What we do for God must be done in God’s way and with God’s enabling:
We all have gifts and abilities which have been given to us by God. And God expects us to use them for his glory. It may not always be clear what your particular gifting or talent is, but God does have a job for each of us to do, and he equips us for that task. I recently wrote about what my giftings might be. As I said in that piece:
Often the abilities and talents that you had as a non-Christian are what God will have you make use of in Christian service. Before I became a believer I read a lot and I wrote a lot. Of course I was reading a lot of stuff I now no longer embrace, and I wrote things (such as articles for underground newspapers) that I now no longer agree with.
But where did that talent or ability come from? I believe God gave it to me, and for a while I used it for pagan purposes, but upon becoming a Christian God took those same talents and baptised them into his service. So something I always liked and was good at God used for his work. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/01/08/on-reading-and-writing-its-what-i-do/
I also mentioned in that piece that sometimes God may call you to give up a talent or ability:
I think here of the committed Scottish Christian Eric Liddell whose story was made famous in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. He was born in China to missionary parents, but studied in the UK. He became a terrific runner and even competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics. But he gave this up, returning to China in 1925 as a missionary, where he died 20 years later. He said he ran for the glory of God.
What might be a general rule of thumb is this: Usually we are to use the abilities and talents that we have, knowing that they come from God, although we always need to be willing to give them up if we are asked to do so. What ultimately matters is not any great talents or gifts that we have, but our obedience.
I say all this because as I keep reading through the book of Exodus I was again struck with this notion of God gifting his people to perform his tasks. Exodus is known for several things, most noteworthy being the actual exodus of God’s people out of Egypt. The first third of the book discusses that (chapters 1-18). The next six chapters (19-24) are about Sinai and the giving of the law. The last chapters (25-40) are about the tabernacle and its construction.
Sixteen entire chapters are devoted to this final topic, and great detail is provided there. One thing that stood out to me as I again read this account is that of two individuals who are specially named concerning this task. I refer to Bezalel and Oholiab. They are referred to a number of times in Ex. 31-38, and a few times in Chronicles.
We might call them master craftsmen. That they are specifically highlighted in these chapters tells us of their importance in the making of the tabernacle. Consider these two passages:
Exodus 31:1-11 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”
Exodus 36:1-2 “Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the Lord has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.” And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work.
Several things can be highlighted here. We see that there were others who engaged in this work. It was not just the two who were mentioned by name. However these two seem to have been the leaders in this project. But it was a team effort nonetheless.
Another important point which is repeatedly stressed here is that God had given them the ability and the intelligence to perform these vital tasks. They may have grown up in a family or clan of tradesmen and craftsmen – we are not told specifically if this was the case.
Regardless of their background, they had various unique skills and abilities. But at the end of the day, these were from God. Even if they learned their trades from their parents and grandparents, it was ultimately God who gifted them in this way.
But even more significant is when we are told that Bezalel at least was filled with the Spirit of God. Presumably the others were as well. This was thus not just a case of natural abilities and human talents, but of God’s Spirit being involved in this important work.
In a moment I will draw out the implications of all this for believers today, but let me anticipate one possible objection you might have. Perhaps you are thinking, ‘Yeah, but they were involved in building the tabernacle. I too am a carpenter but I just build ordinary homes, so what I do is no biggee.’
But let me remind you of something similar found in the New Testament. Recall how in Acts 6 there was a bit of a kerfuffle about ministry matters. Verses 1-6 say this:
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
There you go: you might think that those making the tabernacle certainly needed the Spirit of God, but here we just have those who are ‘simply’ serving food. Yet God seemed to think these seemingly mundane tasks also required his people to be full of the Holy Spirit.
That should be a lesson for all Christians. You may think your work is very ordinary or unimportant, but if it is being done for God, it IS important. And that is why it needs the help of the Holy Spirit to be done right. Whether it is building chairs, cooking foods at a rescue mission, or writing articles for a website, in all these areas – and more – we need the Lord and his empowering.
Yes, you might have long felt gifted as a cook or a woodworker or a writer, but if we are doing these things for Christ and the Kingdom, we need his Spirit to guide us and use us as we make use of those giftings and talents. Without him we are nothing great – but with him we can do great things.
So we need to use the gifts that God has given us – whatever they may be. And they may not seem like much. You may not be called and gifted to be a big pastor of a big church which gets a whole lot of attention. Perhaps you have a simple love of the Word: to study it and teach others.
Well, if God has given you a small group of just 2 or 3 friends that you regularly teach Scripture to, you are doing just as important a work as the megachurch pastor is. And you need God’s Spirit just as much as the pastor does as well. As Francis Schaeffer used to say, “there are no little people.” We all have a key role to play in the work of the ministry.
So we must be faithful in it. We are all just servants at the end of the day, and we must serve with the Spirit and with God’s glory in view. Two texts about this are worth finishing with here. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”
And as Jesus said in Luke 17:7-10: “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Keep serving God faithful, using the gifts and talents God has given you.
Bezalel and Oholiab were not just craftsmen – they were artists. God values art. Much can be said about this, but just one quick thought. In his expository commentary Philip Graham Ryken says this:
The same Spirit who created the world equipped these men with the skill they needed to build the tabernacle. This also teaches us something about the arts. If he had wanted to, God could have built the tabernacle all by himself, without using Bezalel or Oholiab or anyone else to do it. But God called a community of artists to make the tabernacle, and to make sure that they did it right, he equipped them with every kind of artistic skill. By doing this, God was putting the blessing of his divine approval on both the arts and the artist.