Royal Priests

Foundations in Faith 6:

Royal Priests

Foundations in Faith:

Royal Priests

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).

God has called us out of darkness into His light so that we may be a royal priesthood. Once we were slaves to sin and death, now we are priests of a holy God. This is a journey, from slavery to priesthood. The Israelites were called to that journey once, long ago.

Delivered out of bondage in Egypt, they traveled through the wilderness in the company of a God who met their every need — healing, providing, blessing.  Arriving at Mt. Sinai, the Lord revealed His call upon their lives:

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.  Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”  (Exodus 19:4-6).

The Lord reveals His vision of the exodus: deliverance from bondage, deliverance unto Himself.  He set Israel free from slavery so that they could serve Him as a nation of priests. As the Lord revealed His purpose, He also called them to holiness.

“The Lord also said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people’” (Ex. 19:10,11).

God called the nation to holiness for He desired not merely to share revelation with them, He desired to share Himself with them.  Only holy people can receive such a holy gift.  So the place of revelation became a place of consecration, that it might become a place of communion.

Communion with God, the intimate exchange of love-gifts between Creator and creature, most naturally flows into a life of worshipful service.  Therefore the Lord had said in 19:6, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests.” This was a promise, what they shall be: God’s own possession, a holy nation of priests.  But the promise was conditional, the conditions being listed in 19:5, “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant.” Only a holy, obedient people could be a servant, priestly people.

Why did God want a servant nation of priests?  Ever since the fall of humanity, God has been seeking people who will yield themselves to Him in communion and then shine His light, speak His truth into this world.  Israel, was chosen by God to be the covenant people of His purpose.  They were to receive divine revelation, do the holy, priestly, servant work of preparation and in time, they were to receive the Messiah, God’s flesh and blood revelation of Himself.

The Lord would then send them out to all the world, a kingdom of priests, a holy servant nation in communion with the Lord, sharing His love, speaking His truth, celebrating Messiah — this was God’s plan for Israel.

However, this was dependent on Israel fulfilling the conditions: keeping God’s covenant and obeying His voice.  But when it came to choices, the people chose rebellion, idolatry.

Israel did not meet the conditions of priesthood and so God did not fulfill the promise. They did not become a kingdom of priests. Since there was a need for someone to teach, to lead in worship, to present offerings and sacrifices to God, the Lord established a limited priesthood, choosing Aaron and his sons and their descendants after them to carry on the priestly service (Numbers 18:1-8).

This Aaronic priesthood was not God’s original purpose and did not represent His final plan.  It was a temporary alternative brought on by human failure. Of course, human failure has never prevented the ultimate outworking of God's gracious purpose in history.  This limited priesthood functioning under the Old Covenant would eventually be replaced in the New Covenant by that which God first intended.

Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, this New Covenant and new priesthood were promised.  Isaiah, in the Messianic prophecy contained in Isaiah 61:1-7, said that the Anointed One (Messiah) would minister healing liberty to those in bondage and those who received His ministry would in turn be called “priests of the Lord … ministers of our God” (61:6).  

This is not referring to a limited number of people descended from Aaron.  All who receive the ministry of Messiah will be called priests and would join in the work of rebuilding those things which had fallen into ruin (61:4).  Those who are restored will be restorers. This was not only referring to Jews — strangers and foreigners would also be numbered among the priests and ministers (Isa. 61:5).  

How will this new priesthood manage to obey God and walk in covenant relationship with Him?  This inability to walk in holy communion with God, this seed of rebellion rooted deep in the human heart is what led to the disqualification of those Israelites gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  How will this new priesthood fare any better?

First of all, because the New Covenant instituting the new priesthood would not be established on the basis of humanity's ability to obey the demands of covenant law, nor would it be based on anything else that we could do, earn, merit or achieve.  It would be established by Almighty God solely on the basis of Messiah's atoning sacrifice for our sins, as Isaiah prophesied:

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried .… But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities … By His knowledge the Righteous One, my Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities”  (Isa. 53:4,5,11).

Second, all who would enter this covenant would do so not through observance of any ritual or law but through spiritual rebirth.  We are birthed into New Covenant life as we repent of sin, place our faith in, receive and surrender to the righteous work of Messiah on our behalf:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”  (John 1:12,13).

Third, it is not so much we who keep the covenant as it is the God of the covenant who keeps us: 

“And I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:28,29). 

“This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day” (John 6:39).

