For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Toward the Third Step
The place of gifts, ministries and operations in the edification of the Church.
Where are we in regard to the work of God? What stage are we living in? Where are we going? What is the Lord wanting to add today? There are tasks that are still pending for us. By the grace of God, we have advanced somewhat in these last times. However, we believe that it is necessary to advance even further. There are still many things to be done.
As Paul said: "but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal". We always have the goal beyond the position which we are in today. We cannot relax, we have to advance a little more.
Gifts, ministries and operations
Let us look at 1 Corinthians 12: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.". Beloved brothers, if you observe these three verses that we have here, gifts are mentioned (v.4), ministries (v.5), and operations (v.6). Take note of these three things: gifts, ministries, operations.
This is of course located within a chapter that speaks about spiritual gifts. But it is interesting that each one of these three elements -gifts, ministries, and operations- is associated with the three people in the Godhead. The gifts are associated with the Spirit, the ministries with the Lord, and the operations with God.
You know that within the Godhead there is an order. It is the same one that appears in Matthew 28: 19, only here it is the other way round. Now, the Lord Jesus said that the Father was the greater (John 14:28), then the Son and then the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came to give testimony of the Son, and the Son came to glorify the Father. So, here in 1 Corinthians, they are mentioned from "smallest" to greatest. First the Holy Spirit, then the Son, and finally God the Father. So, if the Father is the greatest, whatever be associated with the Father -the operations- must be the greater. Then come the ministries; and lastly, the gifts. This is something very interesting that will connect with a passage from Ephesians.
Ephesians chapter 4, from verse 7 onwards. Verse 7 says: "But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. ". Notice the expression "unto each one of us". Here, we are all included. To each one of us the grace was given according to the measure of the gifts of Christ. The word grace refers to that undeserved gift, the one that we receive on God's behalf according to the measure of Christ's gift.
The goal is the operations
Then, in verse 8 it says: "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, And gave gifts unto men". Here are those gifts mentioned before. Then, in verse 11 it says: "And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; ...". These are the ministries. Therefore, we have the gifts in verse 8, and in verse 11 we have the ministries. And what would we be missing to complete the triad from 1 Corinthians 12? The operations!
If we continue reading the later verses, we will find the operations. They are in verse 16: "... from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love. ". The word "working" and the word "operation" here are synonymous.
So, in chapter 4 of Ephesians, we find how the church is edified, how it can reach unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, how it can reach the stature of a perfect man. In order to reach these great and beautiful goals, three things are required; the same ones that appear in 1 Corinthians 12: gifts, ministries, and operations. In that order.
In 1 Corinthians 12, we are shown that the gifts are given by the Spirit of God, and their objective is to prepare the saints for the ministry, from which the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers arise. Without gifts there are no ministries.
But then, the ministries also have an objective. These ministers mentioned in verse 11 are not an end in themselves. They are placed in the church so that it can, as a whole, develop a series of operations or activities, and thus reach the measure of the stature of Christ's fullness.
It is necessary to advance to the final step
But we have not always considered these three elements. We usually remain in the gifts or in the ministries. The church, historically speaking, has stopped half way instead of advancing. You know that at the beginning of the XX century there was a great emphasis placed on the spiritual gifts. It arose in Los Angeles in the US during 1906, when an extraordinary Pentecostal revival happened, that was disseminated all over the world. Many men and women received gifts.
Even today, we have certain currents inside Christianity that place an extraordinary emphasis on the spiritual gifts. However, we should recognize that gifts appear associated to the Spirit, and that they are the first level of development. They are not an end: they are the first step, the first level. The church won't only reach Christ's stature with gifts being poured out on the people of God. A second step is necessary, a second level of development, so that the church goes further toward reaching the stature that the Lord wants. And that is the ministries.
However, we can see that there has also been an extraordinary emphasis placed on the ministries in Christianity. Today, all over the world, there are a class of ministers who appear here in verse 11. And their ministries are very well-known, thanks partly to the mass media of communication. There is a great emphasis today on these big ministries-I myself fear that it is almost too great an emphasis.
