Be not deceived. You can only supply to others that which you yourself have received from God (Matt. 10:8; Acts 3:6). When spiritual gifts become the central focus of our attention, Christ takes the backseat.
This has been the tragedy of many assemblies that have emphasized gifts over life. Among such groups, there is an abundance of soulish excitement coupled with an absence of the self-emptying experience of the cross. In this regard, Frank Bartelman, reporter and eyewitness of the Azusa Street Revival of 1907, solemnly warned the church of this danger saying,
The temptation seems to be toward empty manifestations. This does not require any particular cross or death to the self-life. Hence, it is always popular. We may not put power, gifts, the Holy Ghost, or in fact anything ahead of Jesus. Any mission that exalts even the Holy Ghost above the Lord Jesus Christ is bound for the rocks of error and fanaticism. There seems to be a great danger of losing sight of the fact that Jesus is “all in all.” The work of Calvary, atonement, must be the center of our consideration. The Holy Ghost will never draw our attention from Christ to Himself, but rather reveal Christ in a fuller way. We are in danger of slighting Jesus—getting Him “lost in the Temple,” by the exaltation of the Holy Ghost and of the gifts of the Spirit. Jesus must be the center of everything. The Lord Jesus becomes a stranger among His own people when they give the Holy Spirit preeminence over Him, when they praise Him but will not fellowship with Him, and when they seek His power rather than Him who embodies all spiritual things. Put another way, the upper room should never overshadow the cross or the empty tomb.
In short, the giftings of the Holy Spirit are to do away with self and bring the Lord Jesus into greater view. If they are not doing that, then there is good reason to question their source. Note that the Spirit does not speak of Himself. Instead, He always speaks of and glorifies Christ (John 15:26; 16:13-14). Thus a person who is filled with the Spirit will be consumed with Jesus.
What, then, is God’s way for His people to minister to the Body and the world? The answer is simple. First by life, then by gift. NT ministry does not lie in seeking gifts, techniques, or methods. The way to ministry lies in seeking Christ. It rests upon receiving a new and fresh revelation of Him to our hearts. Our special knowledge of the Lord Jesus is what constitutes a ministry, and it is through the trial of our faith that we come into this knowledge. When we are tested and tried, when we encounter obstacles and pressures, it is there that we learn something more of our Lord’s fullness.
Of course, this will never happen if we resist suffering and always seek to escape it rather than to learn more of Christ through it (see 2 Cor. 12:9-10; 4:7-12). In this connection, Paul writes, “. . . but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation works patience; and patience works experience” (Rom. 5:3-4).
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul compares and contrasts love with spiritual gifts. Love is the nature of spiritual life—it is the governing motive and disposition of God’s life. According to Jesus, love is treating others the same way you want to be treated in every situation. This “fulfills the Law and the prophets.”
Interestingly, when Paul discusses love in connection with gifts, he draws attention to their comparative endurance. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s stress is on love, not gifts. He points out that it is love that God has bestowed for the lasting edification of His Body. Gifts are the Holy Spirit’s outward expression in works and words. Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s inward working in our lives through God’s dealings. Gifts are temporary; love is permanent. To paraphrase Paul, “When all else fails, love remains” (1 Cor. 13:8).
God often employs the wide use of power gifts to begin a new work. But He then expects that new work to grow into something deeper, greater, and richer. This does not mean that the gifts disappear, but they take a less prominent role as the people involved mature from babyhood to adulthood.
The church in Corinth had many gifts, but little spiritual maturity. By contrast, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians contains his highest and deepest revelation. In that letter, it is the “gifted men” themselves and not “the gifts” that are his focus. A major difference, then, between spiritual gifts and spiritual life is that of endurance. Gifts may increase or decrease depending on the context and the need. But spiritual life and its outstanding hallmark—love—are to continue throughout eternity.