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 (Manna 73: Employing Our Gifts )
Noble Vessels
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Noble Vessels

Audrey Chan―Leicester, U.K.

God’s will is that we live a useful life, to serve Him by carrying out the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18) and shepherding His household (Acts 20:28). These two things are, in a nutshell, the key works appointed by God for His church. They are mammoth responsibilities, requiring obedience and reliance on God. For this reason, He needs a special workforce—one where the workers have prepared themselves for service through a process of emptying themselves and cultivating the right spiritual disposition. Through His Holy Spirit, God equips these workers by giving them the power, spiritual gifts, and guidance that they need.


In the Bible, we see a commonality among God’s faithful workers: they were invariably people who emptied themselves, making room for God to use them. And they conducted their lives in a way that demonstrated this higher purpose. We see this attitude in Noah’s obedience to God’s commission to build the ark; Abraham’s willingness to depart from Ur for Canaan; Moses heeding God to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt and leading them on an epic forty-year journey through the wilderness; and Joseph’s patient and silent wait for God to show His hand while incarcerated in an Egyptian prison. All these examples stem from a clear understanding of their relationship with God and a willingness to submit to His will—what He wanted them to do and where He wanted them to go. They were truly able to walk humbly with their God (Mic 6:8–9).

With the right mindset, God’s workers see life for what it really is—a short and temporary journey to a better place (Heb 11:9–10). Hence, they have a discerning attitude towards the personal assets they may or may not have in this lifetime—be it learning, wealth, or social standing. They understand that these are of little or no consequence in the grand scheme of things, and, certainly, they are not defined by them.

Paul was once a learned Pharisee with standing and authority in the Jewish community, but he put all this aside once he came to know Christ and began to serve Him.

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Phil 3:8)

Such was Paul’s conviction that he was willing to pay a high price to serve His master: sufferings, persecution, imprisonments, beatings, and dangers to his life (2 Cor 11:23–28). In the end, as history indicates, he even died for Christ. Paul’s life was one of total submission and dedication.

The ultimate example, however, is Jesus Christ:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

(Phil 2:5–8)

Jesus purposely emptied Himself of His divine privileges to come to this world as a man to bring salvation. He swapped His heavenly glory for a lowly upbringing in a carpenter’s household; a ministry filled with toil, tribulation and ultimately, death on a cross. He did this obediently to accomplish the ministry of reconciliation for the heavenly Father.

Emptying ourselves entails self-denial, something that is counter-intuitive in this age where the emphasis is on personal needs and wishes. However, this is the secret to serving God well and a pre-requisite for obedience and submission. When we put ourselves to one side, we remove barriers and open ourselves to God, letting Him use us as He sees fit. This can be difficult to do, and perhaps even more so when we feel we have a lot to give up (Mk 10:21–23).

Today, many believers are blessed with a high standard of education, income, living, social standing, and so forth. However, when we are called to serve God, can we empty ourselves to work humbly? Are we willing to serve others, or do we desire to be served? Do we undertake whatever tasks come our way, or do we pick and choose? Do we listen to others, or do we demand to be listened to? Do we set the agenda, or do we allow God to guide instead?

Emptying ourselves also entails shifting our focus away from ourselves on to God. By the time that God chose Moses to deliver the Israelites, the once impetuous Egyptian prince was living as a refugee in the wilderness, with only the livestock in his care for company. The years had turned Moses into a person who could only see his inadequacies and who felt unequal to God’s great commission to lead Israel out of Egypt (cf. Ex 4:10). He thought that he would have to rely on his own ability, but God explained otherwise: God would be with him and empower him (Ex 3:11–12). From then on, Moses learned to truly empty himself—to look away from himself and on to God. As a result, God was able to use him mightily to change the fortune of a whole nation.

Today, when we fail to empty ourselves, we will make the mistake of assessing our own ability (or lack thereof) to undertake God’s work. We forget that the work belongs to God, and that He is the one who will equip the workers.


