January  12 -
  January 18

SDA Sabbath School Lessons

#3 Spiritual Gifts
and the Church

Read for this  
week's study:

Acts 1:1-26; 2:1, 2; 13:2-4; Ps. 68:28-35; John 16.

Memory Text: "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body"   (1 Corinthians 12:12, NIV).

Key Thought: Spiritual gifts are the tools the Lord has given His church to do the work of the kingdom. When spiritual gifts are employed harmoniously, according to biblical organizational petterns, the church is able to evangelize the world effectively.

The Lessons:

The Discussion: We invite youi to join the  SSNET moderated email discussion group. You are also warmly invited to join a group discussion of this lesson Sabbath morning, January 18, (usually 9:30 AM) with your SSNETlocal Seventh-Day Adventist congregation.

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Sabbath -
 January 11


The Bible presents a number of models of church organization.   There are also different ways to organize the outreach of the church.  In Old Testament times, Israelites seldom went out to other people as missionaries.  The Lord used a "centripetal" system of soul winning.  Centripetal means that something starts at the edges and moves to the center.  Nations would observe Israel's prosperity and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people" (Deut. 4:6).  The queen of Sheba's visit to Solomon is an example.  (See 1 Kings 10.)  The New Testament indicates that the church is now called to go out rather than wait for people to come to it.  (See Acts 1:8.)  "The disciples were to work earnestly for souls, giving to all the invitation of mercy.  They were not to wait for the people to come to them; they were to go to the people with their message."-The Acts of the Apostles, p. 28.

This week we consider the place of spiritual gifts in the organizational program of the church.

Sunday -
 January 12

(Exod. 18:13-27).

Some congregations are beautifully organized.  Seldom is anything out of place, overlooked, or unprepared.  Others are so disorganized that almost everyone and everything are in a state of more or less constant bewilderment and chaos.   Some find a happy medium and manage to get most things done with a minimum of confusion.  Many don't really know whether they have an organizational pattern.  They limp along and assume that everything will be all right.  Some churches have aggressive outreach ministries, some have none.

What does the Bible have to say about church organizational patterns?  How did Moses' father-in-law suggest Moses reduce his workload and delegate his authority?   Exod. 18:13-27.

Israel's organizational system is one that works well in a setting that involves circles of influence spread out over large areas.  Each level is responsible to the next higher level, and the communication flows from one level to the next.  The Adventist system, consisting of local church, conference/mission, union, division, and General Conference, is an example of this kind of organizational pattern.

What kind of organizational pattern did Ezekiel see in vision?  Ezekiel 1.

This is a different kind of organizational pattern.   Here "wheels" work within wheels, move back and forth, up and down, all sustained by the power of God and managed by the Holy Spirit.   "There is at work a wheel within a wheel.  Apparently the complication of machinery is so intricate that man can see only a complete entanglement.   But the divine hand, as seen by the prophet Ezekiel, is placed upon the wheels, and every part moves in complete harmony, each doing its specified work, yet with individual freedom of action."-SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 1161.

This type of organizational pattern is applicable to a local church. In many ways it corresponds to the concept of spiritual gifts outlined by Paul, each doing its specified work, yet with individual freedom of action.  (See Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:4-7.)

Take a look at the organizational pattern of your local church.  What elements of each of the above models can you identify?   How well do these organizational patterns work in your local church?  conference?  mission?

Monday -
 January 13


During the Middle Ages, the clergy claimed that there should be a division between laity and clergy.  The clergy enjoyed a higher status than the laity.  Out of this concept and practice grew the idea that clergy are the authority in the church and that the work of the church is done by them.  Members are mostly spectators who observe whatever the clergy does, and they do whatever the clergy mandates.

What does Peter say about the Christian church and-its members?  1 Peter 2:9, 10 (compare Exod. 19:5, 6).

The word laity comes from the Latin laicus, which in turn comes from the Greek word laos, which simply means "people."  In medieval times it came to be used in contrast to "clericus," referring to the official priesthood.   A writer named Stephen of Toumai, for instance, said that there were "lower" people and "higher" people, each with a different reward in heaven.  (See Gottfried Oosterwal, Mission: Possible [Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1972], p. 105.)  But in God's sight all church members are part of "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).

What are the spiritual characteristics of this royal priesthood?  1 Peter 2:11, 12.

Members of this royal priesthood dignify it by living lives in accordance with its precepts.  They recognize the lordship of Jesus (1 Peter 2:4-8) and focus on declaring His glory (verse 9).  They become "living stones" in a church built by the Master Architect, who is Himself the cornerstone sustaining the entire operation (verse 7).

