Unmerited, Sovereignly-Distributed Gifts
Apostolic Foundations and Apostolic Patterns - Part 5
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Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are all Sovereign Gifts from God. He alone has the right to decide where, when, and to whom they’ll be given. And because they are sovereignly given, they cannot be attained by maturity, sincerity, Bible knowledge, deep desire, or even the need to have them. No, instead “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be” (1Cor.12:18).
The gift of apostleship comes by grace (charis), which means “undeserved favor.” There’s nothing anyone can do to earn it. The gift is by grace and is therefore not deserved! You can’t grow into it, either. “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zec.4:6). As with all the children of God, apostles are birthed from above, “not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (Jn.1:13).
As Peter and John said of the once crippled man, “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see” (Acts 3:12, 16). And so it is with all of God’s gifts. Power won’t make it happen, and godliness can’t earn it. Natural talents and abilities mean nothing. You can neither earn nor learn, attain nor win, mimic nor duplicate the free gift of God. Not by our own power or godliness, but by faith in the name of Jesus, do we glorify God, lest any man boast.
There might, however, still be a gap in time before these Gifts are manifested in a person’s life. Perhaps there will be a season of testing to reveal whether the man of God will be “faithful in little things” (see Lk.16:10-12). For Paul, the delay was almost a decade from his vision, conversion, and commission in Acts 9 (AD 36) to his sending out in Acts 13 (AD 45). Was all that time wasted? Not a chance! More likely, it was an opportunity for God to teach Paul faithfulness “with the little things.”
What was Paul during that time, anyway? Was he an apostle, even though it was almost ten years before he was actually sent out? One thing is certain, the gift was there. We know that because God said, “I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to the power of God” (Acts 26:17-18). I am commissioning you. I am sending you to the Gentiles and to their kings. Who among us wouldn’t say, “Okay, let’s go right now!” But it was another ten years before Paul was “sent out” (Acts 13).
Paul’s time in Damascus, right after his conversion (Acts 9), seemed like a total failure. There’s no record of any conversions, he had to escape over the wall in a basket, and the Bible says the churches enjoyed a time of peace after he left! : ) Next, he disappeared for three years in Arabia, and finally went home to Tarsus. All in all, it was about six years before he ever made it to Antioch (Acts 11), and almost ten years before he was actually sent out (apostello) in Acts 13:3. So, seemingly, Paul had no specific, visible assignment from God for several years. Even though the Gift is Sovereign, there may be a time delay as God tests our ability to be faithful with the little things.
It is possible to be disobedient to the calling on your life. While it’s true that no one can do anything to earn the free gift of God, it bears mentioning that His calling on a life can be quenched. Laziness, disobedience, and failure to grow toward the full stature of Christ are all factors that can inhibit the expression of the Gift. Likewise, there must be a nurturing environment for that expression—just the right amounts of light, water, iron sharpening iron, and faithfulness with little things. There is an active part that we play. “I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven,” Paul told King Agrippa in reference to his calling. “Fan into flame the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of my hands.”
Obviously, once a gift is given, God’s desire is that all of the elements will fall into place. But there will undoubtedly be a period of time that God will use to test our obedience and faithfulness with the “little things.” And once given a gift by the grace of God, we must actively respond to the call in faith.
In the Order of Melchizedek
The writer of Hebrews speaks of two priesthoods: the order of Levi and the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7). The priesthood of Melchizedek is of the same nature as Melchizedek himself. He was a man without history and without lineage. No explanation was ever given of where he came from or where he was going. “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever” (Heb.7:3). Melchizedek was of a divine nature, sovereignly placed there by God. There was a greatness about Melchizedek—Abraham, the father of our faith, even tithed to Melchizedek!
There was a greatness about him, but understand that it wasn’t something you could attribute to his training, his lineage, or anything external. It was given by God by His Sovereign choosing.
The Sovereign Gifts which Jesus Christ “ascended on high” to give to His Church (Ephesians 4) are best described (as an analogy) as in the order of Melchizedek. Jesus gives Sovereign Gifts to His Church by His grace, His undeserved favor (God’s intervention that man did not earn). The Apostolic Gift is referred to as “the charis (grace) of…”
These gifts cannot be earned or learned, but only received as the Father freely gives. Those who are “equipped for works of service” in areas they may not have supernatural Gifting in will have definite origins and lineage. In the Old Testament, men in the order of Levi were trained in the priesthood from the age of 25 to the age of 30. They served as attendants and were trained in the responsibilities before they ever took over their priestly duties. In the same way, there is today a priesthood of believers, by way of analogy, who are “equipped” in the stature and fruitfulness of the knowledge of Christ, as well as “equipped” to “do their work in love.”
