Spiritual gifts are usually thought of in the sense of special abilities given to specific individuals. In the New Testament the word is often used in that sense, but it also has another sense. While special abilities are called gifts, a person with such an ability is also called a gift. The ability is a gift to the individual that has it, and the person with the ability is a gift to the church. In Ephesians 4:8-13 we read:
"Therefore He says: 'When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.'... And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
We plainly see that the gifts in this passage are individuals, not abilities. 1 Corinthians 12:28 tells us that
"God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues."
We notice that it does not say they are appointed in a church, but in the church. As we consider this we begin to understand the difference between gift ministries and the ministry of church leaders, or bishops and deacons. Bishops, or elders, were supervisors over a particular church, for they were appointed in every church. (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5) The gift ministries, on the other hand, were not local. We are never told that any of the gifts were given to a particular church. Paul and Barnabas, for instance, were called apostles in Iconium (Acts 14:1-4) and again at Lystra. (Acts 14:8-14)
The first of the lists above is gifts that God gave to men "for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." The second list is the gifts that God has appointed "in the church."
|The gifts for "the equipping of the saints" and "the edifying of the body" were:|
|Those appointed "in the church" were:|
|then gifts of||healings|
|varieties of tongues|
It is important to notice the Holy Spirit's ranking of these gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:28) Apostles are first, prophets second, and teachers third. "After that" come "miracles," "then" come "gifts of healings, helps, administrations," and finally "varieties of tongues." All the ministry gifts rank above any of the sign gifts. "Healings" are not the most important sign gift, and "varieties of tongues" come last of all, ranking below even the gift of "helps." This order was not invented by man, it is the word of God. But what does man do? Sad to say, claims of healings will draw thousands together, while claims of superior teaching will rarely draw hundreds. When many churches search for a new leader, they concentrate more on a candidate's abilities as an administrator than on his spiritual qualifications. And many churches act as if healings and tongues were the two most important of all the gifts.
A person who has a spiritual gift is responsible to use it, as we see in 1 Peter 4:10:
"As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
Again, Romans 12:6-8 tells us that
"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."
The Apostle Paul was speaking of this responsibility when he wrote:
"For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship." (1 Corinthians 9:16-17)
This responsibility to exercise a spiritual gift gives a man the authority to use it. This authority comes directly from God Himself, for God has commanded him to use it. By this we understand that the authority to use a spiritual gift does not come from any kind of recognition by man. Nor can the lack of such recognition take anything away from it. Most denominations practice a ceremony called "ordination." Many look on this as if it gave a man some kind of spiritual authority. Some denominations will not allow a man to preach unless he has been "ordained." Others formally "license" their preachers. But what does the word of God say about this? Nothing. This idea is totally missing from Scripture, but rather the opposite. A man who rejects such notions is following no less an example than that of the Apostle Paul, who wrote:
"But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother." (Galatians 1:15-19)
Paul's authority came from God himself, not from men. When sent by God, he conferred with no one. He just went. A true messenger of God has received his authority from God Himself, and is thus responsible to deliver his message even if men are not willing to hear it.*8
"The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?" (Jeremiah 23:28)
If God has given such men authority, we are responsible to submit to them. But how are we to know who they are? As we previously noticed in the case of church leaders, 1 Thessalonians 5:12 instructs us "to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you." We can recognize them by their qualifications. In the case of bishops and deacons the qualifications are very clearly spelled out. In the case of the gift ministries, they are not as clearly defined, but the Holy Spirit has not left us without instruction. With the Lord's help we will attempt to trace these gifts through the New Testament, learning how to recognize them.
*8 These words are not intended as a challenge the scriptural authority of elders in a local church. Titus 1:9-11 tells us that these men are responsible to stop the mouths of "idle talkers and deceivers." They are thus responsible to stop such men from ministering in their local congregations. But if they fail to recognize a man truly sent by God, they are denying the sheep their proper food and thus failing in their responsibility to "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers." (1 Peter 5:2) This is a very great responsibility, and is why they are required to be "blameless", and not only blameless, but men of exceptional godliness. See 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11. Return
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