Understanding Spiritual Gifts
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April 16, 2006 -

THE PERSON AND WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (continued) - Understanding Spiritual Gifts - The Trinitarian Foundation for God’s Gift Distribution Program

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 - "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.”

1) NOTICE THE DIFFERENT CATEGORIES OF GIFT GIVING ACTIVITY AMONG THE TRINITY. Without being too dogmatic (the categories often seem loose and overlapping), I have found it personally helpful to collect the three main passages on divine gifts under the three headings of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6.

a) There are "varieties of activities” given by Father God (1 Corinthians 12:6). In my opinion, these are probably the giftings outlined by Paul in Romans 12:3-8 - “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. [4] For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, [5] so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. [6] Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; [7] if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; [8] the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Notice that Paul speaks of the fulfillment of God's will for our lives (1-2), and then speaks of fulfilling that Divine will through the faith God has given to us (3).
In my opinion, these are gifts placed in us creationally by God Himself. True, they are frequently squandered by many (especially those who are unsaved). This is why there are many people who make no profession of faith in God or Christ Jesus, who are yet extremely compassionate, or merciful, or capable in areas God has invested. They make no acknowledgement of Him with those creationally given gifts. Nonetheless, they were given by God, and would find their maximum fulfillment and fruitfulness if used within the context of loving faith (12:3) and the building God's Kingdom on earth.

It is also, I believe, in this foundational sense that all believers have at least one area of giftedness. All have a role to play in the service of Father God.

b) There are "varieties of service” given by Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:5). Paul says Jesus gives gifts to build up "service" in His church. Again, in my opinion, these words tie in perfectly with Paul's words in Ephesians 4:11-16 - “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

In Ephesians 4 Paul deals specifically with gifts given by Jesus to increase and develop service among the believers ("for the equipping of the saints for the work of SERVICE....”- 4:12 NASB). Remember again that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. says three times that there are different categories of gifts. These gifts from our Lord are leadership gifts to build the Body of Christ up in training for service. Certainly, not everyone would possess these particular gifts (1 Corinthians 12:29-30).

c) There are "varieties of gifts" given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4). In my own understanding, the title "spiritual gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:1 - literally “spirituals”) is a broader term covering all three of these categories (a, b and c). I would say the title "gifts of the Spirit" is a narrower term covering those gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 which are specifically said to be distributed by the Holy Spirit Himself - 1 Corinthians 12:11 - “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” This last group of gifts is clearly beyond the range of our own creationally given talents and abilities. They are not given to the population at large. Nor are they limited to spiritual leadership. The Spirit gives them out "as He wills."

Obviously, some questions will naturally come out of these points:

2) "MUST ONE BE BAPTIZED IN THE HOLY SPIRIT TO POSSESS A SPIRITUAL GIFT FROM ONE OF THESE THREE CATEGORIES?" Clearly, I would say no. Paul makes it plain that all who are in the Body of Christ possess at least one gift (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). This is what makes Paul’s illustration of every part of the human body being crucially important meaningful. Remember, in these verses Paul is lumping together all of the three categories of giftings - 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 - “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. [28] And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. [29] Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? [30] Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? [31] But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”

With regard to the "gifts of the Spirit" (as more narrowly defined in point 1c - 1 Corinthians 12:7-11) I would differ from some pentecostals and charismatics in that I don’t believe it is always necessary that one be “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” as we’ve been defining it in this class, in order to exercise one of these spiritual gifts. I take this from verses like Mark 16:17-18 - “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; [18] they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."

However, I do think one could easily prove from the Scriptures - especially the testimony of the book of Acts - that these kinds of manifestation are certainly more common and more broad based throughout the life of the church after the Holy Spirit is poured out and believers are baptized in the Holy Spirit.

3) "WHY WOULD THERE BE THREE DIFFERENT KINDS OF CATEGORIES OF GIFTS?" - This is where we can see the wisdom of God in protecting the Church. The "gifts of the Spirit" (see point one part c) are most fruitfully exercised by people who: a) are involved in the general area of ministry God has designed for them (see point 1a and Romans 12) and, b) people who are submitted to a specific local body of believers (see 1b - under pastoral leadership, teaching, etc.). This is the point Paul makes clear in Ephesians 4:11-16.

In other words, the more outward and visible manifestations of the "gifts of the Spirit" are designed to help the church in ministry. They are not just to be randomly splashed around to prove how gifted we are. They are designed to fit in with the whole context of what God is trying to do in and through His church. The proper use of the gifts of the Spirit will never get in the way of that ultimate purpose.