edification = appreciation

The gifts of the Spirit were given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ Eph 4:12

When I was a kid in my undergraduate studies at Moody Bible Institute I “worked” as a youth director and later pastor at a Reformed Baptist church where I was first ordained. This may strike you as “odd” if you know anything about me. I am far from reformed and never have been. So, then what might even strike you as odder is that my experience at that church will forever go down as the best churching experience of my life. It was a small church, just the main pastor and me, (the youth director kid, I was 18 when I started there and 23 when I left.) The pastor, John Elifson, was one of the most edifying encouragers I have ever known. He never let our differences in theology or anything else keep Him from discipling me and building me up in Christ. I tell amazing stories of my time with him often and still count him as one of the greatest mentors of my life.

As humans I think appreciation is what spurs us on to continue to do better for each other and for God. A good pastor is a good shepherd, and a good shepherd brings maturity and transforms people through edification. Unfortunately, in the years that were to come I would also experience the other side of the shepherd pendulum – leaders that don’t appreciate and therefore essentially are agents of ungratefulness which turns into people being hurt and bitter rather than being joyful and productive in the kingdom. Some leaders think that partitioners should do everything unto the Lord and therefore no appreciation is needed from them. In my nearly 30 years in church leadership, I have found this to be the trademark of poor shepherding and in some cases, the singular agent that halts fruitful discipleship.

-the three graces

Each person is designed with a primary function to represent the image of God on earth. Our purpose is to be the physical manifestation of God (Jesus) to others. I pray that I might be “Jesus” to you “bringing” heaven to earth. Have you ever been asked to do something for the church and weren’t appreciated for you gift? How did that make you feel? Perhaps your gifts were almost treated as if they were debts that were owed and were waiting to be repaid. (Ok that was admittingly a loaded -anti ransom theory- statement! Which is why theology matters.)

If you have ever been the unfortunate reciprocate of this, I am sorry and ask that you might receive my apology on behalf of the body of Christ and church leadership; receive the apology and be healed and free of the bitterness and hurt that came as a result so that you may be restored to give of your gifts and have them joyfully received.

As rampant as this kind of poor thinking is within the leadership of churches, it isn’t right, it isn’t scriptural, and it certainly isn’t how Jesus would wish his physical manifestation of thanks to have been passed over you. I am the father of 4 boys, can you imagine if they never received encouragement when they offered their gifts to me or others? That isn’t a healthy image of the Father. The father accepts gifts to Himself and others and then “builds” on them encouraging the continued development of the gifts that they might come to maturity within the body of Christ.

Jesus desires to edify, encourage, and admonish His people as they are shepherded to better service and maturity in their gifting. Shepherding is edification.

When we as leaders think that people should give their gifts with no “need” of appreciation it shows that we don’t understand the heart or kingdom plan of the Great Shepherd. It shows that we don’t biblically understand the purpose of the gifts within the body of Christ.

Each gift is equal within the body of Christ. Equality in the Bible is the belief (doctrine) that all people are equal before God and in Christ, and that all humans deserve equal dignity and respect as God’s image-bearers. God loves justice and equity, inequality is the product of a fallen world and sin. The Bible instructs us to honor all people and to use our gifts and obey our calling to the glory of God for the edification of believers.

So why is it that leadership of churches often don’t feel the need to be agents of edification and say thank you or be appreciative? I honestly don’t know, but it seems prevalent within church leadership today. It is likely due to a misrepresentation of Col. 3:23 which says that we should do everything as unto the Lord. Of course, that is true, what I do for my brother or sister I do as if it where Jesus in front of me. But Jesus also was amazing at edification and encouragement. If you want to have influence to shepherd people better, you have to take it on yourself to be the agent of gratitude in accepting their gifts.

The gifts are given to you FOR THE BODY of Christ. God Himself doesn’t actually need our gifts, but the body of Christ does.

When you ask someone to give of their gifts, you expect them to give well, give fully, even eventually in maturity they give completely as a picture of what Christ gave to us. As you accept these gifts from them, you should therefore reciprocate the gratefulness that we are asked for when God presented such a great gift to us. The proper response to a gift received should be extreme gratefulness or thanks. In fact, it should look like a life that is continually lived in gratitude. It is unfortunate that church leaders today miss this; church leadership should be the mosaic image of GRATITUDE. (And some of them are!)

