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what are gifts for? are they good? what gift?

A

A friend asked what I thought of the ‘spiritual gifts’. I instinctively responded “the Body of Christ has a wide variety of views. Different parts hold different views”

But of course, that on its own is not a meaningful response. So I am glad I only thought it and didn’t speak it out. As with other issues of doctrine we generally adopt the stance of the church in which we were saved or raised or have chosen to attend. In some instances, people take the position of an author they read or a pod-castor to whom they listen. Those who attend theological college usually align with its ‘school of thought’

As always, it is essential to see what’s in the Scriptures about ‘gifts’ giftswithin the church and personal Christian life. The apostle Paul discussed three categories of gifts to us, the Christian church (the Body of Christ)

1. Motivational Gifts (Romans 12)

Just as each of us has one body with many members; and these members do not all have the same function; so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is:- serving, let him serve; teaching, let him teach; encouraging, let him encourage; contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; leadership, let him govern diligently; showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:4-8)

These gifts are also called “gifts of service” because they are used primarily in serving one another

Paul follows the mention of gifts with a reminder of the need for Love (Romans 12:9-21)

2. Ministry Gifts (Ephesians 4)

Paul tells the Ephesians they, as gentiles, form one body in Christ with the ‘citizens of Israel’ (Ephesians 2:11-16). He switches the metaphor from ‘one body’ to that of ‘God’s household’ (building) with Christ as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:17-22)

He reverts to the image of one body and one Spirit in chpt 4. Referring to Jesus, Paul says “It was he who gave some to be apostles; some to be prophets; some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers; to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12)

Paul says Jesus gives these five gifts (ministry roles) to some to prepare God’s people for works of service. Why? To build up (edify) the body of Christ or, as the ICB (International Children’s Bible) puts it …. “He gave those gifts to make the body of Christ stronger

3. Spiritual Gifts (1Corinthians 12)

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” (1Corinthians 12:1)

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1Corinthians 12:7-11)

The Holy Spirit gives these gifts

They are manifestations of the Spirit and are given to each individual just as He determines. Further, Paul contextualises these nine gifts using the metaphor of the Body of Christ — made up of many different parts (1Corinthians 12:12-27)

Then he reminds us of the ministry gifts or functional roles about which he wrote to the Ephesians … “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.” (1Corinthians 12:28)

Again, Paul immediately follows mention of gifts with the reminder of the need for Love (1Corinthians 13)

Gifts can be Divisive

The Body of Christ is divided about the relevance of spiritual gifts today

Some believe the Holy Spirit has stopped giving spiritual gifts. The gifts were only for the season of establishing the church so there is no need for them now

Equally as strongly, others believe the spiritual gifts are still relevant. The church is still being built up so it still has a need and the Spirit is still giving these gifts to each as he determines

In a similar way, the ministry gifts (roles identified in Ephesians 4) are still relevant or not. Pretty much the whole church accepts evangelists, pastors and teachers as valid roles for today. However, apostles and prophets are now ‘extinct’ in a wide portion of the Body. To a large extent, it depends on our understanding of what an apostle and prophet really is and does

Likewise the motivational gifts are acceptable today, except prophesying is not in many parts of the Body

Historically, these gifts have been possibly the most contentious and divisive issue the Christian church has carried. Some proponents on each side of the ‘debate’ feel equally strongly convinced that they are right and the others are in error. This has caused many a rift in the Body in spite of Paul’s warnings

Paul’s very clear warnings amidst the gifts …

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1Corinthians 12:14-21)

However, in spite of these verses …

The strength of disagreement over gifts has more than once sadly deteriorated into a questioning of salvation. It should therefore be no surprise that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul saw the need to ensure that he made clear that “…..no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. ... different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” (1Corinthians 12:3-6). He added this to his introduction to spiritual gifts

Why the differences in belief? Let alone the passionate disagreement? Notably, the church is a group of humans all of whom are in an ongoing transformation from sinfulness to images of Jesus. Hardly homogeneous. Furthermore, Satan despises the church, the Body of Christ. He is desperate and determined to destroy it or at least weaken it as much as possible.