But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Tim 2:20–21)

God has high standards: He requires vessels of honor, fit for His purpose. According to Paul, we can actively strive to be vessels of honor through spiritual cultivation, by removing lusts and pursuing righteousness, faith, love, peace, and by avoiding arguments and strife (2 Tim 2:21–24). Paul adds that a good servant is one who is gentle and humble.

The best way to reach God’s standard is through consistent and proactive spiritual cultivation. This is how we can attain to the character and mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). This is essential for the growth of the church, as it enables the workers to see and approach church work as Jesus would.

On a personal level, cultivation enables us to be in a state of readiness for doing God’s work. And even if trials should come our way, as they often do—be it an adverse environment or opposition—we will be in a better spiritual state to overcome them. Conversely, if we fail to do the groundwork, even a minor difficulty will become a painful challenge, discouraging us from continuing to serve.

We all know what cultivation entails; it is really a matter of whether we have the resolve and self-discipline to do it consistently. Sometimes, we become so busy juggling life and church work that we compromise our spiritual cultivation. We devote less time to prayers, we skip daily Bible reading, and in church, we become so distracted by a myriad of tasks that we barely have time to sit through a service or give the sermon our full attention. And if this persists over a period of time, it will impact our spiritual well-being, and this will show in our behavior.

How many of us have the experience of being more impatient and short-tempered with others when we fail to allow God’s word and the Holy Spirit to cleanse and renew us? The carnal nature has a way of surfacing insidiously. This is bad for us, and if we continue down this slippery slope, our very salvation may be jeopardized. Hence, Paul speaks of the need to discipline ourselves in the course of working for God (1 Cor 9:27).

Furthermore, the emergence of the carnal nature is bad for our working relationships with others. Indeed, it underpins a host of problems. Arguments, murmurings, divisions, jealousies, and power struggles are all symptoms of a failure to curb the carnal nature (Gal 5:16–21). Instead of building up the church, our attitude and behavior may unwittingly create problems. Hence, Paul exhorts us to put off the old nature and to be renewed, that is, to have a new mindset that is righteous and holy (Eph 4:22–32), by relying on the Holy Spirit.


God is gracious and does not leave His workers to be without help. When God instructed Moses to build the tabernacle with all its ornate furnishings, God selected His workers and equipped them for the work:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship. And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you.’

 (Ex 31:1–6)

The interesting point is how God’s Spirit built up His workforce. Bezalel, Aholiab, and the artisans already had the basic skills for the work God had in mind (Ex 28:3–4; 35:10–11; 36:1–2)—the raw materials, as it were. But for this monumental task, God knew they needed spiritual gifts. Therefore, He filled these workers with His Spirit so that they had special wisdom, knowledge, and enhanced skills. For Bezalel and Aholiab, God’s Spirit also endowed them with the ability to teach the rest of the artisans so that, together, they could implement God’s intricate design (Ex 35:34). This was important as the work had to be done to exact standards and in a coordinated way.  

In God’s church today, which is the body of Christ, God’s arrangement is no different.

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 all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

(1 Cor 12:4-11)

The gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned here are not meant to be an exhaustive list, for we see that Paul goes on to talk about other gifts and roles in the church (see for example, 1 Cor 12:28). However, once again, we should take note of the gifts of wisdom and knowledge mentioned and their importance for church work.

Today, the church will more than likely have at her disposal, workers with diverse skills acquired through the education system, the world of work, and life experiences. They may be skillful in administration, planning and management, finance, pedagogy, customer service, cooking, and so forth. Some of these skills can be useful for church work, but not all, as God’s work is different from secular work. Importantly, God knows His church best, including what she needs in order to grow. Therefore, if God wills, He can choose to work with whatever human talent there is in the church and to enhance it by the power of His Spirit, adding wisdom, knowledge, and faith. Or else, if God decides that the church would benefit from different skills, He has the prerogative to bestow new gifts to the workers. In this way, God can equip and grow His church in any way that He sees fit.

