Monday, August 30, 2010

Spiritual gifts! We all have spiritual gifts!

Towards the end of Summer Project, we all caught a bit of spiritual gifts fever. (The blog post originally talking about it is here) It all started when one of the City on a Hill staff left a spiritual gifts questionnaire lying around our floor. Pretty soon the men were taking it, then the ladies caught on and we brought the well-worn packet down to the social lounge to share it with everyone. We were really excited to see what spiritual gifts we'd been given! I got pretty into studying the subject, so now I figured that before returning to school I would share my findings with the blagosphere. I think spiritual gifts (and the Spirit in general) is a topic that doesn't get enough attention in the church today. My college church did an excellent sermon on the subject during our series on 1 Corinthians. I recommend checking it out, but in case you don't have time, I'll sum it up here. The text of the sermon is 1 Corinthians 12:7-11:
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
So what are spiritual gifts? Verse 7 is the best definition I know of: the manifestation of the [Holy] Spirit, given for the common good. "Manifestation of the Spirit" is a pretty vague definition, but as we'll see this can take many different forms: exceptional talents, ways of living, even supernatural abilities. Paul immediately goes into examples of gifts the Spirit can give believers: a message of wisdom, message of knowledge, faith, etc. Speaking in tongues, the gift focused on so much by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements (which the sermon goes into depth on) is just one of the ones listed here. Paul and Peter list spiritual gifts at other points in the New Testament. I mentioned in my blog post from when this was happening that I typed up a list of the gifts mentioned in scripture; I've put it online here. That's an overview of all the gifts mentioned in the Bible with quick definitions of them.

But notice how I say all the gifts mentioned in the Bible. I don't think that these are all the spiritual gifts people can have. Like the sheet says, Paul never knew his letters would be put together in the New Testament, so he intended all his lists of spiritual gifts to stand alone. Each of them has a different selection of gifts, so it's obvious that he's not giving an exhaustive list at any point. Indeed, the questionnaire we took had several gifts not on my list but that certainly seem like they should be spiritual gifts, like hospitality, voluntary poverty, and exorcism.

So we all have spiritual gifts; verse 7 says "to each one" the manifestation of the Spirit is given. We all have at least one Spiritual gift. (In addition, I like to think, besides all having either the gift of marriage or celibacy) Now what do we do with them? It says they're "for the common good". Paul goes on in chapter 12 to talk about how each member of the body of Christ (the church--the sum of all believers) and how the parts all need to work together. I think spiritual gifts tie into that. The different gifts are like the functions of different body parts; they're all meant to benefit the body in different ways. In 1 Corinthians 14:26 Paul says that these gifts "must be done for the strengthening of the church". And, of course, gifts like evangelism are also for the benefit of those outside the church. Ultimately, the point of spiritual gifts is the point of everything else: bringing glory to God and showing off how good He really is.

So that seems simple enough. What might also be helpful is mentioning what using spiritual gifts should NOT look like. The Corinthians are a perfect example of this. From what I gather from 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, they were focusing on certain gifts--especially speaking on tongues--to the exclusion of other gifts and proper worship. In 14:27-28 he says that only a few should speak in tongues at a time, and only if there is someone with the gift of interpreting their tongues. Presumably they weren't doing this before; I'm picturing half the church standing up shouting gibberish at once. Orderly worship indeed!

In chapter 12 he reassures the Corinthians that God has arranged all the parts of the body of Christ (the church) just as He wants them. He also emphasizes that you don't cease to be part of the body if you aren't a certain part (i.e. if you don't have a certain gift). Judging by how he addresses the gift of tongues heavily in chapter 14, I'm guessing Paul is reprimanding them for focusing on that gift while devaluing the others. In verse 12:11, Paul says the Spirit gives these gifts of each one, "just as he determines". It's foolish to focus on the importance of one gift when not everyone necessarily has that gift.

Basically, the Corinthians were worshipping the gifts (or rather, one particular gift) rather than the Giver. And this mistake definitely isn't unique to spiritual gifts; we cross over into sin when we stop being grateful to God for our place in life, possessions, friends, or anything else. Like all the other things we're given in life, we're called not to get greedy with spiritual gifts and use them to our glory, but to give them back to God, the Giver of all our gifts, in obedience to Him.

What does this look like, then? I don't really feel at liberty to try to explain how to use the gifts I don't have myself--even the ones I have didn't come with instruction manuals and I can't claim to know terribly much about them. But my intention is that this post kicks off a quick series on spiritual gifts that will last the rest of my summer vacation (until Saturday). I'll go into more depth on the gifts I think I have and maybe answer some other questions on spiritual gifts. Feel free to ask away!

P.S. I also typed up the spiritual gifts questionnaire and have it hosted here for whoever wants to take it.

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