This is not to say that we have no obligations upon entering the covenant.  But even our responsibilities are based on what Messiah has done for us.  His sacrifice on our behalf initiates a gradual transforming work in the heart of all who place their faith in Him, a work which, as we yield to it, progressively enables us to walk faithfully with the God of the covenant.  Writing  six hundred years before Jesus, Jeremiah shares this insight:

“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,' declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make … I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it’” (Jere. 31:31-33). 

Ezekiel, prophesying soon after the conclusion of Jeremiah's ministry, also spoke of this inner work:  “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you … Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone … And I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezkl. 36:25-27).

The days are coming, said the prophets, when God will establish a New Covenant instituting a new priesthood comprised of people who have a new heart, indwelt by the Spirit of God. That day would begin with the ministry of the Messiah.

Jesus sat in a synagogue at the beginning of His ministry and read from Isaiah 61. When He finished reading, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  Jesus identified Himself as the long awaited Messiah.

For three years He went about doing the good works of Messiah: healing the sick, casting out demons, offering forgiveness to all who would receive it, proclaiming truth to all who would listen.  He did the works of Messiah.  But His greatest work was at the conclusion of His ministry.  He instituted the New Covenant.

On the night that He was arrested, Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples.  No doubt He was leading them through the familiar words and remembrances of that great night of deliverance from Egypt.  But abruptly He departed from the familiar:

“And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is My blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (from Matt. 26:26-28   Mark 14:22-24   Luke 22:19-22).

Candle light flickered in bewildered faces.  They did not understand until later.  A New Covenant was being instituted and within a few hours the blood of the unblemished Lamb sealed God’s New Covenant with humanity (see Hebr. 9:15).

This New Covenant is a better covenant: 

“He is also the mediator of a better covenant which has been enacted on better promises” (Hebr. 8:6). 

1. It is a better covenant because it is based on a better sacrifice: 

“And not through the blood of goats and calves but through His own blood He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebr. 9:12-14). 

“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebr. 10:11,12)

The sacrifices under the Old Covenant could not actually cleanse anyone of sin, they only covered sin, symbolizing /  representing the inner cleansing which the sacrifice of Christ would someday provide. The sacrifice of Jesus would reach back in time and forward in time to all who have trusted God for salvation. 

Peter reminds us, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet. 1:18,19).

2. It is a better covenant because the sacrifice is offered on a better altar:

“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebr. 9:24).

3. It is a better covenant because the sacrifice does not need to be repeated every day:

“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:25,26).

“Who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebr. 7:27)

4. It is a better covenant because the Sacrifice is presented by a perfect High Priest:

“The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebr. 7:23-25).

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebr. 4:15).

“For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Hebr. 7:26).

5. It is a better covenant because it brings us near to God: 

“We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebr. 10:19, 20).

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19).

This New Covenant is an eternal covenant: 

“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebr. 13:20,21).

It is an eternal covenant because our High Priest is eternal, His sacrifice on our behalf is eternal and the resulting work of redemption and reconciliation is eternal.

In the fullness of time a New Covenant, an everlasting Covenant, was instituted by the blood of a spotless Lamb offered by a perfect High Priest who did for us what we could never have done for ourselves: bore our sins, our curse, our affliction, our violence; took upon Himself God’s wrath poured out against our sin; died our death, and brought us near to God through His blood.

A New Priesthood

In instituting a New Covenant, Jesus instituted a new priesthood. From the Last Supper narratives to the last book of the New Testament, the word priest is never again used in reference to the people of God in its Old Covenant definition — a select group of Israelites descended from Aaron, ministering at an altar which none but the priests could approach, ministering to God on behalf of the people, ministering to the people on behalf of God.

From the cross onward, the word priest is used only in reference to Jesus as our High Priest and to those who have committed their lives to Him in repentance and faith.  Jesus is the High Priest who prays for us and minsters to us and all who have come to Him in faith are called the royal priesthood.

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession”  (Hebr. 3:1).

“Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.  For it was fitting that we should have such a High Priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebr. 7:25-27)

We do not need an earthly  priest to stand at the altar and offer sacrifices for us.  We have One in heaven who has made, once and for all, an atoning sacrifice.  We do not need an earthly priest to kneel at an altar and mediate on our behalf.  We have One in heaven who lives to make intercession for all who draw near to Him in faith.  We have a High Priest: sinless, holy, perfect in wisdom, power and compassion, whose name is above every name in heaven and earth.

Now Jesus our High Priest calls forth a new priesthood, comprised of all who have come to Him in faith.