It is not surprising, then, that Jesus told His disciples to wait for the power from on high prior to the establishment of the church:

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me. (Acts 1:4)

The work of preaching the gospel, baptizing people, and caring for the members could not be accomplished or sustained by human effort and raw talent alone: the commission and challenges facing the early church were greater than the sum of her workers. God’s work had need of members who were adequately equipped by the wisdom, power, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. God would be their guiding, driving, and sustaining force. With man’s effort and resources alone, the work would be in danger of digressing or fizzling out.

It is with good reason that the key requirements for God’s servants are to be filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom (Acts 6:3). God’s principles do not change: in the Old Testament time, God filled the workers commissioned to build the tabernacle with His Spirit and wisdom; today, God does the same for those who are building His church. Through the Holy Spirit, God bestows all manner of spiritual gifts, apportioning them as He sees fit (1 Cor 12:11). He does this for the “profit of all” (1 Cor 12:7)—that is, for the benefit of the church as a whole. Hence, when we look around, we see this wonderful arrangement: God provides us with a talented workforce that is just right for our church at a local, national, and even international level. That is God’s good planning and design.

To do the work, we need a heart that is willing and motivated to do God’s work, just like the artisans in the time of Moses (Ex 36:2). God will then grant us the spiritual gifts we need while we faithfully serve. Amazingly, the Bible reveals that the more we do and the more faithful we are, the more spiritual gifts God will bestow upon us (Mt 25:29). However, we need to remember, it is never for our own glory and embellishment but for God’s glory.


In the True Jesus Church, we are blessed with the abidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who guides and directs us in the way we should serve. However, we need to be close to God in order to hear His voice. For this reason, Paul exhorts us to pray unceasingly in the Spirit (Eph 6:18) and to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). In this way, the Spirit can speak to us as we prepare to serve and whilst we serve. Sometimes, God’s voice is gentle, coaxing us to do His bidding. At other times, it can be like a fire burning in our hearts until we have accomplished the assignment.

Many years ago, I attended a Bible camp overseas with several brethren from the UK. We were in a foreign place with members who were strangers. I still remember the emotions: nervousness and excitement mixed with trepidation of what lay ahead. Would I be able to cope with the schedule, and would I understand the lectures?

Faced with a class from different backgrounds and language needs, the lecturer had to speak in Chinese and then interpret the message into English by himself on the first day. I began to wonder how long he could sustain this, but there was obviously no other arrangement planned. During one of the prayers, I interceded for the lecturer, asking God to sustain him. Suddenly a thought came to my mind that I should offer to help. In the next prayer, the feeling became stronger—I knew it was the Holy Spirit urging me. At that point, I experienced a great internal struggle: I felt I was in no position to help with my limited interpreting experience; I felt there were better qualified brethren in the room; it did not feel appropriate, as I was not from the hosting church. It was such a dilemma, but the Holy Spirit continued to stir my heart. In the end, I decided I could not ignore the Spirit’s prompting and offered my help. I could only imagine that the lecturer must have been somewhat taken aback; in truth, so was I. As it transpired, God mercifully opened my ears and mouth to do the work. Best of all, after I volunteered, others came forward to do likewise. In this way, different members pulled together to make the Bible camp run smoothly. In hindsight, that must surely have been God’s will all along. Hallelujah, praise God!


The church is a spiritual entity entrusted with spiritual work. Hence, her workers need spiritual qualities: the ability to remove personal barriers to make room for God to work; a godly disposition for the sake of their own salvation and for the benefit of the church; the gifts of the Holy Spirit to enrich the church and prosper God’s work; and a willingness to heed the Spirit’s voice. When we all strive together to pursue these virtues, God will have the use of noble vessels in His house.

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Author: Audrey Chan