Unity and spiritual gifts
by Jack Wald | August 25th, 2002

Romans 12, I Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4

When I went off to college, my father went to the store with me and bought me some supplies. Rubber bands, paper clips, a stapler, scissors, tape dispenser, pens and pencils, a pencil sharpener, a slide-rule – all the things I would need to do the work facing me in university. I still use some of those supplies.

When my daughters went to college I did the same for them although some of the items had changed. They went with a computer, something that was not an option when I went to college. They took a graphing calculator which was again not a realistic option when I went. Other than that, the items were pretty much the same although a computer and graphing calculator are a bit more expensive than a slide-rule. (Some of you probably do not even know what a slide-rule was.)

Why did my father buy those things for me and why did I buy those things for my daughters? Because one does not send off someone you love without giving them the tools they will need to do the job facing them.

A good farmer does not send his workers to work in the fields without the tools they will need to do their work. A good general does not ask his troops to fight without the weapons they will need.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left behind his church and the task of the church has been and is to do the work of Jesus in the world. One way of understanding the church is that we are the arms, feet and voice of Jesus. Our task is to love people in the world as Jesus loved people in the world.

This is an enormous task and like a good general or farmer or parent, Jesus does not send us off on this task without giving us the tools we need.

When Paul writes about spiritual gifts in his letters to Rome, Corinth and Ephesus, he writes about the tools God has given us so we can do the work of Jesus in the world.

This morning I want to point out what Paul has to say about the purpose of spiritual gifts, then point out a few implications of these purposes and finally lay before you a vision of how our church could be.

What is a spiritual gift?

When God created you, he created you with certain strengths and abilities. Through some of these, the Holy Spirit works in a special way.

Paul, in the three sections of his letters we read this morning, lists a number of these gifts: administration, apostleship, contributing to the needs of others, distinguishing between spirits, encouragement, evangelism, faith, healing, helping others, interpretation of tongues, knowledge, leadership, miraculous powers, pastoring, prophecy, serving, showing mercy, speaking in different kinds of tongues, teaching, wisdom.

We do not have time to go into what each of these gifts are and maybe we can do that at some future date. It seems clear that this is not a complete list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are only ones Paul listed as he made his particular arguments in each of these three letters. Let’s take a look at what Scripture teaches about spiritual gifts.

The first teaching about spiritual gifts is that each Christian is given at least one gift.
I Corinthians 12:4-7
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
And also Ephesians 4:7-8
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men.”

You, as a Christian, have at least one of the gifts in the list I just read or perhaps a gift that is not on that list. God has given you a gift through which the Holy Spirit works in a special way. God’s power and love are displayed when you use that gift.

The second teaching about spiritual gifts is that the purpose of the gifts is service.
I Peter 4:10
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

Spiritual gifts are not given to empower us. They are not given to enhance our reputation. They are not given to build us up, to inflate our egos. Spiritual gifts are given so we can serve the church.

The third teaching on spiritual gifts is that they are valueless unless they are used in love.
I Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

This thirteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of the more well-known passages of Scripture. It is a wonderful poem of love but pay attention to where it is found. It comes in the middle of Paul’s argument about the abuse of the gift of tongues in the church in Corinth. The reason Paul inserts this poem in his argument is to reinforce the point that spiritual gifts are given to serve the church, not the individual and when we use our spiritual gifts, we must use them in the spirit of Christ. We must use them with the love God has given to us.

How is that we serve others rather than ourselves? It is by being loved and loving others. The power of spiritual gifts is negated when we use them without love. We may be able to teach without love, but we will do so only with the skill and charisma we have been able to manufacture on our own. We may be able to perform miracles without love but only because we have learned to manipulate the crowd and bend them to our will.

Without love the spiritual gifts we have been given will not be done in service and will be stripped of the power of the Holy Spirit.