“And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men but chosen and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Ptr. 2:4,5,9)

Notice the similarities between the preceding verses and the section referred to earlier in Exodus:

I Ptr. 2:4   coming to Him Ex. 19:4  brought you to myself

I Ptr. 2:5  holy priesthood Ex. 19:6  kingdom of priests

I Ptr. 2:9  royal priesthood, holy nation Ex. 19:6  holy nation 

In Revelation 1:5b,6 we read, “To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood and has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” In saying, “made us to be a kingdom, priests,” to whom does the word “us” refer?  It refers back to verse five, to those released from their sins by His blood.  In other words, all who have trusted in Christ’s redeeming work are members of the holy priesthood of the New Covenant. It is Jesus our High Priest who ordains us and uses His own precious blood.

Again, we are reminded of the Passover theme, the blood on the door posts, God delivering His people from Egypt / bondage / death.  We read in I Corinthians 5:7, “Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.”  We also have been delivered, by blood, from the Egypt of our slavery and death — delivered for that same purpose which God originally intended for the Israelites: to serve the living God as priests.

When we place our faith in Jesus as the holy Lamb and Risen Lord, God forgives our sin and restores us to relationship with Himself. The Lord then places us in His church, where, in union with Christ and others who are submitted to His Lordship, we each grow into our priesthood, holy instruments of God in establishing His purpose on earth.

When Jesus was physically present on earth, He touched with His own hands, spoke with His own voice.  Now He speaks through those who hear Him, touches through those who have been touched by Him. To recall again Isaiah 61:1-6, the Messiah will heal the brokenhearted and set the captive free. Those who receive His ministry then join Him as priests to a broken, captive world. He will restore through those who have been restored. He will bless through those who have been blessed.

What God is seeking is people who will yield their lives to Him as ministering priests through whom He can reach out into the lives of those who do not know Him. This is what it means to be a priest of the New Covenant.

The New Testament does not recognize the concept of a limited priesthood: a few who minister on behalf of many. The division of professional priests and non-professional church members is unScriptural. All who are submitted to the Lordship of Jesus are priests.

We, God's redeemed people, are a holy, royal priesthood whose priestly work is “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Ptr. 2:5).  We do not offer up atoning sacrifices for sin — that has been done once and for all by Jesus.

What then is the sacrifice required of us?   

1. We offer the sacrifice of our living, our being.

In the Old Testament, the priests offered lambs and doves and bulls, etc., for the sins of the people. We don’t do that because Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, has been sacrificed for our sins once and for all.  But there is a sacrificial offering we are called to give.  

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

We present our bodies, our lives, our entire being to God as a living, holy sacrifice. Every morning when we rise God sees us dressed in the robe of a priest bringing an offering to the altar. Our offering is not a lamb or a dove but our life.

We bring ourselves to the Lord that He might consecrate us for priestly service during the hours of our day.  We present our time, our tasks and talents, our physical and spiritual being, our thoughts, our strengths and our weaknesses — we present all of our life to the Lord for His blessing so that we may carry His blessing into the world.

2. Priests offer sacrifices of praise:  

“Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15).

Old Testament priests came to the altar lifting up sweet smelling incense to the Lord. Praise and worship is the incense we lift.  In a world full of violence and tragedy, cursing and hatred, we are priests offering up the sweet smelling spiritual sacrifice of worship to the holy God.  We worship with our songs, with our prayers and with our lives.  Worship is not just a song we sing.  It is the life we live, our response to God in every activity of life.  The Apostle reminds us, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).

3. Priests proclaim truth, even at the sacrifice of their life:  

Peter says that the purpose of our priesthood is to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

We each have different ways of proclaiming truth. Not all preach or play the trumpet but all can share from a personal journey how Jesus has brought us out of darkness into His marvelous light, though this may be costly. In the Revelation we read of the persecuted church in its warfare against Satan, “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Rev. 12:11). The word of our testimony is the word of God.

We fulfill our priesthood as we offer to God the living sacrifice of our being — body, soul and spirit — in holy, loving obedience and conformity to Himself, pouring out the worshipful adoration of our hearts and proclaiming to the world around us in word and deed, the worthiness and truthfulness of Him who called us.

God did not abandon His original purpose to have on earth a kingdom of priests devoted to Him.  Though those first called forfeited their call through disobedience, now through the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus Messiah, our High Priest, all who come by faith into His work of redemption, Jew and Gentile, are brought into the new priesthood.

