Gift - Its Development and Exercise
T. Ernest Wilson, USA
It has already been pointed out that both Timothy and Titus were Paul’s children in the faith. He calls Timothy his genuine child, 1 Tim. 1. 2, and uses similar terms about Titus, Titus 1.4. It was Paul who led both out into the work of the Lord and naturally he was interested in the development of spiritual gift in these his fellow-helpers in the work of the Gospel.
In the case of Timothy there are three interesting statements concerning his gift, 1 Tim. 4. 14; 2 Tim. 1. 6. In the first passage Timothy is told, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery”, and in the second he is exhorted to “stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands”. Apparently there is something apostolic and miraculous here. Firstly, the prophetic gift was an exercise which recognised that Timothy was a vessel chosen of the Lord. Secondly, Paul states that a gift was conferred by (did) the laying on of his hands, and thirdly, the elderhood identified themselves with it, with (meta) the laying on of their hands. Then he is told not to neglect it, but to stir it up, to blow it into a flame.
In those early days of the church’s history, the gift of prophecy was still in existence, and through this agency Timothy was pointed out as one fitted by God for a specific task. In accordance with this the elderhood symbolically concurred with it by the laying on of their hands. This was the church’s response to the declared mind of God. The fact that the preposition “through” or “by” (did) is used by Paul in the laying on of his hands on Timothy is used in some circles as authority for the ceremony of “ordination” and that a spiritual gift can be conveyed in that way. But the burden of proof lies with those that make the claim, namely that they have the early gift of prophecy and that they have the apostolic authority and power of Paul the apostle. C. H. Spurgeon described the modern practice as “laying empty hands on empty heads”!
But does God not confer spiritual gifts on His church today? He certainly does! This is one of the great prerogatives of the Risen and Glorified Head of the church, our Lord Jesus Christ, Eph. 4. 7-13. He gave apostles and prophets in the early foundation days of the church, and today He still confers the gifts of the evangelist, pastor and teacher. It would seem that the gift conferred upon Timothy was a combination of all three. Paul tells him in 2 Timothy 4. 5, “do the work of an evangelist”. He was also an ideal pastor-teacher in the work he was doing at Ephesus. As already pointed out in these papers, this was a temporary task. He was definitely not the bishop or the pastor of Ephesus, but was sent that he might charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies. When he had completed his task, he was to return to the apostle, 2 Tim. 4. 9, 11, 21. The same was true of the mission of Titus in Crete, Titus 3. 12.
The exhortation not to neglect the gift but to fan it into a flame shows the necessity for a lifelong development of any gift that has been conferred. This can only be done by constant study of the Word and by continual exercise of the gift. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”, 2 Tim. 2. 15. On the one hand there is the divine bestowal of the gift, but on the other hand there must be the diligent, consistent, hard work on the part of the recipient to develop it. As in the physical realm, where certain organs or functions of the body which are not exercised tend to atrophy, so in the spiritual. The fire which once burned brightly and gave light and heat is liable to die down, and needs the oxygen and energy of the Holy Spirit to flame up again.
O how great the need today for gifted men to carry on the work of God! The true gift of the evangelist to pioneer and preach the Gospel on virgin soil is becoming very rare. The ram’s horn of judgment and the silver trumpet of redemption are not being sounded. They are often substituted by little homilies on current events and the great truths of sin and repentance and the glorious remedy in the cross of Christ are scarcely mentioned.
Then there is the need for the shepherd-teacher. Pioneer Gospel work is principally the sphere of younger men, who have the health and spiritual energy to go into nature’s quarry with the dynamite of the Gospel, but shepherding and teaching is usually the work of older spiritual men, who have been in God’s school of experience.
Where can we go and what can we do to find and develop these gifts today? Primarily we are completely dependent on the Risen Head of the church to confer these gifts. Then Paul gives us a clue in his instructions to Timothy as to the future of the ministry of the Word in assemblies, “the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also”, 2 Tim. 2. 2. This is the true apostolic succession. We should be constantly on the look-out for younger, gracious, godly men; and where gift is in evidence, to encourage them to exercise it and develop it, and at the same time give themselves to the careful, accurate and consecutive study of the Word of God.