2019 Stewardship Letter

The following letter is my note to the congregation for the 2019 stewardship drive. It also happens to be the basis for this Sunday’s sermon!

So let no one boast in me. For all things are yours, whether Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 3:21-22

We sometimes think, “Wouldn’t it be great to get back to being the New Testament church?” But anyone who studies the matter knows that the churches about which we read in the pages of Scripture were as riddled with problems as any congregation today. Take for example the church in Corinth. Sexual immorality. The rich abusing the poor. Divisions within the body. The flaunting of spiritual gifts. Disorderliness in worship. All of these issues were present in this cluster of congregations found in the city of Corinth. The good news is that our fellowship in being fallen which we share with this ancient group of Christians makes it possible for us to receive Paul’s words of admonishment and instruction in a relatively direct manner. We are still broken, so it is wise to listen in on how Paul ministered the gospel of grace to broken people.

One of the issues in Corinth was the formation of factions within the church. Each faction chose a different leader behind which to rally. For some it was Paul. Others chose Apollos. And still others Peter. There was even a group that said that they were of no one but Jesus (1 Cor. 1:12). This factionalism was contrary to what Paul taught in the concluding chapters of this letter – that each member of the church is a member of Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12). But Paul approached the divisions from a slightly different perspective at the end of chapter three.

Paul recognized that the factions in Corinth were attempting to carve the church up into miniature little kingdoms, controlling resources and worship in small knots of like-minded people. But this was foolish to Paul’s way of thinking. The reason was expressed in 3:21-22 quoted above. Why fight over little bits and pieces of the church when every member of the church already possesses all things? The whole church and every member of the church already possesses everything – including all of its leaders and all of the spiritual blessings in Christ (see Eph. 1:3). In other words – if you have everything because you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God, why in the world would you ever need to fight over little pieces of the kingdom and create divisions? You have everything in Jesus, so why settle for less than what you already have?

Sisters and brothers, we are rich in Jesus Christ. We (and that includes you personally) have all of the blessings available in Jesus. You already have all of Jesus. So why do we persist in living with a perpetual sense of poverty, scrapping for little bits and pieces and trying to stash away parts of ourselves for a future that we cannot control? There is a better way. That way can be summed up in a simple expression – All of Jesus for All of Life. You have everything in Jesus, so you are safe to give everything to him. Every square inch of every area of your lives. 100% sold out for Jesus.

On this Stewardship Sunday, October 27th, I invite you to renew your commitments to Jesus and his people gathered together as First Presbyterian of Hillsdale. Part of this commitment will be financial pledges, but your commitment is never just financial. This month, recommit yourself to give your worship, time, skills, gifts, responsibilities, and everything else of which you can think to Jesus. Remember – you already have (right now!) everything in Jesus. So let us together live all of our lives – every square inch – for him.

Soli deo gloria!

Pastor Scott

Embracing Biblical Ethics, Pt. 2

The Babylonian stela featuring Hammurabi’s Code, one of the great legal/ethical documents of world history. From Wikimedia Commons.

In my last post, I described what biblical ethics is not. The purpose of today’s post is to suggest something of how we should positively think of biblical ethics. Ethics are of fundamental importance to our faith and to our society. Pragmatism and convenience have left a legacy of anemic moral reasoning throughout modern American life. One example will suffice. Most of us take it for granted that the cameras on our phones may be used freely to capture images of other people without considering if the person wants to be photographed. We don’t think of about the rightness or wrongness of the matter because the technology is readily available and there could be some use for the image or video. But is it really ethically correct to turn a person made in the image of God unto a meme for personal enjoyment? Does filming a person in distress prevent us from helping a person in distress? Such is the world in which we now live. But there must be a better way than pragmatism and convenience.

Biblical ethics are all about God. And the ethical training that must be part of our discipleship is God-centered training. Biblical ethics is composed of at least three key ideas – God’s character, God’s glory, and God’s wisdom. There is much more to be said on the subject, but this seems like a good starting point to me. Let us take these in turn.

