Over the last several chapters we’ve seen detailed descriptions of the tabernacle. There is everything from what all of the objects of worship look like, to the actual construction of the tabernacle, to what the priest will wear while he is performing his ceremonial duties. Now, as we’ve looked at these details you may have been absolutely fascinated by them or they might bore you to tears. Regardless which is the case for you, there is still an important question regarding the tabernacle that remains unanswered. That question is: How did the people make this stuff anyway?
Here’s a bit of perspective for you. Counting men, women, and children there are probably about 2.5 million Israelites who have left Egypt. The men are counted at 600,000. This is a large group to be wandering around in the desert. But on the other hand, if you are looking for a very specific skill set it is not a lot of people to choose from.
Legend has it that when the Kremlin was constructed, Ivan the Great asked the architect if he could ever create anything so beautiful again. The architect responded that yes, he could create another building as beautiful. So Ivan had the architect blinded to prevent this from happening.
My point in this story is that people with such skill are hard to find. We know that New York City is a place that has a lot of artists. But even if you went there with its millions of people, how many of them would be skilled enough to do the kind of fine artistry that is required to make everything that is in the tabernacle?
Now, consider the group that is wandering the desert. The women and children wouldn’t possibly have had any education or training to do anything like was required. Presumably the women would have made their own cloths, but nothing intricate. And the men were slaves. We know that they were making bricks. So they might have some building skills and be able to work with a hammer and chisel. But because the tabernacle has to be mobile, even this skill set is useless to them.
Considering all of this information, it doesn’t seem like there would be too many people of making what God had just described to Moses in the preceding chapters. We probably all know some people who are good at just about everything and they can learn a new skill quickly. If they can work with stone, they can work with metal. But even those type of people aren’t experts in all areas. And to do the kind of work required to build the tabernacle takes an expert.
Fortunately God has a plan to solve this problem. Even better, we’re going to look at how there is a perfect correlation in the church today. Let’s look at the opening verses of Exodus 31, verses 1-11:
31 Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts — 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you: 7 the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Testimony with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— 8 the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense,9 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— 10 and also the woven garments , both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”
God’s solution to not having the skilled workers available is to give the workers the skills that they need. In particular, there is one master craftsman and one assistant who are blessed with the ability to do everything that is required for the tabernacle. But these two men will not be doing all of the work themselves. They will be the overseers or the general contractors to use a modern term. They will be the ones who will teach other craftsmen how to do what needs to be done.
There is simply too much work for one or two people to do it all alone. I’m obviously not a skilled craftsman but I know that these things can’t be done overnight. If a person was working alone, just one piece such as the ark of the covenant would take months if not years to complete. There is simply too much work to be done.
Fortunately, the two men who are named are not the only ones who are blessed with the ability to do the work. God gives skills to all of the craftsmen so that they can do the work. Not everyone gets the same skills however. The men who are named are given the skills to do everything that is required. The other craftsmen are only given the skills that are needed to do their job. Some men will be skilled wood workers while others are skilled goldsmiths. Some will be given the ability to make the intricate articles for the tabernacle while others are likely just making the rings to hold the curtains up. It’s all a team effort however. The people who are doing the seemingly unimportant work of making rings for curtains are freeing up the more skilled craftsmen to do their work. They are no less important to the process.
That’s the end of our study from Exodus this morning. This is not just a historical story about something that happened a long time ago and has no bearing on us today. This is a perfect picture of the way that the Holy Spirit still works within the church today.
Paul writes to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor 12:4-6
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
In Exodus we saw gifts of craftsmanship at work but even in this narrow field the workers are given different kinds of gifts and different degrees. Within the church there are many different kinds of gifts but God is the source of all of them. There are four passages in the Bible that list spiritual gifts. We won’t read the four passages but if you want to read them at a later time they are Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, and Ephesians 4:11-13.
In these four passages there are some gifts that are repeated – prophecy is the only one listed in all four passages – and each passage mentions gifts that aren’t listed in the other three passages. I don’t know if we should consider these four passages to be a comprehensive list of all of the spiritual gifts that God grants, but I believe that it does cover the bases.
