God is a giver. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” (Jas 1:17) There is no good gift that does not come from God. He is not just a giver, but the perfect giver. Most people are familiar with the miraculous spiritual gifts that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Many people, however, forget that Paul lists other gifts, less miraculous but hardly less important.
Some people claim to have the miraculous gifts, although they usually concentrate on the one that Paul considers least important, the gift of speaking in languages they have not learned in the normal way. Others point out that the Bible indicates that those gifts ended some time around the end of the first century.
And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. (Acts 8:18-19)The basic meaning of the word prophet is one who speaks for God.
Even though Philip had been specially chosen for service in the church, he was unable to grant anyone the miraculous gifts. Only the apostles were able to do so. Since the last of the apostles, John, died around the turn of the first century, those upon whom the apostles had bestowed the miraculous gift must have died in the early- to middle-second century. Scripture would seem to indicate that the miraculous gifts ended about then, if not before.
Paul tells the Romans about other gifts from God. They are not dependent upon the apostles, and are available even today.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom 12:6-8)
Some people would say, “See, the first of these gifts is miraculous; otherwise how could one foresee the future?” While certain of the biblical prophets were able to talk about future events, this shows a lack of understanding of the word prophecy.
The basic meaning of the word prophet is one who speaks for God. Generally this would be miraculous, because the word would have come directly from God. It is entirely possible that Paul was writing about those who had gotten a direct revelation. However, since the other gifts he mentions are non-miraculous, it may also be that he is writing about anyone who speaks the word of God, whether based on a direct revelation or based on the scriptures. Peter had the same idea when he said, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” (1 Pet 4:11)
That gift should be used “according to the proportion of faith.” Just three verses earlier he had used the similar phrase “according to the measure of faith.” Both phrases are similar, though not necessarily analogous. (Interesting choice of words, since “proportion” comes from a Greek word from which we get the word analogue.) Not everyone can preach the word of God as fully as another. Those who, because of time, have more experience with the Bible may be able to preach or teach in ways that a newer Christian may not. That doesn’t mean the older preacher is any better than the younger. It just means the proportion of their faith may be different. Either way, one may get the message to the hearers in the way that is best for their level of faith.
What is ministry? Even Greek lexicons list at least five definitions for the word deacon/minister. The one thing they all have in common is service. A minister of the gospel, a preacher, is serving God by teaching. Others minister by seeing to the health or physical needs of others. In Acts 6, men were chosen to minister in the distribution of food to the non-Jewish Christians.
In 1 Timothy 3, the word appears to apply to a specific office of the church. Paul gives the qualities that a deacon (minister, servant) must have.
Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim 3:8-13)
If your gift is service, serve well. Whether holding the office of a deacon or just having the gift of service, “they that have deaconed well purchase to themselves a good degree.” Who generally receives more honor in a church? Is it not those who have served others? It could be serving food, or giving comfort, or praying for the sick. These are the people who receive a good degree.
Teaching and Exhortation
These two terms seem similar in English. In the Greek, teaching always means teaching. The word translated exhortation, though, is also translated beseeching, comforting, or praying. They are similar enough in meaning to look at them together.
Some people have a gift of teaching. They can teach the gospel or any other subject anywhere, anytime. And yet, in some churches these people are relegated, by choice or not, to sit and learn. Teaching is not limited to formal Sunday school classes. Nevertheless, if a congregation has a man who has the gift, he should be encouraged to teach such a class. Women also may teach classes, but may be limited in doing so by some of Paul’s admonitions. Some who have the gift may not excel at classroom teaching, but are great teachers in a one-on-one situation.
One of the great teachers in the early church was a woman. She had the gift of teaching individuals. “Whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” (Acts 18:26) Sometimes a woman may be the more appropriate teacher of individuals.
Exhortation may be the act of encouraging another to greater things than they think they can do. It may be saying a right word at the right time, or sending a card, or making a phone call. One of the most famous men from the New Testament was known specifically for exhortation. “And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation).” (Acts 4:36) The word translated consolation there is the same word translated exhortation in Romans 6. How great it must be to be so known for your ability to exhort that it becomes your nickname.
Giving and Mercy
Giving may entail many things, but most often we think of it in monetary terms. Some people have the ability and desire to give more money than others. On the other hand, Jesus commended a widow for giving two small coins, because it was all she had. (Mk 12:42-44) Others may be giving of their time. Whatever it is you may have a gift of giving, do it in simplicity, free from pretense. Paul urged just this quality on the Corinthians.
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:7)
The gift of mercy is similar. When Jesus urged people not to be public in their alms, that latter word is the same as mercy. Sometimes, then, mercy may involve giving. But it is broader than mere money. It is having compassion. One may give money with many motivations. It may be selfish, so that one receives back or, maybe, feels good or superior. It may be motivated by compassion. It may involve seeing not just the situation another person is in, but also a solution.
Mercy is to be done with cheerfulness, just as giving is. The Greek word translated cheerfulness is the one from which we get the word hilarity. Time has changed the shading of that word. Today it means excessive humor, sometimes at the expense of others. Mercy should never be at another’s expense. It should build them up, not tear them down. Those with the gift ofOne of the great teachers in the early church was a woman. She had the gift of teaching individuals. mercy are glad to be merciful. It makes them feel good, but not in a selfish way.
In the church, we tend to think of ruling as the responsibility of the elders. And so we should. The concept of ruling, however, may extend to any member of the church put into a position of supervision. The elders are, indeed, the ones to whom this most applies. But what about the person who organizes a food pantry? What about a person (elder, deacon, or otherwise) who gets men to assist in the worship by saying prayers, reading scripture, or leading singing? Are those any less positions of ruling just because they may be done by men or women other than the elders?
Some people are born organizers. If a group of people gather for any purpose, they are the ones who take charge and get things done. They are the ones that other people naturally look to for making assignments and inspecting the work. In many churches, as in other walks of life, these are often women.
Paul tells these people to rule with diligence. Most of the time, that exhortation is unnecessary. Those who have the gift of leadership usually perform it with diligence. It is a necessary trait for rulers.
Paul could probably have added to this list. Everybody has a gift. It is not necessarily the same as that possessed by another. Nor is it any less valuable. That is what Paul said in introducing this list.
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Rom 12:4-5)