But if all believers are priests, then what about pastors, teachers and evangelists? What is their role? God always works through orderly and clearly defined government.  And so there are leaders in this new priesthood, set apart (not above), for particular service to the priests. We read in Ephesians 4:8 that God gave gifts to the church, and in verse 11, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.”  These are God's gifts to the church, set apart for special service, which service is defined in 4:12, “For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

The reason God gave pastors and other special ministries to the church is not to do the work of ministry for the church but to equip the church — the saints (that is the believers) — for the work of service.  The word service or ministry is, in the language of the New Testament, diaconia, from the word diakonos which refers to a table waiter.  All of God's people are called into the servant work of priesthood, though some are called for special service in the training of the ministering priests.

We must note that priestly servant work is not cheap or degrading.  We are royal priests, spiritually birthed into the family of the King of kings.  It is no less than the King Himself who calls us, anoints us, gifts us.

As we have said, the sharp distinction between clergy and laity is non-Scriptural — the words are not found in the New Testament. The word laity is derived from the word laos which means people of God.  All who have come to Jesus through repentance and faith are people of God.  

It is interesting though, how many churches are still functioning under the Old Covenant model where a few minister to the people on behalf of God and minister to God on behalf of the people; where a few hold sway over the many, where a few handle holy things as mediators between God and His people. As if there had never been one Mediator, one High Priest. As if there had never been one Sacrifice, perfect, unblemished, for all time, for all people. As if a New Covenant had never been instituted. As if a new, royal priesthood had never been called to stand before God.

But a New Covenant has been instituted, a new priesthood is called forth.  God has put His hand on our lives for a purpose far more glorious than pew sitting or doctrine chanting.  He calls us to yield our life to Him as a living, holy sacrifice; to yield our talents and intellect in loving obedience; to yield our hearts to Him in worship and praise, allowing His Spirit to conform us to Himself; that not only would we know the joy and liberty of communion with Him, but that we might be priestly instruments in His hands, calling to those who know Him not, speaking His truth, shining His light, doing His works, living His love.

Though our vocation may not always appear to be priestly, God has, in fact, called us to be priests unto Himself.  Each of us has a ministry which no one else in all the world can ever fulfill.  We have dignity as royal priests which no one can take from us.  We have a place before the throne of God which no one else can fill.  On that day when we stand before the Lord with all His priests, we will receive from Him the reward of a priest if we will now be that priest.

Priests of the New Covenant, priesthood of all believers.  We are not priests in the sense that we are each self sufficient, rather, we are God-given.  We are not priests to ourselves but for others.  

It is a priesthood of all, for the sake of all.

Study Questions:

1. According to Exodus 19:4-6, why did God call Israel out of Egypt?

2. According to Isaiah 61:1-6, those who receive the ministry of the Messiah will do what?

3. Peter says that we are royal priests offering up “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” What sacrifices do we offer God?


Connected Priests

Before we were conceived, God purposed our lives. Now, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, reconciled to God our Creator, we are royal priests. The Lord is maturing us into persons who can live out His priestly purpose. He matures us by connecting us to His church.

“Now you are Christ’s body and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27).

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

The church is called the body of Christ because in it we are connected to one another in Christ. The church is not an organization. It is an organism, a living entity, joined to Christ, alive in Christ. The life of Jesus flows through His church, giving life to all its members. 

This is what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5). He was referring to a union of believers with one another in Himself.

In this living organism, Jesus is our High Priest and we are members of the priesthood of all believers. As priests we offer our lives to the Lord as holy sacrifices for His service. We offer up sacrifices of worship and we proclaim truth.

Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the Lord would gift each of us in ways that would enable us to fulfill His priestly calling on our lives?  These gifts are like candles and in our next lesson we will examine the light-bearing gifts God bestows on His priests. 

In this lesson, we want to focus on the place where we grow in our gifts — the church. None of our gifts can be fully developed, and most are buried, when a life is lived apart from the Lord who created us.  As we enter into relationship with Him, He forgives, heals, nurtures, strengthens and restores us to His vision and renews within us the gifts that fit His purpose.

The primary place where the Lord meets us for the development of our gifts is in His church.  It is in the church that the healing, nurturing and teaching ministries are carried on which enable people to mature from gift bearers to gift givers.  

Then how necessary, after someone has come to know Jesus, that we bring them into the fellowship of the church.  There, as the Lord's ministry is released through the Lord's people, our gifts are discovered, called forth, confirmed and shared.   

I have noticed special characteristics, a particular atmosphere, in churches abounding in gifted people and creative ministries.

