“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant” 1 Cor.12:1
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit”. 1 Cor.12:4
“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” 1 Cor.12:11.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them” Rom.12:6.
“But to each of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” Eph.4:7.
The subject of “spiritual gifts” has remained troubling waters both in the first century and today. It was among the troubling questions that the Corinthian Church (known for other problems) needed clarification from their founding father, Apostle Paul. In answering this question, Paul began as with the others, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant” 1 Cor.12:1; 7:1;8:1.
Let me beg the indulgence of those who are not conversant with theological jargons to begin with one and an explanation. In the field of theology, the term used for the study or doctrine of the Holy Spirit is pneumatology. (pronounced nu-ma-to-lor-gee). In a technical writing of this nature, the use of technical terms often helps to facilitate the intended meaning of certain doctrines or terms. This explanation hopefully has helped the reader to learn a new theological jargon and its meaning.
Pneumatology is one of the most divisive branches of theology. This was highlighted in a previous pastoral letter, ” What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?” The same will be true in this and the subsequent series on pneumatology.
The extent of the trouble and furor caused in the Corinthian Church because of the misunderstanding of spiritual gifts can be imagined by the extent of the time and length of explanation Paul gave to it . 1 Cor.12-14.
Making A Distinction
It is necessary to establish that there is a remarkable difference between “The gift of the Spirit” and ” gifts of the Spirit” The former is that which was bestowed on the church on the day of Pentecost( Baptism of the Spirit) Acts 2:38; 10:45,47;11:15-17. This was in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise before His ascension. Acts 1:5. But the latter are bestowed on individual believers as the Holy Spirit wills( Prerogative of the Holy Spirit).1 Cor.12:11. The gift of the Spirit is bestowed upon all believers and they all have equal share of it. but the gifts are of many diversity and distributed according to different abilities.1 Cor.12:4-11; Rom.12:6-8;1 Pet.4:10-11. In Acts of Apostles, The gift of the Spirit is referred to in the singular, dorea Acts 2:38;10:45;11:17. But plural is mostly used for “gifts of the Spirit”, charismata, pneumatika, domata. Rom.12:6;1 Cor.12:1,4; Eph.4:8.
There are other distinctions between the two “gifts”. However, the only thing common between the two is that there is nowhere in the Scriptures that the believer is commanded to pray for either.
It also important to note that a distinction exists between gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the Spirit. As noted above, gifts are mostly referred to in plural. But the fruit of the Spirit is spoken of in singular. Gal. 5:22-23 .Gifts are distributed individually to believers by external Agents,1 Cor.12:11; Eph.4:7. But the fruit of the Spirit is produced internally by individual believers through lives yielded to the Holy Spirit. Gal.5:16-25. Another major contrast between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit is that gifts vary among individual believers, but in fruit of the Spirit, the believer produces the entire nine virtues or characters that comprise the fruit. Finally, the possession of the gifts and their manifestation do not guarantee a victorious living or spiritual moral conduct. The Corinthian believers ” lacked behind in no gift” but remained carnal and spiritual infants. 1 Cor.1:7,11-13;3:1-4. But the fruit of the Spirit is a natural result of a surrendered Christian life. Gal.5:16-25.
Counterfeits of gifts have been produced and used to dupe unstable and spiritually immature believers, but it is impossible to fake the fruit of the Spirit for a prolonged period without exposure.
Lastly, although this is a gray area, but it needs to be acknowledged that a distinction also exists between the gifts of the Spirit, natural talents and learned skills. Gifts of the Spirit are bestowed upon a believer at conversion, but natural talents are inherited from birth and kept in life without regard for conversion. Learned skills can be acquired in life by anyone also regardless of their spiritual disposition.
The builders of the Ark of Covenant were artisans who possessed both natural talents and learned skills , but they were filled with Holy Spirit for their special task. Exod.31:1-6. For them, it was not necessarily the gifts of the Spirit, but natural talents and learned skills inspired by the Holy Spirit that enabled them to build the Ark with its intricate beauty and decorations.
Dr. Theodore Epp describes how the gifts of the Spirit operate in believers as follows: The Holy Spirit is God indwelling in us. He is Almighty God revealing Himself to us. But more than that, He is God working out His will and purposes in us. Philippians 2:12,13 says, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling , for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The Holy Spirit enters the believer, dwells in him to execute God’s desires. This is not the working of some human power in us; it is divine power. This is the Spirit of God, a member of the Triune God, living and operating in our lives.
Perhaps , this is the same thing that Paul is alluding about himself when he writes, “To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works mightily in me.” Col.1:29.
