Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira
When Jesus finished His earthly mission and ascended to begin His priestly ministry in heaven, He not only sent the Holy Spirit to communicate the incredibly good news of the gospel to the human race that He had redeemed, He also bestowed spiritual gifts. These spiritual gifts are absolutely necessary for the growth and mission of the church, the body of Christ. This is why the church has adopted this fundamental belief.
Since the church is the body of Christ and every member has been baptized by the Holy Spirit into that one body, it goes without saying that every member has a vital part to play in the church.
1 Corinthians 12:13
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Every believer has been given a specific spiritual gift or function, that the body of Christ may be united, healthy, and may fully represent its head, Jesus Christ:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
The first four books of the New Testament, called the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), give a historical account of Christ, who manifested God in the flesh:
I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.
1 Timothy 3:16
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
Today Christ is in heaven, invisible to the human race He redeemed. The only way, then, that the world can see the matchless charms of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is through the church, which now represents His body. Hence, the fifth book of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, presents a historical account of Christ, as manifested in His body, the church. Unfortunately, because many fell away from the gospel, this striking manifestation of power was short-lived.
For the church to function as a united body, manifesting Christ in all His glory, believers must once again understand the function and purpose of the spiritual gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit. In Matthew, Christ addresses this issue with His disciples, telling them:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
The word you in this text is in the plural, representing the church body, but light appears in the singular, referring to Christ:
John 1:4; 8:12
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. ...When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
While the church is made up of many individuals, together they represent only one person — Jesus Christ.
The Function of Spiritual Gifts
The spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit have a dual function. On the one hand, one set of gifts bring spiritual growth in the church itself, so that:
...Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Yet another set of gifts, however, equips the saints “for the work of ministry” (or “service”):
...to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up....
While on this earth, Jesus revealed and glorified God by the works He did:
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
Likewise, the church is to manifest and glorify God, today. These works are made possible by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as He equips the church for its ministry.
Jesus told His followers:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
What has Jesus’ going to be with the Father have to do with the believers’ works? Jesus answers two chapters later:
“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Without the Holy Spirit and His spiritual gifts, the church is helpless to witness for Christ in all His fullness and beauty. Some gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy, pastoring, administering, and so forth, specifically build up the church into Christ, that it might reach maturity. Other gifts — such as healing, miracles, tongues, and so forth — bear witness to the world of the life of Christ. Both kinds of spiritual gifts are necessary for the church to fulfill its mission on earth, until Christ returns.
The gifts of the Spirit, therefore, are not for the individual benefit of individual believers, but for the benefit of the church, as a whole:
1 Corinthians 12:7
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
This is important because some Christians insist that, unless one speaks in tongues, one is not saved. This idea is not found anywhere in Scripture; in fact, Paul makes it clear that the gift of tongues is for witnessing to unbelievers, not for the benefit of the believer who possesses the gift:
1 Corinthians 14:22
Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.
The role each member performs in the body is decided by the Holy Spirit:
1 Corinthians 12:18
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
When the Holy Spirit baptizes a believer into the body of Christ, He decides how that person will serve the whole — some as toes, some as fingers, others as tongues or eyes. Yet, every member has a place and function in the body, by God’s choice and not the believer’s. The Holy Spirit is the sovereign Lord, and Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 12:11 [Emphasis Added]
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
The choices the Holy Spirit makes in determining which parts of the body members are to represent is not governed by natural abilities, but by how those members can best bring glory to God.
For example, I am an introvert and have no natural ability for public speaking, so when the Spirit called me to the ministry, my first reaction — and a strong one at that — was to object. Make no mistake, the call was so strong I could not push it aside. Not until I surrendered to this call after some six months of struggle did I find any peace.
Now I realize that, when the Holy Spirit calls a person for a specific task, He gives him or her the grace and ability to carry it out. Once we understand this, we can rejoice in our weakness, with the apostle Paul:
2 Corinthians 12:10
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This may sound like a paradox, but God says to all of us:
2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
The Biblical Use of Grace
The Bible uses the word grace three main ways. Its first, and primary, meaning is God’s loving disposition toward sinful humanity. Because of this grace:
In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace....
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God....
Scripture also uses the word grace to refer to the perfect obedience of Christ in His earthly mission on behalf of humanity. The apostle Paul writes:
But the gift [of salvation] is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man[Adam’s], how much more did God’s grace [unmerited favor] and the gift that came by the grace [obedience] of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
Finally, the word grace in Scripture also can describe the power available to believers so that God’s purpose can be attained in their lives. Referring to his ministry, the apostle Paul declares:
1 Corinthians 15:9-10
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them [the other apostles] — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ....
In this sense, Paul could write to the church at Rome:
...Through whom [Christ] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Distinction Between the Gift and its Use
Possessing a spiritual gift is one thing; using it is another. We established in Chapter 9 that, if any part of the human body is paralyzed, it becomes useless and a burden. The same is true of the church, the body of Christ. For the good of all, every member needs to exercise the gifts he or she has been given.
