Archive for the ‘#gifts’ Tag

Providing Structure   Leave a comment

When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to co-housing. Fairbanks, Alaska had a housing shortage and my parents were renting a larger sized house, so for about a year, two of their friends shared the house with them. We had seven children under one roof. The husbands were all in and out working at remote camps. Two of the women worked outside of the home and one stayed home and cooked and cleaned and child-wrangled.

Image result for image of an orderly church serviceRaising seven children can’t be an easy job. The enormity of this task was compounded by Alaska’s cold climate. She couldn’t just send us outside. So, she had to institute some rules, some of which I remember:

Don’t throw things in anger, look the parents directly in the eye when they’re speaking to you, obey when sent to do something and don’t stomp, whine or argue, use your indoor voice, don’t make disgusting or obscene noises in public (that was the boys), don’t interrupt others when they’re speaking, take your shoes off at the door, don’t touch the walls (rented house), turn off the lights if you’re the last one to leave it, don’t flip light switches on and off, on and off.

I remember those rules because the adults took them serviously and there were consequences for disobedience. The rules were there to turn chaos into order.

Paul was the spiritual parent of the Corinthian congregation and in many ways he is our spiritual parent as well. Like any good parent, Paul communicated his “house rules”. He insisted there must be order in the church. If chaos and confusion reign supreme, worship will not build up the body of Christ. While worship can be creative and free, it still needs to be orderly. In our subject passage, Paul shared two directives that will help us maintain order in the church.

Pursue order in worship

What should you do thenbrothers and sisters? When you come togethereach one has a songhas a lessonhas a revelationhas a tonguehas an interpretationLet all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. 1 Corinthians 14:26

Speaking across the centuries, Paul tells us how to have an orderly worship service. Addressing the Corinthians, he began with a general principle. The first expression in this verse, “What is the outcome then?” is one of Paul’s typical methods of summing up a discussion before moving on to the next section. Before he concluded this topic of spiritual gifts, he wanted to give a general perspective on their use in the worship setting. His counsel was for all of God’s people to come prepared to participate. When the house churches in Corinth met for worship, it was normal for everyone to come ready to contribute. Some would bring a song they had written, some a teaching, some a revelation and some a tongue or an interpretation. These five gifts are not exhaustive list of all spiritual gifts. Paul was merely saying that he longed for God’s people to come to church ready to build up the body.

Paul concluded with a command: “Let all things be done for edification.” The gifts that manifest themselves during worship must be done for the strengthening of the church. The corporate worship service is not a time for self-edification, showing off, or entertainment. It is a time for edification or strengthening of the body. Congregational worship is not about the individual, it is about the body.

Individual Christian must come to receive and to give. There can be no passive listeners. Is that your mentality when you come to church? Do you come to participate or to spectate? Historically, the church has usually grown the fastest in small, informal fellowships. These may be fledgling “church plants” or small groups within larger more established congregations. The church grows in health and size when people recognize their spiritual gifts and get involved. Do you know your gift? How are you presently using your gift in the body?

If someone speaks in a tongueit should be twoor at the most threeone after the otherand someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreterhe should be silent in the churchLet him speak to himself and to God. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28

Having recognized that the Corinthian church members were particularly dense to God’s guidance, Paul provided regulations on how tongues should manifest themselves in the corporate worship service, and those regulations have come down to us. Paul had rules for speaking in tongues in the congregation:

  • No more than two or three should speak in tongues in a given service
  • Only one person should speak in tongues at a time
  • No one should speak unless an interpreter is present and identified. A tongue speaker can control his gift. The interpreter can be the tongue speaker, but the interpreter must be identified before one speaks in a tongue or the speaker should hold silence, not just hope there is one. Of course, if there is no interpreter present, the tongues speaker doesn’t have to stifle his or her gift, he or she simply must use it silently.
  • There will be no audible tongues in public church meetings. This goes back to the problem of uninterpreted tongues and their ability to build up worship.
  • In small groups or adult fellowships, ask permission and consider who is present. If there is no interpretation, then there is no legitimate word from the Lord by tongues at that moment. This is not meant to stifle the use of gifts, but to instill order within corporate worship.

Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. And if someone sitting down receives a revelationthe person who is speaking should conclude. For you can all prophesy one after anotherso all can learn and be encouraged. Indeedthe spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace. 1 Corinthians 14:29-33

After providing regulations on tongues, Paul offered some restrictions on prophecy:

  • Limit prophesying to two or three speakers. The mind can only absorb so much at any given time.
  • The church is to weigh carefully what is said. Certainly, when prophecy is taken to include Spirit-filled preaching, it seems clear that the ordinary “layperson” is often in a better position to determine how well or accurately the preacher has communicated than are fellow-preachers, who are absorbed in the fine points of the theology or technique of the message. The word used here is diakrino, meaning “to evaluate carefully.” Sometimes this could take days. A prophecy might be controversial, and the elders may need some time of prayer to determine its validity. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:211 John 4:1).
  • One prophecy at a time. Prophesying is to be done in turn. If one person desires to speak, he or she should be given the floor. Paul made clear that there was to be no speaking over another person’s words. If this control is lost, a prophecy is not of God. I suspect Corinth had a problem with certain people monopolizing “prophecy time.” Paul insisted all may prophesy one by one (not in the same worship service, of course), it is only fair that everyone who has this gift should receive the opportunity to exercise it at one time or another. Paul declared that people can control themselves. A sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence is order and courtesy. The entire purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the entire congregation.

Paul concluded by sharing a crucial principle worth bearing in mind: “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” The procedures in the worship service shouldn’t be disruptive but orderly. Paul had already stated one reason for this principle — unbelievers will be turned off to the church if there is pandemonium through a free-for-all exercise of tongues. More importantly, orderly worship reflects the character of God.

Respect God-ordained authority

As in all the churches of the saints, the women 13  should be silent in the churchesfor they are not permitted to speak. 14  Ratherlet them be in submissionas in fact the law says. 14:35 If they want to find out about somethingthey should ask their husbands at homebecause it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

Paul provided a number of thoughts on how we can respect the authority that God has put in place.

What is the role of women in ministry? I wrote a study on that a while ago, so I’m not going to address it in detail here. I don’t think 14:34-35 is a blanket denial to women of a public ministry in the church. I go to a church where the music leader is a woman. I can read in Acts where women were deacons. In chapter 11, Paul clearly acknowledged that under certain situations a woman may pray or prophesy in public. So, what’s up with him writing that women are to keep silent in the churches — that they aren’t permitted to speak, but must subject themselves to the rules of men? He said if women desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home for it’s improper for a woman to speak in church. Paul indicated that this was common practice in the churches of the 1st century.

So, what’s up with him writing that women are to keep silent in the churches — that they aren’t permitted to speak, but must subject themselves to the rules of men? He said if women desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home for it’s improper for a woman to speak in church. Paul indicated that this was common practice in the churches of the 1st century.

So which is true – women can be deacons and leaders as seen in Acts, but they are to be silent and only ask questions at home?

