How do Superman and Aquaman Illustrate an Important Truth about Spiritual Gifts and How God Has Designed His Church?#59
Hooray – we made it to Friday! Today we are only reading three chapters. Why? Because Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s original Bible reading plan was designed for a non leap year, so we have some freedom here to be creative. We’ll read Exodus 11 today (the tenth plague death of the firstborn) plus Job 29 and Luke 14. Rather than continue on in reading 1st Corinthians, we will continue on in discussing 1st Corinthians 14 from yesterday. Tomorrow, on the 29th, we will only read 1st Corinthians 15 – the resurrection chapter, and we will be focused on the resurrection. Today is the day we finish up our discussion of spiritual gifts.
Every saved Christian in the church is important, necessary, and dependent on the others. We cannot live without each other! The pastor cannot say to the evangelist, “we don’t need you, our members can just invite other people and we can grow that way!” Likewise, the teacher cannot say to the faith-gifted person, “We don’t need your faith, we just need to teach the Word of God more!” I’ve illustrated this truth before with a strange saying: There are no Supermen in the Body of Christ – And no Aquamen either. You see, when I was a kid, the one cartoon that everybody watched was the Super Friends, that lovely cartoon about Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, Apache Chief, Samurai, Zan and Jayna, Black Vulcan and even good old El Dorado:
El Dorado could not talk to fish.
In saying that there are no Supermen in the Body of Christ, I mean that nobody has all of the gifts in one package, and nobody is like Superman in that he/she is a one man army – fast, strong, invulnerable, and not needing of anybody else. The list of powers given to Superman in the comic books are absolutely ridiculous. Super-strength. Super speed. Super breath. Heat vision. Time travel. Faster than light-speed flight, Extended life-span. Healing Factor. Eidetic Memory. Superhuman hearing AND smell. X-Ray Vision. Mind control. Invulnerability. RAINBOW BEAMS FROM HIS HANDS.
Superman’s only real weakness is that he got sick around one particular meteorite from a world light-years away (that didn’t exist anymore.) I don’t know about you, but I have very rarely encountered meteorites in my day to day life, and if that was my only weakness, I could go years and years without encountering it. There’s nobody in the Body of Christ like Superman – all the powers and no weaknesses, and no real need for other teammates.
I once had a book by a fairly well known church leader that had words to this effect on the back, “Dr. XXXXX is a Prophet-Apostle who functions as a pastor and evangelist in the Body of Christ. He has been a teacher for xx years” Honestly – I’m not so sure that is all true! That sounds like several major equipping gifts functioning in the same person. Such a gifted person could very well be a one man show that could do all of the major work of ministry while everybody else merely watched. The problem with that scenario is that the church is not meant to be an elite collection of professionals who do the work of ministry, and every one else just simply watches and cleans up after the service. I do NOT believe that this is what Paul means in his description of the function of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. All gifts are needed, all roles are needed, and nobody has been called to be the one-man-army of ministry that does all the visible work. There are no Supermen in the Body of Christ.