But if we stay on this level, dear brothers, we won't achieve God's great objective for the church. This objective is not completed in verse 11, but in verses 15 and 16: "... but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love. "
The end of the Holy Spirit's reasoning here is not in verse 10, nor in 11, nor in 12, nor in 13. The end of the reasoning is in verse 16, and it is here that we find the operations. It is as if the Lord told us, through this word: "my objective is not to pour out gifts, my objective is not to raise up ministries; my objective is that all the members of the body, according to the activity characteristic of each one, receive their growth to be built up in love".
If attention is just placed in gifts or in ministers, then we come up short, we remain half way through the process, and the church will never be restored. If the whole activity of the church is carried out by the ministers of the word, the church will never reach Christ's stature. For a long time, there has been a great distortion in this respect, and the Lord it is now showing us that it is necessary to advance to the following step.
Brothers, we have to advance to the final step on this ladder. The gifts are the first step, the ministers are the second, and the final step is all of you, the saints. So do not look down on one another; you are the end of God's objective, you are God's final objective.
The danger of remaining half way through the process
We always have the danger of remaining half way through the process before us. Do you remember when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees on route to Canaan? Do you remember that he was detained in Haran? And there in Haran, God had to speak to him again. There was as a second calling for Abraham.
Abraham would never have achieved the purpose that the Lord had for him, whilst he remained in Haran. We will never complete God's purpose for the church if we remain in the ministries, if we remain in the pretty messages that the preachers can give us.
Brother Nee in China was very concerned for a time, in the final days of his ministry, because he realized that the churches were becoming "listeners" of messages. The ministers of the Word had great relevance, and everyone wanted to be ministers of the Word, and to give beautiful messages. But the Lord showed this brother that that was not the way to the restoration of the church.
The last step is that all the brothers, the whole church, get up to serve, according to the grace that they have received.
It is a problem to remain halfway through the process. You know the book of Romans. It is as if, from chapter 3, Romans is like a stairway that goes up, step after step. First is the justification, then comes the sanctification, and we come to Romans 8, to the victorious life, walking in the Spirit. And we say: "Romans 8 is the last step of the staircase". But this is not so.
If we remain in Romans 8, we are still on an individual plane. We have to continue advancing, until we reach the collective plane. In Romans 12, 13, 14 and 15, the church appears, the services appear inside the church, and the members of the body appear; each one working according to their measure: the adults as adults, the little ones as little ones. But all of them are working, all are serving.
Romans 8 is not the end. The end is in Romans 14 and 15. And somebody could say: "But Romans has sixteen chapters. What about chapter 16? " That question also has a beautiful answer. In Romans 16 we are shown that the apostolic ministry was not even centered on an individual. There we are shown that Paul, as an apostle, didn't work alone. In Romans 16 we see an apostolic team. Many workers, collaborators, and even sisters helping in the work. Everything has its culmination in the church, in the body, in the mutuality of the members.
The purpose of God is not to have very eloquent and very gifted ministers. What's more, it is very possible that the ministers of the Word have to be weakened, so that they do not become those "stars", but rather we understand, with the patience with which the Lord teaches us, that the attention of God is on all the members, until we all reach unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.
Now, how do we develop the activities or operations? In the same way as the ministers of the word minister to the church, because we all are ministers of Christ.
When Paul tells Timothy: "thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ ", the word "minister" in Greek is deacon, and deacon means servant. Not only Timothy, as a worker, was a servant. We are all servants; we are all called to serve Christ to others.
Let me give you a figure. Imagine a waiter in a restaurant. He takes his tray to assist the diners who are seated at the tables. They are hungry, and he takes the solution to their hunger on the tray. A minister of Jesus Christ is not only one who ministers Christ -before Christ, or for Christ-, but he is the one who serves Christ to the hungry people. That is to say, he takes Christ on the tray. (May the Lord forgive us if this is a too daring metaphor, but it helps us to make the truth graphic). He doesn't take information about Christ, but Christ Himself. The Lord humbled Himself to such an extent that he said: "I am the bread of life".