Again, consider the analogy, for understanding purposes. (Obviously there is no “clergy” or “special class of Saints” in the New Covenant—but ORGANICALLY the nature of Gifts can be understood analogously through this illustration.) The order of Melchizedek can only be explained by God’s Sovereign Purposes and His Sovereign Timing. It is clearly by God’s grace—undeserved favor that no man can ever earn—that these men are Gifted to the Church. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are Sovereignly given to the Church to equip others into the fullness of Christ (Eph.4:11-16). In this way, the priesthood of Melchizedek equips the rest for the works of service and trains others, just as the Levitical Priesthood was trained into their responsibilities. Those of the order of Melchizedek have no explanation for their Gifts, other than purely God’s Grace, “lest any man boast.”
The Right Environment—Abiding
These Gifts of God, which the Holy Spirit has imparted as He wills, will manifest themselves if the environment of the corporate Christ life is present to nurture them into fruitfulness. What does the life of Christ look like as it’s expressed corporately in His people?
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:12-14).
The Christ life in us will encourage (“admonish” in some versions) one another daily so that none are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. This admonishing process is vital to keep us from being deceived and hardened by sin. That’s true no matter who you are. There are no exceptions. This continual admonishment is an essential element in the nature of the Body of Christ. Without that environment, you will be deceived and hardened into a lack of fruitfulness. That’s not a threat, just a law of nature. Men are like plants—their fruitfulness is determined largely by their environment.
If the environment is right, an oak tree seed will always produce an oak tree. All young sprouts look the same at first, so you won’t know what kind of tree it is until a certain amount of maturity is reached. An oak tree, a maple tree, and an apple tree all look the same when they’ve first sprouted.
So it is with the Body of Christ. You won’t see men bursting with obvious gifts right from the start. But if the environment is right, they can grow into the stature of Christ. These Gifts, any Gifts, can be quenched without the nurturing of that Gift. Without the environment of growth, without the habitat of growth, without the iron sharpening iron—those gifts can be lost or quenched or pigeonholed. It is vital to live in an environment that nurtures the Christ life, so that the giftedness can begin to grow up and bear fruit. It will bear fruit in due season if it is planted by streams of living water.
The fruit is not manifested instantly. With regard to apostleship, the seed is the Gift of the Holy Spirit, given as He desires and as He wills. But the fruit won’t manifest itself right away. You’ll never see a little green sprout with an apple hanging off the end. Nor will you ever see a bunch of tiny apples on a tiny sapling. Every good tree bears fruit in season, but only after a time of nurturing and maturing.
You won’t have to put a sign in front of the oak tree to make it grow. It doesn’t need a label to grow and flourish, and neither do God’s gifts. Just feed it and nurture it in the Holy Spirit’s “habitat.” That is, admonish one another daily and refuse to consider any of your possessions as your own, being devoted to the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. In that setting, the gifts given by the Holy Spirit will blossom and bear fruit as the genetic nature within permits. Remember that the destination is the full measure of the stature of Christ, not some “ministry.” The Holy Spirit gives gifts as He wills, so watch for fruit, not name tags.
In the meantime, don’t run after these things, but do “earnestly desire the greater gifts.” You don’t know what form the gifts will take because the Holy Spirit gives them as He wills. But when they finally are given and planted in the habitat of God’s Kingdom, they’ll bear fruit in season. You’ll know it when it happens. It won’t be some mysterious thing where you have to “discover your calling.” Nowhere in the Bible is a person encouraged to discover his gift. It’s good to desire whatever gift God may be able to give you. “Earnestly desire (not discover) the greater gifts.” Fix your eyes on Jesus, not on what you think is “your ministry.”
Be fruitful as you abide in Christ and lay down your life for others. If you’re busy climbing on a cross for others, you’ll know as time goes on what gift you have. If you’re abiding in Him and planted in the right habitat, you’ll grow and bear fruit after your own kind. A seed always bears fruit after its own kind. If you nurture and water whatever seed you have in you, it will bear fruit. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will bear much fruit.” The emphasis is on abiding in Him.
Timing is paramount when it comes to the bursting forth of the Gift within. Consider just a few examples from biblical history. It was almost 10 years after Paul’s vision of Christ and his commissioning before Paul ever did anything worth noting. What might have happened if he had jumped on the scene before God said it was time? Or consider Joseph. His dream was given 22 years before it was finally fulfilled. And then, there’s Moses, who rushed impatiently into his calling and had to flee to the desert, where he waited 40 years for God’s timing.
You Can’t Miss it or Fake it!
The Apostolic is a piece of God, straight from God’s heart and the presence of God. You can’t miss it. There won’t be any doubt in your mind, and you won’t have to take a vote on it. If you have the hunger and humility and passion for Jesus to care and receive, then you will recognize the apostolic. The apostolic represents Divinity, and whatever is from God is unmistakable, if one cares. That’s why Paul could say, “I’ll come and show you whether this is mere talk or real power” (1 Corinthians 4). Of course many missed or refused Jesus Himself when He was here physically, so those same types (the proud, the lazy, those with sins they want to hold on to, the religious, those with power, prestige, or money to lose) will still not See or care.
