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The Gifts of the Spirit - Part 2

1. Why are spiritual gifts important?

God has called us to be a Spirit-empowered community of believers reaching lost people with the gospel. Jesus has told us to go everywhere and make disciples. Our task is so challenging that we need everything God has given to us to get the job done. We need spiritual gifts to get the job done. But the topic of spiritual gifts has sometimes been neglected by Christians.

Professor of Church Growth Eddie Gibbs notes the reasons that spiritual gifts have simply not been a normal part of the experience of some Christian. Why is this the case?

1. We look back over 2000 years of Church history and note that many of the gifts have fallen into disuse during that period.  That shouldn’t surprise us, because their have also been stretches of time when the gospel itself was obscured and not clearly articulated.

2. Look at the crude religious magic of the medieval church, along with some of the folk superstitions that paraded under the Christian banner, it is not surprising that many Reformation Christians have been suspicious of anything miraculous or mysterious.

3. In observing the manifestations of some supposedly supernatural gifts within classical and neo-Pentecostal movements, they have been unconvinced about their authenticity.

Before we look at these lists of gifts, let me address some of these concerns.

1. First, the Bible nowhere teaches that gifts have been withdrawn.  On the contrary, I Cor. 13:8-10 suggests that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will be needed until Christ returns.

2. Second, when the epistles speak about certain gifts, it is to instruct Christians in their proper use, not about how to phase the gifts out of use.

3. Third, the scriptures do not make a distinction between gifts that seem more natural and those that seem more supernatural.  If you want to do away with tongues and prophecy, you need to do away with service, administration, and leadership.  If you want to keep service, administration, and leadership – you will need to do some artificial and creative cutting and pasting.

A cultural problem
And that brings me to what I think is a core issue. Much of our reservation about spiritual gifts is more cultural than theological.  European Christians live in the slowest gospel advancing region on planet Earth and yet we sometimes exhibit a theological arrogance that views other parts of the world as less sophisticated and informed.  It could be that we have been influenced by the anti-faith scepticism that marks this European context more than we would like to admit.

The entire orientation of the New Testament – of the Bible – is a bias towards faith.  It is a bias towards believing.  It’s a perspective of proactive trusting in a God who is mighty and powerful and victorious and triumphant.  

Matthew 13:58 says that even Jesus couldn’t do many mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief.  IF a spirit of unbelief is true anywhere on Planet Earth today – it is true in Europe.  

We have to recognise that we live in a philosophical mileux of doubt, unbelief, and scepticism.  In contrast to all that the Bible says in Hebrews 11:6 that without faith it is impossible to please God.  I’m not by any means suggesting that we should tolerate every wacko manifestation for which people want to claim a divine origin.  Rather, I’m suggesting that if we as a church want to be pleasing to God and to fulfil his purpose for our church, our faith quotient needs to go up, not down.

2. Understanding Spiritual Gifts

SO – as we come to this topic of spiritual gifts, let me give you a working definition of a spiritual gift.

A spiritual gift is a special attribute given by the Holy Spirit to every member of the body of Christ according to God’s grace for use with the context of the Body.

Let’s pause here and take a moment to unpack this:

a special attribute:  a trait, an ability, a manifestation

given by the Holy Spirit:  1st Corinthians 12 uses various phrases to describe the Spirit’s role in the giving, animation, and manifestation of spiritual gifts:  they are given through the Spirit, they are according to the Spirit, they are by the Spirit.  It is by, with, through, and in the Holy Spirit that these gifts are given and that they work.

 to every member of the body of Christ:  verse 7 of Chapter 12 says that to each one is given.  These aren’t reserved for super saints; this is something that God gives to everyone who is a believer.

according to God’s grace:  Grace means unearned, unmerited love and favour.  The gifts are little gracelets – little tokens of God’s expression of love towards his people.  He doesn’t give them because we deserve them; He gives them because He wants us to us them to bless His people.

For use with the context of the Body:  It’s for the common good, for the building up of the Church.

As we read through I Corithians 12, its important to notice that Paul uses different words for gifts:

Charismata: gift
Pneumatica:  manifestations
Diakoniaia:  services
Energamita;  workings.

All of this implies some degree of flexibility with these terms.  This is not some fixed, precise, put it into an air-tight box kind of thing.  It paints a picture of a rich, full, diverse body of work by the Holy Spirit through the lives of believers to strengthen God’s church.

There are four primary lists of gifts in the New Testament (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Cor. 12:8-10, 1 Cor. 12:29-30; Ephesians 4:11-12) and none of them is exactly the same, but there is a good bit of overlap. These lists are not intended to be exhaustive or complete. They are all sample lists of how the Holy Spirit can work in and through believers.  They are ad hoc, given in each case to support the point that Paul is making in each context.I’ve put them up on a church here so that you can see what gifts are in which lists:

3. Defining the Gifts

The challenge:  Paul doesn’t take time to define all the gifts because the churches would have been familiar with them.  We are looking back through 2000 years of history, trying to understand what each of these was and how they worked and how they were used in the local church.  I don’t think it is possible to know the exact nature of every gift to which the scripture makes a passing reference.  So consider these as working definitions based on the text and wide reading.

In preparing these definitions, I actually consulted many different sources of definitions.  In each case, I thought some of the definitions were better than the others, and so I chose the one I thought was best, and these references are available

First, the 1st Corinthians 12 gifts:

1. The utterance of wisdom 
(sometimes called the word of wisdom [logos Sophia]):  in the context of all that Paul has said in 1st Corinthians about God’s wisdom being expressed through the  crucifixion of Christ, the word of wisdom is the recognition that the message of Christ crucified is God’s true wisdom, a recognition that comes only to those who have received the Spirit.  So we can summarize what this gift is by saying “God-given insight into the mysterious purposes and workings of God in and through Jesus Christ.”  In particular, the recognition of God’s activity in the crucifixion of Christ.