So, if the ministers of Ephesians 4:11, when ministering to the church, minister Christ to the church, then the whole church will be able to do the same thing. If the saints have Christ ministered to them, they in turn will be able to minister Christ to others.
Have you ever been discouraged, when suddenly you meet with a brother in the street? The brother greets you with kindness, he gives you a hug, and when you go your separate ways, you feel that that burden has disappeared. Something happened in your heart. What happened? Do you believe that that was simply the brother's sympathy or kindness that helped you? No. What helped you is that that brother or sister ministered Christ to you.
It's possible that some of you still think that there is some kindness within you, and that your kindness is that which blesses others. But remember what you were like before you knew the Lord. Whatever you were like before meeting the Lord, you could not bless anybody, you didn't have a word of encouragement for anybody. If you gave a hug to someone, that hug didn't bring life. Therefore, if there is anything good in you today, if there is anything useful, if there is anything that blesses others, it is Christ. Christ and only Christ.
In these days, here at this conference, a net of love has been woven, a net of fraternal bonds. Why do we feel so comfortable here? Why don't we want to leave? Because we have been ministered to by Christ. In a smile, in a greeting, in a hug. That is Christ!
So, we are all ministers of Christ. We all serve Christ to others. Even the smallest, those who don't have a visible service in the House. Have you ever met with a brother who has given you a solution that you never thought you'd find in that brother, or receive from that brother? Then you realize that he who you looked down on or who you looked at from a distance is also able to bless you.
We have the tendency to praise to the elder Christians and to look down on the smaller ones, to be dazzled by a word from one brother, and to look down on those that don't have a word, but who does have an expression that blesses you. Oh may the Lord enable us to see one another as beautiful, one another as those that are chosen, the beloved of God, useful! That we may value one another!
So, brothers, not only the ministers of the Word have Christ on the tray to minister to others from the pulpit, but all of us, every day, in domestic works, in the work place, in the street, in the house have Christ to minister. We all have a tray in the hand, and on it we have Christ. We can all give to he who has need; to everybody!
Some operations of the body
We have spoken about gifts, ministries and operations. But now we will center all our attention on the operations. This is the task that we have before us.
In these days we have had great joy in seeing more brothers participating, collaborating, and being integrated into a spiritual service. Every day there are more brothers serving the Lord, and working for God. And when that happens, we see more happy brothers. When is one joyful? When one knows that one is serving the Lord, when one knows that they are useful.
The sisters should get up to serve the Lord. For many years we thought that the place for the sisters was only in the home, then to go to the meetings and to say "amen" to the men's preaching, and very little else. May the Lord help us so that this continues to be corrected, so that the sisters can have an active service amid God's house.
The Lord Jesus was served by many women who followed him. I have not found anywhere where the Lord told them: "Oh, woman, go away; you are not worthy of serving me". Never. On the contrary, we find many beautiful examples of how women served the Lord.
How much patience, and how much love the sisters have had toward their husbands so that they could serve the Lord. Brothers, now we will also have to do the same. This is a very serious issue. It may be the case that, if we are not willing to value the sisters' service in the church, the Lord will have to correct us with severity. Some of us are very prejudiced. There are men who look down on sisters who serve amid the church, and even that the youngsters serve in the church.
There are many youngsters among us who have consecrated themselves to the Lord, and they are getting ready to serve him in the ministration of the word, and of the music. They have composed songs. They have invested many hours. They have invested money buying instruments, paying the bus fares to go to many rehearsals. They have sometimes neglected their studies to get ready properly. They have said: "Lord, I want to serve you". While in the world the youths go charging behind the diabolical current of the world, into drugs and into liberal sex; but here there are youngsters that have been sanctified. However, it may be that among us there are mean hearts, which say: "They don't play well. I don't like that type of music".
