The Truth About Spiritual Gifts
"Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed ... to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:1, 7).
"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
I wish I could see exactly what the question was from the Corinthian church. I mean, I wish I could know exactly how they reported their issue with spiritual gifts. The mediator in me has watched Paul call out three of the four factions in that church in the first part of this letter (“I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” and I follow Cephas”), and I wonder if the “I follow Jesus” faction was representative of the culprits here, because that is the way it comes across in so many of our church conflicts today where spiritual gifts are at issue.
Somebody is making a practice of doing something that is causing all kinds of havoc in the church, i.e., ripping the church apart, and their excuse is that “I am just exercising my spiritual gift ... it is the Spirit of God Himself working through me ... I am just following Jesus.” I am troubled by that for several reasons, not the least of which is that spiritual gifts are all about unity and bringing the church together, not ripping it apart.
Despite Paul’s concern that we not be uninformed on this subject, I think we are. Paul was kind of a “bullet point” communicator. But he did not have the advantage of a word processor. If he had, maybe he would have written his lesson on spiritual gifts more like this:
- Spiritual gifts are not just abilities; they are the Spirit Himself. The Spirit, you see, is the gift. When the Spirit of God manifests Himself through a believer, i.e., “peeks out” at the rest of the church from inside a believer, we call that a “spiritual gift.”
- Your spiritual gift is not for your benefit at all; it is for the benefit of the church. It is the Spirit of God working through you for the common good, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith ....”
- Even though you should “desire” the greater gifts, you do not get to choose your gift — God does. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tell God how He should manifest Himself through us? Then again, wouldn’t that be scary?!
- You may well have an opinion about what your gift is, but since it is a gift to the church and not to you, you probably do not see it as clearly as the church does. I am always a little skeptical when someone tells me what his or her own spiritual gift is. I always listen a lot more closely when he or she talks to me about someone else’s spiritual gift.
- If your “spiritual gift” is damaging your church (i.e., Christ’s church) or is dividing God’s people rather than bringing them together in unity, do you really think that is the Spirit doing that? It may well be some perversion of a spiritual gift, or not a spiritual gift at all, but it is not likely the Spirit.
- That God would manifest Himself through you differently than how He manifests Himself through me is not a bad thing; it is a good thing. God’s idea of unity comes via diversity. Strange but true!
- Your spiritual gift, no matter what it is, can only be received by the church through the lens of personal relationships. In other words, you may be the most gifted communicator of God’s Word alive today, but if the nine people sitting in your Sunday School class do not know that you love them, then you have nothing to offer them. You are just a bunch of noise.
- There are not just five spiritual gifts, or nine spiritual gifts, or 14 spiritual gifts. Be careful about numbering or categorizing or otherwise limiting the various ways God may choose to manifest Himself through a believer. The lists of gifts mentioned in scripture are more likely illustrative, not exhaustive.
I am with Paul on this. I do not want to be uninformed when it comes to spiritual gifts. These are some things I have learned so far, with the rest of a lifetime yet to go!
How about you? What precious nuggets of truth have you learned about Spiritual gifts that the church today needs to recognize?
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