Since Christ wants a healthy spiritual body — one that is growing, maturing, functioning, and witnessing — every member must have a ministry that adds to the body’s health. As the human body has all kinds of organs and members that interact to benefit the whole, so it must be with the body of Christ.
...So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
If just one organ fails to function, the whole body is affected. A church is truly healthy only when all members are involved in church life. In the closing section of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he addresses this issue, saying we must use our gifts:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
The concept of spiritual gifts in the church needs special emphasis, because of the unbiblical model of ministry developed during the Dark Ages and still prevalent today. At that time, church members were divided into clergy and laity — the professional workers (clergy) supported financially by the nonprofessionals (laity). Such a system is hierarchical and contradicts the New Testament ideal for the church. As we’ve already seen, all members of Christ’s body are on the same level, but each member has a unique and important part to play if the church is to function as one body.
The church witnesses verbally, as well as through the love and unity it demonstrates to the world. Only when believers are one in perfect love will the world be impressed by their verbal witness. Unity built on humility and selfless, agape-love presents the most powerful testimony possible in favor of the gospel.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
But the world today sees a fragmented Christian church with little love expressed openly to the world. In the great controversy, Satan’s goal is to divide and conquer; God’s is to being unity to last an eternity. While the church is filled with carnal (selfish) Christians, Satan can create divisions at will. And he has done exceedingly well. Only when the character of Christ is reproduced in the church, says Ellen White, will He come to take His people home:
Christ’s Object Lessons, Page 69
Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. It is the privilege of every Christian not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:12, margin). Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel. Quickly the last great harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain.
May that day be soon!
The Spirit’s Gifts
So far we’ve examined God’s purpose in providing spiritual gifts to His church. Now, let’s consider some of the specific gifts that build up the church to maturity. (I say “maturity” because the truth is that too many of our churches are like the Corinthian church, filled with babes in Christ, though the majority of the members have been Christians for many years.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?
According to Paul, the gifts responsible for building up the members in Christ and equipping them for service are the gifts of prophecy and the gifts of pastors and teachers. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul makes it clear that while the gift of tongues is important, the gift of prophecy edifies the church:
1 Corinthians 14:3-4
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.
Believing this gift to be of vital importance, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has set aside a separate fundamental belief called “The Spirit of Prophecy” to deal with it. We will study this belief next chapter.
When we study carefully the list of gifts in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we discover that the Holy Spirit gives:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers....
(In some translations, each of these gifts is preceded by the word “some.”) Notice that the last gift in the list differs slightly from the others: “pastors and teachers” is not two gifts, but one. Why does the last gift have a dual aspect?
Clearly, Paul regards this last gift as having two manifestations. A pastor is both a shepherd and an instructor. He not only leads the flock and cares for it, he builds it up in Christ by teaching it the things pertaining to God’s truth.
The word “apostles,” on the other hand, means “sent ones,” and can be equated with the modern word “missionary.” Prophets are those who edify God’s people by telling them how to conduct themselves in light of things to come. But ultimately the responsibility of feeding the flock, and grounding them in the truth as it is in Christ, falls on the pastors.
The Gift of Pastors and Teachers
Upon his return from his third missionary journey, the apostle Paul stopped at Ephesus, called for the elders (pastors) of the church, and counseled them:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds [Greek: “feed”] of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
These savage wolves and self-appointed shepherds are still at work today, as surely as they were in Paul’s day. When a pastor fails to feed his members and to build them up in Christ, the members become spiritually malnourished, and growth ceases. Many churches today are filled with Christians who are still babes in Christ.
Centuries ago, when the Bible was written, people thought and acted far differently than we do in the Twenty-first Century. As a result, much of the Bible is seen today as a closed book, difficult to understand and easy to misunderstand. To the pastor falls the duty to bridge the gap between the two worlds and to make the Bible relevant to his flock. This is what he was trained to do. If he fails, the church will have a difficult time growing up in Christ.
While pastors are to evangelize, this is not their primary calling. Evangelism, in fact, is really the work of the whole church. Most pastors do not have the gift of evangelism, and Ephesians 4:11 lists that calling separately from that of pastor/teacher.
The evangelist is to reach the unchurched and bring them to Christ. The pastor is to then take these babes in Christ and build them up in grace and truth by feeding them from the Word of God every week, so they will develop and mature. According to Ephesians 4:14; God does not intend His followers to be as “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine”:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
He intends for them to grow through discipling.
The pastor feeds the flock by preaching the Word. Genuine preaching builds up, encourages, and comforts. Paul’s advice to young Timothy is still the best:
1 Timothy 4:13-14
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Paul is advocating what we refer to as “expository” preaching. In effect, he is telling Timothy to “read the text, explain the text, and apply the text.” The gift of preaching today expresses itself the same way, as it “expounds” the Word of God. The standard is not to draw spiritual lessons from Time or Newsweek, sports, politics, philosophy, or great books. Preaching (“kerygma” in the Greek) always includes teaching (“didache”) from the Word of God.