Ethics in the character of God. Our ethical outlook must be shaped by the revelation of God’s character as found in Scripture. Our actual ethical choices must be applications of God’s character to the situations of life. In my last post, I mentioned the biblical law requiring a parapet be built around the roof of a house (Deuteronomy 22:8). Broadly speaking, this law teaches us that homeowners are responsible for the safety of their buildings. But we might also add the insight that people who are near the edge of a roof and behaving in ways that could lead to falling are people that are behaving foolishly (such as drunk persons).* Yet the Israelite homeowner was required to take action that actually mitigated the consequences of the foolish person’s behavior. Why go to all this trouble? Because the God of Israel cares about the well-being of his people and acts in ways that demonstrate his mercy. He is “the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 NIV). He is the one who “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). We should be like this God – “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).

Ethics for the glory of God. But not only are we to live our lives to reflect God’s character; we also live our lives to bring glory to God. In everything that we do, we must ask ourselves, “Am I glorifying the God who made all things and gave me new life through Jesus Christ?” As Paul writes, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Our right ethical actions are intimately connected to the gratitude that we have to God for creating us and redeeming us. Bible teacher R. T. Kendall often refers to the doctrine of sanctification as “the doctrine of gratitude,” and I believe that there is much that is correct about this idea. The Heidelberg Catechism positions reflection on the Ten Commandments under the heading “Our Thankfulness” and Lord’s Day 32 informs us that one of the reasons that we must do good works is that “we may show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits, and he may be praised by us.” So, in any given situation, does our behavior give God glory and show him gratitude? What actions are less honoring to God and what actions are more honoring? How does what we do show how much we esteem God? If we commit small acts of theft, does it not say to God and to others that we are not satisfied with what God has provided for us?

Ethics according to the wisdom of God. Finally, biblical ethics are interested in living in ways consistent with God’s creation and the way God made human beings. If wisdom is defined as something like skillful living, then it is clear that ethics are closely related. We should not consider something ethically correct which is out of step with the way that God has made the world and other people. We do not murder because human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 9:6). To murder is to deface the image of God. It is true that the violation of this commandment is a violation of God’s character which fails to bring glory to God. It is also, however, a denial of the way that God has made people as image-bearers; therefore, it is a failure of wisdom, a refusal to function correctly within the parameters of God’s creation. Hence Christians should oppose abortion-on-demand because it seems that God has so created human reproduction that human life begins at conception and, therefore, the dignity due to the image-bearer belongs to the baby in the womb. This is wisdom, skillfully working within the parameters of God’s good creation. Just as we should not murder our neighbor, it is wise and ethically right to prohibit the murder of the vulnerable child in utero. We might conclude with the words of James, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13, emphasis added).

Of course, anyone familiar with biblical ethics is intensely interested in the actual imperatives of Scripture (openness to the Bible is a requirement for the use of the word biblical). In relation to my analysis, it might be said that any “ought” of Scripture is an application of God’s character, in which God shows us how to praise him in the daily choices of life, and in a manner consistent with the way he created the world. The Bible’s teachings on everything from marriage to business transactions can be understood in this light.

For more about biblical ethics, check out these resources.

Dan Doriani’s class on Christian Ethics, available through Covenant Seminary. *If my memory serves me correctly, the above mentioned insights on the parapet law came from this class. (Disclaimer – I took this class with Dr. Doriani, and none of my errors should be associated with his class!)

Evangelical Ethics by John Jefferson Davis (Takes a look at the perennial topics of ethical discussion such as euthanasia and sexual ethics)

Just Say Thanks! by R. T. Kendall (A very helpful book on gratitude)

Embracing Biblical Ethics, Pt. 1

How do we live as Christians? What does it mean to follow Jesus in the myriad situations of contemporary life? Think with me of all of the complex issues which face us on a daily basis – social media usage, persistent racism, abortion on demand, angry rhetoric, unrestrained consumerism, and so much more. In the youth group days of my early journey of faith, we would slap on bracelets bearing the letters WWJD (What would Jesus do?); but it seems that we now need more than shallow readings of the Gospels to chart a path through the predicaments. We need fully fleshed out biblical ethics.

