Gifts of the Spirit

G. B. Fyfe, London

Part 3 of 7 of the series The Assembly - its Fellowship and Functions

Category: Exposition

There are two chapters in the New Testament which deal in particular with the subject of spiritual gifts. These are Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12. (Romans 12 also comments on the subject).

In the Ephesian Epistle we have disclosed to us the counsels in heaven, and the Church is depicted as God sees it from the divine standpoint. Therefore, chapter 4 of this Epistle empha­sizes the loving care of the Risen Head of the Church for the spiritual growth of His members on earth. The Corinthian letter deals rather with conduct on earthy and views the Church from another angle, as witnessed by men from the ground level. Thus in chapter 12 we have stressed the manifestation of divine power operating in men through the personal Presence of the Holy Spirit on earth. While love is the prime thought in Ephesians 4, power is the predominant feature in 1 Corinthians 12 in relation to the spiritual gifts.

For the sake of clarity, let us consider our subject under several captions:

The Definition of Spiritual Gifts. We must first of all be clear in our minds as to the meaning of a spiritual gift. For one thing, it is not a natural ability, nor is it something acquired by us through human endeavour. It is a divinely given capacity bestowed upon us by the Head of the Church, the risen victorious Christ, for the communication of truth to the minds of men, and for the promotion of the growth and well-being of the body of Christ.

The Distribution of Spiritual Gifts. Christ, then, is the Bestower of the gifts - He "gave gifts unto men", Eph. 4. 8, but the Holy Spirit is the One who distributes them to the saints. This He does, not indiscriminately, but according to His divine discretion, 1 Cor. 12. 11.

The Depository of Spiritual Gifts. It should be observed that in 1 Corinthians 12 (as also in Ephesians 4) the gifts are not bestowed on the local assembly, but are given to the Church, the body of Christ, as a whole. (There were, in fact, no "apostles" in the Corinthian assembly - see v. 28, and the Epistle itself was addressed not only to the church at Corinth, but to "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord", 1. 2.) In 1 Corinthians 12, the Church is viewed as a working organism for practical purposes, some of the gifts enumerated having a peripatetic ministry to perform, with others being more localized in their functions. But all are responsible for the development and exercise of the gift bestowed.

The Diversity of Spiritual Gifts. As we have already noted, Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. 7-13 introduces the analogy of the human body. The' body is basically an organic unity; it is functionally a complex diversity. Each organ has its distinctive function to perform in relation to the activity and well-being of the body as a whole. "So also is the Christ", writes Paul, v. 12. The expression "the Christ*' means Christ and His Church together. He is the Head; Christians form His spiritual body, of which we are all members in particular. From this we learn that each one of us has, just like the members and organs of the human body, a specific function to perform and a different gift to exercise. 1 Corinthians 12 makes reference to three important truths:

1.    The Universality of the Gifts. Each believer without exception has a particular gift.

2.    The Diversity of the Gifts. We are not all gifted in the same way. There is variety and diversity in the nature of the gifts.

3.    The Activity of the Gifts. They must not be allowed to lie dormant. We must cultivate our gift. There may be a need on our part to stir up the gift that is in us, as Paul exhorted Timothy in his day. Furthermore, our gifts must be developed and used for the profit of others. They are not given us to boost
our ego or make us the subject of adulation. Their purpose is wholly altruistic, namely, to benefit the fellow-members of Christ's mystical body, the Church, and to assist their spiritual growth.

 Now, let us consider another aspect of our subject:

The Degree of Spiritual Gift. Just as our gifts are diverse in character, so are they different in degree. The word "measure" in Ephesians 4. 7 indicates this; and the parable of the talents gives us an illustration of the point. To one servant there was given five talents; to another, two; and to another, one talent. Neither the measure nor the nature of the gift is determined by us. The Spirit of God, as we have seen, distributes the gifts as He deems fit. Our part is to identify, cultivate and use effectively the particular gift that we have received, whether it be great or small, spectacular or inconspicuous.

Although it is true that every Christian has received a measure of gracious gift, there are five special gifts in operation in the Church, Eph. 4.11. In this context it is the men (rather than the faculties) who are spoken of as the gifts. Two of these, the apostles and prophets, are no longer with us personally, but we have them in their writings, enshrined in the New Testament Scriptures. In this form they cover a wider sphere of influence with their ministry, than would be possible were they, here in person. The remaining three special gifts, evangelists, pastors and teachers, still function in our midst.

The Design of the Gifts. The tasks of the special gifts are distinctive, although in some cases there may be an area of overlap. Indeed, in certain instances, the gifts of shepherd and teacher may be invested in the same individual (as in the case of the apostle Paul, who, in addition to being a pastor and teacher, was an evangelist). The divine intention is that their various labours should be co-ordinated to achieve the purpose and plan of God in respect of the Church. Thus, the objective of the evangelist is principally the preaching of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. The work of the pastor or shepherd is the care and guidance of the members of Christ's body. This involves, among other things, personal contacts, sick visitation, and the giving of wise counsel to those confronted with problems. The function of the teacher is to instruct the saints in the Scriptures, so that they might be fitted and furnished to engage intelligently in the worship and service of God.

We are afforded a graphic portrayal of the respective operations of the evangelists, pastors and teachers, in the service of the three sons of Levi in connection with the tabernacle in days of old. The Merarites, the Gershonites and the Kohathites correspond, in that order, to the evangelists, pastors and teachers of the Christian era.

In conclusion, the threefold purpose of the special gifts is stated in Ephesians 4. 12.

1.   "For the perfecting of the saints". That is, so that the saints individually may be brought to appreciate their true position in, and relationship to, the Risen Christ.

2.    "For the work of the ministry" - that all the saints may perform their particular part in the service of the Lord, be it of a public or a private nature.

3.   "For the edifying of the body of Christ", The main purpose in the supply of the gifts is the building up of Christ's spiritual body, the Church. It will reach its full stature when, through the operation of the gifts, the body is suitably developed and proportioned to form the perfect complement of Christ the Head in heaven.

Let us all, then, function in such a way as to be helpers, and not hinderers, in the Church of God.