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What Should I Know about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?


Pentecost Mosaic, Holger Schue, 1500.


"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines." --1 Corinthians 12:7, 11


I suspect that the most controversial aspects of the ministry of God, the Holy Spirit, are the gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes to all Christians. The teaching about the gifts of the Holy Spirit since the birth of the church nearly 2000 years ago has produced division over the centuries within the Body of Christ. The fault line of the division boils down to the argument over whether the more supernatural gifts (most often tongues, the interpretation of tongues, healing, prophecy and miracles) are still active and being given by the Holy Spirit to the contemporary church. I do not want to survey this argument in this space; there is too much ground to cover to do justice to each side of the debate. I come down on the side of all of the gifts still being active today largely due to the fact that it is the simplest and least complicated way to interpret the Scriptural teaching on the gifts. I don't think we reject a Scriptural teaching just because we are uncomfortable with it or because some have abused the teaching in the past. If someone would like to explore this particular issue with me more fully, feel free to give me a call at 260-341-6122. The fullest exploration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is to be found near the end of the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthian Church, chapters 12-14. Rather than write about any specific gift of the Holy Spirit, I have some thoughts on the topic of the gifts in general that have helped me correct some misconceptions I have had about the gifts in the past and that I have encountered when I talk to others about the subject. Take a look at I Corinthians 12:7, 11, the passage provided at the beginning of this reflection. One of the biggest misunderstandings about the gifts of the Holy Spirit that I run into is that each Christian "has" one or more spiritual gifts. If you read the verses above closely, you will see that this is not true. The Holy Spirit has or possesses these gifts and he distributes them to Christians as He determines for the common good.

Embracing this truth clears up two problems immediately. First, it prevents some of us from feeling overly important, even arrogant, about the gift that the Holy Spirit has given us. We don't have the gift--He does. Second, it prevents others of us from dismissing the possibility that we could receive any of the spiritual gifts at any point in time if the Spirit deems the distribution of that gift to us at that moment will serve the common good (that is, help someone else). Some Christians take false comfort in the thought that they just aren't evangelists, or teachers, or missionaries because they don't have those gifts--so they will not be asked to share their faith, teach or communicate the gospel cross-culturally. Unfortunately, the Scripture doesn't allow us that excuse. At any point in time, we could be asked to exercise any of the spiritual gifts. It is true that some people will exercise one of the spiritual gifts more often than other people, but that may have more to do with their life circumstances or the faith God has given them than their personality or their desires. Because the exercise of some of these spiritual gifts can seem to be more "spectacular" (for lack of a better word) than others, some throughout the history of the Church have used their exercise of these gifts to enhance their power and even control of ministries and church organizations. This scenario produces religious abuse and wounded, traumatized people. This is why the Apostle Paul talks about the analogy of the human body in I Corinthians 12:12-26 in connection to the spiritual gifts. Just as a body that consisted of nothing but a big eyeball would be grotesque and unhealthy, any priority of the spiritual gifts that allows greater fanfare for one over the others is equally grotesque and unhealthy. All of the gifts are equally important and all serve to assist the mature, efficient functioning of the Body of Christ. Likewise, to exclude certain gifts from being exercised just because they have caused division, we don't understand them, or they make us uncomfortable would be equally unfortunate and would deprive the Body of Christ of a fully functioning, spiritually organic experience. It is so important to realize that the Apostle Paul set his famous teaching on love in I Corinthians 13 at the heart of his discussion of the spiritual gifts. Love for God and for others is central to the proper exercise of the spiritual gifts. I believe that the Scripture teaches that the manifestation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (listed in Paul's letter to the Galatians, chapter 5, verses 22-23) in our lives is much more important than the demonstration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit that most completely reflect the character of Jesus Christ. The fruit of the Holy Spirit mark the goal of the sanctification process which the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives producing; sanctification is the fancy theological word for making us "holy" or healthy. The Holy Spirit is called "Holy" because His presence in us makes us more holy and healthy supernaturally--it is His work apart from any contribution that we can make to the process. Just as I was saved by grace through faith and not by my own actions or achievements, I am equally sanctified by grace through faith and not by praying more, reading the Bible more or by "being a good person."

I am going bald, not because I am pulling a little of my hair out every day, but because my maternal grandfather was bald. I look more and more like him as time goes by because I am a part of his family--not because of any action I am taking. Similarly, I am looking more like Jesus as time goes by, not because of my actions, but because I am in His family. I have to walk out the holiness, but let's not confuse the origins of the holiness. The Lord makes me holy; I don't make me holy. Thanks to the Holy Spirit in me, I am becoming an increasingly lousy sinner over time, although that may not be readily apparent on some days. That is true of all who have surrendered their lives to the Lord and welcomed the Spirit into their lives. More about the fruit of the Spirit in my next devotional reflection to this blog. Heavenly Father, we are so grateful that, through Your Spirit, You are a gift giver. We want every gift that You so graciously and generously want to give to us. Help us not to be frightened of what we don't understand or have not experienced of Your grace and workings. Thank You that You equip us with all that we need to be a blessing to others inside and outside of the Church. Let love be the motivation that propels us to serve You and to serve others this coming week. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

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