Anointing was a common ancient cultural practice. Shepherds often poured oil on the heads of their sheep in order to protect them from insects that would burrow in their ears and kill them, contributing to anointing becoming symbolic of blessing, protection, and empowerment. The Jewish people anointed the altar when making sacrifices. Spiritually, anointing was related to the idea of strength or blessing. Priests were anointed with oil, later followed by Samuel anointing both Saul and later David as kings of Israel. This anointing signified a person as a chosen one among other people.
In the New Testament, we are told God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18). Acts 10:38 adds, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power." Acts 4:26-27 calls Jesus God's Anointed. This was a term used to emphasize Jesus as the chosen one of God.
In addition to Old Testament leaders and Jesus being anointed, the apostle Paul spoke of an anointing of all Christians: "And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Corinthians 1:21). At first glance, it may appear Paul only spoke of himself and those with him as anointed. However, he states that the Holy Spirit within the believer is associated with God's anointing. Every Christian is anointed or chosen by God as His children, set apart for Him for acts of service (Ephesians 1:1-14; 2:10; 1 Peter 2:9).
First John 2:20 also affirms this understanding of all Christians being anointed by God: "But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge." Verse 27 adds, "But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him."
Today, some people speak of certain Christians as being "anointed." When they do so, they are generally using the Old Testament understanding of someone being set apart or standing out as a person specially blessed by God. While God does seem to bless some people with ministry gifts in more visible ways than others, the term "anointed" is not the best to describe this situation. Again, all believers are anointed by God, or are specially chosen by Him.
Those gifted in leadership serve according to their gifts, just as others who may serve with perhaps less visible gifts such as mercy or encouragement serve according to their gifts (Romans 12:3-8). As Romans 12:4-5 teaches, "For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."
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