Sunday, November 29, 2009

Spiritual gifts part 2: What are these spiritual gifts anyway?

Hey gang!

Last time, we began talking about spiritual gifts. In that part, we are going to define the term and then look at scripture to see what God’s Word says about it. It’s important to understand what the spiritual gifts are and why God gives them to us in the first place.

Bryan Carraway, writer of Spiritual Gifts, Their Purpose and Power, defines spiritual gifts as “supernatural endowments and abilities that are selectively given to every Christian by the Holy Spirit for the purposes of personal ministry and for the advancement of the kingdom of God.”

The term spiritual endowments shouldn’t scare you. That part of the definition tells us where they come from. In the next paragraph after the definition on page 59 of his book, Carraway tells us plainly that spiritual gifts are divinely given. So God is the giver of these gifts.

I want to immediately discern between a spiritual gift and natural ability. There are people that are good in the workplace. You’ve heard the statement, “It seems as if they were made for the job.” Keep in mind though that spiritual gifts come from God. If I go to school for four years to learn how to be a teacher, I can gain the ability to teach. With the certificate I receive, I can walk into a classroom and instruct students. Having the piece of paper does not guarantee that I am gifted to be a good teacher. The school has given me the tools, but it is how I use them that tells whether I am a good teacher or not. However, to have the spiritual gift of teaching, God has given you the ability to understand and share material. The person may not have even cracked a school book to learn how. The person is able to do this because the ability has been given by God.

The other example of this I gave in part one was being taught leadership skills by John Maxwell. Maxwell trains people to be better leaders. Again, it is what you do with these teachings that can make you a good leader or not. The best counter example to this is God gifting Moses to lead in Exodus. If you read the account, Moses tries to explain to God several times that he is not a good speaker or leader. But God helped him take the Israelites out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.

The spiritual gifts are “selectively given to every Christian by the Holy Spirit.” So do non-Christians have these gifts? The answer is no. The Holy Spirit comes to us at salvation, therefore unbelievers will not have a spiritual gift.

Finally, the definition says that these are given “for the purposes of personal ministry and for the advancement of the kingdom of God.” I think it is understood that spiritual gifts would be to advance God’s work. However, some people get a little antsy over the purposes of personal ministry. Occasionally, we do hear of people taking advantage of the gifts God has given. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, several high profiled preachers began to fall, either by greed or sexual immorality or other things as well. I’ve been asked, “Well, wouldn’t God know better than to give these gifts to those kinds of people?” My answer is simple. Yes, yes he would. Even as Christians walk with Christ, we still have free will and people do mess up. If you’ve heard the old saying, “He paved the road with good intentions,” you quickly realize that sometimes power corrupts. Eventually, people are found out and whatever they are doing wrong is stopped. I didn’t say that the gift is taken away, just that the sin is stopped. Sometimes both happen, but spiritual gifting is entirely up to God. I’ll also talk about this in a later part in the series.

OK, so now that we know that spiritual gifts are from God to advance his kingdom, what are the gifts specifically? Glad you asked. There are five primary texts that discuss spiritual gifts in the Bible. We will take a look at three of these in this segment and break them down.

Let’s begin with the first mention of spiritual gifts in the New Testament, in Romans 12. Starting in verse 4, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 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. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 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.”

Verse 4 tells us that we don’t all have the same function. If all of us had the gift of teaching, there would be no listeners. If all of us had the gift of administration (or leadership), everyone would want to be the top person and there would be no serving. That would leave a lot of us waiting to be served. You get the idea. If all of us did the same thing, other things wouldn’t get done. God’s kingdom wouldn’t advance very far in the entire scheme.

Verse 5 talks about the idea that the gifts are given based on the amount of grace we have and that we will use it in proportion to our faith. I’ll discuss this further after the next set of scripture.

In verses 6-8, we are given the first set of examples. The gifts talked about here are prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading and mercy. One note to make here is that as Paul talks about these gifts is stating that if you have this gift, use it and do it with a positive attitude. I realize it’s not always easy to be cheery. God gives us many examples in scripture of people who weren’t happy about using their gifts.

I’ll give one example. Jonah was to go and preach to the people of Nineveh and to persuade them to repent. Jonah didn’t want to do this. Why? First, the Ninevites were not nice people. They would take over territories, keep the women as sex slaves, kill the men and place their heads on the walls of the city to show them as trophies and they would take the children and toss them off the wall to watch them splat on the ground. Not most people’s idea of a good time. Jonah tried to run. He ended up in the belly of a whale. The whale kept him for three days to adjust his attitude, then spit him out in the direction of Nineveh. Jonah went and did as he was told. The Ninevites repented. God healed and saved the people. While waiting for God to bring down fire and brimstone, Jonah took a seat outside the city on a hill and waited for the festivities. After God relented, Jonah was upset. Upset might be mild for what Jonah felt. Jonah used the gift God gave him to preach Nineveh to repentance, but he definitely wasn’t happy about it.

The next set of verses to discuss spiritual gifts is 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. In verse 1, Paul tells the Corinthians that he doesn’t want them to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. He is explaining spiritual gifts to the people for the same reason God placed this series on my heart for you. God wants you to be wise about the gifts He has for us. In verses 4-6, Paul reminds us that even though the gifts are different, they all come from the same place, God. Verse 7 explains to us that the gifts are given for the greater good (of God’s kingdom). Verses 8-10 give us another list. Notice that the gifts are not the same as in Romans. Here they are word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. We come to realize that Paul gives us examples in each list, but no list is all inclusive. No list given in scripture tells us that x, y, and z are the gifts and that is it.

Paul continues to discuss spiritual gifts throughout the remainder of 1 Corinthians 12. Verses 12-25 are a more elaborate explanation of Romans 12:5. This is the explanation I promised earlier.

