Acts 6:1-7 gives the account of an election that was held by the early church. Not only did the apostles instruct the church members to choose seven men, the seven had to be much more than just “casual Christians.” They had to be of a good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, and full of wisdom. Why was the standard for selection so high? It was because the seven would be responsible for overseeing the daily distribution of food to the church’s widows.
Many students of the Bible consider this to be the first election of deacons. I’ll admit that this interpretation is debated, but I have always agreed with it more or less. However, what’s sad is the fact that in the debate over the interpretation, and in the adjoining debate over the qualifications for deaconship, a major point is missed altogether. That point is the apostles quote, “It is not right that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.”
The Bible is a very complex book that takes tons of study to teach correctly (2 Timothy 2:15). Such study requires time, lots of it. It also requires prayer and focus. But all of that is hard to achieve when a man is expected to fill his days with visiting the sick, evangelizing the lost, counseling the troubled, attending meetings, etc., etc., etc. Therefore, is it any wonder that the New Testament so plainly teaches that every Christian is supposed to help out with the work of the church?
Passages such as Romans 12:1-13, 1 Corinthians 12:1-31, Ephesians 4:11-16, and 1 Corinthians 14:26 show us that God doesn’t expect all His work to be done by a precious few “spiritual elites.” Instead, He imparts at least one spiritual gift to each Christian and says, “Go wear it out through use.” By way of definition, a spiritual gift is a skill or talent the Christian did not have before the moment of salvation. At that moment, however, the Holy Spirit imparted the gift to the Christian when He came to indwell that Christian. Every Christian receives at least one spiritual gift, and many Christians even receive more than one.
Here again, though, the church has made the mistake of getting all bogged down in how to interpret the spiritual gift passages. The major point of contention centers around the question of whether God still imparts all the different kinds of gifts or whether the so-called “sign” gifts were exclusively for the days of the early church. I do have an opinion on all that, but the point I’m making right now is this: In all our debating and arguing, we have overlooked the basic teaching that every Christian is supposed to do his or her part in the work of the church.
Ephesians 4:11-12 refers to apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers as gifts that Jesus gave to the church. Apostles had the spiritual gift of apostleship, prophets had the spiritual gift of prophecy, evangelists had the spiritual gift of evangelism, and pastor-teachers had the spiritual gift of pastor-teaching. And why did Jesus give these people to the church? He did it “for the equipping of the saints.” Okay, so why did the saints (Christians) need to be equipped? They needed to be equipped in order to do “the work of the ministry.” The set-up isn’t hard to understand. The spiritually gifted leaders in the church are supposed to equip the so-called “lay members” so that the “lay members” can do the work of the ministry. That’s a far cry from the spiritual leaders doing all the work!
In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, the apostle Paul compares the functioning of the church to the functioning of the human body. He says that if a foot doesn’t do its job because it wants to be a hand, that hurts the whole body. If an ear doesn’t do its job because it wants to be an eye, that hurts the whole body. If the whole body is one big eye, the work of hearing doesn’t get done. If it is one big ear, the work of smelling doesn’t get done. What a marvelous illustration that is!
Sir Michael Costa, the noted composer and conductor of another day, was once conducting a rehearsal that featured a large number of performers and singers. The mighty chorus was singing out in perfect unison, the organ was thundering, the drums were rolling, the horns were blasting, and the cymbals were clashing. But in the midst of that din of noise, one piccolo player began to feel very small and insignificant. He thought to himself, “In all this sound it doesn’t really matter whether I play or not. Nobody will notice if I just stop.” And so he stopped. Immediately, however, the great conductor brought the entire rehearsal to a screeching halt, threw up his hands, and cried out, “Where is the piccolo?”
That story makes me think of God. I can just picture Him leaning over heaven’s balcony, listening to the volume of noise that rises up as the church goes about its work, and noticing every spiritual gift that isn’t being put to use. Unlike Michael Costa, though, He doesn’t miss the sound of just one player. No, He misses the sound of many thousands, even millions, of spiritually-gifted people who simply aren’t doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing.
So tell me, Christian, how is your piccolo playing these days? Are you using your spiritual gift (gifts) in service to Christ? Are you carrying your weight in regards to the work of the church? Or does the Lord only hear silence coming from your chair? Speaking as a hard-working part of the orchestra, let me say that we need your piccolo. If you won’t play it, somebody like me will have to pick up the slack, and the truth is that I’ve got plenty of my own work to do.