Remember the Ananias and Saphira story? Ananias brought the sale of his property to Peter and “laid it at his feet.”  This is Levitical sacrificial language. The offering was supposed to be an act of worship, a sacrifice to God from a broken and repentant heart. It was the picture of presenting all of yourself at the altar in the way that Christ gave Himself to the church.  But Peter saw something else.  He saw that this act was a sacrilege. I bet you haven’t considered this and why death was the result. It mocked God’s total sacrifice manifest in the life of the Messiah.  Ananias pretended to give everything.  He wanted it to look like he was giving everything. It was as if he said, “There God, I’ll give you this so that I will look righteous, but Your gift of the Savior was not enough for me to give all that I have in return.  I’ll just keep a little in case things don’t work out for me.”

The death of the Christ was the total commitment of Jesus in God’s plan of devotion and the total offering of God for the redemption of every one of us.  Offering a sacrifice that deliberately insults God’s sovereignty and sacrifice is a very serious offense. When our leaders of the church fail to honor and edify gifts humbly and sacrificially they are essentially doing the same act as Ananias and Saphira. They aren’t exhibiting the gratitude that the Lord asks of us as a response to His gift and to be continued in the body in the same way reciprocally.

At the time of the writing of the gifts in the New Testament Paul describes what was known as the three graces or the reciprocal dance of grace. I have used this expression several times in my writings (and in my second book of the This is the Way trology series. [The Roman writer] Seneca explains the image of three dancing connected by grace: a benefit ‘passing from hand to hand nevertheless returns to the giver; the beauty of the whole is destroyed if the course is anywhere broken’ (Seneca, [De Beneficiis, meaning “On Favors”] 1.3.3-4). The “three graces” picture visually represented how grace was understood to function in the first century Greco-Roman world in which Paul wrote. Grace (charis) originated with a generous giver usually thought of as the Benefactor. Often the Benefector was introduced to one in need by a mediator. The gift was then accepted by the recipient (client) who in his or her thankfulness and gratitude in turn extended the gift (grace) to others, and this in turn benefited the original giver. The recipient in many ways became a representative of the Benefactor to those in the Benefactors society. Coaching or mentoring towards what the Benefactor desired was often nurtured through the mediator to the recipient. It became a continual relationship between the three entities. In this unbroken circle, everyone was understood to benefit. The appreciation was a circle of incredible equality. Essentially it removed hierarchical barriers. Each part was met with equal gratitude. In this sense, God works through Christ in us as we freely receive the gift and continue to give all of it to others as they are then introduced in the same way through the mediator to the father. Jesus (who was and is God) emptied himself completely. Everything is freely given and should be gratefully accepted and received. At the time of Paul’s writing this was the extreme picture of thanks and gratitude. When church leaders fail to express this kind of thankfulness and gratitude, they are diminishing the gift of Christ at the cross similar to the way that Ananias and Saphira insulted the Lord. The hands of feet of Jesus are the archetype image for the response that should exert extreme gratitude.

When we don’t shepherd in edification, gratitude, and thankfulness in reception of someone’s gifts we are quelching the spirit, and defiling the sacrifice that was given.

My wife and I coach my younger boys soccer team at a Christian school. Our goal is always to build into these players spiritually through a discipleship process, soccer is just the vehicle for the work of the kingdom. Soccer skills developed are a bonus of the program. The first day I shared that each person throughout the game or practice needs to speak 44 words of encouragement around them. This is hard! Try it sometime! The first day we presented the idea it was an absolute train wreck… the students had no idea how to do this because it isn’t done well in our culture. They had a hard time coming up with 4 words of encouragement let alone 44 different moments of encouragement. At first they weren’t sincere and very shallow, but by the end of the season it was amazing. Other schools, parents, opposing coaches and everyone noticed it. The kids began to influence their culture. Their homes were transformed, they made new friends, and they actually learned to shepherd each other. There was no more fighting with other teams, and the kids looked forward to soccer more than anything else in their life. We built a culture of discipleship out of encouragement. Did I mention we also happened to win every game?! Amazing how that works.

Much of the Hebrew Bible speaks to living in balance (shalom). If we want a deeper spiritual encounter with God, we have to make appointments with Him.  If we want a healthier body, we have to schedule exercise.  If we want better relationships with the ones we love, we have to plan time with them.  The pressures of this world, the pace of this life and the constant confusing bombardment of unimportant but necessary demands will drain away all of your time unless you have unbreakable commitments to Biblical purpose. They are sacred times, set aside for special purposes fully given unto the Lord.

Living a life in balance for the Lord means to live in the circle of giving the gifts He has given us and being thankful when you are blessed as the body by the gifts of others receiving them in complete thankfulness matching the spirit of fulness they were given in. Good shepherds not only give well but accept well.

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