1. There is an atmosphere of loving encouragement and acceptance where people are free to give.  People need encouragement to risk sharing the gifts and dreams within them.

During our years apart  from the Lord, gifts are buried underneath layers of sin, grief and disillusionment.  A mean little voice begins to whisper, "Don't bother trying to light that candle again or even dreaming about it.  It's broken forever.”

Hear the Good News: in a climate of loving acceptance, the Holy Spirit restores broken candles.  

Once when I was a very young follower of Christ, I was sitting in a church that was exploding with people, music, banners — the colors and sounds of new creation. As I sat there, a lady stood up, walked all the way across the sanctuary to where I was sitting, bent down and whispered in my ear, "Jesus wants you to know how much He loves you."  

I felt the kindness of God wash over me. No wonder that church was overflowing with gifts and gifted people! But it's more than love.  It is an atmosphere of liberty where we are free to risk using our gifts and even making mistakes. We know it’s OK, though, because we know we will still be loved.

In my early days as a musician, I signed up to take a vocal class and walked in to find five other males standing around feeling self conscious, mildly regretting the decision to take the class. We stood there posturing, pretending we had really signed up for weight lifting but someone had made a mistake.  

The professor came striding in, about 5' 11",  250 pounds, sat down at the piano, smashed a chord, looked up and said, "All right, how many of you have the equipment to talk?"  We all mumbled that we did, to which he replied, "Then you possess ninety percent of what it takes to sing. Now let's sing."  We did, as he encouraged us.

We hit thousands of bad notes but he never said so. He just said, “Sing" and convinced us that we could.  Eventually we did.  In an atmosphere of liberty we were free to risk failing while we learned how to succeed in practicing our gifts.  

A man did a study of Thomas Edison and found no evidence of genius.  He did find a willingness to risk failure and an ability to learn from mistakes.  When Edison was developing the light bulb, he tried several thousand filaments before he found one that worked. He considered each failure to be another step in his eventual success.

Robert Fulton was willing to risk the ridicule of a world that called his invention "Fulton's Folly.”  But eventually he shared the steamboat with an amazed world.

In a church I was pastoring, as we opened our Christmas musical one winter evening, our leading singer stepped up to the microphone, strummed the opening chord and his guitar fell off.  What did he do?  He picked it up and shared a beautiful gift with the church.

A church of gifted priests is a church where there is an atmosphere of loving encouragement and acceptance where people are free to give and fail and give again.

2. There is an atmosphere where Biblical truth is taught and lived in a way that promotes growth in all the members of the church.

In Ephesians 4:10-12 we read that God has placed special ministries in the church — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, whose purpose is not to be the ministry of the church but to equip the people for their ministry, toward the goal of building up the church into the fulness of God's plan.

When pastor / teachers speak the Word of God with insight and anointing, the Holy Spirit takes that Word and plants it in the heart of every receptive listener. As that Word penetrates our hearts, because it is a living Word, it imparts life, it matures and transforms us, enables us to use the gifts God has placed in us.

A church of gifted priests is a church where the Word of God is taught with clarity.

3. There is an atmosphere of variety.  We read in I Corinthians 12 that God gives varieties of gifts to match varieties of ministries which He places in the church. Have you ever noticed the amazing assortment of people and gifts God brings into a church?

There are musical gifts, administrative gifts, teaching, evangelism, fix it gifts, healing gifts, prayer gifts, hospitality and mercy gifts. When you consider the unique combination of gift, personality and opportunity in each person, we see that there are as many ministries as there are people.  

Paul compares the parts of the body to the ministries and gifts of the church.  As diverse as the organs and limbs of the body, so are the gifted ministries of the church.


I was snorkeling off a reef once and was astounded by the incredible array of colors, shapes and rhythms of the fish and ferns. I was awed by the thought that the variety of creation is the very art and expression of God.

It is important to learn to accept diversity of gifts in ourselves and in others. When we say no to any gift or person, we are saying no to some aspect of the creative purpose and art of God.

Don't limit what God can do through you or anyone else. He is a God of variety.

A church of gifted priests is a church that is open to the variety of God’s gifts.

4. The fourth atmosphere we find in gifted churches is an atmosphere of service, of ministry, of compassion to reach the lost, to shine the light of God's grace into the lives of the lost, to reach out with whatever gifts we possess. This yearning for the lost causes people to become bold enough to risk sharing their gifts, bold enough to risk shining their light even at great personal sacrifice.  

