The Holy Spirit, Revisited: Spiritual Gifts (Part One)

Confusion about spiritual gifts reigns, why? As we discussed in Chapter 1, the human race is a race of extremes. When it comes to the Holy Spirit (and spiritual gifts for that matter) there are two groups at opposite ends of the spectrum. At one end of the spectrum  is a group who does not like to mention the Holy Spirit. They rarely if ever discuss the mission of the Holy Spirit, His Deity, or personality because they seem almost afraid of the Holy Spirit. This extreme hesitance is in reaction against people of the other end of the spectrum. On this end of the  extreme is a group who often acts as if the Holy Spirit has replaced the other members of the Trinity. Rather than seeing Him operating in the background, they see Him front and center bringing glory to Himself rather than the Son. They view Him as making Himself the center of all attention. Sometimes, these individuals seem to  treat the Holy Spirit like a pagan deity. They invoke Him, they ‘call Him down,’ or the summon Him, forgetting He’s always with us (forever) and within us (John 14:16-17). “Calling Him down” is impossible since He’s here with us and in us, always. “Summoning Him” makes little sense because He is omnipresent. Confusion about spiritual gifts reigns because of their confusion about the Holy Spirit. This brings us to our next question.

 What does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts?” What the Bible says about the Spirit and the gifts is what matters. It matters because the Bible is the inspired word of God. Talk about a gift of the Spirit, that’s what the Bible is! All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. That’s why we often say or write something to the effect, “The Holy Spirit wrote through the Apostle’s pen.” Not that the Holy Spirit dictated the Bible (inspiration is more than that) but men were carried along by the Spirit and what they wrote were God’s words. Therefore, we look to the Bible to understand what the Holy Spirit says about Himself. For our part, we want to be Bible-centered in our approach to the Holy Spirit and in understanding His ministry, and His distribution of spiritual gifts.

 Naturally, this brings us to a discussion of spiritual gifts. The spiritual gifts aspect of the mission and ministry of the Spirit is a place where we find much division in the Church. Some see all spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible as fully operative today. Other’s see kinds of spiritual gifts, or two classes: so-called ‘sign gifts’ and ‘ministry gifts.’ Some of those who see two kinds or types of gifts believe that the sign gifts are still for today, while others believe that the sign gifts no longer function with the maturity of the Church and the closing out of the Cannon, the completion of books of the Bible—the written and detailed (or special) self-revelation of God to humanity.  Regrettably, this topic can be divisive. Friendships have ended over spirited and sometimes harsh discussions of the possible cessation and fade of the gifts.  Sadly, churches split over this topic.

 Have the Gifts Ceased? While many people would like to focus on the noncontinuationnon-continuation or continuation of the gifts today, we will do better. We will develop and foundational understanding of the gifts so that we can operate from the biblical center rather than find ourselves “in a ditch” on either extreme. Let’s start with the basics.

 Who gives the gifts and to whom? Let’s get the fundamentals straight, laying the groundwork for further discussions and exploration. We return to the essential question for settling all such matters. What does the Bible say?

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols; however, you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says, "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1Corinthians 12:1-11)

 And the Giver is? Obviously, we are discussing the Holy Spirit. If you guessed that the Holy Spirit gives ‘spiritual gifts’ you would guessed rightly. However, rather than guess work, we have a revelation made ‘more sure’: the Word of God. The Word of God tells us (here in our passage) that the Holy Spirit is the Giver of spiritual gifts. What does the Holy Spirit tell us through the pen of the Apostle Paul? “To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (v. 7).”  The Holy Spirit is the Giver of the “gifts of the Spirit.” Everyone who receives a spiritual (Holy Spirit given) gift receives that gift from the Holy Spirit. This raises another question.

 To whom are the gifts given? The gifts, as the context of our passage and words of our passage indicates, are given to those within the Church. In other words, only believers are recipients of the so-called ‘spiritual gifts,’ or ‘gifts of the spirit.’

11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body (1 Corinthians 12:11-20).

 Here we see that the body of Christ (i.e. those within the Church) are the recipients of the spiritual gifts. The flow of the passage clearly indicates that regardless of nationality or race, all Christians receive whatever spiritual gifts they have from the Holy Spirit. Only a born-again Christian can receive a spiritual gift. Others may display “counterfeit gifts;” however, if they are not in Christ, then their gift is counterfeit (1 Corinthians 12:3). For example, Hindus and Mormons “speak in tongues.” They are not Christians. Consequently, whatever they are doing, it is not from God the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 11:4). Consequently, whatever they are doing, it is not from God the Holy Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 11:4). As with the Mormons and the Hindus, Muslims speak in tongues, but they are not Christians. This leads us to the following question.