Likewise, there are no Aquamen in the Body of Christ either. By that, I mean that nobody has a lame, useless gift that doesn’t strengthen the church. Now, don’t hear me throwing a lot of shade in Aquaman’s direction. Other than Superman, Aquaman was actually my favorite of the Super Friends. In fact, due to my love of swimming and snorkeling as a teenager, several of my friends actually dubbed me “Aquaman.” That said, Aquaman has been parodied many times as having powers that aren’t particularly conducive to fighting crime. Despite the fact that most of our planet is covered by water, the vast majority of crime and super-villainary actually takes place on land. Being able to communicate with sea life is rarely useful on land, a fact famously lampooned by the Cartoon Network years ago in a commercial where Wonder Woman and Aquaman are captured by the Legion of Doom. As they are being lowered into a boiling cauldron of acid, Aquaman attempts to use his powers to free them, and then very soberly tells Wonder Woman that his “ability to talk to fish isn’t helping!” Wonder Woman just rolls her eyes, as the audience gets the unspoken joke: Aquaman is mostly useless as a Super Friend. NOT so in the church. As Paul explains, even gifts that aren’t obvious or prominent are actually essential to the Body of Christ. Indeed those giftings (and the people who have them) might even be due “greater honor” than those with more prominent gifts. Everybody in the Body of Christ is needed and absolutely essential to the successful and joyful completion of God’s great mission to His Church: To love Him with all of our heart and to take His Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Dear Christian: You need to work in tandem with other members of the Body of Christ. You are not a spiritual Superman that can “take the team on your back” and lead everybody to victory. On the other hand, you are also not a useless Aquaman that has no real impact on the Body of Christ that you are part of. You are a core member of the Body of Christ – no matter what your spiritual gift is. Whatever Christian fellowship or group that you are part of desperately needs you, and you need them – join with them, and serve God together with joy, power and fruitfulness!
1 Corinthians 14:26, “What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church“
8. Spiritual gifts cannot be neglected, lest they become dormant. I find it fascinating that somebody that was as fruitful as Timothy would require not one, but two reminders in Scripture to fan his gifting into flame, and not let it lie dormant. Keep in mind that he was on Paul’s apostolic team, a church planter, probably a pastor, possibly an apostle, and co-author of more biblical books than anybody save Paul himself. If Timothy needed those kinds of reminders, then how much more do we? Don’t let your gift lie dormant – fan it into flames!
2 Timothy 1:6-7, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
9. The variety of spiritual gifts given, and the variety of roles that gifted people will have, are meant to bring UNITY (in diversity) to the Body of Christ, not disunity. The way forward to unity, real unity in the Body of Christ/church, is kind of interesting. Rather than God making all of His people similar, with similar passions, roles and giftings, He has instead purposed to fit the body together with remarkable diversity and differences; and He has done so with the intention that there be NO DIVISION IN THE BODY. Yes, we are different! Different passions, different gifts, different callings – but that should not separate us – we should be so unified that when one of us suffers, we all suffer, and when one of us is honored, then we all rejoice. Gifts of the Spirit aren’t meant to divide, but to unite!
1 Corinthians 14:24-26, “Instead, God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, So that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. 26 So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.“
10. One can apparently be remarkably gifted in terms of spiritual gifts, but not be at all mature or loving. Such a person should not be praised, emulated or followed due to the dynamism and strength of their gifting – they are NOTHING. Let me say again – a person can be remarkably gifted as a pastor, or teacher, or prophet, or evangelist, or televangelist, and the fact that they are strongly gifted does not mean that they are to be imitated and followed. Spiritual fruit (see Galatians 5) is a much more reliable indicator of maturity than spiritual gifts. Moreover, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that one can be very gifted – with some of the highest or most spiritual seeming gifts, but if they aren’t manifesting obvious love, then they are of no count in the Body of Christ – they are nothing! I believe that one of the reasons why the Western church has seen so much scandal in the past fifty years is because we have elevated strongly gifted people to prominent (and unaccountable) positions of leadership, but we have not rightly evaluated the maturity or love level of those people to discern whether or not they should be in such places of leadership.
1 Corinthians 13:2 “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
I will close with one more big chunk of Scripture. I believe that 1 Corinthians 14:26-31 MIGHT be the clearest and deepest picture we have of the powerful, fresh, first century gathering of believers – one of the most detailed descriptions of a church gathering in the Bible. Note that Paul is upholding an ideal here – this is, I believe, what we are to look like when we gather. We don’t look like this. Indeed, I don’t believe I know of any gathering of Christians in America that does, but this is the picture of the first century church, given to us in Scripture, that I believe we are supposed to seek to attain:
1 Corinthians 14:26-31, “26 What then is the conclusion, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification. 27 If any person speaks in another language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret.28 But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. 30 But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. 32 And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, 33 since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”