In an earlier post, I made the suggestion that the adjective biblical implies four types of “openness” – to the Word, to the tradition, to the community, and to God’s creation. We rightly use this word when we have a posture of submission and attentiveness in these four areas of life. To be biblical is not to simply have the right set of beliefs about a given issue. Moreover, the description cannot be the sole possession of one group of Christians, as it is abundantly clear that many Christians of many denominations are trying to live in ways broadly consistent with this designation. It should not surprise us then that biblical ethics is not about simply knowing the rules or having a certain opinion about an important social issue. This needs to described in more detail.

Biblical ethics is not a list of rules. We live in one of the most legalistic cultures in the history of the world. When congressional bills are passed, they are often so complicated and so long as to be fundamentally inaccessible to the layperson. We have rules for every area of our lives. This is what we should and should not do at work. This is what we should or should not do when we are driving. These are the state laws that we must follow. Here are the local laws (seriously, the height of my grass?) that must be obeyed. On top of that, most of us are relentlessly interested in developing techniques and processes for how to accomplish our objectives. If you want to lose weight, you look for a diet-and-exercise system that works. If you want to manage your time better, you desire someone to give you a step-by-step plan to follow. We often add the final touch by telling people if they are violating our protocols, especially focusing on those people with whom we disagree online.

But the Bible does not give us a list of rules for Christian living. Though they can be printed in a similar format, the Ten Commandments can never be treated like the “pool rules” we find down at the community center. Take the first and last commandments for example. The first commandment tells God’s people: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 NIV). To not place others before God is not less than a rule, but it is certainly more. For the question of idolatry is not about external conformity alone. It invites us to ask serious questions about what we desire and what we love. Do we love anything else before we love God? And how about the last commandment – “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17)? Coveting is an inner condition. Coveting is something that we do in the heart. To not dive in the shallow section requires no character formation. Biblical commandments call on far more than external obedience.

Biblical ethics is not the “right” opinion on contemporary social issues. In this connection, it is important to emphasize that, though the Holy Spirit wields all parts of the Word to accomplish God’s purposes in our lives, the Scriptures were writen for cultures different than our own. This by no means suggests that the Bible has no relevance for our contemporary social issues. Such a suggestion is contrary to the Bible’s 0wn witness about itself (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It does, however, mean that the Bible does not address our social concerns in a direct manner, as if it was designed for that purpose. As God’s inspired Word, Holy Scripture speaks to people of all cultures without attaching itself permanently to any one culture and its concerns.

The Bible teaches us a range of things which have a bearing on much discussed social issues. We know that human beings are made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6; James 3:9-10). We know that God wants his people to care for the vulnerable (Exodus 22:21-24; James 1:27). We know that the Israelites were to build safety measures into their houses to prevent needless death (Deuteronomy 22:8). In Paul’s epistles, we see that governing authorities have been given by God the authority to uphold justice (Romans 13:3-4) and that we are to pray for those in authority so that all people might live dignified lives (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Now what do all of these things (and more!) have to do with gun control policies? The Bible certainly speaks to the issue, but we can’t simply flip open our Bible and find the answer in Numbers. The alternative is to observe that biblical ethics is mostly about the way in which we go about our ethical decision making and the priorities that we have as we do so. Of course, some answers are more biblical and God-glorifying than others. Good and evil, right and wrong, are still helpful designations. But it does take some intellectual and spiritual work to get there.

If biblical ethics is neither a rules list nor positions on social issues, what is it? I will take this up next time.

Building a Biblical Worldview

Since I was in third grade, I have worn glasses in order to correct a pernicisous case of near-sightedness. Without my glasses, my world becomes meaningless scribbles and moving blobs. With my glasses, blurry edges become sharp and dark blots become words. My glasses are the means by which I make visual sense of the world.

I became a follower of Jesus in my teenage years. From the earliest days of my discipleship, I heard pastors and leaders speaking of the need to develop a biblical worldview. Everything from public scandal to weak theology to the rise of secularism was attributed to the failure of Christians to develop a biblical view of life and the world. After many years of listening to the call to biblical worldview, I find myself both more confused about and more committed to the concept.

