Posts Tagged 'gifts of the Spirit'

1 Corinthians, Part 6

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As we all know by now, the church at Corinth was a troubled church; it had all manner of problems, spiritual and otherwise. It was a big church. It was a diverse church. It was an ambitious church. It was a church that desperately needed help. To their credit, the leaders of the Corinthian congregation knew they were in “over their heads” and they reached out to the apostle Paul. They wrote him a couple of letters describing their problems, sure that he could offer solutions. One of their issues Paul picks up in chapter 12.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1. TNIV)

The Corinthians had questions about spiritual gifts, and Paul approached that topic in a general way in chapter 12. We’ll later find out that not only did the Corinthians have questions, but that they also had problems with one gift in particular, the gift of tongues. But in chapter 12, he made sure that they understood all the spiritual gifts had value; they all contributed to the health of the Body of Christ – the Church.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7 TNIV)

That verse actually says a lot more than meets they eye. That “common good” refers to what is good for the Church – what is good for the congregation at Corinth in particular. Spiritual gifts are of no value to the world outside the Church because the world without Christ has no spiritual understanding and they can’t appreciate the Holy Spirit and what He does.

But that verse also tells us something very important: “each one” or each member of the church is given “the manifestation of the Spirit.” In other words, all Christians have been given the ability to exercise whatever Spiritual gift or gifts they have been given. I say this is important because, as we will see, the Corinthians were crazy about Spiritual gifts and it seemed like just about everybody was exercising them. Paul wanted to make sure they understood that it wasn’t just pastors who were endowed with the gifts of the Spirit, but that these Corinthians were right in wanting to use their gifts. They just needed to be taught how to do it properly. The church today probably has the opposite problem. Most churches know in a vague sort of way that there are gifts of the Spirit but make no effort to encourage their members to discover what gift they have been given. That’s why so many churches are, well, sort of dead. They have the knowledge of Spiritual gifts, but little or no experience.

Here are the gifts –

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 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. (1 Corinthians 12:8 – 10. TNIV)

We assume that this big church had all these gifts being manifested to varying degrees by its members, but the gift of tongues was being abused. And that’s the reason for chapter 13. This isn’t the so-called “love chapter” at all. Paul is still dealing with Spiritual gifts in chapter 13, but from the perspective of how to use them: use them in love.

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2. TNIV)

In those two verses, Paul uses three gifts as examples – tongues, prophecy, and faith – to say that if he exercised those gifts without love, then he’s wasting his time. He then goes on to describe love, but with the aim of teaching the Corinthians that that’s how they should be exercising the gifts of the Spirit: with patience, kindness, humility, to honor others, with joy and in truth, and so on. We do a great disservice to 1 Corinthians 13 by always reading it at weddings. It has nothing to do with marriage but everything to do with how Christians are to treat each other with regard to the Spiritual gifts they may or may not have.

Finally we get to chapter 14 and Paul chooses one particular gift, prophecy, which in modern language we might refer to as the gift of speaking or preaching the Word. It’s not necessarily foretelling future events. Paul chooses this gift of prophecy or speaking to show that another gift, the spiritual gift of tongues (regardless of what you may think it means) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It seems like members of this church were obsessing over and clamoring for this gift of tongues; there was an undue stress on it getting it and using it. So Paul contrasts it with what he considered a more useful gift, the gift of prophecy.

Paul’s preferred gifts?