The fourth teaching about spiritual gifts is that the church functions best when each person exercises his or her gift.
I Corinthians 12:14-26
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.  15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?  20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it,  25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

A woman who worked for me in my company in the US lost her little finger in an accident. That doesn’t sound like much but she had terrible difficulty with many tasks. Typing was a problem as were other tasks that are not as obvious. Try this. Grip two fingers of one hand with your other hand. Squeeze as tight as you can but do not use your little finger. Now grip those fingers using your little finger as well. So you see how important your little finger is?

Another friend lost the front part of his toes on one foot in an accident and he had problems with balance because of that. The front half of your toes do not seem that necessary, but they are. When we lose one part of out body, the whole body suffers.

This is obvious to us. But Paul makes here the point that when one member of the body does not use his or her spiritual gift, the whole body, in the same way, suffers.

The fifth teaching about spiritual gifts that I will mention this morning is that spiritual gifts are given by God to build us up into Christ who is the head of the body.
Ephesians 4:15-16
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Spiritual gifts are given to unify us. They are given to enable us to grow and be built up in love to be one body of which Christ is the head. Can you imagine a body in which each part made up its own mind about what to do and when to do it?

Such a body could do little more than lie on the ground and jerk around.

We used to run through a protected forest near our home in New Jersey in the US. A nature center in that preserve found a turtle with two heads. The turtle was not able to survive and died but was preserved in formaldehyde. The turtle’s problem was that each head saw some food to eat and tried to get there but was prevented in doing so by the direction of the other head.

The church is often similarly immobile. But when each part of the body focuses on Christ, the head and obeys the directions of the head, Christ, the body is capable of making great progress.

Those are five teachings about spiritual gifts. What are some implications of these teachings?

If the spiritual gift or gifts God has given you are not being used in the church, the church is suffering, the church is less than it could be, less than God intends it to be.

Why do I say this? Remember that God gives gifts to each of his children so that they can use those gifts to build up the church. Why would God give you a gift that you do not need to use? Why would God give you a gift that the church does not need? You have other strengths and abilities you can use for all the other things you do. But your spiritual gifts have been given to you to build up the church. When you do not use them, the church is deprived of a tool God gave so we could do the work of Jesus in the world.

Specifically, God has given the community of faith at RPF the gifts he knows we need in order to be his church in Rabat. When you are not using the gifts you have been given, RPF is less of the church we are meant to be.

If this talk of spiritual gifts is strange to you and you have never before considered what spiritual gifts God has given you, please talk to me or to Greg Preston. We would love to help you. If there are enough people to do so, we will have a class on how to explore and discover your spiritual gifts.

If you know what your spiritual gifts are and are repressing the use of those gifts, the whole church is suffering. We need the gifts you have been given. Why? Because God saw fit to give you those gifts for our benefit. Do we really want to question the gifts God gives us? When God gives us gifts, we should rejoice in our use of them.

One of the reasons certain gifts are not used in the church is because of a theological prejudice against certain gifts. For nineteen hundred years of church history, this was not a problem. But in the beginning of the twentieth century there developed a theology that said that certain gifts were given and exercised by the early church but were not appropriate for the church since those early days.

I have several problems with this theology. One problem is that it is difficult to make a solid case for this theology based on Biblical texts and another is simply that  it does not fit the experience of the church in modern times nor does it fit the history of the church.

Specifically, the gifts that are denied in this theology are the gifts associated with the Pentecostal church. These are the gifts that Paul addresses in his letter to the Corinthians:
I Corinthians 12:7-11
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,  9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,  10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

Theologically, I would be considered an evangelical. The use of these gifts has not been part of my church background, at least that is, until I began to work with different church denominations in renewal movements. I do not speak in tongues. I have never had a word of prophecy that I know of. I have never prayed for healing and seen that person healed, that I know of. I have never heard someone speak in tongues and received an understanding of what was said so that I could interpret for others that message.