There is much to be confused about in the concept. In its most basic articulation, we might say that a worldview is the pair of glasses through which we make sense of the world. Things can get a little bit more fuzzy after that, and many questions abound. Is worldview primarily a thought-oriented enterprise or does it involve our emotional and pyschological shaping? Can worldviews be categorized in large, generalized categories (i.e. Marxism, secular humanism, Christianity, and other -isms) or are worldviews as unique as individuals (i.e. my way of seeing the world vs. your way of seeing the world)? Is it a list of propositions about the world or a metanarrative (a grand story) that we use to describe our experience of reality? What comes first – thoughts about the world or behaviors in the world? Many more questions can be generated, and the potential answers abound.

Yet for all of the confusion, I intuitively know that worldviews matter. We all interpret the world based on some notion of how things work. That notion or set of notions about how things work comes from our culture and upbringing and is both taught and reinforced by ritual and habit. There are big, generalized elements and personalized elements. For example, almost all Americans take for granted that food can be purchased in a store, without need to personally grow or kill what we eat. Beyond that, any given American might have had unique experiences of food in their childhood. The big picture concept (we buy what we eat) works with the personalized element (my mom made me clean my plate) to produce a way of thinking about food. I no longer conceive of worldviews as lists of propositions that are clearly held. The apologetics books of my younger days cheapened the concept by turning people into brains on sticks. Worldviews involve what we regularly do and the kind of emotional responses that we have to the world around us.

The Bible lays the groundwork for how we should think about worldviews. A biblical worldview is not primarily a list of things we think about the world but a way of living in the world that represents biblical priorities and grows out of the biblical story. In that regard, worldview is vitally connected to wisdom. Wisdom has been called the art of skillful living. To live skillfully, you have to have a grasp (not just cognitively) of how creation works and how people work and how God wants people to live in the world. This worldview-wisdom does not begin with lists of propositions but with the fear of the Lord – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 NIV). A biblical worldview is also about walking in the light in fellowship with God and his people – “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). And walking in God’s light changes how we see the world. As the Psalmist says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

The metaphor of glasses is helpful when thinking of worldviews, but I wonder if it misses something important. After all, glasses can be put on or taken off. They are always external to us. But a biblical worldview isn’t something simply believed or disbelieved, put on or off. Instead, a biblical worldview is the way I live in the world. Maybe it is more like the muscle memory that makes it possible for me to hop on my bike and ride down the street.

When my glasses are on, I can even see the trees and houses around me as I ride.

For a good overview of the biblical story, see Michael Williams’s Far as the Curse is Found.

For a dip into the idea that worldview is more than propositions but also ritual and affection, see James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love.

Suffering for Jesus

Before I return to my series on living biblically, I would like to share a thought that has been running through my mind since the 39th General Assembly of the EPC. We were blessed to hear from missionary and former Turkish prisoner Andrew Brunson. And his message to the body was this: we need to prepare ourselves for coming persecution. He meant right here in the United States. He taught that persecution is coming because Jesus told us to expect it. You can see the video above. Seriously, stop reading this and watch it!

My basic thought is that one of the greatest tests of true Christian unity that we will ever experience will be whether we are willing to suffer with and for our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our congregations, will we suffer with and for sisters and brothers? Even the ones that we don’t always get along with?

And what about the wider church? Will mainline Christians suffer with and for evangelicals? Will evangelicals suffer with and for fundamentalists? Will Presbyterians suffer with and for Pentecostals? Will Protestants suffer with and for Catholics? Though I certainly don’t want to suffer, I can’t help but imagine that the surprising configurations of mutual consolation and encouragement born out of persecution could be one of the greatest testimonies to the vitality and beauty of the Christian faith that our nation has yet seen.

On Being Biblical

Evangelical Christians often use the adjective biblical to sort and categorize various arguments and practices. You may hear us say things like, “I am going to a biblical counselor now” or “I am a part of this church because the preaching is biblical.” To be biblical is to be acceptable and good. To be unbiblical is to be unacceptable and bad. “Don’t go to an unbiblical church.” “Stay away from her books – her ideas are unbiblical.” You get the point.

