The gifts of the Spirit have been misunderstood and even misrepresented to such an extent that this whole area of truth has become confused in some quarters. This article attempts to set out some of the basics in connection with spiritual gifts and their use in the assembly.
There is a difference to be made between the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. At new birth the gift of the Spirit is freely given to every believer so that he is equipped with divine help for the years ahead. The Holy Spirit is with us, alongside us, and in us in the fullest sense.
The gifts of the Spirit are those abilities given to us which we are to exercise for the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of the assembly. We all have the gift of the Spirit and we all have one, or indeed a number, of the gifts of the Spirit.
The Purpose of Gifts
The purpose of gifts is, initially, that all might profit, Rom. 12, and that each member of the body may be able to contribute to the benefit of the whole. The possessor of a gift is a channel through which God moves and works. He must therefore be providing the reasonable service of a holy life, Rom. 12. 1, and experiencing the daily transformation and renewing which commitment to Christ brings. He will be marked by walking in the will of God and he will be humble, so revealing that his gift is indeed a gift from God and not just one of natural ability.
The use of such gift will be a blessing to the man himself, a source of encouragement to the assembly, and be honouring to God. Gifts are given for up-building, yet can, if mis-used, destroy much in the assembly. The specific gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4 are the men referred to. They are given by an ascended Christ for the perfecting of the saints, (with a view to) the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, v. 12.
How Gifts are Given
Being gifts they are freely given to the recipient and the Giver is variously described as God, Rom. 12. 3; the Lord Jesus, Eph. 4. 7; and the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 12. 7. Thus it can be seen that in this important matter of the giving of spiritual gifts all three Persons of the Godhead work together in harmony. Gifts are not earned, nor developed out of personal ability, they are gifts above and beyond anything else the recipient might have or acquire.
Gifts are given by the Spirit, divinely imparted, yet not to a select few but to every believer in the Lord Jesus, 1 Cor. 12. 7. They are ‘distributed’ by the Spirit. This carries the thought that the gifts are given to the right people, at the right time and in the right place. As all are given by the same Spirit we must respect His decisions and not feel that some of His gifts are better than others. The gift to each is appropriate for The character, ability and circumstances of that recipient.
The Variety of Gifts
The gifts given to believers are manifold and cover every situation in every period of the church, from the earliest days in The Acts of the Apostles right through until today, and indeed until the Lord comes. This implies that there is no circumstance or condition for which God has not provided, and we need only to be cast on Him for the supply of gift to His people at all times. The number of gifts and their wide variety, all under divine control, are more than adequate for all occasions.
Included within this variety are: the word of wisdom; the word of knowledge; faith; healings; miracles; prophecy; the discerning of spirits; tongues; the interpretation of tongues, 1 Cor. 12. 8-10; apostles; prophets; evangelists; pastors; teachers, Eph. 4. 11; helps; governments, 1 Cor 12. 28; ministry; teaching; exhorting; giving; ruling; showing mercy, Rom. 12. 6-8; hospitality; evangelists; apostles; prophets; and pastors.
Clearly, the assembly, dependant on the Lord, is well resourced in connection with gift with an almost limitless range of options available in its service.
Using and Abusing Gifts
The use of gifts as to place and time is always under the control of the Holy Spirit and there is therefore no need for men to interfere; His order cannot be improved. However, it is the responsibility of the one gifted to use the gift confidently, yet in proportion, Rom. 12. 6. He is not to go beyond what God has given him nor to exploit his gift to the disadvantage of others. He must carry the trust and appreciation of the assembly. Should his ‘gift’ not appear to be recognized by the assembly then he should examine whether he actually does have this gift. It is better for these things to be discussed openly between brethren than to allow the whole assembly to be bored and resentful, sometimes to the total oblivion of the brother concerned. There are others gifted and such must be provided with time and opportunity to exercise their gift. Any brother who is constantly on his feet and leaves only restricted time for others does himself, and the patient assembly, grave dis-service, 1 Cor. 13. 30-31.
Whatever the gift one must wait on the Holy Spirit to provide opportunity so that the exercise of the gift will not be wasted or limited in its effect. Any so gifted will discover that the Holy Spirit does provide opportunity and that the assembly will be willing to listen and profit from the ministry of the gift.
The gifted person should be sincere, or simple, Rom. 12. 8. Insincerity is quickly recognized and if gift is exercised in this way its value is greatly diminished. Sincerity will develop as there is recognition that the gift comes from God and is far removed from one’s personal worthiness.
The gift should be used cheerfully, or promptly, Rom. 12. 8, While waiting on the Spirit, and for one another, is to be encouraged, yet this should not be unduly prolonged to give the impression that the Spirit cannot make up His mind! Thus, opportunities provided should be taken promptly, but not in haste, ignoring others. Such consideration will be greatly appreciated by others.
The gift must be used diligently, Rom. 12. 8. That is to say in a spiritually business-like way. Yet, at the same time, it must be used carefully. It is a great pity if the use of a God-given gift occasions offence in tender hearts. Words should be chosen responsibly and carefully and thus not have the result of turning some aside from the truth simply because of inappropriate presentation.
Regarding the response of an assembly to a gift properly used, it must never say, ‘We have no need of this ministry’, cp. 1 Cor. 12. 21 . The assembly is one, all have gifts and all have the right to use and develop them. It is the responsibility of the elders to ensure that opportunity is given to do so, whether in ministry, preaching, hospitality, giving or in any other exercise currently in use among the Lord’s people.
Thus, in the assembly, the person gifted should wait on the Spirit and for his brethren, yet also be prompt, careful and sincere, and not to go beyond what God has said. Consider oneself, and others too.
Some of the gifts set out in the New Testament scriptures were particularly appropriate for the early churches, but are not relevant today. They were for a limited period and in limited circumstances. Included among them are the ‘word of wisdom’ and the ‘word of knowledge’. These were special gifts for communication and used in the absence of the complete canon of scripture. Some would say, however, that using the inspired word as a base it is still possible for the word of wisdom and knowledge to be in use today in the way scripture is handled and ministry presented.
Healings, miracles, prophecies, discerning of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues are no longer useful in the assembly, for as ‘sign gifts’ they applied only to early New Testament church days.
In some places claims are made that these gifts are still in use, but often, where this might be thought to be the case, there is scant other evidence of the existence of New Testament church doctrine or practice.
Gifts to men from the Godhead are for the benefit of the assembly and for the glory of Christ. They are to be used to build up, not to pull down. Used in a scriptural way they will provide the assembly with opportunities in evangelism, food in ministry, blessing in giving, and fellowship in hospitality.
All have gifts. Every individual must know what their gift is, or what their gifts are, and be prepared to spend time to develop them and use them for the benefit of others. The assembly is responsible to recognise the gifts within its members, and work with them to exploit the opportunities they provide. The best, or most useful, gifts should be coveted, but the more excellent way, 1 Cor. 12. 31, is that the gift that one has be used in love. If there is no love, then no matter what the gift, what the sacrifice, the oratory or faith, there will be nothing in it for God or men.
Thus, the assembly, abundantly resourced, will be able to function to the glory of God, providing encouragement to its members and blessing to the unsaved in a darkening world.