Sometimes you have to get deep in the details. The Greek verb translated “to be silent” (sigao) doesn’t mean they can’t speak at all in the local church. The word has contextual limits. The restriction may be temporal or topical. In the former, someone is to be silent while someone else is speaking. In the latter, the one who is silent doesn’t speak in a certain manner or on a certain topic, but he or she can speak in other ways and on other issues. Thus, Paul was restricting speech designed to critique prophetic utterances, but that didn’t other forms of verbal participation. Paul forbid women to speak in church only in regard to the judgment or evaluation of prophetic utterances. Evidently, he believed that this entailed an exercise of authority restricted to men only.

Why? Again, you have to look at the Greek. I am not a Greek scholar, but I own a bunch of books written by Greek scholars.

The word “subject” was a military term describing the chain of command. Scripture uses it in reference to Jesus and is a universal truth for the church. All of God’s people are to practice Biblical submission. That’s not just women, that’s men, children, elders, pastors. It applies to all Christians.

In that context, Paul commanded women to respect the God-ordained authority of their husbands. What sort of situation might produce a challenge between the views of husbands and wives? Since both men and women could prophesy (see 11:4-5), it is entirely possible that a husband and wife might say different or even contradictory things, and this could lead to an argument in front of the rest of the church body. Or if when one prophet spoke and the church evaluated what was said (14: 29), once again a husband and wife could end up in an open, public disagreement as to the content of that prophecy. Paul considered it disgraceful to damage the witness of the church in the eyes of the culture around them.

14:36 Did the word of God begin with you, 16  or did it come to you alone?

If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual personhe should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 1 Corinthians 14:37-38

The Old Testament does not teach that women are to remain silent at all times in worship, but it does endorse male headship in the home and in worship, consistent with Paul’s teaching here and elsewhere. Man was created first, then the woman was created to be a helpmate for him. It was in that order, not the other way around. In a matter of authority, the woman’s authority over creation involves her own voluntary submission under the authority of male leadership.

Paul sought to humble the arrogant Corinthians with a short and not entirely sweet point. An imperative appears in each verse. Paul gave a stern warning: anyone who ignores the advice/command he had just given will not be recognized as a leader, not by the congregation, but by God, Who will ignore these individuals and accomplish His work without them.

Paul turned to his summation for this section. Again, we should desire prophecy and refuse to forbid tongues. However, tongues operate best in a small group context where believers know one another. Ideally, each member of the group knows the other members’ spiritual gifts. Hence, if you know someone has the gift of interpretation, there is freedom for you to speak in tongues. We need balance on this matter of speaking in tongues. Many Christians error in extremes: everyone speaks in tongues or no one speaks in tongues. The whole focus of this chapter, I believe, was to discourage the public use of tongues, but for a higher reason than just to control people.

So thenbrothers and sisters, be eager to prophesyand do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues. And do everything in a decent and orderly manner.

1 Corinthians 14:39-40

Paul’s final words in this section sum up the overarching concern for congregational worship. The word translated “order” is a military term for falling in rank. Paul only used this word in one other context and it is translated “stability or firmness.” When the body of Christ functions the way it should, there will be a sense of stability that will encourage people to come back or more. We should strive for order within the churches, seeking to edify the whole congregation while not sliding into the “frozen chosen” stance where we seem not to allow God to work at all.

If people experience God’s presence in worship, they will come back, they will tell their friends, they will long for it. It’s all here—conviction of sin, a dissection of the heart, and awareness of God’s presence. God wants His church to come together and experience all that He has for her. Will you be a part of all that God wants to do?

 

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A More Excellent Way   Leave a comment

A friend tells me that he thinks 1 Corinthians 13 may be the most misunderstood chapter in the Bible, because people don’t read it in context. It is sandwiched between Chapter 12 and Chapter 14, which both discuss spiritual gifts within the church. If that’s the gem setting, it casts the message of the chapter in a different light. Because I can’t cover three chapters in one post, I had to break it up, but you can read it for yourself in one go.

And now I will show you a way that is beyond comparison. (1Corinthians 12:31b)

The Way of Love

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angelsbut I do not have loveI am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophesy, and know all mysteries and all knowledgeand if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have loveI am nothing. If I give away everything I ownand if I give over my body in order to boastbut do not have loveI receive no benefit.

Love is patientlove is kindit is not enviousLove does not bragit is not puffed up. It is not rudeit is not self-servingit is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injusticebut rejoices in the truth. It bears all thingsbelieves all thingshopes all thingsendures all things.

Love never endsBut if there are propheciesthey will be set asideif there are tonguesthey will ceaseif there is knowledgeit will be set aside. For we know in partand we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comesthe partial will be set aside. When I was a childI talked like a child, I thought like a childI reasoned like a childBut when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. For now we see in a mirror indirectlybut then we will see face to faceNow I know in partbut then I will know fullyjust as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faithhopeand loveBut the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

Introduction

Image result for image of christian loveI find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe the Corinthians deliberately chose to abandon Christian love. I believe they were so caught up in certain spiritual gifts that they had unconsciously abandoned true love. They were something like Samson after Delilah cut his hair. Samson leapt to his feet, fully expecting to be able to handle the Philistines, not knowing that God’s power had departed (see Judges 16:18-21). The Corinthian church was like the church at Ephesus which had lost its first love (Revelation 2:1-7).

Why is love important? Why do Christians need to study it more intently?

  • The whole Old Testament Law is summed up by the one word, “love” (see Leviticus 19:17-18Matthew 19:19).
  • Love sums up the Christian’s responsibilities in the New Testament (Romans 13:9).
  • Love is the capstone, the crowning virtue, the consummation of all other virtues (Galatians 5:22-232 Peter 1:5-7Colossians 3:12-14).
  • Love is the goal of Paul’s instruction (1 Timothy 1:5).
  • Love is the distinguishing mark of the true Christian (John 13:35).
  • Without love, the value of spiritual gifts is greatly diminished (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).
  • Love is greater than any of the spiritual gifts and is even greater than faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13).
  • Love endures suffering under persecution, and Christians will be persecuted (Matthew 24:102 Timothy 3:12).
  • Love is easily lost, without one’s even being aware of it (Revelation 2:1-7).
  • Love is misunderstood and distorted by the unbelieving world.
  • Love is vitally important to Christians, for it should govern our relationships with other Christians, especially those with whom we strongly disagree.

So why did Paul decide to address love right in the middle of an ongoing discussion of spiritual gifts? I think it was because the church at Corinth greatly resembled the churches of today. In the Corinthian church of Paul’s day, and in the evangelical church of our own day, strong polarization exists between charismatic Christians and non-charismatic Christians. As the charismatic movement has grown, it has become more diversified, thereby rendering many generalizations about it reductionistic, but its fair to say both charismatics and non-charismatics often cherish neat stereotypes of the other party.

As judged by the charismatics, non-charismatics tend to be stodgy traditionalists who do not really believe the Bible and who are not really hungry for the Lord. They are afraid of profound spiritual experience, too proud to give themselves wholeheartedly to God, more concerned for ritual than for reality, and more in love with propositional truth than with the truth incarnate. They are better at writing theological tomes than at evangelism; they are defeatist in outlook, defensive in stance, dull in worship, and devoid of the Spirit’s power in their personal experience.