 How is the distribution of gifts determined and by whom? Don’t be put off by seemingly basic questions. Such questions are fundamental to a proper understanding of the gifts of the Spirit.  Let’s remember what we have learned already. The Holy Spirit’s ultimate goal is to bring glory not to Himself but to God the Son: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (John 15:26).” The Holy Spirit’s mission is to bring glory and attention and honor to Jesus, not Himself: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:13-14). This reality challenges other, popular, related questions about spiritual gifts and the recipients of these gifts.

 Let’s talk about “special,” “anointed” persons.  There is a tendency these days for so-called ‘gifted’ men and women to designate themselves, or allow themselves to be designated as, “God’s anointed,” as if they are specially anointed theocratic kings in ancient Israel (like Saul or David). These individuals mistakenly invite or receive honor to themselves and are often put on a pedestal for their apparent giftedness. The assumption is that they must be special because God has bestowed great spiritual and supernatural gifts upon them. Nothing could be further than the truth. If you stop and think about it God does not save us because we are deserving or special. On the contrary, He blesses us with salvation not because of works but because of grace. And what is grace? Grace is God’s undeserved favor. Some, thinking the Holy Spirit’s method is to call attention to Himself, believe that they are somehow worthy of similar attention. No one deserves anything remotely resembling the attention and devotion servants of Christ show God. We are just servants.

 Some engage in a confused line of reasoning. They mistakenly believe that the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to those who are deserving—or special. We are told something like, “Hey... these people are special, or spiritually superior people.” Those who accept such praise are misguided. This kind of thinking is the very thinking the Holy Spirit confronted in the unruly church at Corinth: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it (1 Corinthians 4:7)?” The gifted people at Corinth had mistakenly believed they were special. They became haughty and arrogant—divisive—and God the Holy Spirit rebuked them through His apostle. A better translation of 1 Corinthians 4:7 reads this way: “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it (1 Corinthians 4:7 NASB)?” We are reminded by careful and thoughtful Bible reading that God’s power is displayed in our weakness, not our superiority or worthiness. None of us are worthy of either the ultimate and greatest gift, our salvation, or any other spiritual gift. This truth leads us to consider a next question.

 So, who determines who gets which gift and how? We’ve asked and answered this question to some extent, already. Let’s consider it from another angle. What does the Bible say about the giving of gifts by the Spirit? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 12:

 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (1Corinthians 12:1-18)

 So, what’s going on here? What do we see? What can we learn? Even a casual or cursory reading of the text indicates that gifts are distributed not according to the worthiness or ‘special-ness’ of the individual but according to God’s will. God the Spirit distributes each gift in whatever quantity “as He wills (v. 12)” or “as He chose (v. 18).  Just as God the Holy Spirit, in Acts 13, chose Saul (Paul) and Barnabas for the ministry He chose for them, He distributes gifts as He chooses. Just as Saul and Barnabas were content to surrender to His will, the wise believer does the same. God knows what He wants to do for us and through us and by us; therefore, He gifts us accordingly. It’s not that we are special, or especially deserving. Let’s compress the flow of this passage and I think you might see this more clearly, without damaging the context:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (1Corinthians 12:1; 4; 7; 11; 18)

 Why does the Holy Spirit give gifts to the Church? The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to men for one reason and one reason only: for the common good of the Church (v. 7). The purpose of the gifts is to bring glory to the Son. Too often, those on the fringe extreme enrich themselves and elevate themselves by prostituting counterfeit gifts. They do what they do to bring attention and glory to themselves, rather than for the common good. Their ministries bear their names prominently, rather than the name of a particular church. They only have what they have claimed to receive. They are not to regard themselves, or be regarded, as superior. But, ignoring the Holy Spirit they do just the opposite.

 Gifted people should strive to appear humble. Unfortunately, they say things like “God told me...” “God appeared to me...” or “God gave me” and they (perhaps inadvertently) call attention to themselves rather than concern themselves with the common good. They work themselves into the center of a story. The Holy Spirit does not even call attention to Himself, according to Jesus:

13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15).”

 As we have seen and as Jesus taught, the Holy Spirit calls attention to  God the Son, Jesus Christ and God the Father. He does not call attention to Himself. Believers who are concerned about the glory of God and the good of others (i.e. the common good) do well to do likewise and follow suit. We will go into more detail about the meaning, scope, and definition of the phrase and concept, “the common good” later, as we consider 1 Corinthians 13.

 God the Holy Spirit is sovereign. One would think we understand this as a given. However, there are those who seem to place demands on the Spirit or bind Him as they purport to bind Satan. But in reality, the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts to whom He chooses, on the basis of God’s will for that individual’s ministry life, rather than that individual’s choice. As we saw in God’s Word, it has nothing to do with the individual’s worthiness. The gifts are all about the glory of God and the common good of the Church so that the Church can function beyond the natural abilities of her people.

