Stewardship: Building Up the Body of Christ

“When Paul was knocked off his horse on the way to Damascus, he realized that not only did his life change, but also that he was given the resources, gifts, and talents to preach this gospel. He used these gifts to build up the body of Christ, the Church. Just as Paul used his God-given gifts and talents to encourage and build up the Church, so too, are we supposed to use our God-given talents, abilities, resources, and experience to build up the body of Christ wherever we find ourselves – in our homes, in our parishes, and in our respective denominations. We are supposed to use all our God-given talents for Jesus’ glory and not to sit on our backsides waiting for the Lord to come again.” (William C. Mills, A 30 Day Retreat, p 107)

 

Every Christian is Gifted for Ministry

St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans (12:4-21) writes about the unity and the diversity in the Church.  The unity of the Church is that we all become members of the one Body of Christ – we both receive the one Body in Holy Communion and we become that Body in faith and love.  The diversity of the church is that God has bestowed many differing gifts upon all of the members of the church:

For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep

Fr. Theodore G. Stylianopoulos comments:

mercytoChrist“In two remarkable texts (1 Cor. 12:4-31 and Rom 12:4-8), St. Paul envisions the Church as the body of Christ, consisting of many members who are endowed with diverse gifts, such as teaching, healing, prophesying, encouraging, giving, and administering. He mentions the chief ministries in the early Church in a somewhat hierarchical order but without closing the list. ‘God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of all miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues’ (1 Cor 12:28). His point was that all Christians were gifted and all ministries had a particular role in the body of Christ. None was to be considered secondary or useless. All contributed to the well-being and edification of the community. The supreme gift that allowed for the harmonious function of all gifts was the gift of love, about which the Apostle writes eloquently in 1 Cor 13.” (Encouraged by the Scriptures, p 147)

Spiritual Gifts Multiply Holiness

St. Paul writes to the Church at Rome:

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”   (Romans 12:6-8)

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says:

“… the gift of the Spirit is a gift of diversity: the tongues of fire are ‘cloven’ or ‘divided’ (Acts 2:3), and they are distributed to each one directly. Not only does the Holy Spirit make us all one, but he makes us each different. At Pentecost the multiplicity of tongues was not abolished, but it ceased to be a cause of separation; each spoke as before in his own tongue, but by the power of the Spirit each could understand the others. For me to be a Spiritbearer is to realize all the distinctive characteristics in my personality; it is to become truly free, truly myself in my uniqueness. Life in the Spirit possesses an inexhaustible variety; it is wrong-doing, not sanctity, that is boring and repetitive. As a friend of mine, a priest who spent many hours each day hearing confessions, used to remark wearily: ‘What a pity there are no new sins!’ But there are always new forms of holiness.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pg. 126)

The Spiritual Gift of Speech

“The gift of speech was also given to us that we might understand one another, not through instinct, like the dumb animals, but through intellect.  Thus we verbally express our ideas, which are abundantly and clearly opened to us by our God-enlightened mind, the source of thought and word, in order that we might conduct intelligent, mutual, brotherly conversation on the aim of daily life and its regulation, for mutual edification and benefit, in support and consolation of each other, and the like. It was not given to us that we might talk idly; or judge, slander, and condemn our neighbors, pronouncing judgments on them like unmerciful judges and torturers rather than considering ourselves as their brothers, weak and sinful as they, if not still worse.” (Abbess Thaisia, Letters to a Beginner: On Giving One’s Life to God, pg. 72)

Gifts of the Spirit: Given to the Community

St. Paul  writes to the Romans (12:6-12) –

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.”

Nonna Verna Harrison comments:

St. Peter, Theotokos, St. Paul

“Doing good works such as these and others is enabled by the Holy Spirit, who gives different gifts to different people. The Spirit, indeed, is a source of positive human diversity and individuality (1 Cor. 12::4-11). Yet in community life, Basil says, ‘the gift proper to each becomes commons to all those living together.’ The gift received by one monk is equally received by his brothers, since the Holy Spirit has given it for the sake of all of them, not just one. The gifted brother has the task of working with the Spirit to share his gift with the whole community. Thus those who live together benefit from the gifts bestowed on oneself. This abundance can bring strength and joy to all alike.” (God’s Many-Splendored Image, pg. 179)

