A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:7-12. c). The purpose of spiritual gifts is service. (continued).
I saw the principle of the every-member ministry well illustrated when I visited St. Paul’s Church, Darien, Connecticut, a few years ago. It is an American Episcopal church, which has been influenced by the charismatic movement. On the front cover of their Sunday bulletin I read the name of the Rector, the Reverend Everett Fullam, then the names of the associate Rector and of the Assistant to the Rector. Next came the following line: ‘Ministers: the entire congregation.’ It was startling, but undeniably biblical.
So Christ’s immediate purpose in the giving of pastors and teachers to his church is through their ministry of the word to equip all his people for their varied ministries. And the ultimate purpose of this is to build up his body, the church. For clearly the way the whole body grows is for all its members to use their God-given gifts. These gifts are so beneficial both to those who exercise their ministry faithfully and to those who receive it that the church becomes steadily more healthy and mature. If the sixteenth century recovered ‘the priesthood of all believers’ (every Christian enjoying through Christ a direct access to God), perhaps the twentieth century will recover ‘the ministry of all believers’ (every Christian receiving from Christ a privileged ministry to men).
All spiritual gifts, then, are service-gifts. This is their purpose. They are not given for selfish but for unselfish use, namely for the service of other people. Each of the lists of *charismata* in the New Testament emphasizes this. ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (1 Cor.12:7). It follows that their comparative importance (Paul is quite clear that some are ‘higher’ or ‘greater’ than others, 1 Cor.12:31) is to be assessed by the degree to which they ‘edify’ or build up the church. This is why the teaching gifts are of paramount importance, for nothing builds up the church like the truth of God’s Word.
To recapitulate, we have seen that it is the exalted Christ who bestows gifts on his church, that his gifts are very diverse in character, that the teaching gifts are primary, and that their purpose is to equip God’s people for their ministries and so build up Christ’s body.