Thursday, February 21, 2008

Church Reform - Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are a wonderful blessing given to the church by the Holy Spirit. However, these gifts are often misunderstood and looked upon with suspicion in many churches. What is going on here? My guess is that many evangelicals are so worried about not wanting to be "Charismatic" that they basically reject the Holy Spirit (or at least His gifts) altogether.

Let's look briefly at what the bible says about this. I Corinthians 12-14 has a wealth of information. What can we learn?

-Paul does not want us to be confused or ignorant about the gifts of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:1).

-There are many spiritual gifts, but only one triune God (I Cor. 12:4-6).

-Each believer is gifted by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:7).

-All gifts are given for the common good of the church (I Cor. 12:7).

-There are a variety of gifts (I Cor. 12:8-10, 28; Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11).

-Gifts must be exercised in a loving manner (I Cor. 13).

-All use of spiritual gifts should have the goal of edification (I Cor. 14:12, 26, 40).

(As I discuss this topic, I should also say that I am not a Cessationist. In other words, I find no biblical evidence to suggest that the Holy Spirit has ceased giving any of the spiritual gifts mentioned in scripture).

To sum up what we see above, the Holy Spirit dispenses spiritual gifts as He sovereignly sees fit. He gifts all believers in some manner. There is a wide variety of gifts which should be exercised in love and for the building up of the church. This is all for the glory of the one true God.

In the modern evangelical church, we need to work to overcome any distrust and confusion about spiritual gifts. This needs to occur through sound biblical teaching from texts such as those listed above. If people don't understand spiritual gifts, they will almost automatically look upon them suspiciously.

I see a few other problems today related to spiritual gifts. First, people frequently determine what their own gifts are. Second, we usually act like the spiritual gifts must be permanent. Third, we make people fit their gifts into our established church programs. Fourth, we act like some gifts are more important than others.

What can we do to combat these problems?

Let's be active in telling our brothers and sisters when we sense that they are gifted in a certain area. Those in teaching positions must encourage believers in Christ to be telling one another when they see an area of giftedness. God desires for the church body to rely on one another; this applies even to spiritual gift-awareness.

Let's understand that gifts may be temporary in nature.

Let's encourage one another to be creative in how we use our gifts. Let's not require one another to "fit" into already existing programs. Spiritual gifts often don't fit into the "box" of the church program. Leaders must be supportive in this.

We must avoid the tendency to elevate some gifts (such as teaching) over others (such as hospitality).

Gifts are clearly for the purpose of the building up of the body in Christ. All gifts are needed. Let's encourage one another to embrace the God who gives these gifts; may we use them wisely and in a loving manner.

8 comments:

Rhea said...

"Let's be active in telling our brothers and sisters when we sense that they are gifted in a certain area. Those in teaching positions must encourage believers in Christ to be telling one another when they see an area of giftedness. God desires for the church body to rely on one another; this applies even to spiritual gift-awareness."

This is so true, Eric. I believe that many people have a hard time seeing their gifts. They might in their head belittle the gift that they see in themselves, b/c they see it as not as valuable or as important. Or perhaps a person is simply a little shy and introverted, and not exactly sure how his gift should be used...it's so important for us to encourage each other, and point out gifts that we see in others...sometimes it's a lot easier for others to see our giftings than it is for ourselves to see them.

Eric said...

Rhea,

I agree with everything you say here!

I think we all need to keep in mind that we are given spiritual gifts to serve the body. Therefore, if a person is not serving, then he or she is not using the gift they have been given. This is where their brothers and sisters in Christ need to step in and help them see both where they are gifted and how they might use this gift.

Pastor Erik DiVietro said...

Great Stuff!

We also need to remind people that the gifts are given to the CHURCH, not to individuals. They manifest themselves in individual's lives only for forwarding the mission of Jesus - the ministry of the gospel by the church.

Much of the misunderstanding of the gifts is tied to our individualism rather than seeing ourselves as communities on Jesus business.

Eric said...

Erik,

"Much of the misunderstanding of the gifts is tied to our individualism rather than seeing ourselves as communities on Jesus business."

That statement is very profound and right on target. Whenever we think of the gifts, we need to remember that they are given for the edification of the body. Our cultural individualism really is a curse for the American church.

Joe Blackmon said...

Eric
I am a Cessationist. However, while we obviously have some difference of opinion regarding spiritual gifts, I certainly agree with you in the fact that spiritual gifts are for building up the body of Christ. I have seen people who appeared to have less "showy" gifts such as service or mercy unintentionally pushed to the sidelines in some churches. I think it's not only important for us to use the gifts that God has given us but also to encourage others when they use their gift to honor the Lord.

Do you think sometimes those with less "showy" gifts (Gifts other than preaching, teaching, administration, etc...) are shy about their gifts because they don't feel they are important?

Eric said...

Joe,

I definitely think people with the "less showy" gifts are often shy about using them because they often are not valued by those in leadership positions. However, scripture is clear that all parts of the body, and therefore all of their gifts, are important. We need church leaders to publically state how important all the gifts are and to champion those who are using these to edify the church.

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

I appreciate your discussion with Joe. It reminds me of a very important - but seldom practiced - passage within Paul's teaching about spiritual gifts:

"On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Cor 12:22-25 ESV)

It seems that unity (lack of division) occurs when we honor people with "less honourable" gifts, who are also the ones that God honors.

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

It seems that whenever we model the humility and servanthood of Christ, the body is built up. When we start to think of ourselves as important, trouble begins. This applies to all church life, and especially to the use of spiritual gifts. It seems simple, but putting it into practice is still something we don't consistently see.

Eric