The non-charismatics themselves, of course, tend to see things a little differently. The charismatics, they think, have succumbed to the modern love of ‘experience,’ even at the expense of truth. Charismatics are thought to be profoundly unBiblical, especially when they elevate their experience of tongues to the level of a theological and spiritual shibboleth. If they are growing, no small part of their strength can be ascribed to their raw triumphalism, their populist elitism, their promise of short cuts to holiness and power. They are better at splitting churches and stealing sheep than they are at evangelism, more accomplished in spiritual one-upmanship before other believers than in faithful, humble service. They are imperialistic in outlook (only they have the ‘full gospel’), abrasive in stance, uncontrolled in worship, and devoid of any real grasp of the Bible that goes beyond mere proof-texting.

Of course, both sides concede that the caricatures I have drawn admit notable exceptions; but the profound suspicions on both sides make genuine dialogue extremely difficult. This is especially painful, indeed embarrassing, in the light of the commitment made by most believers on both sides to the Bible’s authority. (D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), pp. 11-12.)

But, while all Christians now share in the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3; compare 4:5; 2:14-22; 1 Corinthians 12:13), we do not all share in the “unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). This is because we only “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12). We Christians disagree, in part at least, because our knowledge is partial and incomplete. We don’t know what we don’t know and we tend to disagree over those things we do not fully know, even though we may believe we do know. Love is the means God provided for us to live in harmony and unity, even though there is a diversity of doctrine in matters which are not fundamental. Paul’s instructions on love then become absolutely vital to our Christian walk and unity.

What is distinctive about Christian love? It’s important to answer that question before looking further at Chapter 13. We overuse that word “love” in the modern world so that the meaning of the word is sort of fluid. And, yes, there are different Greek words for our single English word love and they all have different nuances of meaning, but I’m not going to get into that in this study. Paul provided us with a definition of Christian love in the writing of Chapter 13.

He didn’t instruct us about the importance of distinguishing between Greek words for love. He began in verses 1-3 by showing that spiritual gifts have only minimal value, unless they are exercised in love. In verses 4-7, Paul didn’t attempt to give us a very technical definition of love; instead, he described love in a way which makes it very clear what Biblical love looks like. His description makes it glaringly evident that the Corinthians had indeed lost their first love, even more quickly than the Ephesian saints (compare Revelation 2:1-7). If verses 4-7 contrast the behavior of true love with the conduct of the Corinthians, verses 8-13 contrast love with all spiritual gifts, showing that while all of the spiritual gifts are temporary, Christian love is eternal, outlasting even faith and hope. If we measure the value of something by how long it lasts, love comes out on top. Love is the “better way” (see 12:31) beyond all comparison.

I’m going to break the study up into segments over the next few weeks, but before doing that, I want to make a few observations.  Paul took what are considered to be the greatest gifts anyone could possess, starting with tongues (the “ultimate gift” for the Corinthians and many charismatics today), and granted that each could be exercised to the fullest possible extent. Even then, these spiritual gifts would be of limited value unless exercised out of a heart of love.

Tongues is the ability to speak in unlearned earthly languages as seen in Acts 2. Or is it? If you go back to that Biblical passage (Acts 2) and read it without a preconception, you quickly realize that the miracle was not that the disciples spoke in tongues, but that the hearers understood what they were saying in their own language. Peter could not have preached in more than one language. It would be a physical impossibility to speak in more than one language at the same time. Yet, hearers from all over the Mediterranean understood what he said.  So, while the disciples did speak in tongues that day, it may not be the sort of tongues we are familiar with today. And, even if it were, Paul declared, if this were done apart from love, it would not be profitable to men: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Can you imagine listening to a cymbal or a gong hour after hour? I actually can because my nephew played the drums. Babysitting him was hell. Hour after agonizing hour of drums pounding away. Some instruments are not good alone. Rather than being enjoyable, they can be irritating. A tongues speaker without love could speak long and loud, enraptured by the sound of his own voice, but apart from interpretation, there would be no value to those who hear or even to the speaker (see 14:14-17). Exercised in love, and in accordance with the restrictions set down by Paul, tongues could be edifying. But without love, tongues would be irritating.

How do I know? I have worshiped with charismatics on-and-off throughout my Christian walk. In very few groups is any interpretation offered. In one prayer meeting a woman erupted into an ecstatic utterance that sounded a great deal like an old-style coffee percolator. I got nothing spiritual out of that meeting, though occasionally I have been in groups where interpretation occurred and it was very uplifting.

Any gift exercised primarily for the benefit of the one who is gifted is a prostitution of that gift, and the end result of that kind of “ministry” is not edification but exasperation. Love seeks to serve others to their benefit and at the sacrifice of the one who serves in love. This kind of ministry blesses others. Self-serving, self-promoting ministry is a pain to others, something to be endured at best.

The Corinthians wrongly measured their own significance by the gifts they possessed. Were this false assumption granted even for a moment, without love, the greatest gift, exercised to the fullest measure, really makes the exerciser a nobody.

Luke 7:36-50 illustrates this truth. There, everybody who was considered important seems to have gathered at the dinner Jesus attended at the home of Simon the Pharisee. A woman regarded as a “nobody” came, uninvited, and washed the feet of our Lord. Simon the Pharisee took note and, in his heart, thought less of Jesus because He allowed this woman to touch him. He thought, “If Jesus knew who she was and what a sinner she was, He would have nothing to do with her.” But Jesus turned the tables. This woman went away forgiven and saved. She who was a “nobody” was a “somebody” in the kingdom of God, simply because she loved her Lord. The one who was least, but loved, was the greatest. Those who were the greatest, without love, were the least.

Look at Jonah, the prophet. He enjoyed the kind of “success” of which the prophet Elijah could only dream. Elijah wanted to convert the nation Israel. He “failed” because this was not God’s purpose for him. So, too, Isaiah “failed” by secular standards of success. But when Jonah preached, the entire city of Nineveh repented. It was a success Jonah did not want. It was a success that made Jonah angry with God. Who could leave the Book of Jonah liking this loveless prophet? He was nothing because he lacked love.

In addition to the gift of prophecy, Paul wrote of the gift of faith. Faith, exercised to the ultimate measure of success, would be a faith that could not only move mountains but remove them (compare Matthew 17:20; 21:21). If one had this kind of faith, yet lacked love, he would be a nobody.

If I possess the greatest of gifts and exercise them to the fullest degree, yet without love, I am nobody. I am nothing. These words must have struck the Corinthians with considerable force.

In verse 3, Paul speaks of gifts in terms of the greatest imaginable sacrifice. “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” Paul spoke of great personal sacrifice that would gain one favor and approval by his peers (compare Matthew 6:2-4). The ultimate sacrifice is made, either by giving up all of one’s possessions for the sake of the poor, or by the giving up of one’s life as a martyr. Because love is sacrificial (see Ephesians 5:25), some might be tempted to conclude that “great sacrifice” (giving up all one’s possessions or one’s life) was proof of great love.

Paul disagreed. People give away their possessions for any number of reasons, and many of those reasons can be self-serving rather than sacrificial. So what if I bequeath all my wealth to a charitable organization upon my death. I can’t take my money with me anyway. Even if I deprive my children of any inheritance, it really doesn’t mean I’m generous. I’m dead. The bequest doesn’t affect my life. People have set themselves on fire for causes they believe in and I’ve heard pundits ascribe that action to a love motive. I’m not confinced. Ultimate sacrifices can be made apart from love, and if they are loveless, they are of no eternal benefit to the one making the sacrifice.