In these four passages there are 20 gifts mentioned specifically. Depending on your translation of the Bible there might be a different word used but in essence the combined list is:
Our natural inclination is to try to rank these gifts. We could say that the gift of prophecy is obviously the most important because it is the only one mentioned in all four passages. There are some denominations that place great emphasis on speaking in tongues while other denominations don’t even believe that the gift is still active in the church today.
Paul actually writes to the Corinthians because they had tried to rank their gifts. Paul says that there is no gift that is more important than another however. Instead of arguing over whose gifts are better, we should simply be working together. Paul continues in 1 Cor 12:12-26
12 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. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Paul uses the body as an illustration of the church. This couldn’t be a more perfect illustration because we refer to ourselves as the body of Christ. Paul says that we are all a part of the body of Christ. And as a part of the body, we are all important.
Imagine for a moment that you were going to lose one of your five senses. Only you got to choose which sense you would lose. You could go blind or deaf, those are probably the two big ones. But what about smelling, tasting, and touch? What if you could never smell flowers again or taste your favorite meal? What if you could never feel the warmth of being hugged again?
That’s Paul’s point in this passage. Every part is important and if we are missing one part the whole body suffers. But the other point of this passage is that we are each a different part. Some people are the hands and feet of the church, the glamour parts. And then some people are the ribcage. You probably never think about your ribcage unless you’ve broken a rib. But the ribs hold everything together and they protect sensitive organs from damage. You don’t think about your ribs but you’d be in trouble if you didn’t have them.
The church needs all kinds of spiritual gifts to support its work. We need teachers but we also need people who clean bathrooms. We need people who can support the church financially but we also need people who can support it with their time and with their talents.
I had a discussion with a pastor the other year about fundraisers in the church and he wasn’t a huge fan of them. He said that he didn’t think it was right to ask people from outside of the church to support it. But my counter argument is that we’re supporting the church ourselves. When we have yard sales and spaghetti dinners people are giving their time and ability to provide a service. They may not have the finances to give but they can still support the work of the church financially through this. It’s not the same as asking people to buy overpriced candy where the person making the purchase doesn’t get the same value back for what they actually spend.
The point is that the church needs all kinds of workers and we should never think that our contributions don’t matter. On the other hand, we should never think that we are too good to serve in a certain capacity.
A few years ago I heard the story of an old man who was in his 80’s who was still teaching Sunday school but also was still cleaning the bathrooms at his church when it was needed. You might recognize the man’s name because at one time he led the free world. The man that I’m talking about is Jimmy Carter. I’m not saying a thing about the man’s politics and you are free to agree or disagree with them. What I can say is that it is a big step down from President to cleaning bathrooms. But it is apparently something that he didn’t find to be beneath his status in serving the Lord.
There’s a lot more that I can say about spiritual gifts. It is actually one of my favorite topics and every month I get hundreds of hits on my website regarding the topic of spiritual gifts so I feel like a bit of an authority on the topic. The point that I want to end with though is the fact that every Christian has spiritual gifts.
You may not feel like yours are important but each gift is important. Without everyone using their gifts, the church doesn’t reach its full potential. I am not gifted in every area and no one is. Sometimes I can fill in in areas that I’m not particularly gifted because there is no one else to do the work. But more and more, I’m simply letting these jobs undone. It’s not because I am too good for these jobs. The truth is that my first job in ministry was at church camp where I scrubbed toilets and mopped floors for two summers.
I am not too good for whatever work the Lord has for me. But I know that if I do all of the work I will not only wear myself out, I will also deprive someone else of using their gifts.
As a small church many people will wear multiple hats with their responsibilities in the church. That is the nature of the small church. At times it can frustrating because it feels like there are so few people working. Fortunately we had a great example of working together last weekend. Without actually counting, I believe that at least half of our church was involved in one way or another with our yard sale. This is a great example of what can be accomplished when the church works together and uses their gifts. Not all of the work is glamorous or exciting but great things are done for the Lord nonetheless.