“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13, NRSV).
The apostle Paul once reminded believers that he had no shortage of categories of which he might have boasted: male, a Benjamite, a Pharisee, etc. But Paul nonetheless famously defined the fellowship of Christ as a place where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). The new community created by the death and resurrection of Jesus would not—and must not—resemble the social and political structures of a sinful world. Christ’s body—His church—is not just an improvement on what has come before, but a genuinely new creation.
Through the act of giving spiritual gifts to His church Jesus sought to reorganize our understanding of “life together.” New categories—evangelist, pastor, teacher, healer, hospitable person—will take the place of definitions built on privilege, power, race, or nationality.
Why then, dear friends, do we still boast of that which Scripture tells us is our shame? We urge advantages for “our kind,” we bide our time till one “of ours” assumes a higher office. We rally to our nations’ flags. We speak of voting blocs, as though the Spirit might direct all Americans or Zambians to make the same decisions.
Now is a day to stand up for the maturity that Jesus prayed for in His people. When next you hear the talk of status built on language, culture, race, or country, be the witness for Christ’s new community where you live and worship. Speak much of “gifts” instead of “rights,” of ways to serve instead of rank. Call on your peers to do the same.
As we grow up in all things unto Him who is the Head of this body, we will learn again that “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children” (Education, p. 18). That great unnumbered throng gathered at the Father’s throne will include just those who have allowed the Lord’s good gifts to transcend all other human categories.