The Purpose of the Gifts- A misunderstood factor
An in-depth study of 1 Corinthians 12 would unearth the burden in Paul’s heart as he answered the question about the operation of spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ .Two things immediately become apparent. The purpose of the gifts has been misunderstood and consequently the gifts being misused. In explaining the purpose of the gifts, Paul writes, ” But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” 1 Cor.12:7. He also states something similar to this in his epistle to the Ephesians.4:11-14. Using the analogy of the human body, Paul illustrates that gifts are interdependent upon each another. 1 Cor.12:12-26. Note in particular verse 26. ” And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored all the members rejoice with it. ” This understanding is what the believers at Corinth lacked . And the same is what is lacking today in exercising of spiritual gifts whether in the Pentecostal/Charismatic circles or among non-Pentecostals. In Corinth, some people preferred some gifts above the others, and some gifts were deemed insignificant. It is also likely that some of them , like today were picking and choosing or forcing themselves to exercise the gifts that they do not possess and nudging others, mostly immature believers to do the same.
The purpose of the diversity of gifts is to create unity and strength, not division and disaffection. ” “But that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should care for one another.” 1 Cor. 12:25. On the contrary. Paul points out that preferring some gifts above the others or deeming some gifts insignificant as apparently was the case in the Corinthian Church would result in schism and disharmony. Gifts are not bestowed for personal gratification, but for the benefit of the whole body of Christ.
Another purpose of the gifts , especially for the early Church is for authentication of the Gospel and witness to the doubting and unbelieving community. More discussion on this will be presented in the next Pastoral Letter. The early Church was composed mainly of men like Peter and John of modest socio-economic background. ” Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, (emphasis mine) they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 . Due to their modest background , there is a natural tendency for their personality to be disregarded by the elites of the society and their witness for the Gospel not receive the attention of the religious authority like the Pharisees and Sadducees .Because of this, God bore them witness by signs and wonders. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His will? ” Heb.2:3-4. 2 Cor.12:12. This co-witness of God was a valid and strong testimony before the skeptical and unbelieving Jewish and Gentile communities that the message of the apostles and early disciples had divine authenticity.
Paul concludes Chapter 12 by showing that no gift is common to all believers and as such no gift should be hoisted as a sign or evidence of any spiritual enduement or attained superiority over other believers. vv. 28-31. The diversities of gifts is to make every believer a participant in the organic function of the Body of Christ just as each part of the human body has its function. 1 Cor.12:14-22. This important distinction was likely disregarded in the Corinthian Church as it is frequently done today among many Pentecostal and Charismatic believers. It is not uncommon in such circles to hear some of their “mature leaders” coaching the immature ones on how to “speak in tongues” by standing over them shouting ” open your mouth now and begin to speak” “say something” “just say anything.” A similar misunderstanding is also true with distributing and sharing of gifts between believers. As has been stated earlier, the gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit as He wills. 1 Cor.12:11; Heb.2:4.This is known as the prerogative of the Holy Spirit. Though some gifts are more spectacular than others, no gift should be neglected or despised .1 Cor.12:20-22. While this is true, Paul however seems to recognize and graduate the gifts in order of importance.1 Cor.14:5. In listing the gifts, he seems to set them in order of importance. ” And 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.” 1 Cor.12:28.
With all this said, there is still no Biblical warrant for anyone to choose a particular gift or imparting his own or any other gift to someone else. I once witnessed this unbiblical “drama” first hand. Growing up as a Christian, I have never been a part of or had any formal identification with the Pentecostal or Charismatic movement. But I have never shied away from relating to them as true brethren in Christ, and participated in their fellowship on many occasions. So, when I attended College in a rural community in Indiana, I occasionally attended the local Full Gospel Business Men’s Prayer Breakfast. One Saturday, they had a special evening service in which an outside guest speaker was invited . Concluding his sermon, the speaker urged the audience to stop hiding their spiritual gifts or be stingy in sharing them with others. He persuaded the audience that the reason the world has not been fully evangelized is because believers are not sharing and interchanging their spiritual gifts. He demonstrated what he meant during the altar call. He stepped forward from the rostrum to the open area with open palms and hands stretched in front of him, He invited the men to come forward in turn to pray with and for him. He urged each person to place their palms against his and take whatever spiritual gifts of his that they want and in turn transfer theirs to him . I watched as one by one, the men rose up from their seats and in a single file took turns in this prayer of “spiritual gifts exchange” As much as I tried to avoid displaying any attitude that may seem irreverent because this was a prayer service, still inwardly I could not resist the amusement.