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:1, 2. TNIV)

In chapter 13, Paul pushed the way of love, and here he writes that as we pursue love, we ought to pursue spiritual gifts with just as much vigor. In the pursuit of Spiritual gifts, Paul advised the Corinthians to give first place to the gift of prophecy, which is associated with preaching. This was his advice to the Corinthians, confronting a problem in that church: Too many were pursuing the gift of tongues or exalting those who were manifesting that gift. The weakness with the gift of tongues as it was being used in the Corinthian church, was that, as Paul wrote, “no one understands them.” Elsewhere in his writing, Paul wrote this –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26, 27. TNIV)

These “wordless groans” are what Paul probably had in mind; a form of the gift of tongues meant to be used in private, in prayer, between the one praying and his God. These “groans,” what we refer to as “praying in the Spirit,” don’t do anybody any good except for the one praying. When one is praying in the Spirit, he’s praying to God, not talking to anybody else, and in fact, nobody else can understand him. That’s why Paul makes it clear that when it comes to edifying the Body of Christ, preaching in the common language is better than praying in tongues. Paul isn’t dissing praying in tongues, he is putting these two gifts in perspective. They are both indispensable in the life of the Christian, but within the life of the Church, prophecy or preaching is better because everybody can benefit from the use of that gift.

But those who prophesy speak to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3. TNIV)

So this gift of prophecy, then, is an “inspired utterance” which the whole congregation can understand; the message (sermon or Bible study, perhaps) will build up Christian character in people, or encourage them and strengthen them.

But, don’t dismiss the gift of tongues out of hand, though –

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. Those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues, unless they interpret, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:5. TNIV)

Paul isn’t forbidding tongues but he wanted his Corinthian friends to use common sense in the pursuit of Spiritual gifts. And the common sense approach to pursuing spiritual gifts is that they must – MUST – benefit the church. It may well be that in another church, more praying in the Spirit was needed and less prophesying. Remember, he’s simply addressing a problem in this particular church.

But then notice what he wrote about speaking in tongues. If somebody bursts forth in an ecstatic spiritual utterance, and a bunch of people overhear him, then he is obligated to interpret what he said in tongues. Why? Again, it makes common sense. People who overhear his speaking in tongues may be confused; they may not know what he said or what’s going on. Therefore, the onus is on the one who gets carried away speaking in tongues too loudly to explain what he said or why he did what he did. And when he does that, he will be edifying the whole church.

For this reason those who speak in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:13, 14 TNIV)

Paul is nothing if not Mr Practical! In all things in the church, the mind should always be engaged. Emotions are good but people often get carried away by their emotions. When that happens, we’re no longer following the way of love, we’re doing what makes US feel good. Speaking in tongues may make US feel good, but not anybody else. Love is not all emotion-based, the mind is involved. We must always be careful in all our interactions within the church, and especially in our use of any Spiritual gift, to make sure that we are benefitting others, not just ourselves.

…when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can the others, who are now put in the same situation as an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but the others are not edified. (1 Corinthians 14:16, 17. TNIV)

Those are actually very telling verses. Even in services where there is a lot of “praise and worship” going on, the people in the pews should be built up and edified. Even as we worship and extol the Lord we need to be mindful of the people around us. That’s part of pursuing love.

Verse 20 is about as blunt as Paul ever gets in his letters –

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20. TNIV)

Godet, in his opinion, writes this about what Paul meant:

It is indeed the characteristic of the child to prefer the amusing to the useful, the brilliant to the solid. And this is what the Corinthians did by their marked taste for glossolalia (tongues).

He’s right. The Corinthians were behaving like children in regards to their foolish pursuit of a Spiritual gift like tongues.

Paul’s point: Orderly worship always

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Corinthians 14:26, 33, 40. TNIV)

The overarching principle of Paul’s approach to Spiritual gifts and the Corinthians’ childish obsession with tongues is that church services must always be orderly. Spiritual gifts are to be desired, they come from God, they benefit the whole church, but they need to be manifested in an orderly fashion.

Chapter 14 if a fascinating if fuzzy glimpse into what things were like in the big Corinthian church. Without regard to precisely what Paul meant by “tongues” and his thoughts about women keeping quiet in church (that’s a topic for another day), we understand that in this chapter Paul is advocating orderly church services and his advice was designed to correct abuses the Corinthians were allowing. In all, his “theology of worship” boils down to three points:

• Everything that happens in a church service must be done for the purpose of strengthening the church;
• The God we worship is a God of order, not of disorder, and He desires peace not confusion;
• Everything, even the working of His spiritual gifts, must be done in a loving, orderly way, with the goal of encouraging and strengthening others.