Show me a church that no longer has a heart to reach the lost and I will show you a church where many of the gifts have dried up.  We are to grow into active ministers who share and shine God's life into the lives of those around us. The  gifts of God are not for us to keep but to share. It is not so much that God gives gifts to us but through us.

The sharing and shining of our gifts is a commandment.  "Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

If we have been commanded to use our gifts, then we can be sure we will also be held accountable for the way we go about sharing or not sharing them.  Jesus told a parable about a master who gave gifts to his servants and went away.  But when he came back he required an accounting for the use of his gifts.  We too will be held accountable.

This ought not to be a cause of anxiety.  When God requires anything of us in the way of responsibility, He always gives Himself to the process of maturing and developing us so we can act responsibly.

God has gifted us with candle gifts so that we can shine into a dark world.  Corrie ten Boom, who lived through the terrible experience of a Nazi death camp, said, "There is no hell so dark that God's light cannot shine there."

How true, but God can only use the gifts which we yield to Him.  You and I were born for a purpose.  God wants to express something of Himself through us.  He has gifted us in such a way that we can fulfill this purpose. Are we yielding our candles to Him?  Will you let God shine through you?

Many years ago I found a church meeting under a highway overpass in a rough part of a big city.  Every Saturday night they would gather providing haircuts, first aid, uplifting music, a simple and honest presentation of the Gospel and a nourishing dinner.  Several hundred homeless people and marginal poor folks attended this church every Saturday night under that overpass.

My first night I helped to serve food and picked up trash. But my soul was focused on the music.  How I yearned to minister music to those dear folks. I had music in me like rivers of light, but had trouble sharing my candle with anyone.

Later in the evening a lady, who knew nothing about me, asked if I would play and sing a while.  I knew this was the Lord asking but the old fears rose up within me. I mumbled something and hurried to a quiet place behind a large concrete pillar, and I prayed: 

”Lord, those other singers have such great voices and tapes with violins and trumpets and drums.  All I have is a five-biscuit guitar and a two-sardine voice. But you took five rolls and two fish, once, and when the gift was blessed, you fed a multitude.  I believe if you would bless my gift, a multitude would be fed again."

There, in that little church under the overpass, I learned to share and shine the deepest, richest gift in my soul.

Study Questions

1. Would you best define the church as an organization or an organism?

2. If the church is like a body or a plant, what happens to the individual members if the church is growing spiritually?

3. What are some of the qualities that are present in churches that abound with gifted people and creative ministries?

Gifted Priests

Foundations in Faith:

Gifted Priests

We are royal priests and God has gifted each of us in such a way as to enable the fulfillment of our priesthood. We have been given natural talents that were resident in us at birth. But when we were reborn spiritually through faith in Christ, we received special giftings, spiritual endowments from God (the New Testament word is charismata).

In I Corinthians 12:7, in the midst of a discussion on spiritual gifts, charismata, Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The Greek word for manifestation is phanerosis, which literally means expression, from the root phaino which means to lighten, to shine. We could say, “To each is given a shining expression of the Spirit.” The Greek word for lantern, phanos, is from the same root. A paraphrase could read, “To each is given a shining expression of light, a lantern of the Spirit for the common good.”

A spiritual gift is a lantern from God. God graciously grants us supernatural lights that we might better see Him and serve Him in this dark world and that the world might better see and encounter God through His church. For instance, miracles and healing help us to see more clearly the compassionate and merciful character of God. Prophecy and teaching help us to understand more surely His word and will.

Who has been gifted? To each is given — all who have surrendered to the Lordship of Christ have be given spiritual gifts which enable us to fulfill ourn priesthood.

Why were you gifted? To manifest, to express the purpose and person and minstry of Jesus through the dynamic presence and power of the Holy Spirit. 

For whose benefit are you gifted? “For the common good”. This phrase may also be translated, “toward the profit.” Toward whose profit? People profit as God’s grace is lavished upon them through the exercise of gifted ministry. But God also profits because the gifts of the Spirit reveal Him and self-revelation is God’s desire.  God did not gift us so that we will be glorified. He gifted us so that others may be blessed and He will be glorified in their blessing.

A. Principles of Gifting: Variety in Unity (I Corinthians 12:4-31)

1. There are varieties of gifts (12:4-6). The word gifts is charismata — supernatural endowments for ministry. God pours out such a vast variety of spiritual gifts and also anoints, blesses, empowers, our natural giftings. Don’t limit the creative imagination of the Holy Spirit.

