Ministry Gifts, Ministry Opportunities, and Ministry Results

Dr. Brian Allison

God has called His Church to a shared ministry. The ignorance and neglect of this essential truth has resulted in a decline in the overall effectiveness of the Church. In exploring this truth, perhaps one of the most helpful passages of Scripture is 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, which reads, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." This passage presents at least three important points. First, THE HOLY SPIRIT ALLOTS MINISTRY GIFTS - "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit." Believers are given gifts, but the one Holy Spirit is the source of them all. The Spirit himself distributes different gifts throughout the body of Christ, and every believer receives at least one gift.

Now three sub-points may be made under this first major point that the Spirit allots ministry gifts. First, the Spirit takes the initiative and determines what gift a believer receives. The Scriptures read, "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11). The believer neither decides nor brings about the particular gifts he or she possesses. I remember a young man who was a member of a former congregation in which I served. After his conversion, he became enamored with preaching; he had a real desire to preach, to stand before the Lord's people and proclaim God's Word. Being consumed with that desire, he quit his job and enrolled in seminary to train to be a preacher. He studied for only a year and then dropped out. He realized that he did not possess the gift of preaching. He had the desire, but not the gift. You may have a desire for a particular gift, but you can not decide or determine whether you will actually receive it. Again, the Spirit himself takes the initiative and determines what gift a believer will receive.

Practically speaking, we, as believers, should be content with the ministry gifts that God has personally given to us. We ought to be satisfied that God has been pleased to give us a particular gift to exercise in His church. Some believers are discontent when they compare themselves with other Christians. A believer may have the gift of service, but desire the gift of teaching. A believer may have the gift of giving, but desire the gift of teaching. The Spirit distributes ministry gifts according to His will. The Spirit who is all-wise understands what the Church needs. We should neither despise the gifts He has given to us, nor envy the gifts that He has given to others. Every gift, whether it is showing mercy, leading, teaching, exhorting, or whatever is to be esteemed and highly valued.

Now the reason for this attitude of contentment with ministry gifts leads to the second sub-point - Each gift is an expression of the presence and power of the Spirit, and in this sense, every gift is a spiritual gift - "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit." The Spirit is pleased to reveal Himself in a specific way in the life of each believer. The same Spirit reveals himself differently in each believer's actual experience. The Spirit's work and movement are not restricted . He does not always work in the same way or manner in the lives of believers. He works as He wills.

Now in the Old Testament, various accounts are given of what may be called the 'manifestation of the Spirit'. For instance, Exodus 35 records an account pertaining to the construction of the tabernacle of the Lord. The Scriptures record:

Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, "See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And He has filled him with the Spirit of God [who will manifest himself in his personal experience], in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work. He also has put in his heart to teach, both he and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill [by His Spirit] to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen and of a weaver, as performers of every work and in makers of designs" (vss. 30-35).

So, if you have the gift of teaching, then the manifestation of the Spirit may be seen in terms of possessing good insight into the Scriptures; or strong powers of logic and analysis; or a facility with words and communication. If you have the gift of exhortation, then the manifestation of the Spirit may be seen in terms of having clear and discerning insight into the true state of another's life, being able to accurately assess the spiritual condition; or an unusual concern for the advancement or progress of believers; or the ability to use penetrating words that convict, which causes a change in behavior. This manifestation of the Spirit is identified with the particular dynamics of the gift given. Now this truth of the Spirit's manifestation ought to fill believers with a sense of wonder and awe. God is pleased to really manifest His Spirit in us. Does that move you? What a privilege we have to be the vessels and conduits of the Spirit.

Now the Spirit's personal manifestation has a specific design and end, which leads to the third sub-point - Each gift should be used for the benefit or profit of the body of Christ - "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

God has given each believer a gift, identified with the manifestation of the Spirit, and He has given each believer that gift for the sake of the Church. Fellow believers are to benefit from the exercise of one's ministry gifts. That fact is very important. As a believer, you have a gift; and as a believer, you are to use that gift for the good of other believers. Any gift that is self-directed is not God-honoring. Any gift that you use for your own profit is not God-honoring. We have received the manifestation of the Spirit for the good of other believers. We are given gifts for the health and growth of the body; and the goal of this giftedness is that of edification - the spiritual building up of the body - not the building up of ourselves. So, for example, 1 Corinthians 14:26 reads, "What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble [as a church], each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification."