Biblical Church Growth, Conclusion

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Here’s what Jesus said about church growth:

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 NKJV)

Our Lord made it crystal clear that it is His church and He is One building it. We forget that. The church you attend isn’t “your church.” The church I pastor isn’t “my church.” All churches belong to the Lord. They form His Body – the Body of Christ. Jesus is interested in His church growing, both in terms of spiritual maturity and in numbers, and He has given His church certain gifts to make that growth happen. Jesus builds His church but He does it through its members as they take advantage of the many gifts the Lord has given. Here is a sampling of those gifts:

Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God’s people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. (Ephesians 4:11 TLB)

God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, then prophesy whenever you can—as often as your faith is strong enough to receive a message from God. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If you are a preacher, see to it that your sermons are strong and helpful. If God has given you money, be generous in helping others with it. If God has given you administrative ability and put you in charge of the work of others, take the responsibility seriously. Those who offer comfort to the sorrowing should do so with Christian cheer. (Romans 12:6 – 8 TLB)

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching, and this is his gift from the same Spirit. He gives special faith to another, and to someone else the power to heal the sick. He gives power for doing miracles to some, and to others power to prophesy and preach. He gives someone else the power to know whether evil spirits are speaking through those who claim to be giving God’s messages—or whether it is really the Spirit of God who is speaking. Still another person is able to speak in languages he never learned; and others, who do not know the language either, are given power to understand what he is saying. It is the same and only Holy Spirit who gives all these gifts and powers, deciding which each one of us should have. (1 Corinthians 12:8 – 11 TLB)

There are other spiritual gifts, but these are the ones most Christians are familiar with. God has given all Christians spiritual gifts to be used within the context of a local church. These gifts aren’t used in your office or at the library or in line at the grocery store. If you are a Christian, then you have at least one spiritual gift, but probably more than one, that God wants you to use in your church. When church members are obedient to the Lord in using their gift or gifts in their church, then their church will grow. It has to. God said it would.

Mature and immature members

As a church grows in both spiritual maturity and in numbers, all of a sudden there will be a mixture of mature and immature members in that congregation. It takes time for a Christian to become spiritually mature and we all mature at different speeds. Some Christians never mature. These “babes in Christ” love the Lord, they’re born again, they’ll go to heaven if they drop dead tomorrow, but even though they’ve been saved for 25 years, they’re still immature. Who knows why? These “babes in Christ” are the bane of my existence, and they may be yours, too. What do you do with them?

The Bible tells us that we who are strong must bear with those who are weak. Church growth takes place when strong members understand the weakness in others. For example:

  • There will always be a segment of the church that will be immature. They are the new converts who haven’t had time to grow yet. They are the worldly-minded members who make it to services on Sunday but that’s it. They don’t really have a relationship with the Body of Christ outside of that one, single hour on a Sunday. They are the members who rarely study or even read the Bible at home during the week. There will always be members like this in every congregation, and we who are strong must bear with them and help them to grow. We can’t punish them or ignore them.
  • As a church grows, sometimes things can get messy. Proverbs 14:4, in its own quaint way, gives us a precedent: Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox. Just so.
  • New members may be rough around the edges. Maybe they’ve had no good Christian role models and no discipleship since they found the Lord. Sometimes these new members are part of families that don’t understand what the Biblical roles of husband/wife/father/mother/children should be.

It takes time for Christians to grow and mature in the Lord and we who are strong must work with them. It’s not just the job of the pastor or of the elders. The apostle Paul – a strong member – understood this:

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:1, 2 HCSB)

Spiritually weak and immature Christians are always, without exception, the cause of problems within a local church. That’s not to say that’s their intent, mind you. Sometimes it may be – some immature members are so because they are troublemakers – but generally speaking, in their ignorance these spiritual infants cause problems arising from their immature state. The solution to this problem are the mature believers in the congregation. As Paul wrote, “we who are strong” ought to be the ones reaching out to those who are weak. We are the ones who are to take the initiative. Paul uses the strongest word possible: obligation. The apostle is not making a suggestion here. Strong Christians are to bear with the shortcomings of the weak in love and understanding.

