Repetition and redundancy can be a good thing, especially when we recognize the importance of remembering.
With all the controversies and debates about spiritual gifts, we need the discipline of remembering, and remembering in particular what Paul repeated over and over again their overarching purpose, namely to edify and build the church. Look at these excerpts from 1 Corinthians 14, a chapter dedicated to the proper use of spiritual gifts:
“the one who prophesies speak to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (v. 3)
“the one who prophesies builds up the church” (v. 4)
“the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up” (v. 5)
“so with yourselves since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (v. 12)
“you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up” (v. 17)
“I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (v. 19)
“let all things be done for building up” (v. 26)
“you can call prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (v. 31)
What’s the obvious common concern of Paul? It is that believers might excel in the exercise of their spiritual gifts for building up the church. He could not be more redundant in this chapter (eight times referring to building up or encouraging others).
And this is not the only place Paul talks about believers building the church. Consider Ephesians 4.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ. . . . from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every join with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:11-12, 16
Who builds up the church? All of the saints when they are working full-time in ministry. How do they build up the church? When each member of the body is equipped to grow and work properly. How do they work properly? When they are exercising their spiritual gifts for the common good, the unity of the church, and the mutual care for one another (see 1 Cor. 12).
Now, can you think of any other prominent place in the Bible where “build” is used? Ah yes, the great promise of Jesus Christ, upon the confession of Peter that He is the Messiah. Jesus said:
“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” – Matthew 16:18
The great encouragement we have as believers is that Jesus is the one who is going to do all this. Jesus is going to build His church. His promise is as sure as the grave is empty. But as we believe this promise, how is Jesus going to do this?
I argue that the materials Jesus uses to build His church are the spirit-gifted, spirit-empowered, spirit-filled members of His body. Don’t disconnect the promise of Matt. 16:18 from the purpose of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 14. When all the spiritual gifts are present and working properly, Christ is present, and He is presently building His church through His people in the power of His Spirit!
We might be tempted to plant and build churches in the power of the flesh, with human ingenuity and fanciful machinations, but the Scriptural blueprint is simple. Jesus builds by His Spirit through His people for His glory.
Therefore, I conclude:
1. A church committed to planting and building churches must make equipping saints who are working properly in their spiritual gifting. We cannot accept substitutes building materials. The house will crumble if it is not built on Christ and by Christ.
2. Christ is the head of the church, and His promise to build the church should flow through all the members of the body. A member working effectually to build the church is evidence that they are rightly connected to the head, to Christ. On the contrary, members not building the church through their gifts leave to question whether the promise of Christ has any tangible difference in their lives now.
3. Pastors, if we believe the promise of Christ and the purpose of the gifts, we must view ourselves as equippers, not merely ministers. Paul says it is the saints who do the work of ministry. It is we who do the equipping. You are in real danger in thinking that the building of the church depends upon you if the practical outworking of the church lies squarely in your hands. The building of the church lies squarely in Jesus‘ hands, in His feet, in all of His members supernaturally gifted by His Spirit. Your leadership is important to the body, but that importance will be seen in how well others’ gifts flourish and are found fruitful, not merely the members appreciating the fruitfulness of your gifts.
So let the repetition and redundancy of Paul sink in. Everything we do should be for building up the church, and with that universal aim, we rejoice in an indefatigable promise. Jesus will build His church. Jesus is building His church. May the gifts He’s supplied reveal His greatness and redound to His glory.