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Concerning Spiritual Gifts Part 1

June 16, 2013 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Life in the Spirit

Topic: Holy Spirit Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:1–11

Life in the Spirit
 --Allen Snapp --
Grace Community Church

June 16, 2013


Concerning Spiritual Gifts Part 1

If you are visiting us this morning, for the last several months we have been looking at the Holy Spirit and His work in the church in a series we’ve called Life in the Spirit. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground in these past few months: we’ve looked at the Spirit’s work in the new birth, at the fruit of the Spirit and what it means to walk in the Spirit and in holiness. Last week Matt taught us about the unity of the Spirit and for the next two weeks we are going to be looking at the spiritual gifts. I hope that the Lord is using this series to stir in your hearts, as He is in mine, a longing to see more of the power and presence of the Spirit in the church – things like unsaved people getting radically saved, and Christians whose hearts are cold and hard being brought to deep repentance. Things like healings and transformed lives and miracles that can’t be explained by human effort – it can only be explained as God at work. And, to see the spiritual gifts operating in the church building the church up in its faith and maturity in Christ.

These aren’t things that can be worked up, but they can be prayed down. The Spirit is eager to bring new life to His people when we pray. So church, let’s pray. Let’s pray that God moves in a fresh way by His Spirit. Let’s pray that we see His mighty hand at work. Let’s pray that He shakes off the cobwebs of apathy and complacency and selfishness and lights a fresh fire of love for Jesus and abandon for his kingdom, not only in this church, but in his church everywhere. Let’s pray for revival!

1 Cor. 12:1-11

The movie Sky High is about a high school that caters exclusively to teens who have inherited superpowers from one or both of their parents. They are dealing with the challenges of super powers and puberty at the same time! So as the incoming class of freshmen arrive, one of the first things they have to do is something called “power placement” where they have to demonstrate their super power in front of the entire class and Coach Boomer who then decides if their power qualifies them to be a hero or a side-kick. First up is a timid looking boy named Larry. Coach Boomer calls him “little Larry” as he steps up to demonstrate his super power. Little Larry then becomes a 10 foot muscle-bound rock creature who easily catches the car that Coach Boomer releases from the ceiling. With admiration, Coach Boomer changes his name to “Big Larry” and marks his status as hero. Next up is Zach who glows a slight green color that you can only see if you cup your hands, and is quickly designated side-kick. One guy spits acid spit and earns hero, a girl turns into a bouncy ball and guessed it, a side-kick. And then there’s the star of the movie, Will Stronghold, who doesn’t know if he has any super powers at all.
1 Corinthians is actually a letter written in response to a letter. The church in Corinth wrote Paul a letter asking him several questions about different topics, and throughout 1 Corinthians Paul introduces his answers to their questions with the words, “now concerning...” Here in chapter 12 Paul opens with “now concerning spiritual gifts” which means that they had written him with questions about the spiritual gifts. And as we read through chapters 12-14, we can see that when it came to spiritual gifts, the Corinthian church had their own kind of “power placement”. They were impressed by the more spectacular gifts like miracles and prophecy, and they especially seemed to made rock stars out of those who spoke in tongues, while at the same time devaluing those whose spiritual gifts seemed to be of a less spectacular nature. So when believers stepped up to the spiritual gifts power placement, some were “heros” and some were “side-kicks”.

It is a serious misuse and abuse of the spiritual gifts, but notice that Paul doesn’t react by discouraging them in their practice of the gifts, in fact he urges them to seriously pursue the gifts, but only after he has adjusted their understanding of the purpose and motivation that God intends for the church to have as we operate in the spiritual gifts. The first thing he does in verse 3 is to point out the primary purpose and work of the Spirit is to glorify Jesus as Lord. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (vs. 3)
This doesn’t mean that someone can’t say the words “Jesus is Lord” except by the Spirit – Jesus himself warns that there will be some who say “Lord, Lord” but he will reply “I never knew you.” It’s not the words; it’s the reality behind the words: no one can truly live with Jesus as the Lord of their lives; no one can want the glory of Jesus and love for Jesus to spread throughout all the world unless it is the Holy Spirit is working in them.
What I want to do next week is to look at the diversity, the purpose, and the pursuit of the spiritual gifts. This morning I want to do something a little unusual: I want us to consider rethinking what we believe about the spiritual gifts and specifically what we believe the spiritual gifts are and how we operate in the spiritual gifts. A kind of “new take” on the spiritual gifts. Let me begin with a question and then we will work our way.