Does this mean if a weak member is engaging in some sin, we who are strong ought to ignore it? Of course not! Paul’s admonition here must be taken in context. Here is what he is getting at. We who are strong may have no issue with, say, listening to secular music on AM radio. But an immature believer may take issue with it – he may view it as being a sinful habit. We who are strong need to take HIS issue into consideration. When he is present, we refrain from turning the radio on. In love, we respect his feelings on the matter. To do the opposite – to keep the secular music blaring while he is present or to make fun of his belief as being infantile – is viewed as “self pleasing” or selfish.

This is what Paul means by “pleasing your neighbor,” or fellow member of the Body of Christ. In time the weaker member, with growth and maturity, may very well change his views on secular music. In the meantime, because we who are strong reigned in our freedom in Christ (to listen to secular music, for example), we kept a weaker member in church; we didn’t offend him and cause him to leave.

I used the example of secular music, but there are hundreds of things as innocuous as that hackneyed example that challenge a weaker believer’s faith.

Restoration

What if a fellow member has fallen into some sin? Does the church simply write him off? Again, we turn to Paul for a dose of ecclesiastical theology:

Dear brothers, if a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong. Share each other’s troubles and problems, and so obey our Lord’s command. (Galatians 6:1, 2 TLB)

It’s supposed to take a lot of work to be a member of a church! All this caring and respecting; it’s a lot more than just showing up to listen to a sermon. We’re supposed to be watching out for each other’s spiritual well-being. Being a member like that is, as Paul put it, “obeying our Lord’s command.”

To another church, with a whole different set of problems, Paul wrote this pithy admonition:

Dear brothers, warn those who are lazy, comfort those who are frightened, take tender care of those who are weak, and be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14 TLB)

Nowhere in that verse do you see the words “mock” or “cajole.” Instead, we get the impression that, again, the onus is on we who are strong to respect, care for, and love those who aren’t. The tendency is for the strong to expect too much from the weak. No church will grow in that atmosphere.

Don’t get frustrated!

It sounds like the spiritually mature and strong members of a church have a heavy responsibility. They do indeed.

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9, 10 NKJV)

Paul wrote that because from time to time we do get tired. It’s not easy being a mature believer sometimes. It takes constant effort. But if you want your church to grow and if you want to honor the Lord, you’ll do what Paul says. You won’t grow weary. You’ll find the strength in your spiritual gifts.

The problem some churches have is that its strong members get weary. And they get frustrated and they get disheartened. Their solution is to just up and leave. They want to find a church where they’ll be appreciated.

But that’s not God’s solution.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV)

Look at the words that describe spiritually mature Christians: “steadfast,” “immovable,” “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” To be “steadfast” means to be “personally faithful,” it means you will “stick to it.” Being “immovable” suggests staying faithful no matter what. It means remaining clearheaded and objective. It means remaining grounded on the Word of God. And “abounding” means that if you are a mature Christian you will always go beyond the minimum requirements. It means you’ll do more than enough.

And you’ll have to. There are plenty of immature believers in our churches and it’s our job to help them grow and mature in the Lord. There are more of them than there are of us. We have our work cut out. But Paul encourages us to keep on doing the work of the Lord; it will pay off.

There is help

…glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. (Ephesians 3:20 TLB)

Whatever you need, God is able to supply in abundance. You need wisdom? He’ll give you more than you think you need. You need strength? He’ll give you more than you ask for. You want to do more for your church and for other believers? God will supply you with what they need.

And that’s why a church that allows the Holy Spirit to move and work within its members is a church that grows, both in spiritual maturity and in numbers.