Benefits and blessings may occur through the loveless exercise of spiritual gifts, but these benefits are greatly reduced when love is lacking. The Corinthians were obsessed with the value of spiritual gifts, equating the social status of the gift with the significance of the one who possesses it. Paul sought to elevate love, the fruit of the Spirit, above the gifts of the Spirit.

Body Language   Leave a comment

For just as the body is one and yet has many membersand all the members of the body – though many – are one bodyso too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one bodyWhether Jews or Greeks or slaves or freewe were all made to drink of the one Spirit. For in fact the body is not a single memberbut many.  If the foot says“Since I am not a handI am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says“Since I am not an eyeI am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that.  (1Corinthians 12:12-16)

 

Related imageHave you ever tried to go a day without using your non-dominate hand? Most of us who are right handed don’t use our left hands for much requiring dexterity, but I think if we didn’t have use of it, we’d be at a serious disadvantage to all the people with two hands.

Now, imagine if you lost that hand entirely. You couldn’t get it back. Yeah. Most of us, if we had a choice, would not choose to cut off a limb, and if we had a functioning limb, we wouldn’t choose not to use it … except as some weird writer exercise.

The Corinthian Christians don’t seem to have seen it this way. In a spiritual sense, they effectively cut off every member of the body except those who had a certain kind of gift and ministry. The Corinthians didn’t esteem all of the spiritual gifts, but seemed fixated upon only one or a few gifts, while disdaining the rest. As a result, those who didn’t possess the prize gift(s) concluded they had nothing to contribute to the church body. Others who did possess the highly regarded gift(s) felt smugly independent of the rest of the body.

Paul used the term “body” nearly 20 times in Chapter 12. He indicated the church is Christ’s body, the image of which should be illustrative of the nature and function of the church. One of the serious problems facing the Corinthian church was disunity. Paul didn’t hesitate to bring up the problem of factions at the outset of the letter (1:10). These divisions were certainly related to allegiances to certain leaders (1:12, etc.), but they may are also tied to what we might call strengths and weaknesses (1:18-31). Divisions were so intense they had even resulted in lawsuits brought before secular courts (6:1). The Corinthian Christian who thought he was wise and knew so much was the one who believed he was free to participate in heathen idol worship ceremonies without any concern that his doing so might cause another saint to stumble (8:1-13).

Paul wanted the Corinthians to stop thinking and acting like their behavior didn’t affect anyone else and to begin to act with a sense of corporate identity and responsibility. In athletic terms, Paul wanted the Corinthians to begin to think and behave like a team, rather than like a bunch of spiritual “Lone Rangers”. Paul introduced the imagery of the body to correct the Corinthians’ misconceptions concerning spiritual gifts.

Many images are employed for the people of God … a priesthood, a race, a nation, and a temple (see 1 Peter 2:4-9Ephesians 2:11-22). God’s people are referred to as a vine or a vineyard, which is to produce fruit (Isaiah 5John 15, etc.). The people of God are described as the bride, or wife, of God (see Isaiah 62:5Jeremiah 2:32-35; Hosea; Revelation 21:2, 9; 22:17). We are also likened to a flock of sheep, of which God is the Shepherd (see Psalm 23John 10; 21:15-17), and elders are under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Only the Paul referred to the church as a body. I’m going to attribute it to his traveling companion Luke, a physician. The church of Jesus Christ is His body. Every believer, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, is joined to the body of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (verse 13). There is one body into which every saint is baptized. There is but one people of God. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22).

The imagery of the church as the body of Christ underscores the unity of all believers (Ephesians 4:3-6). It shows how evil and counter-productive the divisions in the Corinthian church were. My identity is found in Christ, because I am a part of His body. My righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. His death is mine; His resurrection and new life, mine (see Romans 6:1-11). As a Christian, I cannot think of myself only as an individual. I must perceive myself as a part of the church … as a part of Christ’s body. To identify with Christ by faith is also to identify with His body, the church. No wonder Paul so quickly joins himself to fellow-believers (see Acts 9:19, 26). As a wife merges her identity with her husband, becoming one flesh, so the believer merges his or her identity with the body of Christ, the church. Those who fail to identify themselves with the body of Christ are disobedient in their refusal (see Hebrews 10:25).

Ah, but while we are one body, we have many functions. The Corinthian church was blessed with the full spectrum of spiritual gifts (see 1:4-7). Yet, in spite of this very broad range of gifts granted to this church, only a few select gifts were valued. Carrying forward with the metaphor of the body, if the Corinthian church had its way, the entire body would be only one organ.

If the whole body were an eyewhat part would do the hearing? If the whole were an earwhat part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decidedIf they were all the same memberwhere would the body be? So now there are many membersbut one body. The eye cannot say to the hand“I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot“I do not need you.” On the contrarythose members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honorand our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, (1Corinthians 12:17-23) 

Repeatedly, Paul emphasized that the body is one, but the members are many (see verses 12, 13, 14, 18, 20, 27). Christian unity does not mean uniformity. We’re not factory made. While there is only one body of Christ, there are many different members, many different limbs and organs, each of which has a unique role to play in the body. Paul emphasized that each member has a role that is essential to the health and ministry of the body, the church.

As a member of the church, the body of Christ, we find we are a part of a much greater whole—we belong to an organism whose “head” is Christ and whose function is to represent Christ to a fallen world. As a member of the universal church, we also find our true identity as an individual. The body imagery illustrates the individuality of every Christian. Each believer is, in body terms, an individual organ or member. Each believer is uniquely gifted with a blending of spiritual gifts and is given a particular function within the body. No two saints have the same place in the body. Thus, each believer is unique. In one sense, the Christian is inseparably joined to the whole body, and in another, each believer is absolutely unique in the body. We have our identity with Christ’s body and in His body.

Notice how this union with Christ’s body shaped Paul’s view of his own ministry, particularly of his sufferings:

but our presentable members do not need this. InsteadGod has blended together the bodygiving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the bodybut the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member sufferseveryone suffers with it. If a member is honoredall rejoice with it. (1Corinthians 12:24-26)

Paul saw himself as inseparably joined to the body of Christ. He viewed his ministry as Christ’s ministry. He viewed his sufferings for Christ as Christ’s sufferings. He saw his message as that of Christ and the power by which he ministered as His power, manifested through him. Paul summed up this matter in his own words to the Philippians:

For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:19-21).

Most of the Corinthian Christians wanted to be something they were not. The “foot” wanted to be a “hand” (12:15); the “ear” wished it were an “eye” (12:16). The matter of spiritual gifts and placement in the body of Christ is not something we control. Our spiritual gifts, our place of service in the body, and the results of our ministry are all divinely determined (12:4-6).

When we are discontent with the gift(s) God has given us, our protest is against the Holy Spirit of God, the sovereign Giver of gifts. To question either the Spirit’s goodness, or His infinite wisdom in giving us our gifts, is like my foot deciding it will no longer listen to my brain. While biologically possible, it’s not to my foot’s benefit. The Holy Spirit knows what the whole body of Christ needs far better than we do.

Spiritual gifts are “graces” sovereignly bestowed upon believers. Spiritual gifts, like salvation, are not a matter of merit. Gifts are not earned; they are sovereignly graced upon us. Because of this, those who take pride in their gifts reveal their own foolishness and ignorance (see 1 Corinthians 4:7).