I. Are the spiritual gifts special abilities given to believers by God to help them serve the church, or are the spiritual gifts areas of ministry that God calls and equips His people to function in?

Time doesn’t permit me to do a full blown study on this question this morning so I am just going to introduce this difference in perspective this morning, but if you’re interested in studying this subject more thoroughly, I recommend a book called What Are Spiritual Gifts by Kenneth Berding.

When I mentioned that the next two weeks would be a study of the spiritual gifts, some of you may have wondered if we would be giving out a “spiritual gifts test”, a test that takes an inventory of your skills and preferences and personality and helps you to discover what your spiritual gifts are. At “” you can take a test that promises to help you “find out how God has gifted you and how you can begin serving in the body of Christ.”
Most of today’s teaching on the spiritual gifts builds on the assumption that spiritual gifts are abilities given to each one of us and we simply need to uncover what those spiritual gifts are and then begin to serve out of those gifts. Certainly it can be helpful for people to identify ways that the Lord has graced them to serve by considering where their interests and skills lie, but is that what Paul is thinking of when he teaches about the spiritual gifts? If it’s not, then it might explain why these spiritual gifts tests can often fail to activate us in meaningful and Spirit-empowered ministry. This approach can leave many still feeling confused: “my gift is administration, but I don’t know how to use that for God’s kingdom” or it can put limitations on us that God may not intend for us – “Hey Jim, could you help us set up some chairs for the meeting?” “Sorry, that takes the gift of helps, I don’t have the gift of helps.”
This way of looking at spiritual gifts as special abilities that the Spirit has given each one of us leads us to look inward and focus on what “my special ability or abilities are?” Discovering our spiritual gift can become like Coach Boomer’s power placement – where does my spiritual gift place me? And after all is said and done, some may feel like Will Stronghold and secretly wonder, “do I have any spiritual gift at all?”

Part of the confusion is in how the term spiritual gift has been interpreted. In the New Testament, the word gift (charisma) means something that is freely given. But in the English language, the word gift has taken a second meaning: that of a special ability. He is a gifted writer, she has a gift for playing the piano.

When we read the lists of spiritual gifts that Paul gives in Romans 12, 1 Cor 12, and Ephesians 4, it has become common to import that second meaning into these lists: they describe special abilities that the Lord gives to individuals and as they use their gifts they help build up the church. But a deeper study of Paul’s usage of the word gifts in reference to the spiritual gifts can lead us to a different view of what the spiritual gifts are.
When we look at Paul’s usage of the word charisma there is much to support an understanding of spiritual gifts being ministries, or assignments, that are given by God to the church. And God then gives every believer grace to operate in one or even many ministry assignments. And by ministry, we mean anything that builds up the body of Christ. So a ministry can be short term or it can be long term, it can be ongoing for a life time or something that lasts 20 seconds (like giving a tongue). But it is always for the building up of the church.

Let’s consider the flow of 1 Cor. 12. Notice that Paul actually has two lists of spiritual gifts: verses 8-10 and then a slightly different list in verse 28. Remember, Paul’s intention here isn’t just to teach the Corinthians about the spiritual gifts, but to correct their abuse of them and their abuse is that they are elevating the more spectacular gifts above the others; they are glorifying the people with those more spectacular gifts, and losing sight of the bigger purpose these gifts are given for. So the list in vv. 8-10 reflects the more outwardly spectacular gifts, words of knowledge, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues – all the gifts that the Corinthians are focused on. But after listing the gifts that the Corinthians are attracted to, he immediately puts these gifts in the proper context: the church is the body of Christ in verses 12-27 and that is where he spends the bulk of this chapter – teaching that there is one body, and we are all members of it, and we all have different functions. Some are eyes, some hands, some feet, some ears, but we can’t say that someone else’s function isn’t important, and we can’t say that because we don’t have that function we don’t belong to the body. The Holy Spirit gives gifts in order to serve and build up the body. His second list in vs. 28 then ranks the gifts, not according to their sensationalism, but according to their helpfulness to build up the body – that is the same criteria that he uses in chapter 14 to state that prophecy is a greater gift than their pet gift, tongues, because it has more ability to edify the church. But in the metaphor of the body, the picture isn’t so much of special abilities of believers, but of their function: are they a hand or an eye or a foot? How has God called and placed them to serve?

We see this idea of ministry assignments even more clearly in Paul’s list in Ephesians 4:11-16:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

What does Paul mean when he says Christ has given apostles and prophets, etc as gifts to the church?