 

The Holy Spirit and You, Part 9

 

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The Gifts of the Spirit

 

The greatest gift to the world came from God in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  This gift is everything a sinful world needs to gain acceptance by God and to live eternally at peace with Him.  The Holy Spirit is another gift, but this gift is not for the world.  This gift is only for the Church, and it is a gift from both the Father and the Son.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is everything a Christian needs to live a full, abundant life, rich in purpose and power, that glorifies God.

The purpose of this message is not to examine each spiritual gifts individually.  Instead, we are going to look at the gifts in a general way; what they are and what they are for and how they work in a believer’s life and in the life of a local church.

The Holy Spirit is a gift, and He comes with His own gifts.  What are these spiritual gifts?  They are:

1.  Diversified

To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 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.  (1 Corinthians 12:8-10 NIV84)

The Holy Spirit lives inside every single born-again believer.  But how does He make His presence known?  How does the Spirit manifest Himself?  The answer is simple:  through the gifts that God gives to His people.   Here in a letter to the Corinthian church, Paul lists a series of nine spiritual gifts, but this list shouldn’t be thought of as exhaustive because elsewhere in the New Testament Paul lists other gifts of the Spirit, and depending on who’s counting, there could be as many as 24 or 28 gifts of the Holy Spirit.  But this list in 1 Corinthians is the one that most of us are most familiar with.  Scholars like to group them together as temporal gifts and permanent gifts – that is, some of the gifts ended with the end of the apostolic church while others continue to this day, they say.  Others like to say some gifts are verbal, other non-verbal, some are important others no so important. 

For his  part, Paul probably wasn’t thinking like that at all.  All he did was to make a list of gifts the Holy Spirit gives to people in a church.  The very fact that you can find every single gift in operation today somewhere in the world seems to point to the permanence of the gifts, at least until The Lord returns.  It’s foolish to claim some gifts have ceased while other haven’t unless you have the same kind of knowledge God has. 

These gifts were a natural outcome of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.  All of these gifts come from ONE Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  Notice carefully this:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  (Corinthians 12:7 NIV84)

These gifts have nothing to do with native talent; they are manifestations of the Holy Spirit through an individual Christian.   As a Spirit-filled Christian yields himself to the Holy Spirit within him, that Spirit will work through him “for the common good,” that is, for the benefit of the church, the Body of Christ.  The gifts are not for your benefit.  They are not given to you so you can make more money or have a TV show where you read minds.  They are given to build up a local congregation and the Body of Christ in general.  And the fact that they are given by the Spirit means they are ALL useful.

2.  Bestowed by God

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.  (1 Corinthians 12:11 NIV84)

The building up of the church of Jesus Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit, through its members.

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:22 NIV84)

And He accomplishes this through us by giving us the various gifts of the Spirit.  Both the gifts and the power to use the gifts come from the Holy Spirit.  He is in back of all the gifts and He alone enables believers to use them effectively for the benefit of the church.  But notice the wording of 1 Corinthians 12:11 carefully:  every single believer may be the recipient of a spiritual gift or gifts.  It is the up to the Holy Spirit to determine who receives what gift or gifts.  This really is a remarkable verse in that it shows the Holy Spirit to be as much a Person as the other members of the Trinity!  He is not just an impersonal energy or force.  The precious Holy Spirit is a thinking, reasoning, loving, empowering, supernatural and Divine Person!  How blessed are Christians to have Him dwelling within them!

3.  For the good of all

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  (1 Corinthians 12:7 NIV84)

Far too often preachers, missionaries, evangelists, or Bible teachers are thought to be the only ones “gifted” in the church.  Far too often there is a distinction made between sacred and secular occupations.  Work for The Lord is thought to be done only by those who are ordained to do so.

Here Paul makes it clear that manifestations of the Spirit are given to every (each) believer.  This makes all the sense in the world, since the Spirit dwells in all believers!  In the life of all believers the Holy Spirit WILL reveal Himself, one way or another, through one gift or another.  Ordained or not.  Seminary-indoctrinated or not.  The Holy Spirit will work through a willing heart to benefit people within the Body of Christ. 

