Spiritual Gifts and the Church Today

The debate about spiritual gifts in the church today has not abated in recent years. While the topic of gifts exercised by the body should not dominate discussions, neither should it be a subject that we ignore. Since the Bible does speak of spiritual gifts being provide by God and used in the local church for its edification and maturity, this area of study should not be surrendered to charismatics to be twisted and abused.

Over the last fifty years men like Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagan, and Benny Hinn have made some very absurd claims about spiritual gifts. Millions of people are convinced that certain charismatic leaders are given special gifts—special powers—that others have not received. They watch these men supposedly “slay people in the Spirit.” They stand in awe of these self-proclaimed healers and prophets. Yet, much of what goes on in charismatic “revivals” is mysticism and fanaticism. People who witness strange things and don’t test them by the Bible are prone to interpret them as the work of God.

What are spiritual gifts?
There is profit in reviewing what the apostles taught the church should expect and practice concerning spiritual gifts. No Christian should be confused on this subject, nor should we be afraid to talk about it. We must know what the Bible says and stand on truth. Only by knowing God’s Word will we be ready to refute error and act in godliness.

A person who can do amazing things on the court or field might be referred to as a “gifted athlete.” A person with oratory skills is a “gifted speaker.” Similarly we refer to gifted students and gifted musicians. However, when we speak of spiritual gifts we are not talking about natural ability or even developed talents. Spiritual gifts can be defined as endowments graciously and sovereignly given to every Christian by Christ, through the Holy Spirit, for the building up of the body of Christ.

All true believers in Christ are gifted by Him.
Paul taught that all Christians are given some spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:7–11; Rom 12:3–8). Repeatedly we read that every child of God is gifted by “the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:6b). By his Spirit he “apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor 12:11). No Christian can accurately, biblically say that they received no gift of God when saved. “Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7). A child of God may not know what his gift is, and may not be using his gift, but the fact remains, he was given a gift. It follows that if Christ is the giver of spiritual gifts and their functions, then we have no room to be proud or jealous. What do we possess that we did not receive from God by grace?

Some believers have speaking gifts.
Among the gifts Christ gives to His bride are gifted men who help equip the church. Some of those functions still exist, some do not. “Apostles” (Eph 4:11) were chosen by Christ, men who saw the resurrected Christ, and whose teaching was made the foundation of his church (Eph 2:20). Obviously with the foundation laid and Christ at the right hand of the Father, we have no true apostles in this hour of the church. “Prophets” were God’s spokesmen, given direct revelation for a special purpose. Since we have God’s message recorded in His Word, we no longer need those with revelatory gifts. We do, however, need gifted people who will boldly speak “to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor 14:3). Those with this gift must always be careful to proclaim truth “in proportion to our faith” (Rom 12:6). This means no preacher or teacher should ever pass off as God’s Word anything that goes beyond the faith God has already revealed in His holy Word.

Paul would not have defined “evangelists” as men who travel from church to church preaching evangelistic messages. Missionaries and church-planters need not only a burden, but a gift from God as they pursue gospel work. All believers should have a passion for souls and give the gospel to those who need Christ. Timothy may not technically have been an evangelist, but he was still expected to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5).

In some circles there is a debate as to whether pastors are needed today. The Apostle Paul did not share the view that pastors somehow interfere with Christians ministering as they ought to. He said that Christ gave to the church, in every age, pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11).

Christ has given to the church committed Christians who have “through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge” (1 Cor 12:8). People who have a gift for discerning the Word and showing the believer how to make an accurate application of it will always be of great value to the church.

Praise God for his gift of “teaching” (Rom 12:7). In this dark hour the church benefits from those, who by aid of the Spirit systematically instruct believers with the Word of truth. And for those times when we need scriptural counsel or comfort, the church is blessed with those who are given the gift of “exhortation” (Rom 12:8). Not only do we need people to proclaim truth, but we need those who will hold us fast to it. While not every teacher is qualified to be or needs to serve as a pastor, every elder must be able to teach as gifted by the Holy Spirit.

Some believers have serving gifts.
In addition to these speaking enablements, Christ equips His body with serving gifts. The church is not to follow the latest fad of marketing or management. Called out Christians are to move forward, aided by God-given gifts which help keep the church on a right course. What a great responsibility spiritual leaders have! What shepherd of sheep who earnestly desires the higher gifts (1 Cor 12:31) would not pray for these gifts which would help them lead the church along the path Christ ordains for us to walk?

Spiritual gifts of generosity, zeal and mercy (Rom 12:8), helping and administration (1 Cor 12:28) are no less important for energized church ministry. Take all the varied gifts in the church, blend them in Spirit-led selfless service, and what you will have is unity and power which the world cannot duplicate. When every part of the body is connected to the Head and “held together by every joint with which it is equipped”, and when each gifted part is working properly, then there is a testimony to Christ who “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16).