When we were in Gaithersburg and I was studying at the Pastor’s College, the PC staff put on a lovely Valentine’s Day Dinner for all the couples. And we men were encouraged to express our love to our wives in some special way. Some wrote poems, some just shared from their heart. I wrote a song. But one guy got up, and began his sharing with these words: Donna, God blessed you with me...and we all knew he was off to a bad start!

When Paul says that God gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers as gifts, is he in effect saying, church, God blessed you with me (an apostle)? As a pastor of this church, should I be saying to you, Grace Community Church, God has really blessed you with me – it’s right there in Ephesians 4!? Is it the individuals who discover that they have one of these spiritual gifts that are the gift? Or is Paul saying he has blessed the church with these ministries? Ministries that, by the way, have the task of equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (vs. 12) The five fold ministries are equipping ministries to prepare all believers to minister. The picture isn’t so much individuals finding their special ability as it is God giving ministries to every believer and these ministries all work together for the building up of the church until we reach maturity in Christ. And when people serve the Lord faithfully in the ministry He has called and graced them to serve in they are gifts to the church and blessings to God’s people. But Paul isn’t saying the individuals are the gift (apostles, etc) but the ministries are the spiritual gifts and God graces individuals to carry out these assignments.

I know this might seem to be a subtle difference and you might wonder why does it even matter, but we want to be as biblical as possible in our understanding of the spiritual gifts, and it does make a significant difference in several very practical ways.
First of all, instead of asking, what spiritual gift has God given me? How can I discover my spiritual gifts? We simply ask, God, where do you want me to serve? It doesn’t leave us paralyzed until we figure out what spiritual abilities the Holy Spirit has given us – we can pursue the gifts by seeking God for His direction about where we are to serve, and then trust that if He’s called us to an assignment, He will give us the grace to fulfill that assignment.
Finding our spiritual gifts then, looks less like power placement and more like ministry placement. For instance, when the scriptures lay out the qualifications for being an elder, little is focused on abilities, almost all of the focus is on character qualities. Faithfulness, rather than special abilities, is the emphasis. Don’t misunderstand, a person shouldn’t become an elder unless God has called them to be an elder, but elders don’t need to be super-gifted men. They need to be faithful men called by God to be elders. And the Spirit will give the grace to serve.

Another difference is that it helps us to have a category for God calling us to ministry, not out of our strength, but in our weakness. If spiritual gifts are defined as abilities that God supernaturally gives us, then we will assume that God will only call us to ministry that matches our strengths – and usually God does call us in areas that match our strengths – but sometimes God decides to use us in our weakness not our strengths and His power is made perfect in our weakness. If we think of our spiritual gifts as abilities we may write off an area of ministry because it isn’t our fast ball. But God may call us to it.
It also means that, while every believer will have one ministry, many will have more than one ministry especially over the years. And often God will use one ministry assignment to guide us to another and we begin to find how God has graced us, not through a test, but by following the leading of the Spirit and finding that where He leads, He gives grace.

This made me think of how God led me to be a pastor. It wasn’t through a spiritual gifts test but through ministry assignments. When I was a young single man, I began to attend a bible study. When the leader of that study was leaving to join YWAM he suggested my name as the person to take the study over. The group unenthusiastically agreed and as I prayed about it, I felt led to do it. But I had no idea if my spiritual gifts matched the task. I led that Bible study for years and loved it – and have many sweet (and some embarrassing) memories from those years.

As I was serving in a small church, the pastor asked me to serve as assistant pastor – it wasn’t something I was looking for, but there was a need and as I prayed, I felt the Lord lead me to accept that ministry assignment. Years later he asked me to take over the church as senior pastor. Again, at first I resisted the thought, but after prayer and fasting Janice and I felt the Lord lead us in that direction and I accepted that ministry assignment.
I’m not saying that He will lead everyone the way He led me, but I do think there is a principle here that leads us to ask the Holy Spirit to show us, not so much what our spiritual gift is, but what assignment, what ministry He has for us. As believers we should always be pursuing the spiritual gifts – we’ll talk more about that next week, and I suggest the primary way is by pursuing ministry assignments from God.

So many of you are serving in so many ways – thank you! But may we always be asking the Lord, where do you want me to be serving? What ministry do you have for me? Each of us have a spiritual gift – at least one ministry God has graced us to serve in – let’s ask the Lord to use us as His instruments of grace to build up the body in the ways He has called us to serve.

More in Life in the Spirit

June 30, 2013

The Spirit Poured Out

June 23, 2013

Concerning Spiritual Gifts Part 2

June 9, 2013

Living Together in Unity