In the past, we have lived some very hard experiences. There was a time in which the youngsters were not considered, and what's more, were disillusioned. Many of those are today in the world. We must ask ourselves: do we have space for the youngsters in the church? And if we do, will we be implacable with them? If this happens, if we are so severe, so unreasonable, it would be like giving them a push toward the door. It may be the case that we don't share the same form as them as they try to serve the Lord, but if we don't have love for them, if we don't have a generous heart, if we are not able to welcome them, listen to them, then perhaps the Lord won't give us many youngsters who can serve.
Brothers, you most certainly have the biggest responsibility; you have the ark on your shoulders. Yes, you are those that must first place your foot into the Jordan so that the waters stop. Yes, you are the pillars amid the house. You are there firm as ever when the gale gets worse. Yes, we recognize that, and we praise to the Lord for those men who are firm and mature in the house of God. But you cannot do everything. You are not the main characters of the church. In the church there are youngsters, there are children, there are women, there are old men, there are old women. There are weak brothers who don't often speak. They have also been redeemed by Jesus' beautiful blood, and they must also have a service in the house of God!
We have to correct some things. We cannot remain in the gifts or in the ministries. Remember: it is the operations, each member's activities, which are at the end, on the last step of the stairway. And if we don't make space for each member, according to his own activity, so that they work and are edified in love, then we will remain half way.
The last step of the stairway
In verses 15 and 16 we have the last step of the stairway. And we find two expressions in which love is present: "speaking the truth in love... unto the building up of itself in love". Truth cannot be spoken without love. Why are there sometimes so many arguments among the brothers in the church? Why are there antagonized brothers? Because they have tried to speak some truth, but without love. And when one speaks truth without love, then it causes a wound that is difficult to heal. We cannot speak truth without love in the house of God. There is no edification without love. Love is not only spoken: love is expressed, love is shown through hugs, through kisses, love suffers all, love runs to assist another.
Brother, how do we see our brother, or sister? Stop and think for a moment, what do you thin about a certain brother when you see him, when you listen to him? Are your thoughts wrapped in love? Do you feel that your heart is attached to him, or do you feel he is a stranger, like somebody distant? If you wrap the brother in Christ's love, if you attach him to your heart, then any thing that you have to tell him will be said in love.
Let us read another part of verse 16: "from whom all the body...", and we will join this with that which is at the end of the verse -because the other parts are inserted phrases-"from whom all the body (Christ) maketh increase". Each member receives growth or increase from Christ, because when we receive Christ or when Christ is ministered to us, we grow. Then it says, in an intermediate phrase, " through that which every joint supplieth ". Let us unite those two things: "from whom all the body maketh increase... through that which every joint supplieth". Let us re-phrase this: We all receive from Christ, and we all help one another.
What is our position before Christ? One who receives. But, what is our attitude toward others? One of helping them. Before Christ, we receive; before the brothers, we help, or we are helped. That is the body; that is mutuality of the body. Then, there is agreement, there is harmony and there is unity.
And each member has their own activity. "according to the working in due measure of each several part...". Brother, sister, what is our activity? What is your activity? "(Each member) -nobody is excluded-...maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.".
We give thanks to God for the advance that has been happening in this last time. But I must say that, of the three stages -gifts, ministries, operations-we are still in the second. We are only just beginning to lift our foot into the third. But we are still not stood in the third. What is our task? It is to try to get each member to work according to their own activity.
May the Lord enable all of us, in these months to come, to firmly take that third step, among all the churches. This call has already been made at some time, but we reiterate it today. The brothers that are at the front have to make space for all the brothers. It is necessary to encourage them all to speak, so that all may serve, so that everyone in the church becomes a useful part. This is perhaps the most difficult task for the brothers who have responsibility. Because it is easy to concentrate everything on a few members. Those few who do it well; they don't make many mistakes, they are accustomed to doing it. But we have to introduce this change. It is difficult to produce that transfer of responsibilities, from two or three brothers to the whole body, to all the members. But we are not alone, we have the Lord's help.
We will ask the Lord to help us, so that in the time ahead of us, we can take the necessary steps. May the Lord protect us, may the Lord bless us and strengthen us.
Synthesis of an oral message shared in the Rucacura Conference 2004, Chile.