Unlike temporary sign gifts that would discontinue, the church was given gifts that would benefit the entire body until Christ returns for His Bride. The mark of a Spirit-operated person was never some ecstatic speaking or impressive show; it always was a proper confession (1 Cor 12:3) followed by a right demonstration of godliness in ministry to the body. Paul’s attention is not just on what gift you have, but how you are using that gift in the body of Christ.

To a church that was divided over loyalty to different leaders (1 Cor 3), Paul shared an analogy that was meant to help them appreciate diversity and unity in the body of Christ. Just as a physical body is comprised of parts that are all important to the function of that body, “so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). Instead of rejoicing that they were equipped by the Spirit to serve in the local church, some Corinthian believers were complaining that they did not possess a different (maybe more flashy) gift. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul demonstrates that those with less visible gifts are no less vital than those possessing more glamorous gifts.

All gifted believers should use their gifts to serve.
Spiritual gifts are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end. To be good stewards of these enablements, we must ascertain what the end or goal is as determined by Christ. That purpose is revealed in statements like “for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7b) and “for the building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).

If you can teach, sing, lead, give or encourage—that desire and ability is of Christ! Any gift you have been given is for service in the local church, not wasting on yourself. Believers were never instructed to seek some experience, but rather to seek ministry opportunities. Gifts of God through the Spirit, used by surrendered believers always build up the body. How are you benefiting the body with the endowment from your Lord?

Peter’s instruction could not be any clearer—“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10). It is worthy of note that Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts is closely connected to his teaching about unity and proper conduct. Only after admonishing the Ephesian church to practice “all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2) and after showing the principle of the Trinity behind the church’s oneness (Eph 4:4–6), did Paul speak about Christ’s gifts to the church (Eph 4:11).

There is a sense in which these gifts develop and mature with use. What God has placed in you to further his purpose in the church must be used with regularity and joy. A pianist admitted, “If I don’t practice every day, after the first day I know the difference. After two or three days of no practicing, all who hear me know the difference.” So… (make the application of the illustration). So, with a humble, servant-like spirit, and with “grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom 12:7).

All gifted, serving believers should glorify God with obedience.
The problem with the church at Corinth was not that they were ungifted. Paul described that church as “not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Cor 1:7). Their error was selfish and immature exercise of abilities which led to divisions and distortions. Pagan mystery religions all around them seem to have influenced this infant church. The result was a disobedience to God and a fracturing of the unity of the Spirit that they were to maintain (1 Cor 3:1–3; cf. Eph 4:3a).

The true church is called to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:16). This involves unity, maturity, and stability. We must be conformed to the perfect standard—the image of Jesus in all his fullness. What the Bible shows Christ to be, the body is to progressively become.

No assembly of believers is ever to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14). Being carried away by experiences and “led astray. . .however you were led” (1 Cor 12:2) is not the goal of the Christian life. With each member under the Spirit’s control, each local church should be progressing in the Christian walk with conduct that testifies to God’s power. Peter wrote, “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever servers, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet 4:11).

Timothy was admonished to keep a close watch on himself and what he had been taught while not neglecting the gift he had received (1 Tim 4:14). Paul asserts that the “manifestation of the Spirit (is) for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). The meaning behind “manifestation” is to shine out. Is your testimony of salvation and spiritual equipping evident to all by your godly conduct and spiritual service?

I like shooting at targets when I visit Peniel Bible Camp. I try to set up my own target and not fire at others’ marks. But when it comes to spiritual service with spiritual gifts, we are all aiming at the same thing. Christ-likeness in ourselves and in others is the shared target.

There is some function Christ expects from you in his church. There is some act of service that could be done for Christ and by his Spirit. What is done for Christ may not be seen of others or rewarded in this life, but Christ, who gives these gifts, will reward everything done for his glory alone. Our motivation in ministry with any gift is critical. “All to the glory of God” should be our cry.

Christ loves his church. He gave himself for her and then gave to her all she needs for every service in any situation through all ages. There is no higher honor than to hear that we are approved stewards. Rightly serving in Christ’s church is every bit as important as rightly dividing the Word of truth.

You may or may not have given much thought as to what your gift is. The important thing is that you serve Christ in his strength alone. God may use a fellow believer who you have helped to point out what your spiritual aid is.

Grace gifts are given by Christ to operate inside the body for the purpose of edification and his praise. When we operate under the Spirit’s power, obeying the Word, then our gifts function as designed. Christ’s purpose in the church is not merely numerical growth; it is also spiritual growth. To that end Christ has given gifted leaders and spiritual gifts that we may progress to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).

February 2010

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The OBF Visitor is the official publication of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. Feature articles from past issues of the Visitor are made available here for your use. You may read, distribute, and use this material as long as you do so in its entirety and without modification. All articles © The Ohio Bible Fellowship.

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