Spiritual Gifts (Part One)
In Colossians 1-2 Paul has been combatting the Gnostic heresy by first claiming that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord of the universe. He is its lord, creator, and goal. In Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead. As a result, the only way to receive this full life of God is to be rightly related with Jesus: "And in Him [Jesus] you are made full" (Col. 2:10). Paul next shows us how Jesus made this life available and how to experience it. His death on the cross first removed the obstacle of sin so that God could give us a new nature, His divine nature. By submitting to Jesus Christ daily, Jesus lives His life through us so that we can now experience His life.
To put it another way, the way we experience the life of God is by the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Jesus) living His life through us. Each and every day the Spirit wants to communicate to us, to lead us in life. As we respond positively to His leadership, He energizes the new Carey Ford He has created. I experience then His presence and His life in an unprecedented way.
In Colossians 3 and 4, Paul goes on to describe the life that Christ has come to give us. First, Paul describes the character of the Christian by saying what kind of character he will not have: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greediness (Col. 3:5), anger, bad temper, malice, shameful language (3:5), and lying (3:9). Second, Paul describes the kinds of relationship the Spirit-led person will experience: love for spouse, love for children, love for parents, submission to employers, good treatment of employees, kind speech, outreach to the unreached (3:18-4:6). If you want to know whether or not you are being Spirit-led and are experiencing God's life, look at your character and relationships.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SPIRITUAL GIFT
Although Paul does not deal with spiritual gifts in these chapters, spiritual gifts do play a major role in Paul's thoughts regarding the Christian life, the life of the Spirit. For Paul one of the most important evidences that the Spirit does live in you is your spiritual gift; for this reason the spiritual gift is called the manifestation of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7). The person who has a spiritual gift definitely has the Spirit living within him; the person who does not have a spiritual gift definitely does not have the Spirit living within him no matter how "correctly" he believes in Jesus. [Why is it important that the Spirit live within you? The person who has the Spirit within him is a Christian no matter how inarticulate he is regarding his faith, while the person who does not have the Spirit is not a Christian no matter how polished he is in articulating his beliefs. (See Rom. 8:9.) It is that important.]
SPIRITUAL GIFTS VS. TALENTS AND SKILLS
In best describing what spiritual gifts are, it is good to contrast them with talents and skills. Everybody (Christian and non-Christian) is born with at least one talent. Everybody (Christian as well as non-Christian) can develop a skill. Jeremy McKissack has a talent for playing the piano; I have developed over the years a skill for playing it. Only a Christian though has a spiritual gift. That spiritual gift may look like a talent, such as, teaching; however, there is a radical difference. A person with the spiritual gift of teaching can lead you to the throne room of God; a person with the natural gift will never be able to do that.
What is a spiritual gift? It is a supernatural ability given to each Christian by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives this gift to the Christian for him to use it to build up the church. Spiritual gifts are not about "me" but about the church. When a teacher teaches, he should not go away impressed with himself. His focus should always be on what the Lord wants to say through him so that the church can grow spiritually. The church will only be so strong to the extent that Christians use their spiritual gifts. Christians who go around griping about the church and yet don't use their spiritual gifts to develop the church have no room for complaining. In fact they are going to have to stand before God on Judgment Day and answer for why they did not use the gift He gave them to develop His church.
Judgment will focus on 3 things. First, on your character. Are you becoming more and more like Christ? The new person Jesus has created within you was created to be like Jesus (Col. 3:10; see also Eph. 4:22-24). Second, on the use of your talents and skills. Third, on the use of your spiritual gift. The church is the bride of Christ. Can you imagine how you would have felt if someone had slandered your bride and you found out about it? How would you have felt if your bride needed help and someone could have helped her and yet refused to do so because she was "ugly"? You would have been incensed, outraged. As good a groom as you were, you paled in comparison to Jesus--the ultimate bridegroom. He expects us to treat His bride with great dignity and respect, and to help develop her to her fullest potential. We can face either a loving bridegroom on Judgment Day or an incensed bridegroom. It all depends on how we have responded to His bride (including the use of spiritual gifts).
