Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Spiritual Gifts

Having read Jonathan Moorhead's Spiritual Gift Tests: A Rational Pneumatology, I thought to add my little bit to that conversation.

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Pet 4:10)

The gifts are not to be used to gain more prestige in the church, since the fleshly manipulation of the gifts is not "for the common good." (1 Cor 12:7).

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. (1 Cor 12:11)

If we simply allow the Holy Spirit (as if He needs to be "allowed"), to send His gifts when He wants to, there will be more "common good" in the church and less fleshly outbursts of a demonic nature.

A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church. [1]

What could the purpose be of the gifts?

, as we have noted from 1 Cor 12:7, the gifts are "for the common good" of the church. As soon as we believe that we can use a gift at our own will, it loses its "common good." It then becomes a tool for the upliftment of our own egos.

, the gifts are given to the church for the period between Pentecost and the return of Christ. We can see how Paul connects the return of Christ and the time period of the gifts when he says that the Corinthians "are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:7). Later (1 Cor 13:10), Paul tells us that the gifts are imperfect, "but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away." The perfect comes when Christ returns for us on that great and glorious day!

, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was for much more than the gifts. The ultimate purpose of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit is to "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses"(Ac 1:8) wherever we go.

, the gifts are for "the edification of the church." (1 Cor 14:12)

The question is always asked, "How many gifts are there?" [2]

1. Apostle 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11
2. Prophet 1 Cor 12:28; 1 Cor 12:8-10; Eph 4:11; Rom 12:6-8
3. Teacher 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11; Rom 12:6-8
4. Miracles 1 Cor 12:28; 1 Cor 12:8-10
5. Kinds of healings 1 Cor 12:28; 1 Cor 12:8-10
6. Helps 1 Cor 12:28
7. Administration 1 Cor 12:28
8. Tongues 1 Cor 12:28; 1 Cor 12:8-10
9. Word of wisdom 1 Cor 12:8-10
10. Word of knowledge 1 Cor 12:8-10
11. Faith 1 Cor 12:8-10
12. Distinguishing between spirits 1 Cor 12:8-10
13. Interpretation of tongues 1 Cor 12:8-10
14. Evangelist Eph 4:11
15. Pastor Eph 4:11
16. Serving Rom 12:6-8
17. Encouraging Rom 12:6-8
18. Contributing Rom 12:6-8
19. Leadership Rom 12:6-8
20. Mercy Rom 12:6-8
21. Marriage[3] 1 Cor 7:7
22. Celibacy 1 Cor 7:7

In 1 Pet 4:11 two gifts are mentioned.

hoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

"Speaking" here covers several vocal gifts and "service" covers gifts of service.

The fact is that the way Paul has enumerated the gifts in the different texts shows us that he did not intend giving us an exhaustive list of all possible gifts. The other point is that to categorize the gifts into different groups of gifts is simply folly. Not even Paul did that.

The church in the modern era loves tinkling with worldly ideas. We can see this especially clearly in all the tests out there that can be used to ascertain what one's gifting is.

How many of you have done some kind of motivational gifts test at your church, Bible study group, or elsewhere? It is quite the in thing to do at many churches to help people find their motivational gifts. The idea of motivational gifts come from our text for this study: Rom 12:3-8.

These gifts are enumerated as:
  • prophecy, 12:6
  • serving, 12:7
  • teaching, 12:7
  • encouragement, 12:8
  • giving, 12:8
  • leadership, 12:8
  • mercy, 12:8

The gifts mentioned in the New Testament are broken into basically three groups:

Ministry gifts, Eph 4:11 (This is a valid grouping. This passage does not use the same word for "gift" as the following passages. Our concern, therefore, is not with this passage.)
  • apostle
  • prophet
  • evangelist
  • pastor
  • teacher.

2. Spiritual gifts, 1 Cor 12:8-10
  • word of wisdom
  • word of knowledge
  • faith
  • gifts of healing
  • effecting of miracles
  • prophecy
  • distinguishing of spirits
  • various kinds of tongues
  • interpretation of tongues

3. Motivational gifts, Rom 12:3-8
  • prophecy
  • serving
  • teaching
  • encouragement
  • giving
  • leadership
  • mercy

The idea behind this is that each one of us was born with one or more of these motivational gifts inherent in our natures. These gifts are not seen as Holy Spirit empowered gifts, but as gifts given at birth. They can almost be seen as character traits by those who espouse them as motivational gifts. One could be motivated by the prophetic motivational gift, which in this case is not the same as the gift of prophecy from 1 Cor 12. This prophetic motivational gift helps one to see everything in black and white, right or wrong. A person motivated by this gift sees things as they are and they call a spade a spade. In this way we can go down the list.

The question, however, is the idea of the gifts mentioned in Rom 12 as motivational gifts a valid one, or should we look for a proper hermeneutic of this passage? The answer to this question is that we need to look for a proper hermeneutic of Rom 12:6-8.

How could this passage in Romans be interpreted in a more consistent Biblical way?

Remember, we want to discover from the text of Rom 12:6-8 if the gifts mentioned there are motivational gifts; gifts that we are more or less born with that we carry with us through life, or as Holy Spirit empowered gifts.

