In his correspondences with the various churches with which he interacted, the Apostle Paul is clear on the fact that God endows individuals within the body of Christ with skills and abilities for the purpose of edifying the whole body. In 1 Corinthians 12:7, he says it is generally the case that the manifestation of spiritual gifts are for “the common good.” And by common good in that context, he means the body of Christ either at large or locally. In Ephesians 4:16, he describes the church as a human body with individual parts that are “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” And we are further told that when each joint is “working properly,” it “makes the body grow, so that it builds itself up in love.” This is part of the beauty of the body of Christ. And one of the benefits of being a part of that body is that the mercies and love of God, which are located in Christ, are conveyed to us and nurtured within us and through the agency and giftedness of those with whom we are in fellowship.
However, the testimony of Scripture is that throughout redemptive history, God’s people have used their gifts not just for those within the covenant community but for others as well. In fact, Abraham is told at the time of his calling that he will “be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). Ultimately, Abraham is a blessing to “all the families of the earth” because in him we have the line from which Christ comes. But in Genesis 14, Abraham takes his army of 318 trained servants and defeats a coalition of nations that had taken his nephew Lot captive. The pagan kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah also benefit from Abraham’s victory.
There are two other Old Testament examples illustrated with even more clarity. In the first place, there is the case of Joseph in the book of Genesis after he had been sold into slavery and brought to Egypt. While Joseph was a servant in Potiphar’s house, we read:
The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. (Gen. 39:2–3)
The fact that Potiphar “saw that the Lord was with Joseph” and caused him to succeed does not mean that Potiphar gained a full and saving knowledge of God. But it does seem to indicate that Potiphar realized that Joseph’s extraordinary skills and success were divinely inspired, so much so that he put all of his household business under Joseph’s oversight. Eventually, things between Joseph and Potiphar soured because of false charges brought against Joseph by Potiphar’s wife that caused Joseph’s master to throw him in prison.
When Joseph is introduced to us in Genesis 37, he is depicted as a dreamer of dreams. But while in prison, he was gifted with the ability to interpret dreams. Eventually, this gift brought him before Pharaoh to interpret a difficult and troubling dream. When Pharaoh had Joseph brought into his presence he said, “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it” (Gen. 41:15). Joseph responded by saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (v. 16). In this “favorable answer,” Pharaoh was warned of a coming famine and instructed on how to establish a surplus ahead of the famine, a surplus that would allow people from outlying areas to buy grain during this period. Ultimately, God used the Egyptian surplus to preserve the seed of Abraham and the messianic line (45:7). Pharaoh raised Joseph to the position of second in command in Egypt because, as he acknowledged, “can we find a man like this in whom is the spirit of God?” (41:38). We are not told whether Joseph’s encounter led people to worship the God of Joseph, but we do know that his gifts were used for the benefit of many (50:20).
The second example is Daniel and his three friends while in Babylon. Daniel 1:17 says, “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” The king of Babylon acknowledged these young men to be “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (Dan. 1:20). As the Egyptian pharaoh did with Joseph, the king of Babylon placed Daniel and his friends “over the affairs of the province of Babylon” (2:49).
What is on display in these Old Testament examples is what the Apostle Paul admonishes in Philippians 2:15: “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Yes, we have a prophetic function in this world sounding forth the word of God. We also have an evangelistic function in this world, captured in the Great Commission. But on top of all of that, we have a neighborly function in this world, captured in the summary of the second table of the law, which is to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to use our gifts for the good and the well-being of all, in our homes, our jobs, in our communities, and throughout the world, as we have opportunity. This is what it means to be salt and light in a dark and unsavory world.