Are Spiritual Gifts for Today?

12 03 2009

Who knew that my post “The Pentecostals are not wrong” would case such a stir? There are some strong opinions out there on the subject, and I guess when someone feels strongly one way or the other they feel compelled to defend their view. I understand that fervour as I’m prone to do the same.
Today I thought I would start a series looking at Spiritual gifts and more broadly the work of the Spirit.

The question of Spiritual gifts perhaps needs some refinement. What do we mean by gifts? What exactly constitutes a gift? It’s best to make sure we’re all on the same page before we leap into any analysis. The first post will start at  at 1 Corinthians 12:1-6. I’ll cover the rest of the chapter in due course.

1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Paul has been writing to a Church divided over many issues and in many ways they are mirroring the society they have come from. Factions grew within the body, and people followed one leader over others. It may be that the gifts were being used to oppress some in the church in order to elevate others. People may have started using the gifts as a means of climbing the social ladder. Perhaps some people might have been using Jesus as another god to curse someone else. Maybe they wanted to get ahead in business and though the power of the Spirit of Christ could be used to halt their enemies progress? Who knows?!

Paul contrasts the mute idols with people speaking by the Spirit. How can someone speak by the Spirit unless it is the Spirit speaking to or through them? This would only make sense in the life of a believer who has been regenerated and has the Spirit dwelling within them. People who have the Spirit in them cannot curse Jesus or use Jesus as another god to invoke a curse on others. People cannot call Jesus Lord without the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

When we talk of Spiritual gifts we miss these gifts. We are enabled by the Spirit to proclaim Jesus’ Lordship to the world. It is a gift in the positive sense. No one who has been regenerated by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus or be lead astray idols who cannot speak. It is a gift in the negative sense. Not only that but there is a sense here in which a regenerate person no longer follows after idols because of the power of the Spirit.

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Paul is starting to emphasise unity in diversity. We are not unified around ourselves and our diversity but our common source.  Note how Paul uses  Spirit, Lord (to refer to Jesus) and God (to refer to the Father) in this phrase. Our unity comes from Father, Son and Spirit, not from anything wrought in us. Every gift flows from the Trinity. Paul hasn’t even begun to talk about the gifts they wanted to talk about. He’s taken them right back. Why on earth do you have gifts? Where do they come from? There is a bigger purpose to gifts than personal edification.

What can we learn from these 6 verses?

1. The Church is first and foremost united around Father, Son and Spirit.

This is true unity. We can’t start with a gift and unite around that and somehow add Jesus then the Spirit, and if we like maybe the Father. Paul writes this section to teach about Spiritual gifts, but he doesn’t start with the gifts per se. He starts with Father son and Spirit. He takes us back to the source and reason for our gifts. How easy would it have been for him to launch into a discourse about how tongues should function? Without a solid foundation and understanding of the source, our gifts are virtually useless. We mirror the pagan society and become clanging cymbals.

2. The Spirit works as a unity in diversity.

Do we bring glory to God in our uniformity or our diversity? I’m going with diversity. We are made as such unique people. No two people have the same fingerprint. Our eye patters and even our heat signatures betray as us an unique people. Why would we want to stress uniformity on gifts? God is the one around who we are in unity, our gifts are diverse. Paul also wants to stress to us that regardless of the diversity in gifts they have the same source. We have no business being divided on diversity when the source is Christ.

3. From start to finish Salvation is the greatest gift.None of the spiritual gifts are worth a cent outside of salvation. They are meaningless. It is because we have been saved by Grace through faith that we are now able to say boldly that Jesus is Lord. This is the greatest gift  of all. Paul highlights that we were taken from the darkness of mute idols, to the light of Spirit who now speaks through us that  Jesus is Lord! By the power of the Holy Spirit within us we no longer mirror the conventions of the pagan world. We do not bow down to idols. We do not use Jesus as another one of our gods that we heap on the pile. There is one Lord, one name under heaven by which man can be saved. And very importantly for the Church we do not use Jesus as a tool for our own self advancement. We don’t use Jesus to keep some people down, and elevate ourselves. Salvation is the great leveller.




4 responses

13 03 2009

Grant, very erudite post, I appreciate the thoughtfulness and balance you show here.

Just for the record I’m not the token cessationist here. I actually believe that Spiritual gifts are for the church still, and even with sign gifts there seems to be no Scriptural reason to dismiss them as impossible.

At the same time, I’m very wary of most of the things I’ve seen from the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, and I firmly believe that if its not in the Bible (holy laughter etc) and not done the way the Apostles set out (orderly, for God’s glory not ours) then it is very likely not of God and is a detriment to the church.

If we can keep it in context, as I think you have here, that is paramount to me. So often any embrace of spiritual gifts and soon enough spiritual gifts are not just ‘a thing’ but ‘the thing’.

The elements you pointed out sum it up well. Spiritual gifts must lead us to be unified in worship and loyalty to the Triune God. We can not insist on getting rid of diversity, not everyone must have the same gifts, including tongues. And we must allow the saving plan of God and his mission for his people to take precedence over any preoccupation with gifts.

13 03 2009

Hey Mason, thanks for the comments. Yeah I’m with you on the Spiritual gifts not being THE thing to look for. It becomes the focus rather than Jesus. I’m also keen on the whole, “if it’s not in the Bible” then it shouldn’t be happening. We have to take that with a dose of salt of course because not every situation in life is in the bible and certain amount of discernment and maturity is needed in any case. A good litmus test would be “Does this bring Glory to God? Is this what the renewed humanity is going to look like?” If it doesn’t stack up then we must be swift in removing it from the Church.

13 03 2009

BTW – glad you’re not the token cessationist – sometimes they must feel like a white guy in a black power march.

13 03 2009

haha wow, I really enjoyed the white guy at the black power march line.

And of course your right that we can not always say if it’s not in the Bible its wrong. Still, if it doesn’t seem ‘fitting’ Scripturally and if it brings attention/glory to us rather than God then we should be very cautious.

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