The Sanctity of Skill

Exodus 36:1 - So Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded.

1 Chronicles 15:22 - Chenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing. That was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.

1 Chronicles 25:6,7 - These men were...for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God...all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord.

Christians differ widely on the subject of human skill and how much it should be emphasized and used in the service of the Lord. Some Christians believe that natural human skills can be used for the work of God when they are dedicated to Him and are used in His service and for His glory. Other Christians, however, have negative opinions about the use of natural skills in the Lord's service. Some Christians have even gone to the unbiblical extreme of purposely not recognizing or using the natural skills of gifted Christian musicians or eloquent public speakers, lest the work of the Lord be "of men" and not "of God." Such an attitude is not only warped (and possibly tainted with jealousy), but it is far from the biblical view of the sanctity of skill.

The Bible teaches very clearly that human skill is God-given. It can be, and should be, used for the glory of God. Unfortunately, human skill in any field can lead to pride and a desire for human acclaim and fame. It seems that this particularly sad, and even tragic, attitude is increasingly becoming the norm for Christians with great natural talent. But to "throw the baby out with the bath water" by deliberately by-passing or repressing individuals with God-given skills in order to use unskilled people who can just "do the job" is certainly not following the biblical pattern. Because of the danger of these two unbiblical extremes, it's important to understand the biblical view of the sanctity of skill.

Moses and the Tabernacle

In Exodus 36:1-2 we read that Moses directed Bezalel and Oholiab and other skillful people to work on the Tabernacle because  the Lord had "given them skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary." All the people of Israel were invited to contribute to the work of building the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:4-9), but only the skilled individuals were invited to do the work on the sanctuary. Certainly there was a risk that Bezalel and Oholiab and the other skillful workers would be "lifted up with pride." God could have avoided that risk by having Moses use unskilled workmen to do the job, but God wanted skilled people to do the work on His sanctuary. Why? It's obvious! Because they could do a better job! God was interested in more than just the willing heart that could get the job done--He wanted the job done with skill! Should we settle for less in the church today? No! We should follow the biblical pattern and use the God-given skills available in our churches and ministries for projects and programs. Just as we use skilled carpenters and plumbers who offer their natural skills for work on church and ministry buildings, so we should use skilled administrators, musicians and speakers who are willing to dedicate their natural skills to the Lord for church and ministry programs.

Exodus 31:1-11 and 35:30-35 tell us that Bezalel and Oholiab were appointed by God for the work not only because of their God-given skills, but because they were Spirit-filled men. This doesn't mean that they displayed some dramatic or ecstatic gift, or were "charismatic" in today's use of the term. It simply means that God's Spirit was empowering them, and "giving them great wisdom, skill and ability in constructing the Tabernacle and everything it contains" (Exodus 31:3). We read that God filled Bezalel "with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts--to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship" (Exodus 31:3-5). In other words, God not only gave Bezalel and Oholiab and others natural talents at birth that were developed into skills, but He also empowered those skills by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the ideas for the creative artistic designs and the know-how for making those creative ideas a reality was all of God.

This is true today as well. God gives different natural talents to different individuals, and when these individuals dedicate their developed skills to the Lord, His Spirit can "empower" those natural skills so that their creative ideas or artistic designs, their expert carpentry or accomplished instrumental music, their songs of praise or artwork or needlework, their books for teaching or talks for edification are all from God. How wonderful! How dare we glory in ourselves for these blessings on the one hand, and on the other hand, how dare we repress these labors of love and expressions of praise and worship which originate in the natural skills given and blessed by God Himself?

David and the Temple

1 Chronicles 15 gives the account of King David's preparations for bringing the Ark of the Lord up to Jerusalem. David put Chenaniah in charge of singing, including instructions in singing, because he was "skillful at it" (v22). The mention of musical instruments along with the singing (v16) indicates that Chenaniah was a skilled musician, in song and in the use of lyres, harps, cymbals and other musical instruments. David wanted good music for the worship of the Lord--he wanted nothing but the best for the Lord. Although there were probably many "gravel-voiced" singers and "wanna-be" musicians around who would have been more than willing to serve the Lord to the best of their abilities, that was not what David wanted--and it was not what God wanted! David was not just acting on his own initiative--he was being moved and directed by God Himself.

As we read on in 1 Chronicles we see that after the Ark of God was brought to Jerusalem, David continued to make preparations for the construction of the Temple which would be built by his son Solomon. These preparations included not only blueprints for the Temple building but also organizing of the Levites into divisions for service, appointing the gatekeepers of the Temple courts, assigning the musicians, and many other arrangements. (Read all of 1 Chronicles 15-29.) There were 228 skilled musicians, all trained in singing to the Lord (1 Chronicles 25:7). Nothing but the best for the Lord!

When David told Solomon, "All this is in writing, because the hand of the Lord was upon me and He gave me understanding in all the details of the plans" (1 Chronicles 28:19), he was speaking not only of the Temple construction plans and patterns for the items to be used in its service, but also the "divisions of the priests and Levites and for all the work of serving in the house of the Lord" (v13). Skilled craftsmen were used in the construction of the Temple (2 Chronicles 3-4). At the dedication ceremony, many skillful musicians played instruments and sang praises to God, and the glory of the Lord filled the Temple (2 Chronicles 5:12-14)!