Those who mistake gifts as an evidence of spirituality or of status are wrong, and those who mistake their gift as a symbol of insignificance are just as wrong in that they demean the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

This sovereign gracing is amply evidenced in the Book of Acts. Where are gifts ever given as a reward for service? Where are particular gifts granted because men sought them? In Acts 2Acts 8Acts 10, and Acts 19, the baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not sought; they came as a surprise to those who are granted them. I think that because the Corinthians highly valued a very few gifts and disdained the rest, these prized gifts were sought and perhaps even falsely pretended. I see Christians today trying desperately to obtain certain gifts, and I have to ask why. If they are sovereignly bestowed, why must we strive to get them?

A New Set of Standards

Now you are Christ’s bodyand each of you is a member of it. And God has placed in the church first apostlessecond prophetsthird teachersthen miraclesgifts of healinghelpsgifts of leadershipdifferent kinds of tongues. Not all are apostlesare they? Not all are prophetsare they? Not all are teachersare they? Not all perform miraclesdo they? Not all have gifts of healingdo they? Not all speak in tonguesdo they? Not all interpretdo they? But you should be eager for the greater giftsAnd now I will show you a way that is beyond comparison. (1Corinthians 12:27-31)

There’s a real surprise of our text! The imagery of the body amazingly illustrates that the most visible, most attractive parts of the body are not the most important. I have a friend whose son was born with a birth defect … he lacked a rectum. While you can live without a hand, you can’t live without the functions involved with rectum. The “child” is now an adult and living an active life, but it took dozens of surgeries to correct his problem and every one of those surgeries were necessary for him to live. Conversely, I have cousins who were born deaf. While that complicates their lives, they have never been in fear of death from their disability. Getting a cochlear implant is a voluntary procedure. Similarly, the more attractive gifts of singing and preaching get all the attention in churches, but most churches would find it difficult to function without the janitor and the treasurer. While often we think these people are not really gifted, the gifts of administration and helps are found in the New Testament listened right along with preaching and prophesying (but not singing, which might give you some pause).

Paul rebuked these status-seeking saints at Corinth when he turned their value system upside-down. The body illustrates what he is teaching. Those members of the body which are of the least importance are those to which we devote the most attention and effort. We paint our toenails, put rings on our ears, and noses! We put rings and jewelry on our fingers. Truthfully, we can live without ears (or hearing), eyes (or seeing), fingers, hands, legs, toes. The least needed members of our body are the ones which are most visible and to which the most “glory” is given. Yet, they are the lesser gifts. Those gifts which are most visible, most vocal, most glorified in the Corinthian church were, in reality, the least important gifts. The Corinthians had been storing up sand in their safety deposit boxes and using gold for stepping stones.

The most important gifts, like the most important organs, are those which are not visible or spectacular, those of which we are least conscious. You cannot see my spleen, my kidneys, my liver, or my heart, but I cannot live without them. They do not get a lot of attention, but they are the most vital members of my body, whether others value them or not.

The concept of the church as the body of Christ should change our way of thinking of ourselves and of the church.

Within the body of Christ, we are far too individualistic in our thinking. We are far too competitive in our thinking and actions, so that the advance or success of others is viewed as a personal setback for us. We must begin to think cooperatively, realizing that the success of other saints is our victory, and, more importantly, our Lord’s victory. We need to strive not only for our own growth in Christ, but for the corporate and collective growth of the entire church (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

The concept of the church as the body of Christ should cause us to think in terms of the local church, but also beyond the local church.

The “church” is the body of Christ, but in the New Testament the “church” is often bigger than just one local church. Paul spoke of “the church” as those believers in a certain political or geographical setting (e.g., the seven “churches” of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3). In contemporary terms, there are many local churches in towns across America, but we might also think in terms of the collective of several churches that is in a particular town, the entire body of believers in a town. We speak of the church “in America” or “in Russia”. In prison ministry, we speak of the church “behind the walls.”

Just as individual believers think and act competitively, so local churches can fall into the same error. There should be ways in which we, as individual believers and as a local churches, express our identification with the larger “church.” Southern/Great Commission Baptists express this through our Cooperative Program, but all too often, even that fails to expand our minds beyond the four walls of our own congregation. We fixate on a handful of people killed in a mass shooting in some American city, but we ignore the deadly virus killing hundreds of thousands in Africa, for example. There isn’t the same degree of concern or involvement, yet African Christians are part of the body of Christ. They depend upon us, as we depend upon them. We should avoid isolationism in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

While there is a sense in which the body is to support and provide for the needs of each individual member, let us never forget that this is not the primary purpose of the church. 

Too many people attend church to have their “needs met.” Too many people leave churches, complaining that the church has not met their needs. The church is to build up itself in love, but the goal of the church is to live out the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, to His glory. We, the church, are the body of Christ. This means we, as the church, are to carry on His ministry in the world today. The church ministers to itself, to build itself up so that it may carry out its mission, and that mission is living out Christ in a fallen world. We have become so preoccupied with the church’s ministry to us as individuals that we have failed to concentrate on the church’s mission to the world, and our obligation to sacrifice ourselves in ministry to and through the church to the world. The question is not, “What is the church doing for me?” The question should be, “What can I contribute to the church to participate in its fulfillment of its mission and calling?“

Christians who are a part of the church, the body of Christ, need to understand that while differences may be the basis for division and strife in the world, these differences are by divine design and are intended to enhance our dependence upon one another, and thus to illustrate true Christian unity.

Unity is not evidenced by uniformity but by harmony and interdependence as each individual saint carries out his or her unique function in the body. That which results in division in the fallen world in which we live should be the occasion for unity and harmony in the church. We should not all want to look alike or function alike, but each should function as God has made him or her, so that the body is benefited by our presence and ministry. As God made Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female, one in Christ, we need to demonstrate this unity in diversity, because we are one body.

The concept of the church as a body calls into question one of the important operating principles of the modern day “church growth movement.” 

For most of my Christian life, I have attended churches that lacked homogeneity, but that is not the standard practice of American churches. In fact, homogeneous groupings are considered “best practices.” The principle goes something like this:

  • Birds of a feather flock together.
  • People are more comfortable around “their kind.”
  • There’s statistical evidence that the churches which are growing the fastest are those whose membership is largely of the same racial, social, and economic class.

The churches of today are encouraged to appeal to, or target, a particular segment of society. Rather than apologize for this, they are assured they will enjoy the fruits of success. I think that flies in the face of the imagery of the church as the body of Christ. I think it’s an affront to the gospel itself. We shouldn’t seek to present a look-alike face to the world. That condemns us to our own cultural values and way of thinking. We should strive to be different, as God intended, with each church member contributing our unique gifts and ministries which He has given, to the edification of the church and to the glory of God.

Gifted versus Talented   Leave a comment

If you’ve ever been involved in church events, you are familiar with the jockeying for positions of leadership and power. Yeah, you know what I mean. The average pewsitter may think pastors and Christian leaders are so spiritual they would never compete with one another for position and power, but anyone who has been in church leadership knows better. Christians remain humans and so we see that part of our human nature in the church. Jesus called it out in the scribes and Pharisees, but He also saw it among His disciples.

