But Is He with Us?Luke 9:46-50; Mark 9:38-41Theme: Christian tolerance.This week’s lessons remind us that there is both diversity and unity in the Body of Christ. LessonThere is only one way we will ever defeat this tendency to an improper narrowness in our view of Christian work, and that is to recover a vision of the greatness of the Church as Christ’s body. We need to recover the truth Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men” (1 Cor. 12:4-6). According to this and other passages, the church contains a variety of gifts, styles, causes, and methods of ministry.
There are a variety of gifts. The diversity in the church which the Bible talks about most concerns gifts, that is, the capacity for service given to every true Christian for the benefit of the whole body. These are listed in five passages of the New Testament: Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 12:28-30; Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Peter 4:11. But the specific gifts mentioned vary in each passage, suggesting that the lists are not meant to be comprehensive but suggestive of the kinds of capacities for service God gives the Church.
The listing of these gifts should encourage a measure of tolerance in Christian people, for it is evident that they are quite different, that all (and perhaps others) are needed, and that none of us has more than a few gifts at best. We are impoverished if we do not recognize the work of God in others who are exercising these abilities.
There is a variety of styles of service. It is not just in the gifts that we see variety. In this area the disciples themselves are an example of apostleship, but each was different from others in his exercise of the gift. Peter was an effective, dynamic spokesman, who preached on Pentecost and many occasions thereafter. John was much more subdued. He traveled to Asia Minor where he died years later, being revered as a gentle and wise old man. Paul, who was called by Christ to join the rank of apostles later, was an aggressive evangelist. Paul would not always have been easy to live with, and we know that on one occasion, at least, he had a falling out with Barnabas, another apostle.
Variety of style frequently divides Christians today. But it does not need to. I do not mean that we will necessarily feel most at home with another worker’s style. To imply that would be to deny the legitimacy of our own style. But I do mean that we should respect the other’s approach to service. We should not use words like “superficial,” “overly emotional,” “cold,” “shallow,” “dry,” or “introverted” to describe them.
There is a variety of causes. Many valid causes compete for a Christian’s loyalty, but valid as they each may be, no one Christian can be actively involved in all of them. The fight against abortion on demand cannot be every Christian’s cause. The fight for equal access in the public schools cannot command all of every Christian’s time. Neither can the battle for inerrancy in hopes of renewing the mainline denominations, or any one of a large number of other things. If this is so, we must not expect others to stop what they are doing and come over to our particular movement.
There is a variety of methods. When I wrote of “styles” a moment ago, I was approaching this area. But style is more an individual thing; method is organizational. When we speak of methods we are speaking of the difference between those who prefer to work within an institution to change it and those who prefer to work outside; between those who prefer direct confrontation and those who try to win by tact and persuasion; between those who work one-on-one and those who prefer to mount national campaigns. In any given situation we may believe personally that one of these tactics is preferable to others and we may be convinced that another believer is doing at least some damage by his or her methods. But perhaps we are too! We may be alienating people unnecessarily. We may be compromising. We are not to judge the other Christian. He is not our servant. “To his own master he stands or falls” (Rom. 14:4).
What is the remedy to an improper narrowness in our view of Christian work?
Consider the five passages in the New Testament that give slightly different lists of spiritual gifts. What do these passages teach us about service in the body of Christ?
Further StudyMeditate on 1 Corinthians 12:4-27. How does this passage change your thinking about your own role in the body of Christ and the role of others?