What are Spiritual Gifts, and Why Are They Important? #57
Our readings start with Exodus 9 which features a continuance of the struggle between Pharaoh and his magicians in the blue corner, weighing in at a combined weight of 550 pounds, and Moses and Aaron in the near corner, weighing in at around a hair under 300 pounds. Yes, it’s a handicap match, but it is Pharaoh and his boys that are ultimately on the underpowered side. Job 27 sees Job continue his painful discourse and Luke 12 contains many powerful teachings of Jesus, including His cure for anxiety.
Today we begin a three part series on spiritual gifts. Because this podcast follows the Robert Murray M’Cheyne plan, which was designed during a non-leap year, we will have an extra day in February to work with. Thus for the next three days, we will focus on 1st Corinthians 12-14, and on the 29th, we will discuss 1 Corinthians 15 – the resurrection chapter of the Bible. The next time we go through 1st Corinthians, our focus will be much more on the love chapter – 1st Corinthians 13. But, as a nod to the extreme importance of 1 Corinthians 13, and as a foretaste of our future discussion on the passage, I’d like to turn to our friend Pastor Charles Spurgeon to help us frame our discussion of spiritual gifts in their proper context:
Two things are in the text [of 1st Corinthians 12-13]. There is, first, a good way. And, second, there is “an even better way.” First, the good way is for each individual Christian to “desire the greater gifts.” Paul was referring to spiritual gifts—gifts we ask God for, gifts we may expect the Spirit of God to bestow on us, gifts that can be used in the church of Christ, gifts we desire to possess that we may use them to the glory of God.Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Study Bible: Notes (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1551.
A certain way may be good, but another way may be even better. Gifts are good, but love is better. We should desire spiritual gifts, but above all we should seek love—the best love, the noblest love, the greatest love—that is, love to God, love to fellow believers, and love to the church of God. This is “an even better way.” We should seek this love, first, because we need it. I do not know if we need all the gifts, but I am sure we need this love. Next, we should seek this love because we can have it. There is no limit to God’s love. Perhaps even though we covet earnestly the greater gifts, there may be some gifts we will never receive. But all can have love. We need to get more love, also, because we will then be more useful. I am not sure any of us would be more useful if we had more gifts. Not every gift makes a person useful, but I am sure divine love makes us useful. A gift is often barren, but love is always fruitful. We need to get more love so we will glorify God. How little glory God often gets out of great gifts! Gifts may be prostituted to the vilest purposes, but love always brings glory to God’s holy name. Remember, also, that though we are to desire great gifts, we will lose them one day. But if we have this love, we will keep it, and it will keep us. This divine love gives us the foretaste and pledge of glory. The person who is full of the majestic grace of divine love truly is blessed.
The Bible never gives us a direct and inspired definition of what a spiritual gift is exactly, but there are enough teachings in the Bible on the topic that we can come up with a pretty good definition ourselves, based on what the Bible teaches. I’ll list a few, and then give you mine:
[Spiritual gifts] are gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit which are designed for the edification of the church.Thomas Schreiner from his book: Spiritual Gifts, What They are and why They Matter.
A spiritual gift is a God-given ability, distributed to individual Christians by the Holy Spirit that allows him/or her to work through their lives to help the church execute its mission on earth.Dr. Roger Barrier https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/how-to-identify-and-effectively-use-your-spiritual-gifts.html
A spiritual gift is an expression of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers which empowers them to serve the body of Christ, the church.Lifeway’s Gene Wilks: https://www.marinerschurch.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/DOC-Spiritual-Gifts-List-LW.pdf
“[Spiritual] gifts are abilities God gives us to meet the needs of others in Christ’s name.”Pastor Tim Keller
Spiritual gifts [are] the abilities given by the Spirit which express our faith and aim to strengthen the faith of others; they are abilities by which we receive the grace of God and disburse that grace to others.Pastor John Piper: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/spiritual-gifts
I completely agree with all five definitions above – they are all solid, and each one captures a slightly different nuance of the Bible’s teaching on gifts of the Spirit. Note how the focus is on who the giver is – the Holy Spirit – and the focus is on what the purpose of the gifts are – the building up of the followers of Jesus. Almost every definition above makes mention of those two dynamics, because Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts makes those two points crystal clear. Here’s my own personal definition: “Spiritual Gifts are various supernatural empowerments of grace given to Christians by the Holy Spirit to be used for building up others and pointing them to Jesus.” The main things I add to my definition is that spiritual gifts are SUPERNATURAL – they are not natural talents, but rather supernatural abilities. This doesn’t mean that Christians have super-powers, of course, but that the power-source for these abilities is not human, but of the Spirit, thus making it supernatural. I also suggest that spiritual gifts should point people to Jesus and build them up because it seems to me that this is what Paul is driving at in Ephesians 4:
11 And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. 14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. 16 From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.Ephesians 4:11-16
The Spiritual gifts therefore work to build us up/edify us and also work to point us upwards towards (and into) maturity in Christ. I’ll close our discussion on these gifts today with:
Three Foundational Truths About Spiritual Gifts:
1.Everybody in the Body of Christ has a spiritual gift. Every saved believer in Jesus has been empowered with at least one special, supernatural ability to serve others and glorify God.
2. These gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit as He wills. Paul makes it very clear in 1st Corinthians 12, below, that these abilities from God are directly given to believers by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the giver of spiritual gifts AND is “active in them,” indicating that He is not only the initial gift-giver, but also the gift-activator, and the gift-sustainer.
3. These gifts are given for the benefit of others. According to Paul, who repeats this truth multiple times in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, spiritual gifts are not primarily given for self-edification, but for the building-up of others in the Body of Christ/church. This is why Paul challenges the Corinthians, who were zealous for the operation of spiritual gifts, “So also you—since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, seek to excel in building up the church.” 1 Cor. 14:12 Note that Paul did NOT chastise the Corinthians for being interested in spiritual gifts – not even the controversial gifts like healing, miracles, prophecy and tongues. In fact, Paul says things like this, “I thank God that I speak in other languages more than all of you.” 1 Cor. 14:18, and, “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy.” 1 Cor. 14:1 Though Paul orders the Corinthians to have orderly parameters on the operation of spiritual gifts, he never disparages ANY of the gifts, and he implores the Corinthians multiple times to desire the operation of spiritual gifts among them, especially the gift of prophecy. It is NOT immature to be interested in spiritual gifts – it is actually commanded that we be desirous of these graces in our midst.
Primary Scriptural Foundation for Truths #1-3: 1 Corinthians 12:7-11: “7 A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial: 8 to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit, 9 to another, faith by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another, the performing of miracles, to another, prophecy, to another, distinguishing between spirits, to another, different kinds of languages,to another, interpretation of languages. 11 But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as He wills.”
This is the amazing story of God’s grace. God saves us by His grace and transforms us more and more into the likeness of His Son by His grace. In all our trials and afflictions, He sustains and strengthens us by His grace. He calls us by grace to perform our own unique function within the Body of Christ. Then, again by grace, He gives to each of us the spiritual gifts necessary to fulfill our calling. As we serve Him, He makes that service acceptable to Himself by grace, and then rewards us a hundredfold by grace.Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges
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