In order to find out the meaning of this passage, the first thing we need to do is look at the context. I remember someone telling me many years ago: A text without a context is a pretext. This has proven so true in the church today. Much of what is preached from pulpits today are mere overlays of the preacher’s preconceived ideas, onto the text of Scripture. This creates a complete distortion of the proper meaning of the Bible into a deception forced upon the church.

We already know how the other passages on gifts are interpreted, especially the spiritual gifts from 1 Cor 12. On the most part, interpretations for 1 Cor 12 are correct. In order to find out what Paul meant by this list of gifts, we will compare the Rom 12 passage with the passage in 1 Cor 12.

We have already seen the gifts mentioned in 1 Cor 12. Now we will look at the broader context of the setting of this "gifts" passage. As we look at the 1 Cor 12 gifts in their context, we will keep referring back to the Rom 12 gifts passage.

Many members

When we look at 1 Cor 12 and the context of the gifts in this passage, the first thing we notice is that Paul puts the use of the gifts in the context of the many members of the church. We see this in 1 Cor 12:15-27. Here Paul illustrates how the eye cannot be the ear, and the hand cannot be the foot. The importance of this passage is highlighted when the Corinthians are notified of the necessity of even the weaker members of the body. Each member of the body has an important task. When last did you kick your little toe against a chair? Even though you never give your little toe the smallest of thoughts, when you kick your little toe, your whole body is in pain together with your toe. In this way, each of the members of the body of Christ has an important place. The one with the gift of prophecy is not more important than the one with the gift of discernment. In fact, each manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good, not for the personal use of the one with the gift (1 Cor 12:7). The Spirit does the distributing of gifts when it is needed to whomever He wills (1 Cor 12:11).

Now, let us go back to Rom 12. Have a closer look at Rom 12:4-5! Remember the context! Paul writes that we are all members of one body and "all the members do not have the same function" (v4). We "are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another" (v5). As in 1 Cor 12 the gifts of Rom 12 find themselves in the same context of the "many members" with all having different functions.

Loving members

Next, we find the gifts passage of 1 Corinthians in the context of love. Paul ends 1 Cor 12 with "earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way." (v31). He then proceeds with showing the Corinthians a more excellent way. The way of LOVE! Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is one of the most well known passages of Scripture of all time. No matter how many gifts you perceive yourself to have and to lay claim to, without love, they mean absolutely nothing. It is then that the gift of tongues will lose its validity by simply sounding like a "noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (v1). Even if I somehow know everything, perhaps through the gift of prophecy, "I am nothing" (v2). Giving to the poor does not guarantee that we have love. Paul writes that we can give to the poor without love, but "it profits me nothing" (v3). The passage then carries on about the perfection of love and that all gifts will cease, yet love will never fail.

How does this fit into the context of the gifts mentioned in Romans 12?

As soon as Paul finishes the list of gifts in Rom 12, he proceeds with "Let love..." (v9). He then carries on with the topic of love till the end of the chapter in verse 21. Once again, the contexts in the two different passages are the same.

The use of gift

Let’s jump back to 1 Cor 12! The Greek word for gift in 1 Cor 12 is charisma. "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit." (v4) We see it again in verse 9 "to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit" and also in verses 28 and 30. Finally, Paul writes in verse 31 "But earnestly desire the greater gifts." The gifts that the Spirit distributes to the church when needed are free gifts. The meaning of this word is "free gift."

Which word for "gift" is used in Rom 12? "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly" (v6). The word for gift here is also charisma. These gifts are given to us according to the grace given to us. The word for grace here is charis. Grace in the New Testament is always free and can not be worked for. This grace is a grace bestowed on us by God.

So, what have we learnt from our little study of Romans 12 in conjunction with 1 Cor 12?
We have learnt that Romans 12 has exactly the same context as that of 1 Corinthians 12. The gifts mentioned in both passages are surrounding by the same two topics:

Many members in the body (Rom 12:5-5; 1 Cor 12:15-27)
2. Loving members in the body (Rom 12:9-21; 1 Cor 13)

We have also learnt that the same Greek word for gift (charisma) is used in both passages to teach on their respective list of gifts.

So what is our conclusion?

In the final analysis of these two passages, we have to conclude that the gifts mentioned in Rom 12 are not motivational gifts, but spiritual gifts. These gifts are not motivational gifts that we are born with, but gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes to us.

Just thinking...

End Notes
1. Grudem, Wayne, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY An Introduction to Biblical Theology, Intervarsity Press, Leicester, England, 1994, p1016
2. Grudem has this list of the gifts on p1020.
3. If the word “gift” (charisma) in this one verse has absolutely no bearing on this chapter in which Paul clearly contrasts being married and being celibate, then somehow we will have to bend this verse to point to some “gifts” outside of this chapter. Paul just wished that all men were as himself (celibate) in verse 6. Then two verses after verse 7—the verse in question—in verse 9, he concedes that if they did “not have self-control” they should marry. In the midst of this he writes that “each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.” If this “gift from God” does not relate directly to either being married or being celibate, then surely context has no meaning!

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