I do believe that I have the gift of discernment and have had a sense of when something was said that was appropriate and from God and when something was said just because someone wanted to stand up and take the spotlight for a bit.

Because these are not gifts that have been given to me, should I then remove the use of those gifts from the church? Should I say these gifts are not meant for the modern day simply because they are not gifts God has given me?

Dallas Theological Seminary and Grace Seminary in the US are schools that have taught this theology and what has happened over the last twenty years is that the graduates of these schools have returned after having worked in the church overseas and said, “Professor I know you said these gifts were limited to the early years of the church, but let me tell you what I have seen and experienced in my work in the church.” And then they have told of miracles they have seen, healings and exorcisms.

It is clear that God is continuing to give these gifts to his church to do the work of Jesus in the world. Why does he give these gifts if he does not want us to use them? Why does he give us these gifts if he does not think we, as a church, need them?

Let’s take a look at the gift of prophecy. What is it Paul says about this gift?
I Corinthians 14:1-4
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.  2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.  3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.  4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

Like all of Paul’s letters, this must be put in context. Paul is responding to a problem he has heard about through letters received from Corinth. In the community of believers in Corinth there has been an abuse in the use of the gift of tongues. This abuse was causing chaos in the church and creating disunity in the church. So Paul writes to restore order and a proper use of the gifts.

In his comparison of the gift of tongues and prophecy, he says, Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. The use of this gift strengthens, encourages and comforts the members of the community of faith. The church is edified. The church is instructed and improved spiritually by the use of this gift. Do you need to be strengthened? Encouraged? Comforted? I do and if God has given someone in our community the gift of prophecy then I want to hear what the Lord has to say to me and to us.

If someone has the gift of tongues and delivers a message in tongues and someone else has the gift of interpretation of tongues, then I want to hear what it is that God has to say to us.

For those of us not accustomed to the use of these gifts it can all seem a bit spooky. But it is impossible to read Scripture and not see that these gifts are given for our benefit, to build up and encourage the church and to draw us together into unity.

My vision for us is that we will increasingly be a church that opens ourselves to the work of God in our lives. I don’t want any barriers to stand in the way of God’s work in our midst. If we are not unified, one body all serving the same head, that is Jesus Christ, then I want to pray and preach to create unity. If we have styles of worship that restrict us from experiencing what God has in store for us, than I want to gently encourage us to step out of the protective shell of our past and step eagerly into the present with what God has in mind for us.

Pentecostals will say that in order for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to flow, we must be first baptized in the Holy Spirit. I want to challenge those with this theological understanding to take a look around at those of us in this church who do not speak in tongues and yet are exercising our spiritual gifts. Don’t restrict the work of God in our midst because of your theological understanding.

Some Pentecostals have told me they cannot use their gifts unless we have a worship style that releases them to use their gifts. To this let me point out that the gift of prophecy has been around for two thousand years and has been exercised in a variety of styles of worship. Spiritual gifts are not restricted by cultural patterns of worship. If God has given you a gift, the community of faith at RPF needs you to use it.

If you are a bit spooked by the use of these gifts, let me encourage you to step out in faith and trust God. Believe what is written in the Gospels and Acts and the letters of the New Testament.

Don’t be afraid. I don’t want any of you to shrink back from what God has in store for you.

Remember what Paul says about spiritual gifts. When we all open ourselves to God and seek the direction of Jesus who is our head, then we function properly as a body. When part of the body shuts down and says, “I don’t want this or that gift,” then the body ceases to function as it should.

Spiritual gifts are given to unify us, to help us grow as a church. Each of us, without exception, needs to open ourselves to God and allow the gifts he has given us to be used in our community of faith.

I encourage you to seek out the gifts God has given you. I encourage you to open yourself without restrictions to what God has for you.

When you do you will benefit. When you use the gifts God has given you, you will experience a measure of peace and joy and blessing you cannot receive otherwise.

And when you do we will benefit because we are part of one body and we need you and we need the gifts God has given you.