Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part XI

I am often asked what I believe about “the gifts of the Spirit.” My typical answer is that I believe in them . . . all of them. However, I believe in and practice them without the classic charismatic packages and Pentecostal wrappings.

A large chunk of my life in the institutional church was spent in charismatic circles. About sixteen years ago, however, I came into an experience of the Spirit’s work and power that looked nothing like what I had seen in any charismatic or Pentecostal church to which I belonged or visited. For me, it was a new experience of the Spirit. One that was less artificial, less contrived, and less centered on the Spirit Himself. Rather, it was an experience that was authentic, pure, and centered on the Lord Jesus Christ.

For this reason, I am neither a cessationist (those who believe that some spiritual gifts have ceased) nor a charismatic (those who emphasize spiritual gifts). Instead, I consider myself to be a post-charismatic.[Continue Reading...]

Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part X

Over the last four decades, a heated controversy has raged in the church over the question of spiritual gifts. It has been my experience that much of the disagreement among believers regarding spiritual gifts often finds its basis in a conflicting conversational style. That is to say, two believers may actually have similar beliefs and experiences regarding the gifts, but because they use different theological jargon, they mistakenly conclude that their beliefs and experiences are worlds apart. I liken this phenomenon to that of medicine and medicine labels.

Suppose, for example, that your doctor prescribes a certain medicine for a stomach disorder from which you suffer. Through a careless mistake, the medicine is labeled improperly. Instead of labeling it “Senna,” as it should be, the medicine bottle is mislabeled “Sopor.” Not knowing the difference, you take the medicine and it aids in your recovery. Yet when you tell others how this medicine (Sopor) has helped you, they are dumfounded because Sopor does not relieve stomach problems. [Continue Reading...]

Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part IX

It is interesting to note a significant shift of emphasis in Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians, Paul lays emphasis on gifts. In 2 Corinthians, he lays emphasis on life. In 1 Corinthians, Paul mentions many gifts and discusses their relative value to the church. But in 2 Corinthians, he is occupied with the subject of ministry and is concerned with the inward formation of Christ.

The “treasure (Christ) in the earthen vessel” is the basis of Paul’s incredibly fruitful ministry and the theme that runs through 2 Corinthians. In Paul’s thought, life is what serves the church and is the very basis of all true ministry. But life can only come out of death (2 Cor. 4:10-12).

The church increases because some are willing to suffer. By allowing God to work through our trials and tribulations—in humble submission to His will—God’s people make it possible for Him to supply His life to others. Paul was intimately acquainted with suffering – especially personal attacks from “false brethren” who were jealous of him.[Continue Reading...]

Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part VIII

As I’ve established in Parts I – III, spiritual manifestations are real, important, and they should function in the Body today. But they must be held in proper balance.

Interestingly, spiritual gifts operate non-personally. This means that they function regardless of the spiritual stature of the person who functions in them. Gifts can be thought of as an outside power that God places upon an individual for a specific task.

Accordingly, the Bible gives us many instances where newborn babes and even carnal Christians functioned in powerful gifts (Acts 19:1-6; 1 Cor. 3, 14). God’s ultimate purpose, however, is intensely personal. It is not outward, but inward. God’s highest aim for His children is the inward formation of Christ within them. It is not the outward manifestation of the Spirit that temporarily abides upon them. [Continue Reading...]

Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part VII

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.[Continue Reading...]

Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part VI

God’s highest purpose for His people is that they be built together into Christ’s image. In an effort to reach this all-inclusive goal, God employs two means: Spiritual life and spiritual gifts.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul makes a useful distinction between life and gift. The main difference between the two lies here: Gifts are used to minister. Life is that which is ministered. Stated simply, gifts are the tools; life is the content. Gifts are the utensils; life is the substance. Gifts are the instruments; life is the essence.

NT ministry is merely the release of Christ’s life from one person to another. Each believer has been given a ministry, and each ministry contributes something of Christ to His church and the world. It is for this reason that Paul likens ministry to a function of the physical body—some are eyes, others are hands, others are feet, etc. These different functions in the Body of Christ do not represent gifts. They instead represent ministries.[Continue Reading...]

Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part V

In this post, I want to briefly address the problem of counterfeit spirituality. Martin Luther rightly said, “When God builds His house, the devil builds a chapel.”

When God is operating powerfully in a person or group, counterfeit spiritual manifestations will sometimes surface in the group or through people attacking the person or group whom God is using. This has been true historically.

For example, the Welsh Revival of the early 20th century is one of a number of authentic moves of God that was destroyed because people started to accept counterfeit spiritual manifestations.

Consequently, how do you know when the Holy Spirit is operating through someone or what they say is inspired by the Lord? Here are a few guidelines.[Continue Reading...]

Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part IV

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.[Continue Reading...]

Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part III

This will be the longest post in our present series. But I felt it would be better to keep this particular topic all together instead of breaking it up in pieces.

I want to briefly examine how I understand the spiritual manifestations of 1 Corinthians 12 in light of their usefulness. It seems to me that these manifestations can be divided into three categories: The revelatory gifts, the inspirational gifts, and the power gifts.

Note that these manifestations are different from other “gifts lists” in the NT (e.g., Romans 12) in that they are all supernatural in nature. To my mind, any supernatural act exhibited through humans in the NT can be ascribed to one of these nine manifestations. (By the way, I’ve addressed the so-called “Five-Fold Ministry Gifts” in a previous post.)[Continue Reading...]

Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part II

A cardinal mistake that many believers make is to confuse spiritual gifts with spiritual life. God’s highest aim for His children is that they grow and develop in spiritual life (1 Pet. 2:1-2). As we grow in the life of Christ, we move closer to realizing the Divine Purpose of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-29; 2 Cor. 3:18). We also begin to function in ministry. And effective functioning requires the exercise of spiritual gifts.

Stated simply, spiritual gifts are the tools by which we express spiritual life and spiritual power. Put another way, gifts are the utensils by which we supply spiritual food to others.

Now I ask you, which is more important—gift or life? Obviously, life is more important than gift, for food is more important than the utensil. Would it really matter if you were served a piece of steak with a spoon rather than a fork? Although it is easier to serve steak with a fork, the substance of what one is served is of greater significance than the utensil by which it is served.[Continue Reading...]