Image result for image of spiritual giftsThe Corinthian Christians were no different. They sought status and judged themselves and others on the basis of their spiritual gifts. We know from the early chapters of First Corinthians that divisions existed in the church. The Corinthians divided over different leaders, and probably the leaders who seemed to possess the most highly regarded gifts were the ones with the largest followings. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to clarify the relationship between spiritual gifts and true spirituality. The Corinthian church was highly gifted. Paul said they did not lack any of the gifts (1:7). Yet these saints were far from spiritual. Paul informed them that they were so fleshly he was hindered from teaching them all they need to know (3:1-3). 1Corinthians 12-15 corrects many misconceptions regarding spiritual gifts and their relationship to spirituality. These words were needed in Paul’s day as well as in our own. Nearly every church, denomination, and Christian organization has its own spiritual “pecking order” regarding spiritual gifts and spirituality. Each of us needs to hear what Paul has to say on this subject. Let us study then with open hearts and minds, not to confirm what we already believe, but for correction in those areas where we may be uninformed or disobedient.

Let’s start by defining “spiritual gift”. A spiritual gift is a supernatural ability sovereignly bestowed upon every Christian by the Holy Spirit, enabling him or her to carry out their divinely assigned function as a member of Christ’s body, the church. Definition in a nutshell:

a spiritual gift is the supernatural ability to carry out the work of Christ through His church.

Spiritual gifts are dealt with in more than one New Testament passage:

Romans 12:3-8

Paul introduced the subject of spiritual gifts immediately after he called upon every Christian to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, the reasonable service of worship of every Christian (12:1-2). At Romans 12, Paul began to apply the doctrinal truths he had set down in the preceding 11 chapters. Spiritual gifts are the divine enablement which empower the Christian to worship God through serving Him as a part of the church, the body of Christ. The gifts enumerated in verses 6-8 are largely the “bread and butter” gifts, those gifts necessary for the on-going ministry of the church. Though addressing the Christians at Rome, Paul exhorts every Christian to exercise their spiritual gift, to do what God has equipped them to do. He also indicates the dangers which accompany each of several gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10

Paul seems to have focused on the more unusual spiritual gifts. These gifts probably represent those gifts most highly valued by the Corinthian saints.

1 Corinthians 12:28-30

Paul provided us with another list of spiritual gifts, not identical with the list given in verses 8-10. Apostles, prophets, and teachers seem to emphasize a particular function or office in the church, while there are the more unusual gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues, miracles, and healings named as well. In verses 8-10, Paul named gifts which some have, while in verses 28-30 Paul stressed that while some may possess a particular gift, not everyone does, nor should they be expected to possess it. Each gift listed is a possibility for all and a reality for some.

Ephesians 4:11

Paul again wrote about spiritual gifts. This short list of gifts was given in the midst of Paul’s exhortation for Christians to walk their talk, to practice their position and possessions in Christ (4:1). In the context, Paul emphasized Christian unity and its corollary, humility. The gifts of “apostles,” “prophets,” and “evangelists” refer to offices or functions which could be for the benefit of the church at large and are not restricted to a particular local church.

1 Peter 4:10-11

Peter spoke of the gifts in two major categories, those which are speaking gifts and those which are serving gifts. Peter emphasized the need for all who exercise their spiritual gifts to do so by divine enablement and not in the power of the flesh. Those who speak are to speak as though their words are the utterances of God. Their words should be God’s words and not their own. Those who serve should serve in the strength which God supplies. It is very easy to serve in the strength of the flesh and not by the power of the Spirit. If spiritual gifts are to produce spiritual fruit, they must be functioning by means of God’s power and not our own strength. Spiritual gifts, whether speaking or serving gifts, are a stewardship. We should employ these gifts as if they belong to God, because He entrusted them to us to be used for His glory, and for the advancement of His kingdom. Peter’s epistles were written in the context of suffering persecution for the sake of Christ. Peter urged his readers to live out Christ’s life and His sufferings (1 Peter 2:18-25). This is done, then and now, in part, as we exercise those spiritual gifts He has given us through His power and to His glory.

These are the only texts which actually list certain spiritual gifts. There are other texts (e.g., Acts 4:36) which refer to certain gifts individually. Paul’s words to Timothy are instructive to us on this matter of spiritual gifts.

2 Timothy

Image result for image of spiritual giftsPaul had at least three lessons for Timothy and for us. First, in 2 Timothy 1:6, we learn that spiritual gifts must be developed and maintained. Since spiritual gifts are sovereignly given, we are responsible to employ them in the most beneficial and efficient way. Second, in 2 Timothy 2:2, we see that spiritual gifts are to be reproduced. Timothy was to commit himself to faithful men who would also be able to teach others. Third, spiritual gifts are not an excuse to sidestep our responsibilities in areas where we are not gifted. In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul instructed Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” Some might argue that Timothy was an evangelist. Perhaps so, but it seems that teaching was his primary gift. If Timothy had been a little slack in employing his spiritual gifts (1:6), he may have been slack in other areas which were not the area of his gifts and strengths. Nevertheless, evangelism was important and necessary, even if it was not his gift.

Our brief survey of the New Testament teaching on spiritual gifts allows us to make some observations regarding spiritual gifts. No list of the spiritual gifts includes all the gifts mentioned in the New Testament. Each list of gifts includes some of the gifts mentioned elsewhere but has its own unique elements. There are significant differences in the way gifts are viewed, even by the same writer. In every listing of the spiritual gifts where tongues is included, it is listed last. I’m not sure that is coincidence. I think it might be an important signal to those who think tongues are the most important gift. Finally, it seems the spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament are not a complete list but only a partial listing.

Common Characteristics of the Spiritual Gifts

If there may be other spiritual gifts than those specifically identified in Scripture, how would we know them? What sets a spiritual gift apart?

(1) Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12).

These abilities aren’t not native within us; they are transmitted to us. I know some speak of a close relationship between natural abilities and spiritual gifts, but I am unconvinced by their arguments. Spiritual gifts are given to us to enable us to do what we cannot do in and of ourselves. We hear people speak of how this or that person could do so much for the Lord if they were saved, as if they think the natural abilities of men are simply baptized into one’s spiritual ministry. I see the human “strengths” of spiritual men like Peter and Paul who were set aside (perhaps even crucified) so that they ministered out of their weaknesses rather than out of their strengths (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-13).

(2) Spiritual gifts are divine enablement for service to and through the body of Christ.

Spiritual gifts are not given primarily for our own edification but for the edification of the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts are divinely bestowed strengths through which we may minister to the weaknesses (and needs) of others.

(3) Spiritual gifts produce spiritual results.

Spiritual gifts may be exercised through rather normal and mundane activities, but they differ from natural abilities in that they produce spiritual fruit. Spiritual gifts build up the body of Christ. A family may be facing a time of crisis or sorrow, and spiritual gifts may be exercised in ministering to them in their time of need. Someone may go to their home and clean; another may visit in the hospital; another may mow the grass. Sometimes that is just people being nice, but sometimes these activities are enabled by spiritual gifts. You can tell the difference when the use of spiritual gifts enables a spiritual result. Granted, the family in crisis could call a commercial lawn service to tend the yard, but the spiritually-inspired ministry of a Christian mowing the grass may produce encouragement for a Christian family or may result in evangelism if someone is unsaved. Spiritual ministry may look much the same as mere human service, but the result of spiritual service is spiritual.