Beginning in Chapter 13, Paul maintains that rather than gifts, love, which is one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, is the “gold standard” for exercising spiritual gifts. Any kind of spiritual gift exercised without love is pure vanity 1 Cor.13:1-3. The fact of choosing a virtue which represents the fruit of the Spirit is a rebuff of the position that the manifestation of a particular gift or all of the gifts is a spiritual hallmark that all believers should pursue and attain. The comparison and contrast that Paul made between love and the gifts of the Spirit in Chapter 13 also suggests that the Corinthian believers, like in other matters, ” majored in Minor.” Love as one the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit is clearly presented in this chapter, not only as superior to the gifts, but destined to still exist after the gifts are gone. 1 Cor.13:8.
Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts
It is sad to think that there are many believers who have never given thought about their spiritual gift much more finding out what it is. Much sadder still, is that some of these believers have been going to church for many years and have never heard a sermon from the pulpit or a teaching in Sunday school on spiritual gifts. To be a believer and not discover and use one’s spiritual gift is a silent tragedy that has crippled the growth of the Church and allowed so much of God-given potentials to lie dormant . To allow spiritual gifts to lie unused is in itself poor and unfaithful stewardship. It could be likened to the wicked and lazy servant of the parable of the talents. Matt.25:14-30. This servant received a very strong rebuke and condemnation from his master because he never cared about investing his talent for the purpose that it was given. On the positive side to discover and use one’s spiritual gift could be likened to the two servants in the parable who invested their talents, made profits and were commended by their master. The vital importance of discovering and using one’s gift is highlighted by pastor and author, Ray Stedman, in these words, ” It is vitally essential that you discover the gift or gifts which you possess, for the value of your life as a Christian will be determined by the degree to which you use that which God has provided you.”
The “How To”
The following five steps would be helpful to anyone who wants to discover their spiritual gifts.
1. Desire to find out. Matt.5:6.
2. Commit it to God in Prayer. Matt.7:7-8; Jn.16:24; Jas.4:2.
3.Seek spiritual guidance. Ps.25:9-10;143:10; Col.1:9-10.
4.Get involved in a ministry in your local church or community. Acts.16:2-3; 1Tim.4:14;2 Tim.1:6. Notice that Timothy was already involved in the life of the church and received their commendation to Paul.
5.A daily life of surrender. Rom.12:1-2.
One Church That Changed A Denomination
I conclude this letter with this remarkable story that probably has faded in the memory of those who were eye-witnesses. I do not have the information on when and how the first contact was made. But in the early 1970s, a strong partnership existed between ECWA as a denomination and a fast-growing independent church in Northern California. The church, Peninsula Bible Church (PBC) had as its senior pastor, Dr. Ray Stedman. PBC had multiple satellite locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The famed senior pastor, a gifted Bible teacher and prolific author, had in1972 published the teaching for which he was popularly known and which had brought unimaginable numerical and spiritual growth to PBC. The small book titled Body Life- The Church Comes Alive. is Pastor Stedman’s manual on understanding the spiritual gifts and how they operate in the body life of the Church. Back in those days, talk about “spiritual gifts” was regarded by many non-Pentecostals as something that belonged to the Pentecostals and Charismatics. But the biblical insight of Dr. Stedman changed all that.
Through the partnership between ECWA and PBC, ECWA was introduced to Pastor Stedman’s now popular teaching and book on spiritual gifts. Agreement was reached with PBC and arrangement made at the high level of ECWA. Then began what could certainly be termed ” a pilgrimage ” to PBC by many ECWA senior pastors. In turns, ECWA DCCs sent their senior pastors for 2-3 weeks training to PBC and ECWA Challenge Bookshops were flooded with Ray Stedman’s Body Life. Later about 1977, Pastor Stedman and a team of elders/pastors from PBC paid a return visit to ECWA. These PBC visitors travelled to nearly all the big cities in Nigeria where ECWA Church existed to organize seminars and training . ECWA pastors and elders from smaller towns and cities travelled to the big cities for this training.
The result of this partnership was the exponential numerical growth and Revival that ECWA experienced during that time . This growth and Revival lasted into the 1980s. This is the result of understanding how spiritual gifts operate in the life of individual believers and influence the entire church, a denomination and the Body of Christ as a whole. ECWA, is the time is ripe for a ” revisit to PBC.”?
Author: Rev. Joseph Ezeigbo
Rev. Joseph Ezeigbo is the Vice-Chairman of ECWA USA and a Bible teacher for the weekly Bible study at ECWA Maryland. He is also a part of the National Day of Prayer and the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted.