4:7 answers the question above regarding how gifts are distributed: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Each of us is given a measure of grace, but we are not all given the same AMOUNT of grace! Why aren’t we given the same amount? Because, based on where the Lord chooses to place us in His body, we don’t all need the same amount of grace to do different tasks! Christ’s gifts to the church are measures of grace, and He gives them however he sees fit. Verse 11 shows what kinds of grace gifts Christ has given His church: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…”

Look at the last passage, 1 Corinthians 12. After Paul lists the gifts, services, and activities in the body of Christ, he writes, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually AS HE WILLS” (1 Cor. 12:11). How are the gifts distributed to believers? As the Spirit wills, as the Holy Spirit decides to give them.

I think I should give an example here: let’s say that a person gets five potential job offers, all offering great pay, great benefits, and a sufficient amount of vacation time. The person is overwhelmed with choices, but doesn’t want to be pushed regarding which job he will pick. His response? “Let me alone, I wanna decide this one on my own.” If he should say that the choice should be left up to him, then that’s what I must do—leave the choice up to him. In so doing, though, I can’t be sure that he’s gonna pick the job I want him to. He MIGHT pick the job, but he MIGHT pick the other four jobs as well.

The Holy Spirit is the one who gives the gifts—but He gives them AS HE WILLS! The decision of who gets what gift is left up to the Spirit to decide. And I cannot be sure that in EVERY case, with EVERY person, that a man will always get the gift of preaching, for example, and a woman will NEVER receive it. Take pastoring as another example: pastoring is called a gift in Ephesians 4. The Spirit gives pastoring to those in the body of Christ He desires have it. Therefore, how can I be sure that in every case, a woman will NEVER receive the gift of pastoring? I can’t be. Why? Because the choice is His—not mine; and I can’t know the mind of God.

As we have seen, giftedness in the body of Christ determines the role a person plays, not their gender, age, strength, IQ, SAT score, or anything else. And giftedness is not based on the gender of man but the grace of God. When Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem, the angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14, NIV). Because the Lord’s favor rests on all those who accept the atoning sacrifice of His Son Jesus, all are on equal footing regarding eligibility of the gifts. And the one thing that makes one person receive a gift (and another to receive another gift) is the decision of the Spirit, not the decision of man based on gender.

I leave you, my reader, with the following verses from the prophet Isaiah:
8"For My thoughts are not (X)your thoughts,Nor are (Y)your ways My ways," declares the LORD. 9"For (Z)as the heavens are higher than the earth,So are My ways higher than your waysAnd My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

God is not a predictable God whose ways can be discerned every time. God is an unpredictable God who works things out in the way that is most pleasing to Him. Humans can’t figure out God’s every move; and with the issue of women in ministry, humans, once again, can’t truly know God’s every decision. There may be fewer women than men out there in pulpits across America, but believe me, women will be there. And why? Because that’s God’s choice. And not one male Pastor in the world is any more entitled to God’s pulpit than a woman Pastor. And not one male servant of the Lord is any more entitled to God's service than any female servant is.

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