The challenge is that our use of this word is often contestable. What does any given person mean when they use the word biblical? I am afraid that, often enough, our use of the word is really just a way to hide our own preferences and views behind a whitewash of righteous language. I do not think that we should abandon the use of the word biblical; nor do I think that we should give up on the quest to pursue biblical expressions of the faith. In fact, in the next few blog posts, I will be discussing the pursuit of a biblical worldview, biblical community, and biblical ethics. But the easy abuse of this term causes me to think that we should slow down and consider what it means to be biblical.

In general, I think that being a biblical Christian is more about cultivating a certain way of life than maintaining a certain list of propositions. It is more about a posture before God and neighbor than it is a certain affilation or denomination. In particular, I would suggest that being biblical is about four types of openness.

  1. Openness to the Bible. At first glance this seems obvious. But it is surprisingly easy to be perfectly orthodox and yet closed to the teaching and power of Scripture. A biblical faith is always oriented to what the Spirit is saying through the Word of God. It is always listening and striving to hear the Word. When instruction is clearly given, a biblical faith receives the instruction. When instruction is not clearly given, a biblical faith seeks to apply scriptural principles and scripture-soaked imagination to the problem at hand. Openness to the Bible is not about mastery of the text. If one thinks that the text can be mastered, then one has missed the message of Scripture. The Bible is a weapon wielded by the Spirit of God to accomplish the purposes of God. Mastery of the text is not realistic. Instead, a biblical faith is constantly seeking to be mastered by the text within the context of our present situation. Because of the limits of our knowledge and the reality of our sinfullness, there will be diversity of views and interpretations among those who consider themselves biblical. What unites these people is not a list of propositions or a certain brand affiliation but a fundamental orientation towards the Word of God as authoritative and the Spirit of God as active and present.
  2. Openness to the tradition. If we are open to the Bible, then we are also open to the apostolic teaching which has been passed down from one generation to the next. There is a “faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3 NIV). The Bible witnesses within its own pages to the beginning of this tradition. You cannot consider yourself biblical and ignore the great tradition of the Christian faith. The Trinity. The two natures of Christ. The deity and personality of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, women and men throughout history have been listening to God’s Spirit speak to them through Holy Scripture. So biblical Christians want to hear from Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin and Billy Graham precisely because these people tried to listen to the Bible. Encountering the great women and men of Christian history leads us back to an encounter with the Bible. There have been times in Christian history when the “just me and my Bible” approach have led to heterodoxy and disorder. Learning from our collective past is a sure mark of a biblical faith. Again, it becomes clear that just as the great tradition of the Christian faith does not belong to a single denomination, so the the adjective biblical does not belong to one branch of the family tree.
  3. Openness to the community. If we are open to those who have gone before us in the faith, then we must also be open to the views, arguments, and well-being of those who currently share in this faith with us. In evangelicalism, relationships and doctrine have sometimes been set in opposition to one another. Relational-emphasis Christians have called on us to avoid divisive conversations and focus on joint works of mission. Doctrinal-emphasis Christians have called on us to take seriously the intellectual nature of the faith and to join together in opposition to false teaching. But I am not sure that it is possible to have sound community without sound doctrine or sound doctrine without sound community. A biblical faith is always interested in the well-being of the community of God’s covenant people, precisely because God’s Spirit tells us in Scripture that a fruitful faith is a faith that grows in the soil of healthy relationships. The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control (see Galatians 5:22-23) – are expressed in relationships with others. After all, what kind of kindness or forbearance is only practiced in isolation? And just as biblical Christians take seriously the people near to them, we also take seriously the testimonies of believers of every nationality, language, and culture. We accept that we are not the only faithful ones in the world and that the Holy Spirit is present with many other people in many other places. So biblical Christians will be interested in ecumenical and cross-cultural perspectives.
  4. Openness to the world. Finally, biblical faith is interested in what is actually present in the world. Biblical faith takes seriously that God is the creator and lord of all things, and so therefore his truth is present in all things. The Bible is not just spiritual truth but true to what actually exists in creation. The biblical Christian is free to learn from what God has made known in history, science, and art. If God is our creator, then our world is his creation. A biblical faith cannot, therefore, ignore the findings of rigorous exploration in many fields. Our faith is not properly biblical if it proceeds as if the Bible provided “spiritual” truth that somehow exists independently of the “facts” of day-to-day living. When we learn from other fields, we are not abandoning the Bible but engaging God’s world (with our Bibles in hand, of course).