Read Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8; and Ephesians 4:12.  If there is any difference at all between clergy and laity, what is it?

The ministry of all believers is often equated today with the word discipleship.  All Christians are called to discipleship.  "If we are Christians, this work will be our delight.  No sooner is one converted than there is born within him a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus."-The Desire of Ages, p. 141.

Think about your personal role, in the church. Has it been active or passive?  Are you a spectator or a player?

Tuesday -
 January 14

(1 Timothy 3).

In a large organization like the church, some kind of authority system is needed.  Someone has to take the initiative and make decisions.  Under Jethro's system, Moses had the final word (Exod. 18:26).  In Ezekiel's vision of the wheels, the entire mechanism was managed by the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 1:20).

In the early Christian church, the Holy Spirit played an active and recognized role in the decision-making processes, but usually in combination with the church body.  For instance, at the first council of the Christian church, James, the chairperson, announced the decision as seeming "good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28, NIV).

Read the following texts, and outline the various leadership elements of the early church organizational system:  Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-10; 5:17; Titus 1:6, 7.

Three Greek words are used for the leading offices in the early church: presbuteros, translated "elder"; episkopos, translated "bishop" or "overseer"; and diakonos, translated "deacon."  Presbuteros was used in Jewish circles as a term of rank or office.  In the Christian church, it was used for those who presided over assemblies.  Presbuteros is used in Scripture interchangeably with episkopos, which is used in the sense of superintendent. Diakonos is used in the sense of one who serves, one who does the bidding of another.

How did someone attain any of these positions in the New Testament church?  Acts 14:23; 15:22; 1 Tim. 4:14; Titus 1:5.  Besides guiding these officers, how else did the Holy Spirit administer the early church?  Acts 13:1-3.

There is a close connection-between the assignment of spiritual gifts and the assignment of officers.  Paul and Bamabas were directly called by the Holy Spirit through the prophetic office (Acts 13:1-3) and given the missionary gift, as well as other gifts.  But the decision was confirmed by the church body (Acts 13:3).   Timothy's experience was the same.  He was called through a prophetic message, which was confirmed by the church body (1 Tim. 4:14).

Our church has followed to some extent this New Testament system.  What are the differences and similarities between our system and that of the early church?

Wednesday -
  January 15

(1 Cor. 12:1).

Many Christian denominations believe that spiritual gifts, especially those called "power gifts," or "sign gifts," ceased with the last of the apostles.   Seventh-day Adventists do not accept this view.   In fact, we are among the leading proponents of the belief that spiritual gifts still function in today's church.

What does Joel 2:28, 29 say about spiritual gifts in the last days, especially the gift of prophecy?

J.N. Andrews, Adventist pioneer, wrote:  "Those who reject the work of the Spirit of God under plea that the Scriptures are sufficient, do deny and reject all that part of the Bible which reveals the office and work of the Holy Spirit."--Review and Herald, Feb. 15, 1970.

How is the gift of prophecy especially connected with the closing work of the gospel era?   Rev. 12:17; 19:10.

Ellen White specifically indicated the importance of this topic for the Adventist Church:  "God has put men and women in possession of precious gifts.  To different ones He gives different gifts.  Not all have the same strength of character or the same depth of knowledge.  But each one is to use his gifts in the Master's service, however small this gift may seem to be.  The faithful steward trades wisely on the goods entrusted to him."--The Signs of the Times, Feb. 24, 1904.

Read Ephesians 4.  What principles of spiritual gifts and church organization are laid out in this chapter?

"There is need for a variety of gifts in the Lord's work. Read carefully the fourth chapter of Ephesians.  The entire chapter is a description of the Lord's manner of working. . . . [Ephesians 4:11 quoted.]  Every gift is to be acknowledged as essential to the success of the work." -- Ellen G. White, Letter 8, 1899, p. 6 (Manuscript Releases, vol. 11, p. 276).

How do you feel about the manifestation of spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? How would you rate your personal "confidence level"?

Thursday -
 January 16


Paul and Bamabas worked together for many years.  They had different gifts that complemented one another.

What were Paul's principal spiritual gifts?  2 Tim. 1:11; 2:2; Rom. 11:13; Acts 22:21.  How did he describe his missionary gift?  1 Cor. 9:19-23.

The missionary gift (Acts 22:21) involves the ability to use other spiritual gifts in a multicultural context.  Paul's ministry made possible the fulfillment of the mandate in Acts 1:8.  Notice how the Lord used various gifts:

Person People Group Gifts Texts
Peter Palestinian Jews Evangelist Gal. 2:7
Peter, Stephen Diaspora Jews Evangelists Acts 2; 4:31; 6
Philip Samaritans Evangelist, miracles Acts 8
Paul Gentiles Missionary, evangelist, teacher 2 Tim. 1:11
Barnabas Gentiles Missionary, teacher, helps, prophecy Acts 9:26, 27; 13:1

Trace through the biblical record of Barnabas.  Notice how he is always helping someone else succeed.  Acts 9:27; 13:1; 15:36-39; Gal. 2:13.