2. Each follower of Christ has been given an expression of the Spirit (12:7). Again, Paul is referring to spiritual gifts but God will also bless and energize our natural talents when we surrender them to Him. The Holy Spirit will express His purpose through every gift and talent which we yield to Him.

3. We are gifted for the good of others (12:7). It is not so much that we “have” a gift. Rather, the Lord lavishes that gift through us into the lives of others. We are not an owner but a steward, a vessel through whom the Lord will pour out that gift.

4. In 12:8-10, 28-30 we see some of the gifts. There are others not listed here. The Holy Spirit distributes these ministry gifts “individually just as He wills” (12:11). He has a design for our lives and for His church and gifts each of us according to His design.

5. Because of our new life in Christ, we are a part of an organic union with Christ and with other gifted priests known corporately as the body of Christ (12:12,13,27). Our gifts and ministries are like organs of the body. Just as the members of the body are not all the same, so are our gifts different but all are necessary (12:12-19). The Lord places members of the body of Christ together according to His design (12:18). A truly Spirit-organized church, even if it is small, will contain a healthy variety of gifts and ministries.

6. A church is like a body in the fact that it needs all the members working together in unity. Paul uses an extended analogy to remind us of this in 12:12-27. Although a local church is made up of a variety of personalities from multiple cultures with a diversity of giftings, we are able to work and worship in unity as we do so under the leadership of Jesus, who is “head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18). We are “one body in Christ” (Rom. 12:5).

We have been personally gifted and placed in the body of Christ (12:27-31). God has built into the church a diversity of gifts to accomplish His purpose in ministering His grace, proclaiming His Gospel and manifesting His glory in this world. If we a part of the body of Christ then we have been gifted for ministry in some way that blesses others and glorifies God.

B. Principles of Gifting: Be Intentional 

“But earnestly desire the greater gifts” (I Cor. 12:31)

The word greater is megas and  may be translated better or best. Paul is not saying that some gifts are better or greater than others but he is urging us to seek the gifts which will bring about the greatest good in the greatest number of lives at a particular time, to seek the best gift that we are capable of receiving in response to the need of the people around us.

The Holy Spirit assigns gifts according to His sovereign will but He is aware of needs and circumstances that require a specific ministry gift. He is also aware of our personal desire and willingness to seek and accept a gifting. We need to be discerning of the opportunities for ministry and intentional, earnest and deliberate in seeking empowerment for our ministries.

The exhortation to “earnestly desire gifts” serves to remind us that just because we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit does not mean we have all the gifts God wants us to have. Confronted with the needs of a broken, lost word, we are invited to call on the Lord for the giftings necessary to fulfill His purpose in our generation. Yes, it is the Spirit “distributing to each one individually just as He wills,” but we are invited to join our will to His and desire to receive what He desires to give. 

“Earnestly desire” also implies an intentionality in developing our gifts, in seeking the training, discipling and mentoring which will enable the full expression of our gifts. And it is not wrong to desire other gifts when we see needs in the lives of people around us.

C. Principles of Gifting: The Love Motive 

“And I show you a still more excellent way” (I Cor. 12:31b — 13:1-13)

1. Love is the only valid motive for the exercise of our gifts. Love for God and for people is the motivating force behind the exercise of our gifts.

2. The sacrificial love described by Paul in this passage is expressed perfectly in Jesus. He is our model, our example, in the exercise of ministry.

D. Principles of Gifting: Transformed Servants (Romans 12:1-11)

1. If we want to exercise our gifts in ways that glorify God, we must resist conformity to the world and be transformed by God and for His purposes (12:1,2). If we are not intentional about this, the world will conform our giftings to worldly values and purposes. This is especially true with creative, artistic giftings. As we surrender our lives to the Lord day by day, as we pray and worship, as we read His word and commit to live that word, the Lord will progressively conform us to Himself and transform us in His likeness. This will result in the maximum exercise of our gifts for the blessing of others and the glory of God.

2. No one should be conceited about their gifts because they have been given to us (Rom. 12:3,6). We are not the owners — we are stewards of these gifts, gifted servants.

3. Only in Christ can such a variety of gifts be unified (12:4,5). We exercise our gifts as “members one of another” (12:5) united in Christ.

4. God’s purpose is that we exercise our gifts, not hide them (12:6).

5. Paul lists a variety of ministries (12:6-8) but there are others. We discover our ministries as we spend time with the Lord of all gifts. We discover our ministries as we cultivate our passion — what is it that you are passionate about doing and giving?

6. The atmosphere of a church influences our journey of discovery. The quality of our relationships will influence our exercise of ministry gifts (12:9-21). 

