It seems that whenever “spiritual gifts” are mentioned in church these days, the first thing often associated with it is a “spiritual gifts inventory test.” But whatever happened to the “Spirit” in “spiritual gifts”? In fact, why do we seem to be so afraid of the Holy Spirit that we so seldom talk about Him in evangelical churches?
A lot of bible study materials on spiritual gifts have a very narrow focus, often centering around just the verses containing lists of spiritual gifts. But recently I took a closer look at 1 Corinthians 12:4-8 and found something different. It says:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.
There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Clearly, it tells us that instead of placing the importance on the variety of spiritual gifts (as some bible study materials do), the emphasis should be on the “same” Triune God. In other words, it is more important to recognize the who of the spiritual gifts than the what.
In “The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts”, Sam Storms wrote:
Spiritual gifts are concrete disclosures of divine activity and only secondarily human activity. Spiritual gifts are the presence of the Spirit Himself coming to relatively clear, even dramatic, expression in the way we do ministry. Gifts are God going public among His people.
It is often lost on believers that the Spirit is not only the Giver of spiritual gifts, but also the Actor.
John Bunyan (1628-1688) wrote in “Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners” that:
I perceived that although gifts are good to accomplish the task they are designed for — the edification of others — yet they are empty and without power to save the soul unless God is using them. And having gifts is no sign of a person’s relationship to God. This also made me see that gifts are dangerous things, not in themselves, but because of those evils of pride and vainglory that attend them.
For Christians nowadays who have a casual view of spiritual gifts (“I’m exercising my spiritual gifts”), Bunyan sends a shock to our system that spiritual gifts can actually be dangerous. Indeed we are in danger of committing the sin of pride when exercising “my spiritual gifts” but failing to recognize that it is really God who is using those gifts on behalf of us as His instruments.
Actually, with this in mind, if you now take a look at those lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible, you should in fact recognize that every different kind of spiritual gift actually reflects an aspect of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit:
- Gift of Prophecy is a manifestation of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
- Gift of Teaching reflects the Spirit who teaches us first (John 14:26, 16:13)
- Gift of Exhortation is due to the Holy Spirit comforting and encouraging the church (Acts 9:31)
- …… etc.
I could go on and on, but the point is not in knowing what gifts we have, but in understanding the work of the Holy Spirit. As we increasingly engage in the proper exercise of spiritual gifts, we should achieve an increased understanding of who the Holy Spirit is and how He works through us and among us. And that’s the true spirit of spiritual gifts.
Suggested further reading:
“No More Privileged” by Anson