Every member of the church benefits from the gifts of the Spirit, therefore every member ought to be using his or her gifts as often as possible. 

[The ascended Christ gave gifts to the Church] to prepare Gods people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…  (Ephesians 4:12 NIV84)

We all need to be useful members of the community of faith!  We can’t forever be human sponges, soaking up Bible teaching and blessings.  We must give back; we must  learn to let the Holy Spirit work in us and through us, building us up and others in the church.

4.  To be desired

But eagerly desire the greater gifts….  (1 Corinthians 12:31a NIV84)

While Paul plainly teaches that it is up to The Lord to decide who gets what gift or gifts, he also urges believers to “eagerly desire the greater gifts.”  This sentence is not without controversy.  And yet it really isn’t a controversial statement at all when it is understood in the context of the sovereignty of God and the free will of man.

To “eagerly desire” comes from a Greek word, zeloute, meaning “burning zeal.”  All believers should have this attitude toward the spiritual gifts:  they should be learning all they can about the gifts and praying that The Lord would give them the best gift or gifts for them to use. 

The Corinthians were all excited about the spiritual gifts, but they were wanting the flashy ones, like speaking in tongues.  Paul’s aim was to get his friends to see that their distorted view of some of the gifts was doing more harm than good to the congregation.  His admonition should be viewed in that light of context.  ALL the gifts are good and important and we should all want to blessed with the most useful and appropriate one or ones for us and for our church.

5.  To be used carefully

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.  (1 Timothy 4:14 NIV84)

In the context of his letter to Timothy, Paul wanted to remind him that he had received a gift; a calling to do the work of The Lord.  For preachers and those who aspire to be preachers, this is an important verse to consider.  The call of God to those would do the work of the ministry is instigated by the Holy Spirit, not by another minister or a ministerial committee.  One doesn’t just decide to become a pastor because his father was one or because he wants to help people.  It’s a calling.  And with that calling comes the gift or gifts to get the job done.  Talent will get you only so far.  Work for The Lord must be done in the Spirit of The Lord.

However, what is true of the “professional preacher” is true of each believer.  We cannot afford to ignore or neglect our spiritual gifts.  How terrible it would be to ignore a spiritual gift because of fear or just neglect!  When a believer does that, they are literally robbing their congregation of the blessings that should be theirs!  It’s the absolute height of selfishness to NOT exercise your particular gift or gifts. 

6.  To be used!

Paul had warned Timothy not to neglect his gift.  Now in his second letter, he warns him again:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.   (2 Timothy 1:6 NIV84)

Timothy was to “fan into flame the gift.”  This is the need of the hour in the Church of Jesus Christ today, whether you are a leader in your church like Timothy, or a member.  Our constant danger is that we will become slack or lazy in exercising our gifts.  Every once in a while we all need to check ourselves to see if we are indeed walking in the fullness of the Spirit as we ought.  We should periodically renew our commitment and dedication to “fan into flame” our gifts.   This is the essence of revival:  a congregation that is living and working as they should – in the Spirit.

 

INTRODUCTION TO SPIRITUAL GIFTS

The church as we know it has been around for some two thousand years. Most people have gone to church at least once. A lot of people go to church at least twice a year—at Christmas and Easter—or several times a year. Many of us go to church regularly every week, sometimes twice a week, and barring something out of the ordinary, we know pretty much what to expect when we go to church. We sing hymns and worship choruses, take up an offering and listen to a sermon. Every so often we celebrate Communion and have baptismal services. And, thankfully, most churches have their times of fellowship where members get to eat and socialize in the church hall. That’s the church-going experience for most of us in America.