7. The words service and serving in Romans 12:7 are related to the word servant. This tells us how we are to  exercise our gifts. When Jesus talked about men and women gifted for leadership in His church, He used two words — diakonos and doulos (Matt. 20:26,27). Diakonos can be translated minister but literally means servant / table-waiter. Doulos is a slave.

8. Ultimately, we are serving the Lord when we minister our gifts (Rom. 12:11). 

E. Principles of Gifting: Accountability (I Corinthians 3:10-15)

1. We will be held accountable by the Lord for our use of His gifts (3:10-15). Not only our ministry gifts but the way we have used our resources of time, money, opportunity — there will be an accountability.

2. Not only the way we shared our gifts but our motives will be examined (4:5). Was our motive to glorify God or self? Was our motive to give or to gain? The Lord will reveal our true motive.

F. Principles of Gifting: Reward

1. “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). When Jesus returns, He will reward us for our commitment to exercise the gifts that He gave us.

2. There is a reward that is the same for all. In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), the owner paid each of the laborers the same amount, regardless of how long they worked. This represents the reward that all followers of Christ receive — forgiveness of sin and everlasting life with God. This is the same no matter how long we served the Lord.

3. There is also a reward that is unique to each disciple, based on our service to the Lord. In the parables of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27) and the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) Jesus illustrates the relationship between faithfulness in service and ultimate reward when we stand before the Lord.

G. Principles of Gifting: Equipped to Serve (Ephesians 4:1-16).

1. All followers of Christ have been given a measure of grace and gift (4:7,8).

2. Pastors / teachers have been given to the church to equip the saints, the members of the church body, for the work of ministry (4:11,12). “Equip” doesn’t mean that they assign hgifts to people — the Holy Spirit does that. But they train the priesthood in the exercise of their gifts. When the leaders are serving properly and if the members are receiving ministry, then the members are equipped to minster according to their gifts and the church is built up (4:12). The word in verse 12 translated service or ministry is related to the word servant. Again we are reminded that we have been gifted to serve others.

3. The goal of our service is that “we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (4:13). If the Body of Christ is being built up properly, we are no longer unstable children, “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (4:14). Implied in this is that if there is immaturity and instability in the church, what is lacking is a proper exercise of gifted ministries (4:13-16). 

4. Truth spoken in love through the gifts and ministries of the church leads to the growth of the individuals and the corporate body (4:15,16). The true measure of church growth is not found in budget or attendance numbers but in the growth of the members into gifted ministry that impacts others. There is a close relationship between the proper working of each part, each person, each gift, each ministry and the growth of the whole Body (4:16).

5. Jesus Christ is the source (4:15,16) and the goal of our growth (4:13).


The gifts of the Spirit are for the blessing of people and the glory of God. We are not owners but stewards of the gifts of the Spirit. They are not given to us but through us. As God is glorified and as people are blessed, the church is built up.

We have all been given natural talents and spiritual gifts. But let’s not mistake gifting for maturity. If we want to share the fullest expression of our gifts and talents, we must continue to grow and mature in the Lord. Paul said to the Corinthian church, “You are not lacking in any gift” (I Cor. 1:7). Then he also said, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ” (I Cor. 3:1). It is possible to be highly gifted and spiritually immature. It is not enough to identify our gifts and grow in the use of them. It is also essential that we mature as followers of Christ.

God’s plan for every Christian is that we grow, “To the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13), into the full person He intended we be, a person reflecting the life of Jesus Christ our Lord.

We grow by allowing the Lord to minister to us in those areas of life where we are weak or hurting.  We grow by living a holy life. We grow as we allow the Lord to build us into His Body, the Church, as gifted ministers.  As we exercise our gifts and ministries in the church, the body of Christ, the body grows and we grow with it.  

Through Jesus, we have entered into everlasting relationship with the living God and we are living lives of gifted ministry. The same Holy Spirit who once hovered over the face of the deep now works in us to bring about our maturity as sons and daughters of God.

We are royal priests growing toward eternity, giving as we grow.

Study Questions

1. What does this mean: “To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”?

2. How are we to exercise our gifts?  (see I Corinthians 13)

3. The words service and serving are related to the word servant. What does this say

about the way we exercise our gifts?  (see Romans 12:1-11).

4. Why were pastors, teachers, etc. given to the church?  (see Eph. 4:11,12)

5. When the members are equipped properly, what will they be doing and what will be happening to the church?  (see Eph. 4:12)