2. The utterance of knowledge (sometimes called the word of knowledge [logos gnosis]):  the God-given ability to communicate biblical truth or insight to the body.

3.Faith:  The divine enablement to act on God’s promises with confidence and unwavering belief in God’s ability to fulfil his purposes.  Whereas God’s spirit works in all Christians to have a measure of faith that leads to salvation , the gift of faith refers to being able to believe God’s promises and to act on them.  We could describe this gift as the ability to move mountains.
4. Gifts of healing: the divine enablement to be God’s means for restoring people to wholeness.  It is interesting to note that the word here for ‘gift’ is plural – this may speak to some kind of diversity within the gift, for example, the ability to heal various kinds of sickness, whether of the body, the mind, or the soul.   This also may mean that this is not a permanent gift, but that each occurrence of it is a gift in its own right.

5. The working of Miracles:  the divine enablement to authenticate the ministry and message of God through supernatural interventions which glorify him.  Sometimes healing can be miraculous, but since this is listed as a separate gift, it can simply mean God’s power working in mighty deeds.

6. Prophecy:  this gift is  central to the main point of 1st Corinthains 12 through 14 and thus worth more intensive discussion. But for now, we can define prophecy as a spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, intelligible message spoken in the gathered assembly for the edification or encouragement of God’s people.

7. Distinguishing Between Spirits:
  just like interpretation is paired with tongues, this gift of discernment seems to be paired with prophecy, and seems to mean the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error; the ability to properly discern, differentiate, and judge prophecies.

8. Various kinds of tongues:  Tongues is a Spirit-inspired unintelligible utterance spoken to God that edifies the speaker, unless it is interpreted. This gift has been called ‘the problem child’ of spiritual gifts – it was a problem in the church in Corinth, and Paul is writing this section to correct that problem.  It has also been a problem in contemporary Christianity – on one hand, because some people have taught that if you can’t speak in tongues, you don’t have the Holy Spirit.  Others have taught that tongues is of the devil.  Paul enters into an extended teaching section on tongues in 1st Corinthians 14, and we’re going to come back and visit this in detail.

9.The interpretation of tongues:
  The divine enablement to make known to the church the message of one who is speaking in tongues.  In simple terms, this means to articulate for the benefit of the community what the tongues-speaker has said.  In 1st Corinthians 14, Paul makes very clear that people shouldn’t give messages in tongues unless someone is present with the gift of interpretation.

Second – the Romans 12 gifts:

10. Serving: The special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to identify the unmet needs involved in a task related to God’s work and to make use of available resources to meet those needs and get the job done.  This is a task-oriented ability to see what needs to be done and get about doing it.  The root of this word is the basis for our word deacon.

11. Teaching:  This is the gift of being able to explain and apply the Word of God in such a way that people can understand and respond.  It is the divine enablement to understand, clearly explain, and apply the Word of God, causing greater Christ-likeness in the lives of listeners.  

12. Exhortation:  the Greek word for exhortation – parakaleo – literally means to come alongside to encourage and strengthen.  Exhortation is the emphatic communication that encourages or challenges someone to action.  This is the God-given ability to challenge, comfort, and encourage so that people move forward rather than shrink back, to go past the breaking point without breaking.  It’s the positive, patient, resilient motivator that prods God’s people forward.

13. Giving:  Everyone has the responsibility to give.  That starts with the basic commitment to tithe – to give to God the first 10% of your income.  But the gift of generosity, or giving, is beyond that basic commitment – it is he divine enablement to contribute money and resources to God’s work with cheerfulness and liberality.  People with this gift don’t ask ‘How much money do I need to give to God,’ but rather, ‘How much money do I need to live on so that I can give the rest to God.’

14. Leadership:  In the Greek, this word literally means to stand before.  Some people function in a position of leadership, but more than a position, this is the God-given ability to cast vision, to motivate, and to direct people to harmoniously accomplish God’s purpose.

15. Mercy: The gift of mercy is the divine enablement to cheerfully and practically help those who are suffering or are in need, having compassion that is is moved to action.

And finally, a couple of gifts from I Corinthians 12:28:

16. The Gift of Helps:  The word translated here as helps means literally ‘to take the place of someone.’  This is the God-given ability to accomplish practical and necessary tasks which free-up, support, and meet the needs of others.

17. Administration:  The Greek Word here actually means pilotage and is used for a ship’s captain.  This is the divine ability to understand what makes an organisation function, and the special ability to plan and execute procedures that accomplish the goals of the ministry.

Now, because most Bible commentators take these lists of gifts to be sample lists, not complete detailed lists of all the spiritual gifts, there are a few other gifts that are sometimes mentioned when spiritual gifts are taught.

One of those is the gift of hospitality, reference in 1 Peter 4:9-10: this is the divine enablement to care for people by providing fellowship, food, and shelter.  When this gift is in operation, you find a home kept where the visitor is invited and guests feel welcome and at ease.  

Another one is intercession:  the God-given ability to consistently pray on behalf of and for others, seeing frequent and specific results.

A third one is craftsmanship, reference in Exodus 31 and 35:  The divine enablement to creatively design and/or construct items to be used in ministry.

One of the natural questions that emerges is, 'How can I know what my spiritual gift is?'. Here are a few practical points on discovering your gift:

1. Through Study
2. Through Trial and Error
3. Through Reflection
4. Through Input from Others
5. Through a Spiritual Gifts Test




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