Are Spiritual Gifts For today?
At this point, I am assuming you have taken the Free Spiritual Gift Test and have received the detailed profile ranking your Spiritual Gifts in percentages as well as a descriptive profile for each Spiritual Gift. This is a good starting place for understanding how God has uniquely equipped you for the work of ministry, and how He desires to see His grace flow through your life to bless and benefit others.
We now want to focus on helping you unwrap your Spiritual Gifts and see you come to better comprehension and appreciation for this wonderful part of your Christian life. As we begin, let’s be sure we understand why Christians should take the time to study about Spiritual Gifts. While I could certainly list more reasons, let me give you three to start with.
1. Because You Want Your Bible Knowledge To Be Active.
In a different context, The Apostle James exhorts us to, “be doers of the Word, and not hearers only,” deceiving ourselves (Jam. 1:22). Your goal in giving yourself to this study should not simply be the gaining of Bible knowledge, although that will certainly be a natural byproduct of the time you invest here. Instead, the desire to learn about your Spiritual Giftedness should stem from a great desire to be used of God effectively in ministry for the benefit of others and ultimately, for the glory of God.
It is interesting that some study about Spiritual Gifts and come to the conclusion that some or all of the Spiritual Gifts mentioned in Scripture have ceased. If asked the simple question, “Are Spiritual Gifts for today?” their answer would be a resounding, “No!”
As I’ve considered their reasoning, it seems they come to this conclusion by lifting two different passages from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, surprisingly, both of these passages come from the same section of Scripture that speaks expressly about the Gifts themselves, 1 Corinthians, Chapters 12, 13 and 14.
a) One reason we are told that some or all of the Gifts have ceased is because of the excellency of love. We are taken to the last verse of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12, where Paul, after having expounded about Sign Gifts / Manifestations of the Spirit in v1 through v11, and having insisted on the importance of each of the Gifts being given proper place and honor within the Church (v12-31), the Chapter closes with the words, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” We are told that Paul was replacing the Gifts with the supremacy of love, which he then unfolds in the beautiful “love chapter of the Bible,” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. “Love,” we are told, “is better than all of the Gifts!” Hear Paul himself: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3), to which I firmly resound, “Amen!”
But my “Amen!” is not implying that love has replaced the Gifts, for this is not the point that Paul was trying to make. The Apostle is simply underscoring the fact that each of the Gifts, and all of the Gifts, must be exercised in love. That without love, and without “faith working through love,” (Gal. 5:6), nothing we say or do will bring the results God desires to see through the employment of our Spiritual Gifts. We can be sure this is what Paul was after when we open the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 14, and Paul is back on task telling his readers, “Pursue love,” Yes! Indeed! “Pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1).
1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the beautiful “love chapter of the Bible,” is placed in the center of two Chapters of Paul’s writings concerning Spiritual Gifts, not to tell us that love has replaced the Gifts, but to serve as a constant reminder that Spiritual Gifts must always be employed and exercised in love, which is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
b) Another reason we are told that some or all of the Gifts have ceased is because of the sufficiency of the Bible. In developing this reasoning, we are taken again to 1st Letter to the Corinthians, and again to the 13th Chapter beginning at v8 where Paul writes, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Cor. 13:8-10).
Here we are told that prophecies and tongues and knowledge (three of the Sign Gifts) will cease “when the perfect comes.” From this reasoning, those who insist that the Gifts have ceased, tell us that, “the perfect” that was to come, is the complete written Word of God, the Scriptures, Once the Old and New Testaments were complete, the reasoning goes, “the perfect” had come, and the Church was no longer in need of any Spiritual Gifts. In other words, Spiritual Gifts, and particularly the Sign Gifts / Manifestations of the Spirit, were only needed during the Early Apostolic Age to give validity to the message of the Gospel until the Scriptures were completed. Now that we have a closed Canon of Scripture, the Gifts have ceased through obsolescence.