 The gifts are not about singling people out as super-saints or superior. “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it (1 Corinthians 4:7 NASB)?”  There are those who wish to act, believe, and pretend that they did not receive a gift but developed it, obtained it, or laid hold of it through their own merit. Avoid such people as these.

 What about these gifts: how much, how many, and to whom? Invariably, we will hear of some larger than life Rock-Star-type personality who claims to be able to manifest all the gifts. Often, individuals will imply or outright declare that spiritual people have spiritual gifts and can use them whenever they wish if they have enough faith. As Jesus taught, it is not the size of your faith that matters but the Object of your faith, the Object of your worship. All that matters is that you have a measure of faith, saving faith that is, and you would be able to do amazing things—even if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20; Matthew 20:21).  

 So, does everyone receive every gift? Not everyone in the New Testament era of the early church or apostolic era could speak in tongues. Some people had one gift, while others had another gift. Many today teach otherwise. They are in error. The distribution of gifts, particularly miraculous gifts were limited and restricted according to the will of God the Holy Spirit –as He chose. It is not unreasonable to assume the Holy Spirit did not lie about Himself:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (1Corinthians 12:1; 4; 7; 11; 18)

 Furthermore, the Spirit explicitly teaches through the inspired written words of the Apostle Paul that not everyone receives every gift:

27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way (1Corinthians 12:27-31 NASB).

 What’s the point? The Holy Spirit (through Paul) is challenging the unruly Church at Corinth to wake up and quit playing games with factionalism and showmanship and the gifts. While there is nothing wrong for desiring supernatural empowerment by God to serve Him (v. 31), no one at Corinth (or anywhere else) had all the gifts. Spiritual empowerment was up to God not them and is not up to us. So, he’s telling them and us, in a manner of speaking, “stop pretending” and “stop showing off.” Notice the use of the word “appointed (v. 29),” and the phrase “as He chose (v. 18).” The giving of gifts is up to God, not men (as is the display)—as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). There are supernatural sign gifts and common every day ministry gifts and uncommon leadership and teaching gifts. People did not receive them based upon merit but based upon God’s purposes, choosing, will, timing, and grace. Moreover, whatever gift people received---no one was to be regarded as better than the other as a believer (vv. 11-27).

 Remember that God’s grace is His unmerited favor. We are saved by grace. We receive gifts by His grace. We do not deserve or earn our salvation. We do not deserve or earn the gifts. There were and are His to give as He chooses and pleases, for the common good—not His own glory. The Holy Spirit seeks to glorify Christ, not Himself; not men and women.  

Summary

There is much confusion about spiritual gifts and the working of the Holy Spirit in the giving of gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12-14 tells us the commandments and commands of God when it comes to the spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit decides who gets what gift and for how long and when they employ that gift and how they employ it, if at all. The gifts are distributed to call attention to Christ not to a man as the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to glorify Christ. People have no right to boast about their gifts because they only have what they received, and they do not deserve any gifts. The giving of gifts is an act of grace on God’s part and the gifts are not for self-benefit, or personal enrichment but for the common good of the Christian Church, according to the Holy Spirit of God.

Suggestions for Application

What do we do with this teaching? How do we apply it or put it to use? Consider and embrace these 5 actions/steps:

 Simply seek to serve God with whatever talents and gifts that you have in a way that is humble and humbly benefits the Church of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Corinthians 4:7). Whatever your abilities and gifts, do not regard yourself as special. If your church needs greeters and we do, then apply to use your abilities there.  If our church needs more prayer partners (and it does), then apply to use your gifts there. If the Children’s Ministry needs workers and volunteers, apply to use your gifts there.

Re-examine your use of your gifts and abilities in light of what the Holy Spirit is saying to us in crystal clear black and white. Are there changes you need to make? Make them (1 Corinthians 4:7).

 Ask God to convict you of any prideful or sinful attitude you have manifested based upon the gifts He has loaned you. Realizing they are His, not yours, ask His forgiveness of any pride in your abilities or gifts (1 Corinthians 4:7).

 Express your gratitude to God that He has only given you the gifts you have according to His will and not yours (1 Corinthians 12: 11; 18). Realizing God did not give you less than you need or more than you can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13) take time to thank Him for His perfect judgment.

Ask God to grant you wisdom to employ your gifts for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7) rather than for division in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:24-25). Unnecessary division caused by pride over one’s gifts must be avoided.   After all, just as none of us deserve salvation, none of us deserve spiritual gifts. We aren’t special.

Keith Crosby