(4) A spiritual gift is also a divine enablement which goes beyond the enablement the Holy Spirit gives other saints not gifted in the same way.

Jesus said, “apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from the miraculous working of God’s Spirit in us, we can do nothing. In this sense, nothing any Christian does will have a spiritual impact apart from the Spirit’s enablement. So when any Christian shares the gospel, the only way the unsaved person will be saved is by the working of God’s Spirit. Every Christian has a certain measure of enablement in every area of his or her Christian duty (i.e., keeping our Lord’s commands). Those spiritually gifted in an area show a greater measure of enablement than those who are ungifted in that area. Some seem even more gifted than others. It may well be through the prayers of a Christian who does not have any particular gift in this area that one dying of an illness may be cured. In the ungifted person’s life and experience, a healing would be an unusual event. We should expect the one who has the gift of healing to see healings more often. It may be that this is why we find “healings” in the plural in 1 Corinthians 12:30.

(5) A spiritual gift is the divinely provided enablement to carry out a task which God has given us.

I suspect that most of us have been taught that the first order of priority is to discover our spiritual gift(s), then to develop them, and finally to find a place of ministry where these gifts can be put to use. It may be the opposite in some, if not many, cases. In the Old Testament, men were divinely gifted to carry out the task God had given them to perform. Bezalel and others whom God designated to be craftsmen for the construction of the tabernacle and its fixtures were gifted by God to carry out this task (Exodus 31:1-11). The 70 elders, who were to help Moses judge the people of God, were given a portion of his (Moses’) spirit to enable and equip them for their ministry (Numbers 11:25). Elisha was given a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9-15). Saul was chosen by God and designated as the king, and then he was endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Samuel 9:15–10:13). The same could be said of our Lord on whom the Spirit of God descended and remained at His baptism, equipping Him for His messianic ministry (Mark 1:9-13Luke 3:21-22; 4:1, 14John 1:29-34).

So What Did the Corinthians Get Wrong?

The church at Corinth was a troubled church and we can learn a great deal about Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts if we pause to ask “What did the Corinthians get wrong in this area?”

You know they got something wrong, else Paul wouldn’t have spent so much precious ink and paper on addressing the topic. \

The Corinthians are proud and arrogant (1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 4:7-13, 18-21; 5:2; 8:1; 2 Corinthians 10). From what Paul wrote in chapters 12-14 (see 12:21), we know some of the Corinthians’ pride lay in the possession of certain gifts or the following of some with more esteemed gifts. We know the Corinthians prized certain gifts and disdained others. This resulted in many seeking to obtain gifts God had not given them and those possessing certain “lowly” gifts feeling they had no contribution to make. Those possessing the visible, verbal gifts seemed intent upon showing these gifts off in the church meeting (see 14:26). Those with the “best” gifts felt independently self-sufficient and didn’t sense their dependence on less visible members of the body (12:21). Paul had some well-chosen words for these carnal Corinthians about the relationship between spirituality and spiritual gifts, words which knock the props out from under their pride and self-sufficiency.

Unity in Diversity
(12:4-6)

Now there are different giftsbut the same Spirit. And there are different ministriesbut the same Lord. And there are different resultsbut the same God who produces all of them in everyone. (1Corinthians 12:4-6)

The Corinthian church had short-changed itself by buying into the error that really significant ministry occurs on a very limited band width. They believed the important ministries were carried on by a very few elite leaders whose gifts everyone else covets. Less than a handful of gifts, and the same number of ministries, are considered significant by the Corinthian Christians. If any Corinthian Christian wanted to play an important role in the ministry of that church, he or she would have to imitate the gifts and ministries of a very small group. The end result was a large group of people discontent with their gifts and ministries, who sought to emulate or imitate the gifts and ministries of those most highly regarded in the church.

Knocking the props out from the “elitist” view of ministry, Paul contended that the gifts of God which equip men and women for ministry are many-splendored things. There are diversities of gifts (verse 4), diversities of ministries (verse 5), and diversities of effects (verse 6).

Varieties of gifts.

I always understood this expression to mean that there are different gifts, but I now realize these numerous gifts are also numerous in kind. Consider this illustration of what Paul means. We know that in the days of Moses, God “gifted” Bezalel as a master craftsman so that he could oversee the task of fashioning the furnishings and equipment for the tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5). This man was a master craftsman with skills that surpassed any other living craftsman. Another gift in the Old Testament would be prophecy (see Numbers 11:25). Kings like Saul were given gifts of the Spirit to equip them for their ministry (1 Samuel 10:10-13). In the New Testament lists of gifts, we find some gifts are linked with official functions like apostles, prophets, and evangelists (see Ephesians 4:11). Some gifts are spectacular and are not necessarily on-going gifts or ministries. Other gifts, like the gift of helps, may seem more mundane but are very much needed.

A very wide range of gifts is possible, and not all of these gifts may be included in the lists provided in the New Testament. I further suggest that Christians may possess more than one spiritual gift and that our gifts may in fact be a blend of gifts. This means there can be an almost infinite manifestation of “gifts” in the church. Christians, I believe, are bestowed with a unique blending of gifts which perfectly equips them to serve in the body of Christ where God has placed them.

Image result for image of spiritual giftsI also believe that some spiritual gifts may be evident at one period of our life but not necessarily another. One may not appear to possess a certain gift at the present time, but may suddenly manifest that gift at a later time when that ability is required. Our Lord trusted in His Father from the beginning, but He was not empowered by the Spirit until the time had come for His ministry to commence (see Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-21). Paul was called as an apostle in eternity past, but he did not begin to function as an apostle until a number of years after his salvation. Not until the Holy Spirit set Barnabas and Saul apart for their apostolic ministry (Acts 13:1) did Paul begin to function as an apostle. The Spirit came upon Him in a unique, unexpected way, and from that time on, Paul was designated as the leader (see Acts 13:6-13). Paul might have been gifted by God to be an apostle at the time of his conversion, but his gift was not evident until the time came for him to function as an apostle years later.

There are more than a few gifts and, when given to us in a wide variety of blends, no two Christians look or function alike. There is great diversity among Christians regarding their spiritual gifts. But, in spite of this broad diversity, there is one Spirit who empowers all, and He is the basis for the unity which we all should expect and experience in this great diversity of giftedness.

There is also a very broad spectrum of the ministries in which these gifts are deployed. All too often the gifts are stereotyped, usually in terms of a characterization which fits a well-known evangelical personality. When we think of the gift of evangelism, we think of Billy Graham or Luis Palau. When we think of the gift of teaching, we think of John MacArthur or Beth Moore. When we think of mercy, we may think of Mother Theresa. When we think of faith, we perhaps think of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These individuals may indeed possess these gifts, but there are an infinite variety of ways in which a particular gift may be employed. The spiritual gift is the God-given ability; the ministry is the sphere in which our divine enablement is exercised.

Evangelism need not occur in a large stadium and need not be practiced by a one-time exposure. It may occur in a living room, around a coffee table, and over a sustained period of time. Teaching may be done formally or informally. It does not always happen in a classroom or from behind a lectern. Not only is there a wide diversity of spiritual gifts, there is also an even broader range of ministries through which these gifts are exercised. But in the midst of this diversity, it is the same Lord who orchestrates our lives so that each of us ends up exercising our gifts in the context which He has purposed and provided.