But when you read the New Testament, particularly the book of Acts which gives us a brief history of the early years of the church, you can’t help but notice the church-going experience of those early Christians was different. Without regard to anything else, the early church seemed to experience some powerful manifestations of the supernatural. For example, it seemed common in those early days to see the sick healed, to see demons cast out of people, and even the dead raised back to life. When we read about the adventures of Paul, the great apostle-missionary who founded so many churches, we are amazed at the things that happened to him and how the Lord used him to work so many miracles. Miracles seemed to be the norm, not the exception, as Paul and the other preachers went about their work. There is a curious verse in Acts 19:11 that seems to indicate this:

And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul… (KJV)

“Special” miracles, as opposed to the everyday miracles, accompanied Paul as he traveled around preaching and evangelizing. So, it certainly seems that demonstrations of the supernatural were common in those days.

There was nothing particularly noteworthy about Paul, Peter, and the apostles. They were ordinary men. The men and women who were charter members of the very first church were no different from you and me. They had all the same weaknesses we have today. In fact, if anything, we have the advantage over them in that we have the full revelation of God, the Bible, in our hands. They did not; all they had were the Old Testament scriptures, and even at that, personal copies of the Old Testament were non-existent.

So what made church services so different back then? They prayed, they sung hymns, they took up offerings, they baptized converts and celebrated Communion, and they listened to sermons. And yet, something was different. When they prayed, they prayed “in the Spirit,” sometimes they even prayed “in tongues.” When the sermon was preached, it went forth with power and authority. Sometimes there were even prophecies given from the congregation! Even church”business meetings” were not so much concerned with business than with being directed by the Holy Spirit.

1. The gift of the Holy Spirit

So then, what made the early church so different from the church today? It was the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today, we all understand the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We all know that we are filled with the Holy Spirit at the moment of our salvation. But while we intellectually grasp the idea of the Holy Spirit, the members of the early church not only grasped the Holy Spirit with their minds, but they did so with their hearts. In other words, the Holy Spirit to them was not so much a doctrine as an experience. They knew when they were filled with Spirit, they could tell when the Spirit was moving in them, and they coveted those experiences; there was a common expectation in the early church that the Holy Spirit could be experienced by any believer. Consider the question of Acts 19:2

Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

What followed that exchange was nothing less than another, smaller pentecost in Ephesus, like what happened on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. When those Ephesian believers were made aware that there was something available to them beyond their salvation, they experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the same way the believers did in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.

When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19:6, 7)

What this passage and other similar passages in Acts teach us is that when a person receives the fullness of the Holy Spirit, they begin to manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this case, the dozen men spoke in tongues, but there are other gifts of the Spirit that believers may manifest at the discretion of the Lord when they are filled. This display of the gifts must necessarily take place when one is “baptized in the Holy Spirit” because that’s what the Holy Spirit does! He makes His presence known:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

Notice the word “manifestation.” The Greek word behind that English word is phanerosis, which means, “to shine forth.” That’s what the Holy Spirit does; He “shines forth” from the believer in the form of spiritual gifts.

As we will discover in our study of the gifts progresses, the gifts of the Spirit are meant to be used within the context of the community of faith: the local church. They were given to believers to help build up the church; to help make it strong; to make it a better church. That’s what Paul tried to teach the Corinthians, a church that needed to learn about the spiritual gifts. In this case, Paul used the example of the gift of prophecy:

…and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:24)

We see here that, in Paul’s example of the gift of prophecy, when it is manifested it will “shine forth” so that people will know that God is moving in that congregation.

Thanks to the spiritual gifts, church services don’t have to become “boring,” repetitive exercises, even if the same “format” is used week after week. If we understand that the Spirit desires to work through us and we come to church expecting this to happen, it will, and a congregation will see the Spirit “shining forth” from its members. When that happens, regardless of what gifts are being manifested, members will exclaim just as Paul said, “God is really among you!”

2. Are spiritual gifts for today?

This is a very common question in non-pentecostal churches. The short answer is, Why not? Those who teach they are not for today have to prove why spiritual gifts are not for today. Among the arguments they cite are:

The gifts stopped at the end of the apostolic age.

