A Power to Transform Society
That’s what God’s people can be, gifted by the Spirit.
By Ivan L. Warden
Seventh-day Adventists have 28 fundamental beliefs; and the seventeenth, entitled “Spiritual Gifts and Ministries,” is of utmost importance. The apostle Paul offers a biblical and theological rationale for spiritual gifts in several places, most prominently in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:1-13.
Now, allow your mind to play out the following three imaginary dialog vignettes:
Darkness: “I was here first, and I am older.”
Light: “So what? You are no more important than I.”
As you revisit the Creation story of Genesis 1, you will note that there was no disagreement between darkness and light; no negative tension between them. Each functioned according to God’s purpose for them. Title designates function, not importance.
Seraphim: “I have six wings. I am an elite angel. God loves me more—after all, He created me with six wings.”
Cherubim: “God loves me more than those angels with two wings. I may not have six wings, but four wings make me more valuable than the angels with just two wings. I am pretty special to God too!”
A study of angels in the Old Testament (Isa. 6:2; Eze. 1:6, 11; 10:8, 21) will reveal that seraphim and cherubim, of course, did not argue. Feelings of superiority, anger, resentment, and inferiority did not exist between them. Each functioned within God’s purposes for their creation and in accordance with God’s saving plan for humanity.
Brain: “I am on strike today. The heart did not give me any credit in the television program yesterday on the Health Channel.”
Eyes: “I simply refuse to use the gift of sight to guide the body in its movement. The mouth gave me no credit in that article in the Medical Association journal.”
Feet: “I am not going to help you stand or walk, because the rest of the body ignored my plea for relief.”
These vignettes capture the essence of Paul’s illustration of the human body in 1 Corinthians 12:13-17.
No One Superior or Inferior
A war does not rage among the body parts. No maliciousness or animosity is present. Every organ is vital to the entire makeup of the body. Similarly, gifts are given to the church to function effectively in doing God’s mission. In God’s plan each gift functions for the joy and happiness of humankind.
Kingdom-building is people-building. The kingdom of God is built by building up people. People have been and continue to be of most importance to Jesus. Before returning to heaven Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). But before going, the disciples needed to have a stronger integration of theory and practice, of word and deed, of fact and faith. They needed to wait.
Wait for what? Their intensive course had an extended curriculum beyond the death of Jesus. Luke tells us in Acts 1:4, 8 that they were to “wait” for the reality of the Father’s promise. “But you shall receive power,” Jesus said, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
They needed special empowerment from the Holy Spirit. And once they were equipped with the Spirit, they were able to preach, teach, and model kingdom values throughout Jerusalem. Moving beyond that, they “gossiped” the gospel also in Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4, 8). The principles of the kingdom were carried to Caesar’s palace, to the jails, to every layer of their society, and to every language group of their time. And kingdom-builders—from the time of Jesus to the third century—preached on street corners, in deserts, by rivers, in the mountains, and anywhere else they had opportunity.
To equip these kingdom-builders, God gave special gifts (see 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4). In this connection, two foundational concepts undergird successful congregational ministry. And without an understanding and implementation of these two concepts, the gifts cannot fully function. Without them, the congregation becomes part of the walking dead. Breath and a pulse may be evident, but there’d be no vigor, no vitality, no energy.
The two concepts are unity and love. Without them, both clergy and congregants deteriorate into a petty, suspicious, stagnated and decaying organism—half living and half dead, for these concepts affect behavior.
With a correct understanding of these concepts or principles, however—and with their eager implementation—we will see results that transcend those seen by the early disciples. When Holy Spirit-filled, our lives become God’s agents on earth for building the kingdom. The gifts are given to people, not to buildings or institutions. People make up the church, not the other way around. In the New Testament the church (ekklesia) refers to the people, not a building or structure. It refers to the gathering of people.
The word ekklesia appears more than 100 times, and each time it refers to a gathering of people. This helps us understand that God values humankind. His Son died to save us. What a gift, and what a sacrifice! It is people to whom the gifts are given. In the Jerusalem upper room, the disciples “did not wait in idleness.”1 They “[put] away all differences, all desire for the supremacy, they came close together in Christian fellowship.”2 When they disagreed, they agreed to disagree agreeably. Unity does not eliminate varying points of view. Instead, it enables the process to reach agreement by consensus. Using this method, churches become more spiritually alive, more alert, more energetic.
In the Jerusalem upper room, love was experienced. And “love has power to give in a moment what toil can scarcely reach in an age.”—Goethe.
Ellen White said it well: “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.”3
Imagine what could happen if churches today had a Jerusalem-upper-room experience. It would change our understanding of spiritual gifts and ministries. Correctly understood and gladly implemented, the principles of spiritual gifts and ministries (with the love and unity that they will bring to the church) would transform society as nothing else.
I believe in spiritual gifts and ministries. I have seen their fruits.
1 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 35
2 Ibid., p. 37.
3 Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 189.
Ivan L. Warden is an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.