Monday, October 29, 2012

The Miracle of Spiritual Gifts

Last Sunday, I was giving a spiritual gift Survey to my Sunday School students. I was totally moved by the reaction of those teens when they realize what all gifts they have in their lives. I believe that according to God's will He distributed His amazing gifts to all of us. It is important for our success and the edification of the body of Christ to find out and develop these gifts which God already placed in our live.

what are the different Spiritual Gifts the Bible Mentions?

In God's great gift of salvation, we have a number of benefits and responsibilities. Most Christians are quick to point out the personal benefits we receive with our salvation, but we are a little slower to focus on the responsibilities that come with it. When people speak of spiritual gifts, the focus is often on questions like, “Do you know what your spiritual gift is?” or “Have you taken this spiritual gifts survey?” While the knowledge of one's gifting can be beneficial, we often lose sight of God's design in these matters. Yes, the particular gifts of the Spirit are benefits to each believer, but they come with great responsibilities.

There are two Greek words that are primarily used to describe the gifts of the Spirit. Pneumatika refers to their source, the Holy Spirit (pneuma) of God, and charismata refers to the fact that they are granted as an act of God's grace (charis). Since they are given by grace, we are reminded that they are not based on our worthiness or personal abilities, but on God's sovereign choice. Since they are given by the Spirit of God, they are a part of the new life granted to us in Christ (and may be drastically different from our perceived capabilities or desires prior to salvation). A brief examination of three key texts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11) will show us God's design regarding His gifts.

One of the first things that becomes clear in these passages is the diversity of the gifts. When Paul listed the gifts in Romans 12, he identified different gifts than what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12, and when Peter spoke of them in 1 Peter 4:10-11, he didn't even bother specifying them. Among the things listed are prophecy, ministry, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, teaching, exhorting, giving, ruling, showing mercy, speaking in languages, and interpreting languages. Whatever the specific use of each one was, they each fit together as the parts of the body work together to make a functional whole (Romans 12:5).

There are varying opinions regarding the number of spiritual gifts, as well as what the gifts are. Romans 12 lists at least seven, and 1 Corinthians 12 lists nine. There is some overlap in these, and there are certainly indications that God has more that He gives His children. What are some of these gifts? First Corinthians says God gives the word of wisdom and knowledge to some. This would seem to identify a particular ability to grasp spiritual truths in the Word of God and apply them to life. Prophecy is the ability to proclaim divine revelation to the church. As it is used in the New Testament, this gift seems more focused on determining God's will in particular circumstances than on foretelling future events. Discerning of spirits seems to be connected with the gift of prophecy, and refers to checking the authority and validity of the message, in order to prevent false prophecy. Healing and miracles are often referred to as "sign gifts," since they were part of the validation for the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. God certainly still heals and does miracles, but these gifts to the church have largely ceased with the completion of the Bible and the validation of its message.

One of the most misunderstood gifts is that of language and interpretation. "Tongues" in the KJV is simply a translation of the Greek glossa, which is the normal word for any language. In Acts 2:6-11, the people who were gathered in Jerusalem marveled that, even though the disciples were all untrained Galileans, they heard the "wonderful works of God" in their own languages. Whatever else people might teach, two things here are clear: 1) The people in the crowd heard and understood what was being said about Jesus Christ, and 2) we are told what languages the message was received in. Other gifts mentioned are faith, serving, encouraging, giving, ruling, and showing mercy. These are fairly self-explanatory. Whatever gift we look at, one common denominator is always in place—gifts were given by God Himself and are to be used for His glory in His church.

We can certainly learn of the gifts from these lists, but if we limit the gifts of the Spirit to those few that were enumerated, we miss the point. In all three passages, we are given a specific purpose of the gifts, and that is where we should direct our attention. In Romans 12:8, we are told to use the various gifts according to the character of God and His revealed will “...with simplicity...with diligence...with cheerfulness.” In 1 Corinthians 12:25, we are told that these gifts were given “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” In 1 Peter 4:11, the purpose is “that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” The best way for us to understand spiritual gifts is to know how we can care for and serve one another to the glory of God. Whether we do that through teaching, feeding, healing, or any other method, we have a responsibility to God and to one another to offer ourselves as servants (2 Corinthians 4:9).

How do I identify my spiritual gift?

 There is no magic formula or definitive test that can tell us exactly what our spiritual gifts are. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts as He determines (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). A common problem for Christians is the temptation to get so caught up in our spiritual gift that we only seek to serve God in the area in which we feel we have been gifted. That is not how the spiritual gifts work. God calls us to obediently serve Him in all things. He will equip us with whatever gift or gifts we need to accomplish the task He has called us to.

Identifying our spiritual giftedness can be accomplished in various ways. Spiritual gift tests or inventories, while not to be fully relied upon, can definitely help us understand where our gifting might be. Confirmation from others also gives light to our spiritual giftedness. Other people who see us serving the Lord can often identify a spiritual gift in use that we might take for granted or not recognize. Prayer is also important. The one person who knows exactly how we are spiritually gifted is the gift-giver Himself—the Holy Spirit. We can ask God to show us how we are gifted in order to better use our spiritual gifts for His glory.

Yes, God calls some to be teachers and gives them the gift of teaching. God calls some to be servants and blesses them with the gift of helps. However, specifically knowing our spiritual gift does not excuse us from serving God in areas outside our gifting. Is it beneficial to know what spiritual gift(s) God has given us? Of course it is. Is it wrong to focus so much on spiritual gifts that we miss other opportunities to serve God? Yes. If we are dedicated to being used by God, He will equip us with the spiritual gifts we need.