He asks us in verses 15-16, “If the foot should say, ‘I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” Let’s be honest though. How many people in the church today would rather have what they would deem “the cooler gifts?” What is cool to have is different to each person. If I decided that I don’t want to teach anymore and want to do what I think is cool, sing in worship like my friend Eric Hagen. Eric has an awesome voice, great stage presence, dresses well (well, that might be helped by his wife, Jen), and knows how to help an audience gain the most from their worship. I have decent stage presence as a speaker, but I do not have the gifting to sing worship for our church every Sunday. I like to sing, but in reality, we’re all better off that I am singing to an audience of One down in the congregation. He’s gifted to sing, I’m gifted to write and the Christian is better off for it!

In verses 18-20, we are told that God has arranged us as He wants us, asks us where we would be if all of us were the same (as explained earlier), and that many parts make up the body. If you need support for these verses, look no further than Hebrews 10:24-25. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Revival may begin with us, but it isn’t meant to stay as a one man show. We need each other.

Verses 21 tells us that we can’t disregard a part of the body. If we were missing part of our body, it wouldn’t look right. We can’t tell our hand to leave, it’s attached. But we do that all the time to people in the church. As the church, we pick and choose which gifts are right for us and if anyone says or does something slightly strange or what would be deemed politically incorrect, we almost attempt to run them out of town, never mind the church. I’m not defending people who bring controversy to the mix, but I am saying that God tells us to test the spirit(s) to see if they are from God, not get them a ticket on the next Greyhound for the coast.

Verses 22-24 explain another important concept. In verse 22, Paul says that parts of the body that are weaker are indispensable. My mom has ankle trouble because she fell down some stairs over 20 years ago. You wouldn’t think those tiny little bones in the ankle can hobble a person so much, but there are days that area swells up and it is downright hard for her to walk. Sure, if those bones were healthy, she’d walk a lot faster, but if they weren’t there at all, she might be in a wheelchair. In verse 23, Paul tells us that these lesser parts need to be treated with special honor. My mom can wear these special socks for support for the region and it does help her walk better. They are expensive, but that’s the price of special honor.

Verse 24 is where Paul pulls the analogy together. The same is true of the church. Several years ago, I attended a community-wide service at Light of Life in Fairmont, West Virginia. I will always remember all the different speakers and how they shared that Christians need to unify as a whole, rather than be separate because of minor disagreements. At the end of the week, there was a special foot-washing service and the pastors were washing the volunteers’ feet because they had been of great service to the conference. These were the people behind the scenes that weren’t getting the kudos for carrying it off. However, these leaders in the community wanted the people in attendance to understand how important each person is to community’s churches.

The next two verses (25-26) give us the reason that the body of the church needs each other. Paul tells us that “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” The question we need to ask ourselves here is “Are we equally concerned with people?” Honestly, most of us would say no. I have best friends in the church. If one of them is hurt or feeling down, I try to be there for them. If I see others down that I don’t know well, sometimes I’m as far from being like the Samaritan as possible. I fail to be equal sometimes. Why? Because in a church of anything more than a group of friends, we look out and say, “Obviously this person has a friend that can help them.” Maybe not. That’s why people leave and the church never discovers it full potential. I know that sounds hard. It is. Being honest is tough sometimes, especially when I have to point the finger at myself too.

We finally come down to the third set of verses in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31. Verse 27 is basic to understand. If you’ve been saved at salvation, you are a part of the body of Christ. If you’ve asked Christ into your life, you are in the network. You may not have the Verizon gang following you around, but you have something better. You have a Holy Spirit that is there to guide you right there inside you.

Verse 28 gives us our third list. Paul lists apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helps, administration, and tongues. Again, Paul gives examples, not the entire list. Verses 29-30 ask us again if all people have one or all of them.

Verse 31 says something that causes a little division in denominations, eagerly desire the greater gifts. The reference continues in Chapter 14:1-4. First, 14:1, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire the gift of prophecy.” So Paul sees prophecy as a greater gift. In verse 3, he explains why. “But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” Essentially Paul is telling us that one of the greater gifts is to raise people in their faith.

Verses 2 and 4 tell us the other greater gift. In Verse 2, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” I’d never looked at tongues in that way. I think when most people think about tongues, they are thinking other world languages. If I am in France, I speak in French because God enables me to speak to the people. That’s not what Paul is saying here. Paul is telling us that tongues is so that we can talk to God in His language. Many divisions of the church would say this is unnecessary because God understands us because he’s God. They would also say that since the Holy Spirit is inside of us, that the Spirit understands our language best. I might or might not disagree, but Paul makes the point here of telling us that tongues are talking to God.

In verse 4, Paul explains that tongues is for our edification with God, but prophecy edifies the church as a whole. Prophecy is not an individual gift. Paul gives his opinion that he thinks that he’d rather have the prophecy gift UNLESS a person interprets the God-language tongues, so that the church may be edified in verse 5. Paul shows us a side of God here that there is a time and place for God to edify you and that there is also a time and place to edify the church. While God wants you blessed, it’s not all about you.

Paul closes Chapter 14 with one warning note. In verse 39, he tells us to be eager for prophecy and not to forbid tongues. But he tells us in verse 40, “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” As I said earlier, there are whole denominations that are uncomfortable with the gift of tongues. If tongues were spoken in their churches, people would come unglued. Why? Because that’s not how church is done to them. And they are right in that statement. The gift of tongues would cause disorder in those churches. In other churches, I’ve seen people pray for tongues, wanting that gift for various reasons. I’ll talk about that when we get to the section on tongues later this month.

That is a look at three of the five primary verses of spiritual gifts. We will conclude next time with the other two. For that, you can read Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4, if you are wanting to get ahead.

I love you guys!
Frank

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