Are you, as a believer, touching the lives of others with your gift? Maybe you have the gift of teaching, maybe you have the gift of administration, maybe you have the gift of mercy, maybe you have the gift of giving. Are you touching the lives of other fellow believers with your gift? The only reason you have a gift is for the common good of the body. If you have the gift of mercy are you visiting the beleaguered, troubled, and sick saints in order to encourage them? If you have the gift of giving, are you taking from your wealth and material increase and providing for the needs of the brethren? If you have the gift of preaching, are you responding to the opportunities to proclaim boldly God's Word?

The Spirit not only allots ministry gifts, but, second, THE LORD JESUS ASSIGNS MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES - "And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord." Ministries are varied, but the one Lord establishes each one. As the head of the Church, He determines how His church is to be run, what systems should be in place, what are the lines of authority, and what activities and practices should be done. He has the authority to says to this one, "Do this!" and to that one, "Do that!" As the head, He assigns the ministries.

The gifts of the Spirit correspond directly to the ministries which Christ has assigned, that is, having received a gift from the Spirit, the Lord appoints to a particular form of service in keeping with that gift. The gifts perfectly suit the ministry. Now every believer is given a ministry. There is a traditional view, albeit false, that says that only pastors are called to ministry. In a specific sense, pastors are called to ministry, but in a general sense every believer is called to ministry. So if you have the gift of showing mercy, your ministry may be that of caring for an invalid Christian brother or sister. If you have the gift of exhortation, your ministry may be that of evangelism. If you have the gift of teaching, your ministry may be that of counselling. Now you may know what your gift is, but do you know what your ministry is? Can you say with confidence that God has appointed you to a certain ministry through which you may exercise your gift? How does He want you to serve Him? Moreover, regardless of the ministry to which you are called, whether it be a pastoral one or a caring one or whatever, you are there by appointment. It is not by chance that you are a deacon, or a staff leader, or Sunday school teacher.

So the Spirit allots ministry gifts; the Lord Jesus assigns ministry opportunities; and, thirdly, GOD THE FATHER ORDERS MINISTRY RESULTS. This fact is tremendously encouraging - "And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons." The effects of Christians' ministry are varied, and God is the one responsible for those effects. God causes the particular results in the different ministries. He alone determines the effectiveness or the outcome of one's service to Him. Believers are simply called to be faithful. It does not depend on you whether brother John Doe "signs on the dotted line" and becomes a Christian. It does not depend on you whether sister Sue accepts a particular interpretation of Christian doctrine. You are simply called to be faithful. You are to give yourself to the ministry, by exercising your gift, and leave the results to God. God decides the intensity of ministry impact. In His own working, He brings forth the ordained fruit. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 illustrates this truth, which reads:

What then is Apollos [the silver-tongued preacher]? And what is Paul [the deep theological thinker]? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants or the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward [in keeping with his own faithfulness] according to his own labour. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

The one God determines the fruitfulness of every ministry.

Practically speaking, as you are slugging it out in your particular ministry, and you are witnessing very little observable fruit, though endeavoring to be faithful, do not get discouraged or depressed because the fruit does not depend on you; it depends on God. Many Christians, no doubt, would like to lead hundreds of souls to Christ; maybe some Christians reading this tract would like to teach or preach to thousands of people, proclaiming the doctrines of the faith; yet, maybe the truth is that God has given you one person to disciple, or five people to teach, or two people to lead. You can preach to a congregation of thousands and not have one person converted; on the other hand, you may share the Gospel with one needy neighbour and lead him into Christ's kingdom. God determines the results of your ministry. Furthermore, when you find yourself successful in your ministry, remember that you can only give God the glory. You should never pat yourself on the back in pride. He gives you the right words to speak; He guides you in the right way to act. He alone determines your fruitfulness. He works all things in all persons.

So Christians have a shared ministry. All Christians are to be serving. The triune God orders and determines all things. The triune God gives the gifts, appoints to ministry, and determines the effects. Service from beginning to end is all of God; and not only that (a word to my non-Christian friend) salvation from beginning to end is all of God too. You may have been going your own way for the past number of years. You may have been doing your own thing without regard to your spiritual state. You may have been sowing your wild oats, enjoying the selfish pleasures of this life. Maybe sometimes you have reasoned with yourself: "Well, maybe one day I will decide for Christ. Maybe one day I will become a Christian." Unless God speaks to you, unless He draws you, you will never decide, you will never become a Christian. Salvation from beginning to end is of the Lord, and you need to simply fall down on your knees and plead to God that He might open your eyes before it is too late, and that He might draw you to Himself. "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Is. 55:6,7). He is waiting for you.