Whenever somebody says this, they are really showing their ignorance. The New Testament clearly indicates the exact opposite is true, that:

God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29)

Just like the calling to salvation, the spiritual gifts God gave the church do not come with an expiration date! He gave them to the church initially on the Day of Pentecost two millennia ago and they are still with the Church today.

Now, it is true that Paul told the Corinthians this:

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:8)

But, the key to understanding what Paul said is two verses down the page:

but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. (1 Corinthians 13:10)

The spiritual gifts will come to an end, but only when “perfection comes,” or when Jesus Christ returns to the Earth, and that hasn’t happened yet. When He returns, the Spiritual gifts will no longer be necessary because He who gave them in the first place will be here in Person!

It is true that the further on we get into Acts, we do witness an diminution of the gifts. However, this is not necessarily because the Spirit stopped manifesting Himself, but because of another reason cited by no less a scholar as John Wesley:

The cause of this [decline of spiritual gifts] was not, (as has been vulgarly supposed,) `because there was no more occasion for them,’ because all the world was become Christians. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christian. The real cause was, `the love of many,’ almost of all Christians, so called, was `waxed cold.’ The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens.

So, if there seemed to be fewer supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit the further away we get from Pentecost, it has nothing to do with God, but everything to do with man.

The fact is, as we study church history, we see that the Gifts have never really stopped altogether. Early Church fathers, like Irenaeus, Tertullian, John Chrysostom, and Augustine write about their observations of the gifts of the Spirit. During the Middle Ages, different groups of Christians—the Waldeneses and the Quakers, for example—all write about their experiences with different spiritual gifts.

We have the complete revelation of God, the Bible, so the gifts are no longer necessary.

This is another one of those arguments that makes no sense. Never in the New Testament is any Spiritual Gift granted the same stature as the Word of God. Time and time again in Acts and the Epistles we read citations from the Old Testament given as authoritative sources, never is a word from Paul or Peter or a prophecy treated like the Word of God. It is clear that the apostolic leaders understood the gifts of the Spirit to be purely secondary to and in support of the Word of God. That is how we ought to view them today. While we do possess the complete Word of God, and God has told us everything we need to know in it, the gifts of the Spirit are for the purpose of making God’s Word real and for illuminating it our hearts. No gift of the Spirit is meant to replace the Word.

If the gifts are for today, why do so many church leaders discount them?

This is a question those church leaders need to be asked! The onus is on them to explain to the members of the church why they don’t believe in them. Sadly, too many church leaders are content with knowing the great doctrines of their churches but not with experiencing personally the manifestation of the power of God. Sometimes these church leaders are just ignorant of what the Word of God really teaches. Other times their minds are closed to these deeper experiences because of fear.

There is no good reason why every Bible believing church today should not be enjoying the fullness of the Holy Spirit through the exercising of His gifts.

3. The purpose of spiritual gifts

Not every believer will stand behind a pulpit and preach the Word of God to a congregation. But all believers are called to be witnesses for God:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

To help believers do this more effectively, God has given us the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul called a spade a spade when he wrote this:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Paul could have been describing us! We all need the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit if we are to be effective in our service for Him. Even Paul, as great, as educated, and as talented as he was, needed God’s help in accomplishing the work God had called him to:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1—5)

All Christians are called, not only to be saved, but to minister for the Lord. All true ministry is motivated and empowered by the Holy Spirit. No Christian is exempt from this great work:

Now to each one [each member of the church] the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

he [God] gives them [the spiritual gifts] to each one [each member of the church], just as he determines. (verse 11b)

With the exception of the gift of tongues, which is for private use, all the gifts of the Spirit are given to members of the church by God for “the common good” of the church. When members of the church learn to yield themselves to the Holy Spirit and begin in faith exercising the spiritual gifts God has given them, the whole church will be built up. What a precious, thoughtful gift God has given us! Too bad it is so neglected.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

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