So a biblical faith is a posture in which we are constantly listening to God’s Spirit speaking in the Bible, learning from the saints that have gone before us, loving the saints that are with us now, and engaging the world which God has made. In the posts that follow, I will be applying this vision of biblical living to the formation of worldview, community, and ethics. I hope that you can join me in the study.

Led by the Spirit, Pt. 3

Pentecost mosaic in the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. Picture retrieved from http://www.romeofthewest.com/2014/06/pentecost.html.

There are at least two more issues that need to be discussed as I conclude my thoughts on being led by the Spirit. The first issue is the nature of living in Spirit-led community. The second issue is the nature of spiritual gifts. On the first point, it is fundamental to our faith to recognize that, though our faith is personal (i.e. taking each of us seriously as unique persons in relationship with a personal God), our faith is not individualistic. Reformed Christians believe and teach that God has a covenant with his people, best expressed in the biblical statement, “They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Jeremiah 32:38 NIV). This covenant forms the reality in which we exist. This covenant includes commands, promises, stipulations, vows, love, mercy, and grace. We do everything that we do from our location within God’s covenant people.

And so we exist in this community, and the other members of this community are also persons in whom the Spirit is dwelling. They too have the privilege of being led by the Spirit in the way described in previous posts. They sense the Spirit guiding them through their thoughts, feelings, intuitions, and other personal characteristics. Problems arise when two or more Spirit-led persons seem to crash into one another through disagreement and difference of opinion. How do we sort out the mess of being seemingly out of step with other persons in whom the Spirit dwells? “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33a).

Several things might be said, but it is important to remember a few key ideas about the Christian life. First, the Christian life is a humble life. We accept that we are finite persons who can get things wrong. Every time that we disagree with a sister or brother is an opportunity from the Lord to personally disclose ourselves to that person and to be honest before the Lord about our own finiteness and frailty. Second, the Christian life is a submissive life. Our first submission is to our God. But we also submit to other persons within the church. In a Presbyterian congregation, this is beautifully demonstrated when elders vote on a matter and those who voted in the minority agree to abide by the decision of the whole. Third, the Christian life is a teachable life. Teachable persons know they need to learn, and they accept that others will be placed by the Spirit in their path to provide them these learning moments. Fourth, the Christian life is a loving life. We never go wrong when we try to love and serve others across our disagreements.

As for the matter of spiritual gifts, it is enough for the time being to say that our spiritual endowments operate in ways consistent with the leadership of the Spirit as described in the last post. God can extend his grace in remarkable and extraordinary ways. Yet more often than not, I think there are thin boundaries between natural talent, personal development, and spiritual endowment. For example, Paul mentions the word of wisdom as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 14:7). It is possible that the Lord will give members of his body a sudden bolt of wisdom. We may with a flash know what word to speak to the person before us, and know in a manner resembling the conversational intimacy of with relationships. But we may also know the wise thing to say to a person, and know this based on years of experience and reflection. I once was meeting with a seminary professor. He listened to me share about some things in my life. And then he spoke a few sentences to me which were perfectly suited to the situation I was facing. They felt like a revelation to me. But I know that he said this “word of wisdom” because he had years ago set out on the path to acquire wisdom and had honed his thinking and pastoral sensitivity after much practice. And yet there is no doubt in my mind that what he shared came from the leadership of the Spirit. I know this, not because he received a word in some dramatic moment, but because of the way his words seemed crafted to speak to my heart in that precise situation.

Craftsmanship may be an excellent way to think of the gifts of the Spirit. Think about Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Spiritual gifts exist for the building up of the body, and each bearer of a gift is, therefore, a builder. Just as Bezalel was empowered by the Spirit to craft the tabernacle, so Christians are empowered by the Spirit (through ordinary and extraordinary means) to build the community of God’s people. And when the church is built up in faithfulness to God, we know that the Spirit is leading.