In response to this, a clear reading of the rest of 1 Corinthians 13 untangles this faulted reasoning. It is because I gladly affirm that both the Old and New Testament are inspired by God and are the authoritative rule for faith and conduct, I must point out that it is the Scripture itself that advocates for the presence of Spiritual Gifts. Yes, the day will come when prophecies and tongues and knowledge, and for that matter, all of the Sign Gifts will cease, but that day is when we are, “face to face” with Jesus (1 Cor 13:12), when He has ushered in His “perfect” reign and Kingdom with His return to this world. At that point, all of the purposes of God’s saving work in Christ will have been reached. At that time, and not before, the Spiritual Gifts which were necessary for the building up of the Church in the present age and for bringing witness to creation will disappear because “the perfect” and the complete will have come. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
The reason I am banging this cymbal so loudly is that many of us have had faulted theology poured into the foundation of our understanding that must be corrected before we can build anything of substance upon it.If you truly want to unwrap your Spiritual Gifts and function in them effectively, you are going to have to believe they still exist today! I am convinced that if you will walk with me through this and the next several lessons, you will see how deeply rooted Spiritual Gifts are in the New Testament and how fully ingrained they should be in each of our lives.
So, we’ve addressed the two reasons why some believe that Spiritual Gifts have ceased, but now, it’s important to move beyond the objections and consider two reasons why we believe all of the Spiritual Gifts are for today.
a. There is no specific command to stop!
You will never come across a verse of Scripture that tells you to no longer seek to discover or develop your Gift, or a passage indicating a certain time or dispensation when Spiritual Gifts have in fact ceased or their use come to an end. Quite to the contrary, the entire New Testament is filled with examples of men and women, and not only Jesus’ Twelve Apostles or the Apostle Paul, who employed their Gifts for the good of others and for the glory of God.
Also, as we discovered in a previous study, since two of the primary purposes of Spiritual Gifts are to equip and encourage the Church, it follows then, that until the church is complete, or as Paul describes, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13), Spiritual Gifts will continue to be both essential and indispensable. So again, there is no specific command to stop their continued exercise.
b. There are strong commands to continue!
As we saw earlier, in his section addressing Spiritual Gifts, Paul tells his readers, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Cor. 12:1). He then cheers them on in this regard, encouraging them to “Pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1). Simalarly, Paul writes to the believers in Thessalonica, instructing them, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thess. 5:19-20). We would all do well to heed Paul’s sound warning to Timothy, his young son in the faith, when he issued this sobering command, “Do not neglect the gift you have” (1 Tim. 4:14).
Again, coming full circle, this is one of the reasons we need to learn more about Spiritual Gifts. Our goal is not simply the acquisition of knowledge, but more so, that we might be empowered to walk in the knowledge we are given! The Holy Spirit is at work in the Church and in the world, and the better we understand our Gifting, the more actively involved we can be in the work to which we are called.
So, coming back around to the three reasons why Christians should study about Spiritual Gifts:
1. Because You Want Your Bible Knowledge To Be Active.
2. Because You Want Your Church to be Attractive.
As we study the subject of Spiritual Gifts together, more and more, we will see how the Gifts are always presented in the context of the Body, the Church of Jesus Christ. Notice that emphasis in the following passages.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…”
1 Corinthians 12:11-12
After listing the nine Sign Gifts / Manifestations of the Spirit, the Apostle Paul makes them analogous to how each of the various parts of the body function within a healthy body. “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” In fact, from this point forward to the end of the Chapter, Paul expands on this body analogy, helping us to understand how we should appreciate every unique Gift the Holy Spirit gives.
