4. For Building Up the Body
Several times in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul stresses that the purpose of spiritual gifts is to bless the whole community of faith as a single body. In Ephesians 4, the chapter begins with an even stronger reminder of this — “one Lord, one faith.” He draws the image of Jesus as a martial victor riding through the crowd in victory parade and tossing out bits of plunder to the people. The plunder includes apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc. These people are gifts to the church body. Their primary work is enriching the body, causing the body of believers to pull together, maturing so that each member provides the full blessing of their own individual calling.
Restated, the whole purpose of the church is to live together like a family. There are no objectives; growth in numbers and budget is not mentioned anywhere. Instead, it’s all about helping the people tolerate each other better and worship the Lord together. The whole purpose of the church is becoming closer to each other. That’s it; that’s the whole thing. Nothing else matters.
The second half of that chapter talks about changing the individual. This is precisely the opposite of trying to change the world. The world is going to hell. The one and only hope they have is if we live the life of people who have parachuted out of that long dive. The body exists to grow each member in maturity, which in turn means demonstrating maturity by working toward shalom — the stability of the church body. We claim all these miraculous gifts by getting with the divine program, making our lives consistent with God’s revelation.
The hardest part of all this is the nasty reflexive individualism and materialism woven into the entire fabric of Western Civilization. It’s not that you sacrifice your sense of identity and individual calling to the dictatorship of the organized church. Instead, you seek to find your true identity in the company of fellow believers, because you cannot possibly go very far without them. Who you are depends on your calling within the context of the fellowship. God insists that the full measure of His revelation comes to you only in communion with His children. Until you see how His gifts drive you and enable you to bless the whole family, you cannot begin to understand.
Thus, unless your focus is the moral health of the church body as a whole, you are still lost and wandering in the moral wilderness. All spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to enrich the treasure, which treasure is the people.