You can ignore His Gifts or brush them aside if you like, but if you have a heart that really wants to see the Glory of God, you’ll see it. Again, Jesus was missed by most people of His day. There He was, the ultimate Apostle, and they missed Him. John wrote, “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” But if you have eyes to see and you really care, you can’t miss it. You won’t need to go down any kind of checklist to see if they meet the criteria: Do they do this? Do they do that? What about that? How many conversions do they have? What is on their resume regarding books they have “authored” and “churches” they have “planted”? When it is unmistakably and undeniably God, those with eyes to see will see, and those with sins and agendas will not. Just as it was with Jesus Himself, there will always be excuses and “let’s be careful here” and other diversions and “smoke and mirror tricks” to justify ignoring what is of God’s Plan and Mandate.
Though some will always try to do so for personal gain, in truth no one can mimic apostolic stature. “Knowledge” or personality or leadership skills are NOT the same as Grace from Heaven, and God’s Deposit of the Gift of architekton, “master builder.” Knowing all the right verses (or even great maturity) will never substitute for the specific gifting of the Holy Spirit.
The same is true with any other work in the Kingdom. Paul asked rhetorically, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets?” The implied answer is no. Doing apostolic work, prophetic work, evangelistic work, administrations, mercies, or helps doesn’t mean that the gift from God that dwells within you is in that area. But those qualities are part of the stature and fruitfulness of Christ. Therefore, you can anticipate doing many of those things, even though they may not be the thing that God has specifically caused to be embedded in your genetic new creation.
You Don’t Have to Define It
We may not have all the answers about the place of apostles, but let’s at least be honest with what we see going on around us. If this church existence is not what we read about in the Bible, then we must pay any price to find out what God wants to do. As long as that’s our heart, we can set a course that will result in God’s Glory without ever knowing the vocabulary!
If we determine to submit to whatever is of God, we will see His Glory and presence manifested among us. Rest assured, if you don’t understand everything there is to know about Gifts, that’s all right. You don’t have to understand it all. You could be deaf, dumb, and blind to all of these terminologies and ideas, yet if you submit to whatever is of God, you will do the right thing. And if you look for the Glory of God but don’t see it, cry out to the Lord of the Harvest for laborers!
Again, if you submit to whatever is clearly of God, He will do His work without you having to know the vocabulary behind it. All you need are the eyes to see it and the heart to get on your knees when you see the Peace of God show up. You don’t even have to label it at that point. Eat the fruit and digest it. If you were shipwrecked and starving on a desert island and you saw fruit hanging on a tree, you would eat it to find out if it had substance. You might never have a name for that piece of fruit, but if it nourished and fed your body, you wouldn’t care if you knew its name or not. You can LIVE off it, and that’s what matters.
And that’s the way it is with giftedness. You don’t have to be able to describe it accurately—all you have to do is eat it. You don’t need to know all the vocabulary. You just have to cry out to God whenever you don’t see His Glory being manifested around you. Then when He sends Life and begins to establish things around you, and you see it, GO AFTER IT!
49Rom.1:5, 12:6; Eph.3:2-8, 4:7-11; 1Cor.15:9-10; 1Pet.4:10; Mk.13:34; 1Cor.3:5, 12:11. Back
50Josephus, et al. Back
51See Mt.28:18-20. Back
52The apostles were told to go make disciples. People are made into disciples—they learn to be followers. That sounds so foreign to a religious world that says, “God made me what I am. God made me a disciple and I don’t need men!” It was this same carnal arrogance that caused one of the Corinthian factions to boast “I’m not of Apollos or of Cephas; I am of Christ” (see 1Cor.1:12). God’s command is not optional, no matter what the world says. Jesus says, “Go make disciples…and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt.28:18-20). “I commanded you, and you command them to obey me.” There is a cycle there. It was on that condition that He promised to “be with you always, to the very end of the age.” Praise God for that promise, because the making of a disciple doesn’t happen overnight! Back
53Some claim to be apostles, but these are to be tested (Rev.2:2; 1Jn.2:18-27; 2Cor.13:3-6). Back
54If you are genetically right-handed, your left hand can be trained to do much or all that the right hand can do. I can dribble a basketball and shoot with my left hand (some may dispute this!), but that doesn’t make me left-handed. I can’t make myself genetically left-handed. Some have, because of an injury to their right arm, learned to be very proficient at tasks with their left hand. Such a person might, with great effort and training, learn to out-perform someone else who uses his dominant hand, especially when the opponent is sick or untrained in the task.
All of this is analogous to giftedness in the church of Jesus. With much equipping, a person can learn to function in an area where he is not genetically gifted—even to a greater extent than one who is gifted in that area, but who is spiritually sick or lazy. Back