But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it is said, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is He who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And His gifts were that some should 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 we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
The first thought upon reading today’s Epistle lesson is that it is another example of how gave us each different gifts and different talents. This thought is always an encouraging thought. There are some people who wonder if they received any gifts. The Bible makes very clear that God gave at least one gift or talent to every person. Some perhaps have received more talents, or in society’s eyes, more prestigious talents. But there is no one who received no talent, no one who doesn’t have the ability to offer something positive to our world.
Today’s Epistle from Ephesians takes this thought in a slightly different way. God has given each of us a gift that we can use “for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12) Not only do we have gifts and talents we can use to earn a living, to provide for our families or to help our fellow man, each of us has a unique gift that we are to use to build up the body of Christ.
Saint Paul tells us that some will use these gifts as “apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” Some people use their gifts in ways that are very obvious. Some people serve as priests and pastors. It is obvious how these people are called to serve. However, it is not just the priests and pastors that have the ability, or obligation, or even call, to build up the Body of Christ. Everyone has that call, that ability, that obligation.
At summer camp, I remind our staff that while the priest may be the one who hears the confession of the camper, and “closes the deal” in seeing campers and staff recommit themselves to Christ, EVERY staff member plays are role creating the environment which allows this to happen. The cooks provide food for sustenance, the cleaning staff keeps things clean and sanitary, the lifeguard keeps everyone safe at the waterfront, the counselors make cabin life safe and fun, and when everything is put together, a safe, warm and encouraging environment is created that gives everyone an opportunity to grow in their faith. Take away food, or cleanliness, or safety, or fun and there won’t be an opportunity for spiritual growth to occur. And while cooking or lifeguarding might not seem like a “spiritual gift,” when used in the context of ministry, in the context of furthering the Gospel, it most certainly is.
In the context of a parish, there are many gifts besides those of the priest that are needed so that the message of the Gospel can be shared. There is a need for people who can sing, others who can teach, others who take care of the buildings and grounds, others who oversee the finances, etc. Take away any of these aspects to parish life and there is no parish. Use any of these talents in the context of ministry, these gifts and talents take on a “spiritual” nature.
There are even more ways in which we can build the body of Christ. At some point in our lives, all of us will have the opportunity to be a teacher. No, we may not stand in front of a Sunday school class. However, each person who is a parent, has a sacred calling to teach their children about Christ. That’s not just the work of the priest or the Sunday school teacher, who is with a child for only a short time each Sunday. The best way to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” is to start right in your own home. The purpose of marriage is mutual salvation. So an important component of marriage is to build up your spouse and encourage their Christianity. The body of Christ certainly can be built up through marriage.
There are even more subtle ways to build up the body of Christ. Encouragement is something everyone needs, especially spiritual encouragement. People who are down on their luck need to be told that God still loves them. People who feel guilty over past failings need to be told that God can forgive a repentant heart. People always appreciate prayers. And acts of Christian kindness never get old. Whether we think it consciously or not, if everything that is good comes from God, so good gestures have the power to become Godly ones that can draw people closer to God. And bad behavior not only harms people but can make people doubt goodness and even doubt God. Everyone has the ability to do good, to represent God’s love towards other people.
On a personal note, being a priest is a tough job at times. While I may be the only priest currently serving in my parish, I am not the only one responsible for advancing the Gospel. I am thankful to the many people who assist me in my ministry—whether they sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, serve on the parish council, help with youth programs, all are important. And just as important, are those who tell me they pray for me—those prayers are appreciated and felt more than you know—and those who offer words of encouragement, especially at the times that ministry is tough. Whatever building up of the body of Christ that I am able to do through my unworthy ministry could not be done without each of you.
Our Savior, grace and truth, appeared in His Epiphany in the streams of the Jordan; and those who lay once in the dark and shadow He illumined now. He has come and appeared, the Light unapproachable. (Exaposteilarion of the Feast of Theophany, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Use whatever “gift” you have been given to build up the body of Christ!