How does a believer rightly exercise spiritual gifts in a local assembly? The answer to this question depends on whether or not you belong to a church that allows every believer to function and minister in the gatherings (see Reimagining Church for details). If you do not belong to such a church, there will be limited opportunities for you to exercise such gifts. But assuming that you belong to such a church, or will belong to one, the following can be said.
The Bible says that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every person for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). That means that the gifts are available to the entire Body of Christ. Paul’s exhortation to Corinth was to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” and to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts” so as to edify the church (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1, 39). To eagerly desire the best gifts means to desire those gifts that best edify the church, such as prophecy.
The exercise of spiritual gifts begins with a desire to build up the church. It begins with observing what is most needed in your present fellowship. If some are sick among you, then healing is needed. If the church lacks perceiving God’s present mind or it needs a deeper revelation of Christ, prophecy is needed. If there is a lack of purpose, wisdom is needed. The church is a living organism. It will produce spiritual manifestations by sheer instinct if it is allowed to and if the Spirit’s manifestations are not suppressed or discouraged. This is why Paul exhorts, “Quench not the Spirit” in 1 Thessalonians 5:19.
The exercise of spiritual gifts requires faith (Rom. 12:6). If you are seeking the Lord’s glory, you are looking to edify your brothers and sisters, and you are open to correction (if you make a mistake), you have nothing to fear. Those who hide their talents because of fear will never advance in spiritual service (Matt. 25:25-29). It is more honorable to step out of the boat and sink a few times than to never leave it at all.
At the same time, it is hazardous to imitate the poor examples that have been set before us with respect to how spiritual gifts function. Shouting at the devil at high volume, saying “El Shundai” before a prophetic word, using King James English when speaking in the Lord’s name, telling a person to move to another city for a different job because “The Lord told you,” and pushing people down on the floor are just a few examples that should not be imitated. These are some of the harmful wrappings that have shrouded the true gifts of the Spirit, causing them to appear repulsive.
Such wrappings should be discarded, but the gift that lies underneath them should be accepted.
In short, the manifestation of the Spirit is designed to display the presence of Jesus Christ in the believing community. Through spiritual gifts, spiritual life is supplied to the church and spiritual power is released to accomplish God’s intentions.
Spiritual gifts are the means by which we supply life to one another. To stress gifts over life is to breed confusion and division. But to stress life at the expense of gifts is to suffer loss. We should accept both 2 Corinthians 4 (which emphasizes life) and 1 Corinthians 12-14 (which emphasizes gifts), for both are necessary for expressing the fullness of Christ.
The charismaniac over-emphasis on spiritual gifts is one that will detract from Jesus Christ. At the same time, the charisphobic position of suppressing them will do the same. Jesus Christ embodies all spiritual things . . . including spiritual manifestations.
When Jesus is free to express Himself completely and totally . . . without set prescriptions or restrictions . . . the manifestations of the Spirit will appear. And the Lord will use them to reveal and impart His unfathomable riches to His people.