Among our brethren of the more liberal persuasion, digressions from the principles of the New Testament have continued apace. Some of those among the “left wing” of churches of Christ have introduced instruments into the assembly, taken a more ecumenical view of the church and denominations, and are now working to advance women’s participation in various public roles within the assembly. A proponent of this last issue recently asked the following question as a way to frame the discussion: if a woman has a gift (that is, a talent or ability), who gave her that gift?
The question attempts to suggest that since God is the Giver of all good things (James 1:17) and provides believers with differing gifts and abilities (1 Peter 4:10), women are given such gifts and abilities and therefore ought to be able to exercise them in the assembly. Thus, anyone who would attempt to argue otherwise is trying to stifle how women are able to serve God. A similar argument is often advanced to justify the use of instruments: someone will suggest that God gave him the talent to play a guitar or another instrument and wants to know why God would give him that ability if He did not intend for it to be used in His praise. Are these arguments legitimate?
It is most certainly true that God has given different abilities and talents to different believers; just as a human body has different parts and functions, so it is with the Body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 1 Peter 4:10-11). God also expects believers to use their abilities and talents to further His purposes, illustrated in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-31 and exhorted by Peter in 1 Peter 4:10.
Yet it is that last caveat that is of great importance for us: abilities and talents are to be used to further God’s purposes. If the use of an ability or talent is not consistent with God’s purposes, we are not using them as God has intended (John 4:24)!
Gifts– abilities or talents– are rarely specific. They tend to be more general and are able to be channeled in different ways. Many people are especially gifted at persuading others; some use that gift to con and deceive others for their own profit, while others use that gift to persuade others to follow Christ. Many are good at public speaking; some use that gift to manipulate people for their own ends, while others use it to proclaim God’s word. Furthermore, even a talent that is often used profitably may not be appropriate for every circumstance or situation. Discernment and discretion are always required when we serve God with the gifts with which He has blessed us (cf. John 7:24).
There is no doubt that God has given many women the ability to speak well, to persuade others, and to care for others, just as there is no doubt that God has given many people many musical abilities and talents. Those who have musical talents can channel them to praise God in singing as He expects (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, James 5:13); to channel such talents toward the use of the instrument is not using that gift to truly advance God’s purposes. Likewise, women can channel many of their talents to persuade and encourage in private contexts (cf. Acts 18:26), and to serve others in plenty of ways that does not exert dominion over men, living consistently with 1 Timothy 2:12 and related passages. If a woman would exercise her abilities so as to participate in public roles within the assembly, she also is improperly channeling those abilities, not truly advancing God’s purposes.
God’s giving of gifts– abilities and talents– to believers was never intended to contradict His purpose as declared in His Word. All gifts that God gives can be used to His glory according to His purposes; likewise, they can be corrupted to serve self and bend to cultural norms. Let us praise God for the gifts He has given us, and let us use then to serve Him in the manner He has decreed!