How does God distribute spiritual gifts?

Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians chapter 12 make it clear that each Christian is given spiritual gifts according to the Lord’s choice. Spiritual gifts are given for the edification of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7, 14:12). The exact timing of the giving of these gifts is not specifically mentioned. Most assume that spiritual gifts are given at the time of spiritual birth (the moment of salvation). However, there are some verses that may indicate God gives spiritual gifts later as well. Both 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6 refer to a gift that Timothy had received at the time of his ordination “by prophecy.” This likely indicates that one of the elders at Timothy’s ordination spoke about a spiritual gift that Timothy would have to enable his future ministry.

We are also told in 1 Corinthians 12:28-31 and in 1 Corinthians 14:12-13 that it is God (not us) who chooses the gifts. These passages also indicate that not everyone will have a particular gift. Paul tells the Corinthian believers that if they are going to covet or long after spiritual gifts, they should strive after the more edifying gifts, such as prophesying (speaking forth the word of God for the building up of others). Now, why would Paul tell them to strongly desire the “greater” gifts if they already had been given all they would be given, and there was no further opportunity of gaining these greater gifts? It may lead one to believe that even as Solomon sought wisdom from God in order to be a good ruler over God’s people, so God will grant to us those gifts we need in order to be of greater benefit to His church.

Having said this, it still remains that these gifts are distributed according to God’s choosing, not our own. If every Corinthian strongly desired a particular gift, such as prophesying, God would not give everyone that gift simply because they strongly desired it. If He did, then who would serve in all of the other functions of the body of Christ?

There is one thing that is abundantly clear—God’s command is God’s enablement. If God commands us to do something (such as witness, love the unlovely, disciple the nations, etc.), He will enable us to do it. Some may not be as gifted at evangelism as others, but God commands all Christians to witness and disciple (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). We are all called to evangelize whether or not we have the spiritual gift of evangelism. A determined Christian who strives to learn the Word and develop his teaching ability may become a better teacher than one who may have the spiritual gift of teaching, but who neglects the gift.

Are spiritual gifts given to us when we receive Christ, or are they cultivated through our walk with God? The answer is both. Normally, spiritual gifts are given at salvation, but also need to be cultivated through spiritual growth. Can a desire in your heart be pursued and developed into your spiritual gift? Can you seek after certain spiritual gifts? First Corinthians 12:31 seems to indicate that this is possible: “earnestly desire the best gifts.” You can seek a spiritual gift from God and be zealous after it by seeking to develop that area. At the same time, if it is not God’s will, you will not receive a certain spiritual gift no matter how strongly you seek after it. God is infinitely wise, and He knows through which gifts you will be most productive for His kingdom.

No matter how much we have been gifted with one gift or another, we are all called upon to develop a number of areas mentioned in the lists of spiritual gifts: to be hospitable, to show acts of mercy, to serve one another, to evangelize, etc. As we seek to serve God out of love for the purpose of building up others for His glory, He will bring glory to His name, grow His church, and reward us (1 Corinthians 3:5-8, 12:31–14:1). God promises that as we make Him our delight, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4-5). This would surely include preparing us to serve Him in a way that will bring us purpose and satisfaction.

Are the miraculous gifts of the Spirit for today?

Answer: First, it is important to recognize that this is not a question of whether God still performs miracles today. It would be foolish and unbiblical to claim God does not heal people, speak to people, and perform miraculous signs and wonders today. The question is whether the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, described primarily in 1 Corinthians 12–14, are still active in the church today. This is also not a question of can the Holy Spirit give someone a miraculous gift. The question is whether the Holy Spirit still dispenses the miraculous gifts today. Above all else, we entirely recognize that the Holy Spirit is free to dispense gifts according to His will (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

In the book of Acts and the Epistles, the vast majority of miracles are performed by the apostles and their close associates. Paul gives us the reason why: “The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Corinthians 12:12). If every believer in Christ was equipped with the ability to perform signs, wonders, and miracles, then signs, wonders, and miracles could in no way be the identifying marks of an apostle. Acts 2:22 tells us that Jesus was “accredited” by “miracles, wonders, and signs.” Similarly, the apostles were “marked” as genuine messengers from God by the miracles they performed. Acts 14:3 describes the gospel message being “confirmed” by the miracles Paul and Barnabas performed.

Chapters 12–14 of 1 Corinthians deal primarily with the subject of the gifts of the Spirit. It seems from that text “ordinary” Christians were sometimes given miraculous gifts (12:8-10, 28-30). We are not told how commonplace this was. From what we learned above, that the apostles were “marked” by signs and wonders, it would seem that miraculous gifts being given to “ordinary” Christians was the exception, not the rule. Beside the apostles and their close associates, the New Testament nowhere specifically describes individuals exercising the miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

It is also important to realize that the early church did not have the completed Bible, as we do today (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, etc. were necessary in order for the early Christians to know what God would have them do. The gift of prophecy enabled believers to communicate new truth and revelation from God. Now that God’s revelation is complete in the Bible, the “revelatory” gifts are no longer needed, at least not in the same capacity as they were in the New Testament.

God miraculously heals people every day. God still speaks to us today, whether in an audible voice, in our minds, or through impressions and feelings. God still does amazing miracles, signs, and wonders and sometimes performs those miracles through a Christian. However, these things are not necessarily the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. The primary purpose of the miraculous gifts was to prove that the gospel was true and that the apostles were truly God’s messengers. The Bible does not say outright that the miraculous gifts have ceased, but it does lay the foundation for why they might no longer occur to the same extent as they did as recorded in the New Testament.

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