Our ministries may also change over a period of time. This was certainly true for the apostle Paul who ministered effectively for years before functioning as an apostle. Not until after his first missionary journey did Paul begin to exercise his gifts through writing epistles. Joseph appears to have been given the gift of administration. It begins to emerge when he is still a youth of 17, working for his father back home, and far surpassing his brothers in skill. His administrative skills emerge in the household of Potiphar and in the prison and finally in the service of Pharaoh. Not only does my ministry differ from that of others who have similar gifts, but my ministry ten years from now may be very different from what it is at this moment.

Gifts will have a variety of effects. I always understood these effects to be in terms of success, but I now think I was wrong. Some teachers draw larger crowds and seem to be more effective at communicating the truth than others. Some evangelists see thousands saved in one exposure; others but a handful. There are different levels of effectiveness or success, and these levels have nothing to do with our natural skills or abilities. They are the result of God’s sovereign will, Who determines how successful we will be. And this “success” has little or nothing to do with our spirituality. Jonah was one of the most “successful” prophets who ever lived; Isaiah was one of the least successful. But I think we must agree that Jonah was not “spiritual,” and Isaiah was. Billy Graham was the only person in the congregation to go forward the night he was saved. I don’t think we can claim that country preacher was unsuccessful that night.

Effects doesn’t just refer to the success of a particular person and ministry but to the nature of the result. We think far too simplistically here. We suppose the gift of teaching takes place in a ministry where there is a class, a classroom, and a podium. We suppose the “effect” of this gifted teacher’s ministry is learning. But the goal of Christian instruction is obedience (see Matthew 28:18-20). Paul linked teaching or instruction with love (see 1 Timothy 1:5Philippians 1:9-11). Evangelism is not some special way of presenting the gospel as much as it is the proclamation of the truth of the gospel. As I look at the ministry of our Lord, I see Him teaching, not “evangelizing.” Paul told the Ephesian saints they did not “learn” Christ in a fleshly way (Ephesians 4:17-20). In the ministries in which I have been involved, many of those saved have been saved through a teaching ministry.

What the Corinthians Needed to Know About Spiritual Gifts
(12:7-11)

To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdomand another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spiritand to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miraclesto another prophecyand to another discernment of spiritsto another different kinds of tonguesand to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spiritdistributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

Image result for image of spiritual giftsPaul began his instruction concerning spiritual gifts by indicating the Corinthians were ignorant of a number of truths which they needed to know. Please note what Paul did NOT say before we address what he did. Paul didn’t try to convince the Corinthian saints that there is no gift of tongues, or gift of interpretation of tongues, or faith. Paul wasn’t trying to distinguish between so-called “temporary” and “permanent” spiritual gifts, because all of the gifts are evident in the Corinthian church in that day (see 1 Corinthians 1:7). Yeah, we could debate about it. Charismatics and Baptists often wrangle on this subject. It’s a topic of disagreement in my own household. But let’s not let that debate dictate what the text says. This text is not about temporary and permanent gifts; it is about misconceptions regarding all gifts. Cessationism was not an issue at Corinth in Paul’s day.

Spiritual gifts are divinely bestowed upon every Christian.

No one is “ungifted” in the church of Jesus Christ, for each Christian has been individually given certain gifts (“each one,” 12:7; “individually,” 12:11). The work of the body of Christ is a supernatural work, and every believer has a place in the body and the spiritual enablement to perform their ministry.

Spiritual gifts are for the “common good” . 

Spiritual gifts are divine empowerment for service to and through the body of Christ. They are not primarily for the benefit of the one gifted by God. It is not our glory but His which we seek. We do not strive for our edification and building up through the exercise of spiritual gifts, but for the building up of the whole body of Christ (12:7; Ephesians 4:11-16). Those who seek certain gifts for the benefit they gain have already fallen short of the mark. Self-edification may be a fringe benefit, but it is not the major focus.

Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of the Spirit.

By direct statement or inference, Paul is clear that every spiritual gift possessed by the Corinthians is one given “through the Spirit.” It is the Spirit of God who lives out the life of Christ in and through us. Spiritual gifts are not an evidence of our spirituality but an evidence of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.

Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of divine grace.

In verse 1, the expression “spiritual gifts” is a translation of the original term meaning “spiritual.” Whether this means “spiritual things” or “spiritual people” is a matter of discussion, but the term “spiritual” is translated “spiritual gifts” in the NASB. When Paul gets to verse 4, however, he leaves the term “spirituals” behind and employs the Greek term whose root is Charis, the word for “grace.” Spiritual gifts are spiritual “graces.” They are not an indication of our merit or worth, but a manifestation of God’s sovereignly bestowed grace. There is never any basis for boasting in those things which are by grace, other than in the God Who graciously gave them (see 1:30-31; 4:7).

(5) In verses 8-10, Paul seems to list those gifts in which the Corinthians are most likely to take pride. The fleshly Corinthians are into wisdom and power. The gifts Paul sets down in verses 8-10 almost certainly reflect those manifestations of the Spirit in which the Corinthians take pride. Paul does not seek to precisely define each of these “gifts.” Some gifts are not mentioned elsewhere, and we could only conjecture as to where some of them may be illustrated or exemplified. If Paul did not find it necessary to precisely define each gift, I do not feel guilty for not doing so either. But there are many who would have us believe they know what each of the gifts named are. In particular are those two gifts, the “word of wisdom” and the “word of knowledge” in verse 8. I frankly do not have a handle on these two gifts (and some others). But I would point out that wisdom and knowledge are very important to the Corinthians. Perhaps Paul is simply reminding the Corinthians that whatever words of “wisdom” or “knowledge” they may seem to possess, they are the evidence of God’s gracious gifts sovereignly bestowed upon some of the saints.

Paul does not attribute the possession of any of these gifts to the recipient, but to the sovereign will and purpose of God the Spirit. 

These gifts are not described as the “gift of God” which results from agonizing hours of seeking on the part of the one thus gifted. No, these gifts are sovereign graces bestowed upon the believer “just as He wills” (verse 11).

I suggest we reverse some of our thinking on spiritual gifts and reject much of the remainder. God has given us a number of clear commands such as those outlined by Paul in Romans 12:9-21. Let us begin by focusing on these commands, and obey them in whatever circumstances God brings our way. In the process of obeying His commands, we will discover that God has given us a place of service. Rather than waiting to know our gifts and then seeking to serve God and His church, let us do the things God has commanded, trusting Him to empower us and produce supernatural results through His Spirit. We should give priority to those aspects of ministry which God has given us in which the power of His Spirit is evident. This does not always mean “success” as the world defines success. It is where spiritual fruit has been produced, where the gospel has been proclaimed, and where God has been glorified. Let us not agonize over the name or the label of the gift, but let us strive to develop the gifts God has given us (2 Timothy 1:6), and employ them as good stewards of the grace of God (1 Peter 4:10-11). Let us never take credit for what God has accomplished or take pride in God’s work in us or measure spirituality by one’s gifts.

Let us be confident that if we are a Christian, God has an important place of service for us, and He will provide us with all the means necessary to fulfill our calling. Spiritual gifts assure us that the body of Christ needs us and will suffer without us. Spiritual gifts enable us to do what God requires of us.

Sherry Parnell

Author of "Let the Willows Weep"

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