Romans 15:4 says that "everything that was written in the past was written to teach us," so there are many lessons here for us today. In giving God our best, shouldn't we acknowledge the sanctity of skill? If skilled craftspeople or musicians or speakers are available and are willing to dedicate their time and natural talents to the Lord, they should be recognized and given opportunities to serve the Lord with their skills. Of course, there's always a risk that skilled individuals will become proud and begin to siphon off glory for themselves. This could have happened to Chenaniah and the other skilled musicians and craftsmen of David's time as well. But in spite of this potential danger, God moved David, just as He moved Moses, to select skilled people  who could do the best job for the House of the Lord. We, too, should acknowledge the sanctity of skill and select those individuals who are willing and able to do the best for the Lord in their areas of expertise.

This does not mean, however, that some folks are left out! Everyone has some kind of ability, and everyone has a niche to fill in the work and worship of the Lord. There are plenty of jobs, and there is plenty of room for everyone! In fact, the biblical teaching of the sanctity of labor is not limited to the sanctity of skill in "Christian work." The skillful use of natural talents and putting in a good day's work in any God-honoring job is blessed by God just as much as work directly in and for any church or ministry. Let's acknowledge the sanctity of skill, and remember the sanctity of labor as well.

Jealousy and Pride

Unfortunately, the sinful human tendencies of pride and jealousy can--and do!--cause tremendous friction in the church. Those who are skilled in a particular area must be very careful not to despise or look down on those who are less skilled in that area. In addition, they must be careful not to try to capture the limelight, but rather let the Lord "open the doors" for the use of their skills. Furthermore, they should not ignore or exclude others who are also skilled in "their area." It is the responsibility of each member of the body to encourage others to use their skills for the work of the Lord. People who are not skilled in a particular area shouldn't try to force themselves into that area. They must be careful not to become jealous of those who are skilled in that area, but to joyfully accept and use whatever talents God has given them. Another danger lies in becoming a "fan" of a very skilled Christian speaker, author or musician. This may result in "hero-worshiping" the creature rather than praising the Creator!

Avoiding these danger areas is not easy, as we all can testify from experience. Excellent guidelines for avoiding pride and jealousy are found in Philippians 2:3-4: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

Talents and Gifts

Another related area in which there is confusion concerns the difference between natural talents and spiritual gifts. God-given natural talents are not the same as God-given spiritual gifts. God-given talents are given at conception, and are the result of God's sovereign control over genetics. God-given spiritual gifts, on the other hand, are given at conversion, and are the result of God's sovereign grace (Ephesians 4:7). Just as natural talents are developed with use, spiritual gifts should be developed with use. The apostle Paul encouraged Timothy not to neglect his spiritual gift, but to use it and develop it. (See 1 Timothy 4:14-15 and 2 Timothy 1:6.) So, just as our natural talents become skilled with practice, our spiritual gifts become more effective with use.

In some areas, natural talents and spiritual gifts are quite similar in their appearance, but they should be kept distinct in concept. For example, there is both a natural talent for teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching. (See Romans 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:8 and Ephesians 4:11.) They are obviously not the same, because there are many good non-Christian teachers and communicators. Some of these men and women have not just "learned how" to teach--they are "born teachers"! They were born with the natural ability to teach, and that natural talent has been developed into a skill. Now let's suppose an individual with natural teaching talent becomes a Christian. Will that person have the spiritual gift of teaching the things of God? Maybe so--maybe no! Many times God will superimpose the spiritual gift of teaching on the natural talent of teaching--but not always! Likewise, sometimes a person who doesn't have a natural talent for teaching is given the spiritual gift of teaching at conversion, and develops into an effective teacher of God's Word.

Obviously, believers who have the natural talent of teaching and communication skills, but do not have the spiritual gift of teaching, can certainly use their natural talents for the glory of God. There are many areas in the Church where the natural talents of skilled teachers can be led by the Spirit of God, and they can serve for the glory of God. However, we should always keep in mind that some of God's servants have been given the specific spiritual gift of teaching the Word of God for the blessing of the Church. These people should be encouraged to develop and use their gift. This is true for all the other spiritual gifts that are mentioned in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.

Sometimes the distinction between natural talents and spiritual gifts is quite obvious, but many other times it's not. The body of Christ is best served when its members are aware that there are distinctions in concept, but don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out all those distinctions for each individual member of the body! The Lord expects each of us to develop our natural talents and dedicate our skills to Him. He also expects us to recognize, accept and develop the spiritual gift or gifts that He has given to each of us for His glory and the good of His people. We should all be involved and available to do what we can with the natural talents and the spiritual gifts that God has given us. And just as we recognize and give opportunity to those believers who have certain obvious spiritual gifts for the widespread blessing of the church, so we should recognize and give opportunity to those believers who have obvious natural talents and skills that can be used for the widespread blessing of the church. If human pride or human jealousy begin to get in the way of blessing, we need to deal with those sins, but let's not hinder or stifle the work of the Holy Spirit by failing to recognize the biblical truth of the sanctity of skill.
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