Spiritual Gifts: Instrumental in Church Life, Not an Afterthought

A few thoughts on spiritual gifts:

Given by God’s Spirit

“God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:4).

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men…All these [spiritual gifts] are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines…In fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (I Corinthians 12:4-6; 11; 17-18).

For God’s purposes

Spiritual gifts were not given for our entertainment, to provide us something to do, not even to make us useful or bring us joy. They were given for the sake of the Church, for the manifestation of God’s glory, and for witnessing the Gospel.

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession– to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Equal in value

The image Paul uses to teach the Corinthians that all gifts are important and needed is that of the body.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (I Corinthians 12:12, 17-18).

Preachers and teachers might be the most visibly gifted; prophets and healers perhaps the most dramatically gifted; servers and mercy-givers maybe the most underrated and misunderstood. But God makes no distinction concerning value. In fact, Paul flips our instincts upside down: “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (22-25).

Grumbling and choosiness have no place within the body because each part is valued and important.

 All who have the Spirit have a gift

Paul’s detailed description of the body—many parts united together—underscores that everyone who is a part of the church, born again of the Spirit, has a gift and a place. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (I Corinthians 12:7). There are no useless parts of the body.

Not gender specific

In Acts 2, men and women gathered in an upper room, awaiting the Spirit of God, as instructed. A sound like rushing wind filled the room and tongues of fire came to rest on God’s people. The initial anointing of the Spirit on the Church, an anointing never to be revoked. God had sent the comforter, the empowerer, just as he’d promised. These men and women threw open the windows and doors and went out preaching. What verses did Peter quote?

Joel 2:28-29, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

What’s amazing about the instruction of spiritual gifts is that there are no gender restrictions. Paul, a thorough, passionate church leader, doesn’t say, “But to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given, to men…these gifts, and to women… those gifts.” This is not an oversight on Paul’s part. He didn’t slap his head in dismay after sending his letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, and Romans, “I forgot to say the Spirit doesn’t give women the gifts of preaching and teaching!” No, friends. The Spirit gives the gifts as the Spirit sees fit, regardless of gender. Let us focus on the purpose of the gifts: God’s glory, the building of His people, the expansion of His kingdom. Let us not foist extraneous ideas on scripture or get distracted with petty arguments of who can do what.

Diverse

Let us not be narrow-minded when it comes to spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is the specific equipping of the Spirit of God within a person for the working out of His purposes. We see this in the Old Testament, even though the words ‘spiritual gift’ are not used:

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him 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 artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers– all of them master craftsmen and designers” (Exodus 35:30-35).

Likewise, without using the term ‘spiritual gifts’ Acts is all about spiritual gifts, beginning with the Spirit of God coming upon the Church. The witnessing, miracles, boldness, and church governing we see is done through the power of the Spirit within individuals.

We do find, however, specific gift listings, thanks to Paul:

1 Corinthians 12:7-10: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:28: And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

Ephesians 4:11: It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,

Romans 12:6-8: We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;  8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

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No Room for Selfishness

The spiritual life is first of all about Jesus Christ, and because it’s about him, it’s also about his body, the Church, of which He is the head. “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). Here’s a sobering thought: within the church, you are not your own. You belong to “all the others.” You can’t pick and choose who you share yourself with. God has chosen for you, and it’s “all the others.”

That brings new meaning to the word submission. A concept which most Christians connect to marriage. That’s way too narrow a domain for submission.

Submission is one of the most difficult disciplines to practice because it’s about more than the individual and God. It’s about the individual, God, and “all the others.” And the individual falls at the bottom of the order. First, we submit ourselves to God. And then we submit ourselves to “all the others.”

Submit: to lay down what we want to make room for what others want; to say, “not my way” but “your way”; to keep our mouths shut when we’d rather open them; to honor others by promoting their cause, their good, their ideas, when we’d rather flash the brilliance of our own brainstorms; to say, “I don’t have to be the one visible or heard,” when we’d rather say, “Look at me! Listen to me!”

Submission is a way we honor others in the body of Christ as image-bearers who have essential gifts to offer the Church. It’s the most selfless discipline we can practice, and every fiber of our pride fights against it.

For further study on submission as a discipline, I highly recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, a beautifully titled book that truly presents the joy of practicing spiritual disciplines.

Blessings on your quest to submit to “all the others” in the body of Christ.

Church Language: Don’t Tarnish the Bride

I’ve never felt more beautiful in my life than when I walked down the aisle at my wedding. My husband’s eyes shone so much I could see them from the end of the aisle—in candlelight.

But honestly, more than the love-struck eyes, I loved my dress, a simple streamlined design. Rouching gathered behind the waist, and a row of pearl buttons extending from mid-back to hips, added soft sophistication. A band of lace across the neckline whispered femininity. And my veil—unadorned netting—rested atop my curls and traversed down to the floor, pooling behind me.

How can a bride not feel beautiful, dressed to the hilt and loved beyond limit? I haven’t always been a beautiful bride. In those eight and a half years since my wedding, I have complained, spoken harshly, angered, blamed, and pouted. Not beautiful. Not at all.

We, the Church, haven’t been a beautiful bride, always. We are still the bride, though. And the position of bride is one of influence and unchallengable worth.

This is why it bothers me when I hear Christian songs—well intended, I’m sure—pick on the Church. This seems to be a popular trend lately. (Can you imagine picking on a bride at her wedding?) A subtle attitude of condemnation comes through when artists write songs intending to challenge the Church to rise up, rid itself of laziness, and start serving. Or sometimes a song will suggest that the Church is judgmental. I recognize that intentions are good, and that many Christians may enjoy these songs. I don’t attack the artists or their intentions, but I do raise a question. What is the underlying message we are sending about the Church?

Let me put forth one example: If We are the Body, by Casting Crowns.

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

This rubs me wrong. In defense of Casting Crowns, I understand they are issuing a challenge to the Church to be welcoming. It’s an important challenge. People are watching us, waiting to find something negative to say about us. And yet, I’ve been in the Church my whole life. His arms are reaching. Not perfectly, but it’s happening. The Church is God’s tool for Kingdom advancement. Many congregations are alive, missional, and welcoming.

Is there room for growth in the Church? Absolutely. Can the Church be judgmental? Definitely. The Church sins. We are still waiting for the working out of our redemption, the final act of salvation.

But please, let’s be careful in the ways we seek to challenge the Church to action, to purity. Let’s remember her beauty, her position as bride. Let’s not grieve the Groom who loves her.

Church Language: “I” am not the Church, “we” are

A man can climb Everest alone. A strong man can lift a car alone. A woman can give birth alone. And in 2003 we learned that a trapped man can saw off his arm with a pocket knife—alone. Some cultures have a rite of passage ritual where a young boy goes out into the wilderness, alone, and returns a man.

Some things cannot be done solo. A duet. A game of catch. Spiritual growth.

We can pretend that our spiritual lives are individual, and in many ways they seem so. We have individual souls that must trust in Jesus for salvation—a solo decision. We have private thoughts of confession, and much of our Bible reading is done alone. But beyond salvation, the spiritual life becomes a journey of “we” not “I”.

A man cannot be his own church.

The Church, by nature, is a place of community. Therefore, let us be careful about the language we use. Let us say “us” not “me”. Let us say “our” not “my”. When we are offended by someone in our congregation, such language as “I” vs. “them” denies the unity of the body, as if “I” am the Church, not “them”.