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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.

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