The spiritual life is often thought to exist ‘in another dimension’. And sometimes, it does. Miracles, prophetic words of knowledge, angelic languages – these are not ‘worldly’ things. But sometimes, we can fall into the trap of believing that unless it’s a bit weird or quite obviously ‘supernatural’, that the Spirit of God isn’t in it. We need to beware this line of thinking.
This lovely passage in Acts reminds us that the life of the Spirit celebrates practical gifts, and is well able to affirm them as God-given and extremely valuable for the kingdom. The ‘ideal church’ of Acts quickly gets its problems just like any other church. In this case, their social care programme – dedicated to feeding those in need – is not going well: some are being fed, others aren’t. And it’s causing arguments and allegations of discrimination.
The solution is wonderfully sensible. The apostles appoint seven new leaders to look after the church’s social care, which proves to be a spectacular ‘win-win’: both freeing up the apostles to focus on their core gifting, and blessing the practical care ministry, such that everyone is fed. The result, in fact, is not just practical benefit, but spiritual too – the church grows more quickly and reaches into new areas (v7).
What is notable in the appointment of the new leaders is that the first qualification is that they should be ‘full of the Spirit’. It assumes that they will have practical organisational gifts, but also looks for signs of spiritual maturity as well. The spiritual and the practical blend together for God’s glory.
Too often the church has neglected practical gifts. Yet the early church affirmed them. If you’re a gifted organiser, or good with your hands, or creative and artistic, these are God-given talents, which the Lord has given you for a reason. Rather than separating them from your ‘spiritual life’, it is far better to surrender them to God, that He might use them for His glory. That might be in the workplace, but it might also be in the Christian community. I couldn’t have survived the challenges of 2020 without some wonderful people offering their technical gifts to create our online services. What a blessing they have been to us!
But there is a further encouragement here. As we grow spiritually, we might also find our practical gifting grow too. As we become more Christlike, so those Christlike qualities will enhance the things we’re good at. We’ll see things with God’s eyes, care for people better that we work with or serve as clients, understand our own fears and motivations. These all help us to be more fruitful.
We humans are a marvellous, divinely-inspired concoction of body, soul and spirit. May God continue to grow our whole lives, that our practical gifts, surrendered to God, may be used for His glory – both this week, and beyond.