Observations regarding gifts

The belief that the spiritual gifts have ceased is grounded on three main points:-

  1. Perfection
    Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” (1Corinthians 13:8-10)

The thought is that the Bible, the written Word of God is perfect and has come so, the imperfect disappears. Correspondingly, prophecies have ceased; tongues have been stilled; and knowledge has passed away

  1. The Bible is the Complete Word of God
    In the 22nd chapter of his Revelation verses 18 & 19 John says … “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book

Indeed, the Bible is the complete, inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God and we must not expand, reduce nor alter it at all. Therefore no more prophecy, words from God

  1. Concern
    There is concern albeit fear that the spiritual gifts are open to interference from the enemy. Because of point 2. above current words of prophecy would be from the devil or just be sinful man’s idle words. ‘Speaking in tongues’ makes no sense to the rational mind and would be from the devil

Considerations

The acceptance of spiritual gifts today is considered in the face of the three objections above because:-

  1. Reading further in 1Corinthians 13 Paul said more about when perfection comes . … “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known
    (1Corinthians 13:10, 12)

Do we already see face to face rather than a poor reflection?
Do we already know fully so the need for knowledge has passed away?

The alternative view holds that the perfection coming that Paul referred to was not the compiling of the Bible although of course it is perfect. But rather, the coming of the Lord Himself (who is perfection personified)

Does this align with other Scripture?

Paul told the Ephesians that Jesus gave ministries to some individuals, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all:- …….
i) reach unity in the faith
ii) reach unity in the knowledge of the Son of God
iii) become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will
iv) in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Consider the wider Body of Christ. Consider each denomination and even the local church. Has it happened yet? Have we all ….

i) reached unity in the faith?
ii) reached unity in the knowledge of the Son of God?
iii) become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?
iv) in all things, grown up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ?

  1. In all that Paul wrote about Jesus giving some to be prophets and the Holy Spirit giving prophecy as he determines there is no hint that he considered what those people might say was noteworthy, let alone would add to Scripture. He only said that it must not contradict Scripture. He wrote … “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (1Corinthians 14:29)

Many prophets but only a few records

I wonder, was every prophetic word of the prophets we know about recorded in Scripture? The Bible of course tells us that. Isaiah prophesied for more than 50yrs. That amount of prophesying wouldn’t fit in the book of Isaiah.

Other full-time prophets, like Agabus, have only a sentence or two recorded in the Bible. Acts 21:10,11 … “a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’ ”. Beforehand, “… some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted .. a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world” (Acts 11:27,28) But the words of the prophecy weren’t added to Scripture.

Prophecies not added in Scripture

Maybe it’s a sad reflection of my sense of humour but for me, one of the more amusing images recorded in the Bible is in 1Samuel.

After that you [Saul] will go to the hill of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; .… When they arrived … a procession of prophets met him [Saul]; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying
(1Samuel 10:5, 6 ,10)

Imagine, the “noise”, a procession with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps and a bunch of prophets prophesying. Reminds me of a cartoon depiction of a huge noisy crowd of heads, arms and legs bobbing around the outside of a huge bunch of squiggles. Then Saul suddenly joining in their prophesying, becoming part of the crowd. Amazing! We don’t know who they were. The Scriptures do not record their prophesies.

Numerous unknown prophets exist in Scripture without a record of their prophecies. Just one example, 1Kings 18:4 records that while Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves. I’m fascinated. Many more than 100 prophets in Israel at one time. What were they saying?

Satan’s imitations

  1. Satan has a long history of trying to imitate God’s workings (see the magicians of Pharoah in Moses’ day). Scripture records the existence of many false prophets (diviners) throughout the Old Testament. Jeremiah spoke against them (Jeremiah 14:13-18; 23:13-40; 27:14-18) and especially Hananiah (chpt. 28) and Shemaiah (29:24-32)

God is sovereign and Scripture records how God dealt with the false prophets. Given that we are God’s church can He not look after us, the Body of Christ? After all, knowing that Satan is capable of interfering, it was God who initiated the “risk” of spiritual gifts to strengthen His church. He thought it was a good idea, the ‘cost-benefit analysis’ must have shown it was worth it

Conclusion

If there were any prophetic words today, none would be intended to add to Scripture

Then what would current day prophets be saying? Maybe a topic for another day … but, prophetic words must be weighed against Scripture, of course

Paul wrote that the gifts were to prepare God’s people for works of service (that’s personal). To strengthen the Body of Christ (that’s for the common good). He didn’t specify that they were for establishing the church. So the question remains, are the spiritual gifts relevant for today, does the church still need strengthening? Moreover, is Father God still desiring to engift His people?

A SECONDARY ISSUE ARISES which is equally important ….. those who don’t believe the gifts are acceptable for today must resist the temptation to criticise (or worse) those who do. And vice versa.

It can’t be over-stressed; we must heed Paul’s metaphor of the body of Christ. In particular, “The eye cannot say to the hand”, although vastly different in appearance feel and function, “I don’t need you!”

just sayin’

Bibliography –
  • The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984

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