Having just introduced his readers to the Support Gifts / Ministry Gifts of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers – The Five-Fold Ministry Gifts (v11-13), Paul again begins to place the presence of Spiritual Gifts within the context of a healthy, functioning body. He exhorts, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
All of this to say, that The Body of Christ is most attractive when she is well proportioned, nourished and functioning. It is, “when each part is working properly” (Eph. 4:16), that is, when every Spiritual Gift is being exercised in love for the benefit of others and the glory of God, the attractive, compelling, true life of the Spirit will be evident to all. People are attracted to Life! Vibrating, exhilarating, pulsating, Life! That is why many find it difficult to visit hospitals or nursing homes. They don’t feel drawn to these environments as much as they do to places where health and vitality are evident. So too, when every believer is functioning in their area of Spiritual Giftedness within the Body of Christ to which they have been called, the Church will be more Attractive.
3. Because You Want Your Service To Christ To Be Effective
A third reason you should study about Spiritual Gifts is that your service to Christ and the ministry to which you have been called will be more effective when you serve within the areas for which you have been Gifted. You are a unique individual whom God created for His pleasure. There is no one like you, and you are called to make your special contribution to the whole. When you move in your area of Giftedness, you will excel in edifying others and, in turn, discover a great sense of joy and satisfaction. On the other hand, when we attempt to minister outside of our Giftedness, the results are most often disappointment and frustration.
Beyond this, your understanding of the will of God will be greatly enhanced the better you understand your areas of Giftedness. For instance, if a person knows they have a Gift of Teaching, yet the position that they are being invited into makes little or no opportunity for this Gift, it is most likely not the position God is calling them to.
Let me illustrate this principle from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 12. By now, you are becoming familiar with this Chapter, as it is the one that introduced us to the Service Gifts / Motivational Gifts. Paul begins this Chapter by appealing to his reader to consecrate themselves to God and thereby positioning themselves to more properly discern the will of God. He writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I will refer to this approach as one of Consecration Theology, which says, in short form, “The more consecrated I become, the more I will be able to understand God’s will for my life.” Certainly, there are deep truths connected to this statement and theology. In fact, we hear Paul exhort Timothy along these lines. “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). That being said and affirmed, you may be a person who has consecrated yourself time and time again, and still to this day, have not come to a clear sense of God’s will for your life. If we stop with the first two verses of Romans 12, we will, in the end, be left wanting.
Notice that Paul continues in v3 through v8 with an understanding that I will call Gift Theology. This approach promotes, in short form, “The more I understand my Spiritual Gifts the more I will be able to understand God’s will for my life.” Notice, that coming directly on the heels of Paul’s calling the believers to fully consecrate themselves to God, he opens a lengthy section on the functioning of Spiritual Gifts within the Body of Christ. “For by the grace given to me – (Remember, Spiritual Gifts are most often spoken of in the context of humility and grace) – I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom. 12:3-6a). It is then that Paul speaks of the various Service Gifts / Motivational Gifts (Rom. 12:6b-8). The clear indication is that the discerning of God’s will does not rely on the sole rite of consecration alone, but also rests on our understanding of and appreciation for the unique way we each have been Gifted by the grace of God.
Let me pull back to our earlier illustration and expand on it a little. If a person – but now, let’s make them a fully-consecrated person! If a fully consecrated person knows they have a Gift of Teaching, yet the position that they are being invited into makes little or no opportunity for this Gift, it is most likely not the position God is calling them to. I am not advocating for Gift Theology over and above Consecration Theology in helping to discern God’s will for our lives, but rather, as Paul indicates, we include both. In other words, I should begin with Consecration Theology, understanding that my service for Christ comes after my surrender to Christ and the transformation that results from this self-giving. I then add to this, Gift Theology and the understanding that God’s will also involves my operating in the area that He has equipped me by His grace. When it comes to Consecration Theology and Gift Theology, I believe Paul would insist on the position of “both-and” rather than “either-or.”
As we conclude this part of our study, your understanding of Spiritual Gifts should be developing to the place that you are grasping the significant place Spiritual Gifts are given in Scripture. Likewise, you should find yourself becoming more acquainted with the Biblical language and the many Scriptures that focus on this subject. I encouraged you to open the next Study as we press more deeply into this important area of the Christian life.
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