We began our study in search of a sense of fulfillment and personal significance. We met three people whose personal experiences were transformed by really hearing words spoken by Jesus Christ on a hillside some two thousand years ago. The words were unexpected, because they point to choices that seem unnatural to the average person. Instead of offering fulfillment, the words Jesus spoke seem to demand a surrender of self, which, to the world, appears to bring the opposite of a fulfilling, meaningful life.
One book in the Bible helps here. It's a book written by Solomon after he had strayed from the Lord, and it described his personal attempt to find meaning in life on his own. Applying his marvelous powers of observation and reasoning, Solomon searched for meaning. His position enabled Solomon to travel every road that seems to most people to provide fulfillment and personal significance.
Solomon used his riches to enable him to develop his human potential. He designed and constructed great buildings. He created and organized successful businesses that brought him an unimaginable personal wealth. But when Solomon looked at what he had accomplished, he tasted ashes. Nothing he had built would last. Everything that he had achieved would crumble, and even the ruins would be forgotten. It was all meaningless.
In a sense, Nathaniel's experience recapitulated that of Solomon. He too is a builder. He doesn't have Solomon's resources, of course. But in his own way Nathaniel is a builder and entrepreneur. He found a way to come to America from Africa to develop his understanding and skills. He returned to use them in his home church. He found a way to buy land, to build a future for his family. Both his church and his land are important to this resourceful, ambitious young man.
Then came the conflict with his neighbor. At first Nathaniel focused on establishing his claim to the land. As the conflict intensified so did Nathaniel's emphasis on winning and holding what was rightly his. Even his ministry was subordinated to his drive to gain and hold that whole plot of land. Then God spoke and refocused Nathaniel's attention from his land to his brother. And Nathaniel set aside his concern with the material thing, which cannot last, and focused instead on healing the rift that the disagreement had caused. In making this decision, and in listening and acting on the Word he heard from God, Nathaniel became a people-builder, building not for time but for eternity.
The structures that Solomon spent his life building fell into ruin. That's the destiny of every material thing in our universe. At history's end even what remains then will, in Peter's words, “pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). Only one thing will remain when everything we've known in time has passed away.
God, who planted eternity in our hearts, will not snuff out of existence a single human being. Each of us, self-conscious and aware, will go on being our individual self through the endless eons that lie ahead.
The thought is awesome. But it brings a special focus to our lives. The only thing that we can build which is truly lasting, the only achievement which has ultimate significance, involves our contribution to the spiritual birth, growth, and maturity of another person. Paul understood this truth completely, and reflected on it in 1 Thessalonians 2:19. He wrote, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?”
When everything else has gone, we will find our fulfillment in that which we have built into the lives of our brothers and sisters.
Solomon was a builder. He had exceptional talents and gifts that were given him by God. You and I are builders too, and we are able to build people because of gifts God has given us. The Bible speaks of these gifts, which are called spiritual gifts, in three primary New Testament passages.
Gifts from the Spirit (1 Cor. 12). The first thing to realize about spiritual gifts is why they have that name. Our tools for people building are called “spiritual gifts” because (1) they are given by God's Holy Spirit, (2) they are tools of the Holy Spirit, and (3) they function to deepen and enrich the spiritual lives of believers.
Note what Paul says about them in 1 Corinthians 12:4–7, 11.
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:…
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
This brief paragraph establishes several basic points.
• Some special gift, some “manifestation of the spirit,” is given to every believer. You are able to build in others' lives, for God has provided the enablement you need.
• Gifts differ, and you have your own special gift. Let's not envy another person's gifts, or assume that one gift is better, or more “spiritual,” than another.
• God's Spirit works through us. His workings, like our gifts, will differ, but it is His power which enables us to make a difference in others' lives.
• Gifts are given “for the profit of all.” God's special enabling gift has been provided to you so that you might benefit others.
What a significant passage this is. It tells us that each one of us is significant, not just because we are important to a God who loves us, but also because we can accomplish important things! We each have a spiritual gift from God. We can be builders!
The passage tells us that the Holy Spirit has chosen the particular way in which we will be able to help others. We don't have to envy others' gifts, or feel diminished because our gift is different. We can be builders!
The passage tells us that the Spirit Himself works within and through us. It is His enabling presence that makes it possible for us to contribute to others. We can be builders!
A context of love (Rom. 12). In the context of each major passage that speaks of spiritual gifts there is a stress on relationships. The context in which spiritual gifts are exercised is that of close, loving, personal relationships.
In Romans 12, Paul notes that God has shaped His church as a living body, in which each of us has a different function, just as the parts of our bodies have different functions. Each of us is to use our own unique spiritual gift to contribute to the growth of others. This leads to a series of exhortations, most of which urge us to establish and maintain loving relationships with others.
• Let love be without hypocrisy. (12:9)
• Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another. (12:10)
• Distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. (12:13)
• Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (12:14)
• Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (12:15)
• Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. (12:16)
• As much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (12:18)
Nathaniel's story illustrates that despite the fact that every step he took to resolve his land dispute seems reasonable and “right,” each step drove a deeper wedge between him and his Christian neighbor. Then Nathaniel heard a Word from God, recognized his anger and confessed it as sin to God and to his brother. Suddenly the brother became more important to Nathaniel than the disputed half-acre.
The conflict had led to hard feelings in the heart of the neighbor as well. But Nathaniel's confession led to a breakthrough in the neighbor's attitude as well. He too confessed, and the two forgave each other. The breach was healed. With the personal relationship between the two reestablished, the dispute was quickly settled. But more important than that, Nathaniel writes “our fellowship grew, and our worship to God became whole.”
With reconciliation came growth.
With love reestablished, God's Spirit could work without hindrance, and people-building again was taking place.
A blueprint to follow (Eph. 4). The same elements found in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 are found in Ephesians 4. God's gifts are given to equip believers for their work of ministry, for the edifying [building up] of the body of Christ (4:11, 12). Paul then goes on to describe what the completed building will look like.
… for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:12, 13
… but, speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:15, 16
God's goal is that each of us should become more and more like Jesus as we live our lives here on earth. And that transformation, worked by God's Holy Spirit, is something each of us contributes to as we use our spiritual gifts to build people.
What God is building is Christlike people, and this building of Christlikeness happens when each of us does our share, using our gifts in the context of loving personal relationships.
Coming to the end of his life Solomon looked back on all his achievements and despaired. How meaningless the way he had spent his life seemed to be now. He had achieved so much. Yet in the last analysis he had achieved nothing.
You and I surely lack the gifts of intellect and creativity that Solomon possessed. But each of us has our own spiritual gifts from God. Each of us can minister to others in a way that builds them up, and helps them grow toward Christ's likeness. Unlike Solomon, if we commit ourselves to building people, we will be able to look back as we near the end of our life with a sense of real joy and accomplishment.
What we have built will last forever.
Our life will have been meaningful indeed.
And we will know what it means to be fulfilled.