Barnabas had the gifts of prophecy and teaching (Acts 13:1), but he also had the gift of helps.  He took Paul under his wing (Acts 9:27), went to Tarsus to find him, initiated him into ministry, went with him on his missionary ventures, and eventually took second place to Paul.  (Notice the change in the order of names between Acts 13:2, 7 and verses 42, 43.)  Barnabas supported John Mark and eventually restored him to Paul's good graces (2 Tim. 4:11).

How would you feel if the Lord gave you only the gift of helps rather than some major leadership gifts?  Compare your answer with 1 Corinthians 12:14-30.

Friday -
  January 17


Review 1 Timothy 3 for an overview of early church organization.   Read The Acts of the Apostles, chapters 3, 11, and 16, for more information on early church organizational systems and the use of spiritual gifts.

Wheels Within Wheels.   "The striking feature of divine operations is the accomplishment of the greatest work that can be done in our world by very simple means.  It is God's plan that every part of His government shall depend on every other part, the whole as a wheel within a wheel, working with entire harmony.  He moves upon human forces, causing His Spirit to touch invisible chords, and the vibration rings to the extremity of the universe." -- Evangelism, p. 93.

"Perfect order is brought out of the confusion.  Every wheel works in its right place, in perfect harmony with every other part of the machinery."--Christian Leadership, p. 26.

Outreach Strategies.  "The disciples were to begin their work where they were.  The hardest and most unpromising field was not to be passed by.   So every one of Christ's workers is to begin where he is. In our own families may be souls hungry for sympathy, starving for the bread of life.  There may be children to be trained for Christ.  There are heathen at our very doors. Let us do faithfully the work that is nearest.   Then let our efforts be extended as far as God's hand may lead the way.  The work of many may appear to be restricted by circumstances; but wherever it is, if performed with faith and diligence it will be felt to the uttermost parts of the earth.   Christ's work when upon earth appeared to be confined to a narrow field, but multitudes from all lands heard His message.  God often uses the simplest means to accomplish the greatest results.   It is His plan that every part of His work shall depend on every other part, as a wheel within a wheel, all acting in harmony. The humblest worker, moved by the Holy Spirit, will touch invisible chords, whose vibrations will ring to the ends of the earth, and make melody through eternal ages."--Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, October 9, 1913.

SUMMARY:   The Lord outlines various organizational systems in the Bible for use by the church.   The New Testament connects these organizational systems with spiritual gifts and the call to discipleship.   Every Christian is called to discipleship and effective ministry within the body of the church.

Inside Story

Her Name Means "Shining Everywhere"

Eugene Hsu

In the Chinese Bible Psalm 68:11 is translated, "The Lord gave the word:  great was the company of women that published it."  When the communists took over China in the early 1950s, pastors were arrested and church schools were closed.  Women stepped in to fill the needs.   Zhou Hui Ying, a local church-school teacher, had lost her job, and the church had lost its pastor.   So she bravely took up the work of leading the local congregation.

Because she was neither licensed nor ordained to preach, Sister Zhou was not recognized by the government as a pastor and received no pay.   But she continued to work as a Bible worker, suffering indignities and material losses.   Then her husband left her to rear their three children alone, on the meager gifts and support from believers.  But the Lord stood by her, and she gained strength from prayer.   She nurtured her small group of faithful Adventists who met Sabbath by Sabbath in her home or theirs.   She encouraged and supported them through government house searches and church closures.   Fearful that her Bible and Spirit of Prophecy books would be confiscated, she wrapped them in plastic bags and buried them in her yard.

When the government finally reopened churches, Sister Zhou was not permitted to conduct religious services openly unless she agreed to allow Sundaykeeping ministers to speak every other week.  This she refused to do, and it was many years before the Chinese government withdrew their accusations against her.

For the past 13 years Sister Zhou has served as Bible worker for her church.  Under her leadership the church has grown from a handful to 200 in 1986, and to more than 1,000 today.

Today, at 82 years of age, Sister Zhou continues to serve full time as senior pastor of her church, one of the largest and strongest Adventist congregations in China.  Under her guidance the church provides leadership training for lay workers and literature work throughout China.  Truly she lives up to her name, which means, "Shining Everywhere."

Eugene Hsu is president of the East Asia Association, headqurtered in Hong Kong.

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