The gift of pastor/teacher is the most important gift in the church, when it comes to the spiritual growth of the body. Yet many pastors are so burdened with administrative duties and promotional programs that feeding the flock has been largely neglected. As Ellen G. White once wrote:
Gospel Workers, Page 301
Our churches are dying for the want of the truth on righteousness by faith and kindred truth.
Other Spiritual Gifts
The gifts of administration, of faith, and of ministry to the needy also help the church accomplish its God-appointed mission. These gifts, working in unison, equip the church for ministry. But if the members have not been built up in Christ and remain immature, the church will come up short as the salt of the earth and light of the world. This occurs far too frequently.
As a denomination, evangelism is given great emphasis, and rightly so. However, we must remember that the function of the gift of evangelism is not to get other Christians to join Adventism, but to lead men and women to Christ, the Savior of the world. I say this because most evangelistic efforts concentrate on converting other Christians to Adventism, which leaves the non-Christian largely untouched. This is not the biblical view of soul-winning.
All Christian denominations combined (including Roman Catholicism) constitute only about 30 percent of the world’s population. That means that some 70 percent of the world’s population is still groping in darkness when it comes to any knowledge whatsoever of the everlasting gospel.
Yes, I do believe that God raised up the Advent movement to illuminate the whole earth with the glory of God, manifested in Christ. The present emphasis on Global Mission is, therefore, correct. But as long as we, as a church, are squabbling over what constitutes the everlasting gospel and are polarized regarding truth as it is in Christ, this mission will meet with a large degree of failure. Yes, we may baptize many souls, but most will leave through the back door because of the lack of maturity of those entrusted with their spiritual care.
The Gift of Evangelism
The word “evangelist” comes from the Greek word euangelion, and has a fascinating background. The word was first used in Egypt during the Hellenistic period some 400 years before Christ. During this period, many Greeks migrated to Egypt and settled in and around the city of Alexandria. Egypt primarily consists of desert terrain, and the staple crop, wheat, grew only along the Nile River, and in quantities limited by the lack of arable land.
So wheat was shipped in to Alexandria from Phoenicia (present-day Lebanon) to meet the demands of the growing population. Sometimes the grain reserves in Egypt would grow precariously low, and the people would scan the horizon for incoming grain ships, and cry out “Euangelion! Euangelion!” and spread the word throughout the city when the ships finally appeared. Now there would be enough food for all!
This word, euangelion, first appears in the Bible when the angel of the Lord appears to announce the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind:
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news [euangelion] that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
The spiritual gift of evangelism is bestowed on a believer by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim to the world the incredibly good news of salvation in Christ. It is indeed true that Adventism rose up to help restore neglected Bible truths, such as the seventh-day Sabbath, the state of the dead, and others. But when an evangelist dwells long and hard on church doctrine, those who hear these doctrines for the first time tend to assume that these teachings themselves are the sum total of the everlasting gospel.
As a result, when these newly baptized members begin to practice these doctrines, many find themselves trapped in legalism and they find no joy, as discouragement overtakes them and they drop out of the church.
Evangelists today are often sincere men of God, and I do not mean to criticize them. But if they would do what the Holy Spirit has called them to do and concentrate on leading men and women to Christ; and, in turn, if pastors would fulfill their task of establishing new believers in the teachings of Christ, I believe we would have far fewer dropouts from the church.
When Christ gave the Great Commission to His disciples, He made it clear that their first task was to:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit....
A disciple is a follower of Christ, one who has obeyed the gospel from the heart and who has surrendered to Christ as his or her Lord and Master.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Only when this occurs can it be said that the believer is properly established in Christ.
“...And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
It is only then that their baptism becomes genuine. Otherwise, we will continue to fill our churches with members who profess to be Christians, but whose faith is not grounded in the truth of the gospel. Note again how Ellen White describes this problem:
SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, Page 1075
The new birth is a rare experience in this age of the world. This is the reason why there are so many perplexities in the churches. Many, so many, who assume the name of Christ are unsanctified and unholy. They have been baptized, but they were buried alive. Self did not die, and therefore they did not rise to newness of life in Christ.
In concluding this important chapter, let me point out the common thread that connects all the gifts of the Spirit. Every gift that the Holy Spirit bestows — and there are 11 of them — is a characteristic of Jesus Christ. He possessed each of the gifts in their fullness. He was a preacher, a teacher, a healer, a giver, a comforter, and a leader — He did it all! If we were to make a composite of all the gifts of the Spirit, we would have a complete picture of Jesus Christ.
Spiritual gifts, then, are intended to reproduce Christ’s attributes in the church. They are grace gifts in the body of Christ, so that the church may carry forward the life of Christ in the world. To be truly effective, the world must see that work as a true reflection of Him:
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Every believer needs to identify his or her spiritual gifts. Man-made tests cannot disclose these attributes; only the Holy Spirit can reveal them through conviction. But even more important, every believer must use the spiritual gifts bestowed, so that the body of Christ can become effective in witnessing the mighty power of the gospel to the world. Only then will the earth be illuminated with His glory. Only then will the gospel be preached to all the world for a witness, and the end can come:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
May that day come soon.