The spiritual gifts are meant to bring unity and clarity to the body of Christ, but we tend to be confused by them sometimes. Sometimes this confusion even leads to divisions within the body.
It’s so important that we learn about these gifts so that we may exercise them productively. Here are six things I see in the Scriptures that will help you know how to respond to the various spiritual gifts:
All spiritual experience must come under theological scrutiny.
Some Christians will tell you that they do not have any theology; they just believe the Bible. They are mistaken. There is not a person alive who does not have a theology — that is, central core convictions about God and the ultimate truths of the universe.
At the core of our theology is commitment to the person of Jesus Christ as the exalted Lord. We believe that He is the one who has come in fulfillment of Scripture. We believe that He is the Son of God who gave Himself on Calvary’s tree, that He has been raised from the dead, that He is enthroned and exalted at the right hand of God and that He is the ruling reigning Lord of the universe and of the church.
It’s important to remember and understand what is included and excluded from Christian theology because not every theology is true. Paul advised his readers in 1 Corinthians 14:29,
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.
Prophets and teachers can be wrong. Just because someone speaks with the appearance of authority does not mean that what has been said is correct.
John encouraged the church to know that there are false prophets and erroneous prophecies (1 John 4:1-3). One must place spiritual experience under the authority of basic apostolic gospel and Christian theology, particularly the notion of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
There are a variety of spiritual gifts and manifestations.
We should appreciate the wide variety that can be found within the church. We should not try to press one another into a specific mold with regard, for example, to the gift of tongues. It seems that some in Corinth taught that everyone ought to have the gift of tongues. Paul clearly argued against this:
All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? (1 Corinthians 12:29-30)
It is clear that the answer to each of his rhetorical questions is “No.” We are not all alike.
The gifts have greater and lesser functions.
We do not always like to hear this because we tend to be fairly egalitarian and democratic in our outlook. That is all well and good, but it is clear in Scripture that spiritual gifts carry greater and lesser functions.
Apparently some in Corinth taught that the gift of tongues was the greatest gift. Paul argued that other manifestations of the Spirit are more important. There is clearly a hierarchy in place in 1 Corinthians 12:28:
God has appointed in the church, first apostles; second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrators, various kinds of tongues.
The number of gifts is not set.
Paul did not intend his lists of the spiritual gifts to be exhaustive; instead, he described the gifts using generalized categories.
For Paul, the gifts refer to manifestations or bestowals of the Spirit. Whatever one does in the church under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the fullness of the Spirit can be called a gift of the Spirit.
We also use overarching labels today. No one would be said to have the gift of helping a widow to change her flat tire, for example; that would be a manifestation of the Spirit that we would describe using a more general label such as the gift of service or helps.
Everything that one may do under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, empowered and enabled by the Spirit, is a gracious bestowal of the Spirit.
It is not necessary for every congregation to manifest every gift.
It strikes me that if Paul thought that every church ought to have, for example, the gift of tongues, he would have mentioned it in all his lists of spiritual gifts. Instead, he mentioned it only in the list to the church at Corinth where the gift of tongues was a problem. He was clearly trying to put a restraint on a disruptive practice.
I do not seek the gift of tongues for myself, but I am not about to say that no one else has it. Paul did not approve of the way the Corinthian congregation was exercising the gift because it had been disruptive, but he did not forbid it. I think that is the healthiest attitude.
Not only does the variety of giftedness appear within local churches, but the variety of the Spirit’s work also appears across congregations.
Churches have different personalities. The seven churches referred to in Revelation 2 and 3, for example, had their own unique personalities. They were each given a unique message.
It seems to me that we tread on thin ice when we try to impose anything beyond the Gospel universally across Christian experience. There is such a variety within and among churches that we must allow the Spirit to have this diversity of work.
I am not comfortable in certain kinds of worship, just as I am not comfortable in certain churches that focus on only one kind of ministry. But I am not going to assume that God is not at work in those places. When I criticize a style of worship that I’m not comfortable with, I am really saying something about myself. As long the Gospel stands at the center, I need to be willing to recognize that the Spirit of God has a variety, not only within local churches, but also across different denominations.
We have brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus who are in different denominations. We have brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus who have confessions, creeds, and orders of worship that are different from ours. But they know the same Lord and seek to serve Him and we must, it seems to me, permit that.
I have one more point to make about the gifts of the Spirit, and it is so important that it deserves its own blog post. In my next post, I’ll show you why the spiritual gifts are intended to work together for the good of all God’s people.
Related blogs about the Spirit:
- Love and Spiritual Gifts: What You Need to Know
- 3 Ways the Holy Spirit Works in Your Life Today
- Why the Church Needs Diversity
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Robert Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on June 17, 1990.