Article based on the readings for August 1, 2021 and the TLW Bible Study post for August 1. Here are the Bible readings:
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a — A prophetic word makes David aware how He has violated God’s gift of royal position.
John 6:24-35 — At first, hearers could not grasp that the gift of Jesus is to be bread of life from heaven.
Ephesians 4:1-16 — Christ’s gifts to His church are the ministries that equip the rest of the body.
• See this week’s video introduction, Who is exalted by God’s gifts?
GOD GIVES us life and our needs for life, skills and strengths. When we come to accept Jesus the Lord as Jesus our Lord, in the realisation of all He has done for us, especially on the Cross, this takes on deeper meaning.
- God bestows on us new life which is not limited by our human mortality. It’s eternal life, starting now.
- The Holy Spirit acts as our coach, giving us insights and the ‘how to’ wisdom to act on knowledge
- And we become aware of spiritual gifts, some situational, some more settled in the sense of ministry, but through us they bring heaven’s power into down-to-earth difficult situations and reveal God’s care and love.
But here’s the thing: in all that God gives us, He also gives us freewill. We can use it well, as He would have us do‚ or we can use it selfishly and independently (which is sin). We have that choice! It takes a spiritual perspective, as opposed to a purely human one, to see how important that difference is.
1. The gift despised
David lived under God’s promise, spoken over him by the prophet Samuel when he was a shepherd boy, that he would one day become Israel’s shepherd, or king.
He waited about 15 years and it was a testing time. But now he has a stronghold city named after him, a palace to live in, and what he says goes. Temptation after he saw Bathsheba taking a bath in nearly courtyard allowed deception to cloud his otherwise good judgment, and he made a series of mistakes, stealing Bathsheba from her army officer husband, then when she became pregnant, giving orders to expose him to danger so that he would be killed on active service. It was a shameful sequence — but with deception ruling David’s thoughts, he thought he could conceal what he had done. But of course God sees everything. Some time later the court prophet, Nathan, comes to David with a story. It turns out to be a parable like the ones Jesus would later use to great effect.
“Now a traveller came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveller who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”2 Samuel 12:4
David was appalled at this story of injustice and exclaimed that the main must pay the customary restitution — four times over.
That is when Nathan reveals the point of the story:
“You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.”2 Samuel 12:7-8
There is more. This word from the Lord points out the constructive murder he has committed but ranking with it is the way he has “despised the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes”.
David had been given everything — kingship, royal privileges, security, wealth and a city palace. And he had despised the gift. It would cost him dearly — the prophetic word pointed to betrayal by one close to him.
At this moment the awful truth hits David, and he repents. It is sincere, and heartfelt, but he will have to live with the consequences of his rash actions.
2. God’s true gift recognised
Following the miracle provision of food for the huge crowd on the hillside, Jesus had slipped away overnight and people were looking for him. Where had He gone? Capernaum seemed the most likely place and sure enough, He soon found himself in the centre of a crowd again. They wanted more!
Whoever this rabbi really was — in one sense he was local and one of them, but in another He was clearly a mighty prophet — He was bringing God’s peace and presence in signs and wonders.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”John 6:25-27
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs I performed, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
He is telling them that they are right to be seeking Him out, but not right in the reason they want Him. They experienced the miraculous provision of food, bread that sustained them in life for that day. He wants them to see what the miracles point to — who He is, and what He can really do for them. He is authorised by the Father to be the giver of spiritual ‘food’ that brings spiritual and lasting life.
Now they have another question. How would they qualify for such a blessing? The Jewish religion, as elaborated by the scribes and Pharisees, put much emphasis on good works and correct observance:
Then they asked him, “What must we do, to do the works God requires?”John 6:28-29
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”
Jesus confronts the human desire we have to earn the favour of God, rather than receive the gift of God. “What must we do” denies the grace of God in the giving, regardless of merit.
We feel better about “doing the works God requires”, partly because that is the way of the world which we are used you. But there is a more sinister reason: we are then effectively in control of the gift. We earn it, we are entitled to it, and it is about us.
Jesus confronts this, then and also now. We must submit to God all the deciding about the giving, and believe and trust on His grace. This is then all about Him and not about us.
Jesus said that the work we can do for God “”starts with believing in the One He has sent,” from The Passion Translation.
Believing may be more demanding than religiously doing “right things” to imagine that we accrue good behaviour points with God. The Bible is very clear that it doesn’t work that way; it works by believing and trusting God — believing and trusting Jesus, as He goes on to say:
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.”John 6:35
3. Christ’s ministry gifts to the church
New life doesn’t come through the church, or its ordinances or sacraments, good those those things are. Christ didn’t come to start a new religion and help it become an institution. He came t o set people free from the bondage and legalism of the Jewish religious law and give to each believer a relationship with God through Him. Knowing God, we each act as priests, representing God and the final sacrifice made by His Son to those who do not know what He has done for them. And we represent those who do not yet believe to God, praying His kingdom over them.
This is Christian ministry, carried out by Christian believers, not a separate order. That ceased at His death, and the transition was sealed at Pentecost when the disciples, with a crowd gathered around them, received the empowering of the Holy Spirit in tongues of flame and a sound like a gale-force wind.
There was a need to give away what had been given, to new believers who were being added to the church all the time, and to build them up.
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.Ephesians 4:11-13
Apostles are envoys sent out to pioneer a new work, such as church planting; prophetic ministry is the strand that is sensitive to what God is saying about His God’s present purposes and strategy, and will often give a lead to praying them in; evangelists have the gift of declaring the Good News with special clarity, and helping people respond in trusting Jesus; the shepherd is all about caring for the flock in all its diversity, and will often also be a teacher with the gift of making the Bible’s message and application easily accessible.
Jesus’ last words recorded in Matthew’s gospel were an instruction to go out among all kinds if people (not just people like us) and help them become disciples of Jesus. This is how the church grows, and it is not too difficult to see how these five ministry gifts all work together as the teamwork of the Holy Spirit.
There are many other spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible, but these are the ministry gifts of those who have a call to coach and equip others, and reproduce after their own kind — so the evangelists will be good at growing new evangelists, and so on.
God’s objective is that His children grow up spiritually to be mature and confident, able to say ‘yes’ to the leading of His Holy Spirit and a firm ‘no’ to every deceiving spirit. The Holy Spirit always works to produce mutual love and unity, while deceiving spirits sent by Satan work through spiritually immature people to produce strife, lack of respect and disunity — wherever we give him that opportunity.
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. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.Ephesians 4:15-16
God is a good, His intentions for us are good and His grace-generosity and His gifts are very good and make us fruitful if we use them for His kingdom purpose and glory and not our own.
God gives us the greatest gift of all, His Son Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, making a way for us to be relieved of the heavy handicap of our wrongdoing, independence and rebellion by believing who He is and what He has done for us in such pain and shame on the Cross.
The work He calls us to, is this work of sincerely believing and trusting Him. Pursuing a religion is much easier, but it doesn’t make us free and doesn’t give us new life. God has given specific gifts to His church so that those who are more mature spiritually are positioned and given what they need to help and equip others who are starting out. This is how the church body grows — in numbers but also in maturity, becoming more and more like Jesus, the Head.