THE NEED FOR HUMILITY
Before looking at the specific spiritual gifts that Jesus entrusts to us, we need to realize that before Paul discusses spiritual gifts in Rom. 12:3-8, Eph. 4:11-12, and 1 Cor. 12-14 he speaks about the need for humility. Humility is essential whenever spiritual gifts are operating because, to put it succinctly, spiritual gifts are not about "you," that is, the person exercising them. They are about the church.
By applying humility to spiritual gifts, Paul first means that we are to have a proper evaluation of ourselves. Some people feel like they are not valuable enough to have spiritual gifts, or else they think that their spiritual gifts are not valuable. Paul says that evaluation is rubbish. While it is true that some gifts are more important than others, they are all valuable. Granted that the gift of preaching is critical; however, come next Wednesday night at Feast and Praise as we clean the kitchen I want people around me with the gift of helps, not preaching or teaching! Teaching and preaching won't clean those plates. Paul puts it like this: "Because the foot is not a hand, it is still a part of the body and therefore necessary. Likewise, even though the ear is not an eye, it is still part of the body and therefore important!"
Paul next means that those with more "important" spiritual gifts should not despise those with lesser spiritual gifts. "Oh, I have the gift of teaching or preaching. Oh, I'm so important." Well, let the lights and A/C go out in the church and see how important that teacher and preacher are then! Larry may not be a preacher or a teacher, but he sure knows how to turn on the A/C so that people will want to stay and listen to all that preaching and teaching. "Oh, I'm a minister and am so important on a trip!" Let the bus break down, and I'm worthless. I want a Bill Roberts on that trip with me. Each and every gift is necessary for the church. (See 1 Cor. 12:15-22.)
A third way humility affects the gifts is that the spiritual person is going to submit to the recognized authority in the church. This is the only way to create unity within the church. Can you imagine what would happen if the head told the feet to go a certain direction, and yet one foot decided to go the opposite direction? Or if one hand tried to turn the steering wheel one way and the other hand the steering wheel the opposite way? You would probably put that body in a straitjacket. Well, some churches need to be put into a spiritual straitjacket. Giftedness is important; character, however, is essential (1 Cor. 13:1-13, esp. 1-3).
SPECIFIC SPIRITUAL GIFTS
Notice that we call this a representative list vs. an exhaustive list. We are gathering these spiritual gifts from 3 different lists in Paul's letters. Since we do not have all of Paul's letters, he may have added some more gifts in his other letters which are lost or which he just failed to mention in these 3 lists. We need to be open to the Spirit and not always confine Him to certain limits.
According to Paul the following are the top three gifts:
Apostleship. The apostles were those who had witnessed the resurrection of Christ and who had been appointed by Him as His official spokespersons. The entire NT is based either upon the writings of the apostles (the letters of Paul) or upon the writings of those close to the apostles (Mark and Luke). They were also instrumental in the establishment of the various churches (for example, Paul in establishing his churches). Today the gift of apostleship appears to be restricted to those missionaries who establish churches both home and abroad.
Prophecy. This normally has 2 different aspects to it: (1) the ability to predict the future (Acts 11:27-30) and/or (2) the ability to speak God's specific word to a specific audience at a specific point in time. These prophecies are not restricted to God's written Word; however, they will always harmonize with God's Word, never contradict it.
Teaching/Insight. The ability to communicate the teaching of God's written Word to His people. The teacher normally also has the gift of insight into God's Word.
When Paul starts his list of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12:28, he enumerates these first three (apostleship, prophecy, and teaching), lumps then the next group all together, and then says that tongues, while still a gift, is last. Why are the first 3 so important? Because they all center on God's Word: creating God's Word (apostleship), preaching God's Word (prophecy), and teaching God's Word (teaching). The whole existence of the church depends upon its obedience to God's Word. Although the other gifts are important, they must be governed by God's Word.