Love: The Fruit of the Holy Spirit

“The Apostle bears witness that this love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, just like the joy and the peace granted by the Father and Son, when he says: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, and peace (Gal. 5:22). This love is poured into the hearts of believers by the Holy Spirit: Indeed, the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). In fact, according to the passages: And the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you (2 Cor. 13:13). and: If there is any communion with the Spirit (Phil. 2:1), since everyone who has communion with the Holy Spirit through participation in him possesses God’s Wisdom and Word and Truth in every way, he will also possess a share of holiness with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. For God is faithful, through whom you have been called to communion with his Son (1 Cor. 1:9). John too writes concerning the Father: If we walk in the light, just as he himself is in the light, we have communion with him (1 Jn. 1:7). And again: But our communion is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 1:3).  Therefore, since whoever has communion with the Holy Spirit immediately has communion with both the Father and Son, whenever anyone has the love of the Father, he has it as a gift from the Son through the Holy Spirit. In addition, whenever anyone is a participant of the grace of Jesus Christ, he has the same grace as a gift from the Father through the Holy Spirit.” (Athanasius the Great and Didymus the Blind, Works on the Spirit, pgs. 167-168)

Great and Holy Monday (2012)

Fasting, abstinence and self denial are not the goal of Great Lent nor are they   the Spiritual Fruit which we seek to produce.  Rather they are the labor we apply to the garden of our hearts – they are the gardening we do in order to enable the spiritual gifts of God to produce the abundant spiritual harvest in our lives.  We do not fail at Great Lent if we fail to fast.  Rather we fail if our fasting and attendance at the Lenten services doesn’t produce the fruits of love, peace, patience, kindness and humility in our lives.  Strictly keeping the  fast without producing the fruits of the spirit, is like the tree that blossoms with beautiful and fragrant flowers but never produces any fruit.

“If we do not see abundantly present in ourselves the fruits of love, peace, joy and meekness, of humility, simplicity and sincerity, of faith and long-suffering, then we have labored without profit and in vain: for the whole purpose of our labor and toil was to gain these fruits. If the fruits of love and peace are not in us, then our entire labor has been useless and in vain.

The Wise and the foolish Virgins

Those who toil in such a way, on the day of judgment will prove to be like the five foolish virgins who were called foolish because they did not yet have in the vessels of their hearts the spiritual oil, that is, the virtues which we mentioned; and so they were shut out from the marriage feast, gaining no profit from their virginity. Husbandmen who work in a vineyard undergo all their labor and care in the hope of obtaining fruit, and if there is no fruit all their work proves to no purpose; and in the same way, if we do not see in ourselves, through the action of the Spirit, the fruits of love, peace, joy, humility, and all the other virtues enumerated by the Apostle (Gal. v. 22), if we do not feel in full assurance and spiritual perception that they are present within us, then all the labor of chastity, prayer, psalmody, fasting, and vigil will prove in vain and profitless.” (St. Theophan the Recluse in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, pgs. 131-132)

Repentance: Opening One’s Heart to Receiving Spiritual Gifts

Ephesians 4:11-16

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.  We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.   But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Athonite Monk Alexis Trader comments:

“According to the Fathers, spiritual gifts are given so that the struggling believer can more fully lead the Christian life by observing ‘all things whatsoever Christ commanded the Apostles to do.’ Saint Maximus goes so far as to define a gift of the Spirit as ‘every capacity for fulfilling a commandment.’[…]God is quiet ready to shed His gifts upon His children, but his children first must cleanse and ready the vessel (i.e., their entire existence: body and soul) in which the gifts can be received. Saint Basil the Great notes that God grants His gifts not only with the benefit of others in mind, but also according to the faith, peace, and purity from the passions of the one receiving the gift.[…]Purification through repentance is required before the believer reaches the stage of illumination in which the gifts are given.[…]Thus in order for a believer to receive spiritual gifts, he not only requires a general purity from the passions, but the good soil of a ready mind or heart well fertilized with the virtue that most corresponds to that spiritual gift. The reception of spiritual gifts, like every aspect in the work of man’s salvation, is the joint activity of (synergy between) the grace of God and the free will of man.” (In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord, pgs. 48-50)

Serving God Not Just the Parish

Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote: “And the parish as parish, i.e., as Church has no other task, no other purpose but to reveal, to manifest, to announce, this Living God so that men may know Him, love Him and then, find in Him their real vocations and tasks.” He also wrote: “The parish is the means for men of serving God and it itself must serve God and His work and only then is it justified and becomes ‘Church’. And again it is the sacred duty and the real function of the priest not to ‘serve the parish’, but to make the parish serve God – and there is a tremendous difference between those two functions. And for the parish to serve God means, first of all, to help God’s work wherever it is to be helped.” (Robert T. Osborn in St. Vladimir’s Seminary  Quarterly Vol. 9 Number 4, pgs.187-188, 190)