The Design of the Church is to be brought into Christ’s Likeness
Through Spiritual Gifts
First Peter chapter 2 calls us, "Pilgrims in the world." Paul said to the Philippians, "Our citizenship is not here but it's in heaven. We are sojourners, as it is, in the world." So we have been given to the world, to journey through the world, to be ambassadors for God, to be salt, to be light. There is a purpose for our individual existence as believers in the society in which we live. That purpose is to turn men to God, to turn men to Christ. We are a witnessing community. We are a group of people placed in the world to draw the attention of the world to God.
Note in Ephesians, perhaps the most thrilling concept of all, in identifying ourselves, comes together in the 4th chapter and the 13th verse of Ephesians. It says this, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of god, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Now that passage says that the design of the church is to be brought into Christ's likeness. "Till we all come to the full stature of Christ." God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, teaching pastors, for the perfecting of the saints, or the maturing of the saints, for the work of the ministry, that the body might be built up, in order that being built up it might come to a fullness of Christ-likeness.
This leads me to say, not only are we to be salt and light and ambassadors and pilgrims, and so forth, in the world, but we are to be Christ in the world. This is a very vital concept. The church is to be Christ in the world. That's why I've chosen frequently to call the church body two. The incarnation was body one, Christ in a human body. We are body two, Christ, alive in the world, in the church. This is a very vital reality and it's something that we have to understand. The Lord Jesus wants to leave Himself in the world even after He ascends. He wants us to be Christ in the world. He wants to reproduce, in us, His very essence, His very life, His very personality, His very character, so that we manifest to the world Christ, in as real a sense as Christ was manifest into human form when He was walking in the world.
Note, how is it that God has designed us to be Christ in the world? How is it that we can literally represent Him? How is it that we can manifest His character to this world? First of all, the Bible says that "He has planted within us the Spirit of Christ. If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His. But we have received the Spirit of Christ. Therefore, Paul says, "the life I live is not my own, but it is Christ living in me." So Christ then will reproduce Himself in the world by living in me as an individual believer.
A step further than that, Christ not only indwells every individual believer but he indwells the corporate church. Ephesians chapter 2 says that the entire church is built together as a habitation for the Spirit of Christ. Christ exists, not only in the individual life of a Christian, but in the corporate life of the community of believers known as the body of Christ. So He produces his character in us, first of all, by dwelling in us.
Let's see just specifically how this works together. Before we look at 1 Corinthians 12 go back a little further towards the end of your New Testament to the 4th chapter of Ephesians, and I want to just pull out a couple of very related thoughts here. Ephesians chapter 4 verse 7, here is basically the simplest explanation of how Christ really reproduces Himself in the church as it works out from His presence. His presence is there, but his character becomes manifest in this way: "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." Now Christ has given, by grace, certain gifts. They come from Him. They are divine enablements given to the believer, unto every one of us. No Christian is excluded, it is given grace...that is, we can't deserve it, we can't earn it, according to the measure...that is, it is measured out individually and uniquely for every Christian...the gift of Christ. Christ then gives a gift; a spiritual endowment, a spiritual enablement to every believer, unique to that believer. He has given all of us gifts. You say, "Why does it say gift, singular, if some of us have more than one?" Because I think the plurality of our gifts can be expressed as "our gift." My gift from God may be the gifts of preaching or teaching, of administration, all combined into the gift He gives me. Sometimes you've opened a package and gotten three things in one box. Well, that's the same idea. But it’s design is to manifest His character. It is an aspect of His character that he gives.
In other words, the spiritual gifts....remember this now...the spiritual gifts are characteristics of Christ that will be manifest through the body corporate as they were manifest through the body incarnate. That's the purpose of spiritual gifts. They are the characteristics of Christ poured back through...
When we preach or teach or show mercy or help or lead or give or have faith, or whatever of those gifts we exercise, we find that that is a supernatural activity endowed and enabled by the Spirit of God, which manifests an attribute of Christ for the building of the body. Thus, Christ becomes real in the world as the body grows up. So we see these are not random things but the gifts specifically find their source in God, their channel in the Spirit, and their pattern, their example, their completeness in the person of Jesus Christ. They are essential then because they are the things that will manifest Christ, the things that will build the church.
The amazing thing about the Corinthian church...and we'll move to discuss them for a minute now...the amazing thing about the Corinthian church was that they had all the gifts –– all of them. First chapter verse 7 says, "You come behind in no gift." You lack nothing. They had been endowed with all spiritual gifts. They were fully equipped for maturing, they were fully equipped for ministering, they were fully equipped to be Christ-like, but instead there was absolute chaos. There was a failure on the part of the gifted men to do the job they were supposed to do in maturing the saints. There was a failure on the part of the saints to minister the gifts they had been given. Instead, they were being counterfeited; they were being exploited; they were being neglected; they were being abused, they were being confused, and the result was the terrible chaos that appears in chapter 12 to 14 in the Corinthian church relative to spiritual gifts.