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Spiritual Gifts and Ministries
By David B. Smith

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Are you deeply grateful for the crucial role Leonard Swett has played in shaping America’s history? And you say, Leonard Who? He was never President; he authored no bestselling books; he never once appeared on Oprah. His skill was organizing and being a people person. And in the 1860 Republican presidential primary, he was the relentless, tireless political force — persuading, pleading, bartering, almost bribing — who managed to get the nomination for a relative unknown named Abe Lincoln. “I did not, the whole week I was there,” he said later, “sleep two hours a night.” It was his goal to make Lincoln either every delegate’s first or second choice — a brilliant strategy — and the railsplitter from Illinois nosed out prohibitive favorite William Seward on the third ballot and went on to become perhaps America’s greatest president.

The Church is a Body. The doctrine of spiritual gifts is so important to the Church that Paul prefaces his instructions by saying: About spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. The beautiful metaphor employed by the Holy Spirit is of a single human body — with many parts! Every part is needed; every part is important; the loss of even one can badly damage the body’s health and effectiveness.

And one of the paramount realities is that many believers are called to work behind the scenes like Leonard Swett, gladly serving Jesus in relative anonymity. A major part of 1 Corinthians 12 is devoted to this topic, and Paul quickly says: The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable (v. 21, 22). Every presidential campaign has literally thousands of people who never get up front for a debate, are never seen in campaign ads, and are never asked to kiss a baby or sign an autograph. In the church, as well, many are empowered by the Spirit to serve the body of believers with a vital but unheralded gift.

What are the key scriptural principles regarding spiritual gifts?

1. They are given by the Holy Spirit for the common not the individual good. Now to each one, Paul writes, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Verse 18 adds that the Spirit chooses the gifts for each Christian, just as He wanted them to be. Someone once observed about name-it-and-claim-it theology, “We don’t ‘use’ the Holy Spirit; He uses us!” Realizing this should strengthen the church’s overall feeling of unity; each Christian should quietly thank God for his or her gift; envy or resentment are actually a statement of defiance against God’s infinite wisdom!

Interestingly, William Seward, who was sorely disappointed when he lost to Lincoln, ended up as the 16th President’s Secretary of State. Before many months had passed, he confided to friends that he was thankful such a brilliant leader as Lincoln was in the White House.

2. Our gifts are actually God’s possession or resource, strictly on loan to us. Jesus tells a colorful parable in Matthew 25 about a master who entrusts talents to his servants: one receives five, another two, and a third man just one. But the talents actually belong to the Master! Not only should each worker be content with that, but this reality also gives the Christian a bold, cheerful confidence about “investing” on behalf of the church. No one should hide or ignore their God-given talent, when God generously offers to back up His investment. In fact, two of the three servants were so eager, they went at once to get their mutual funds into the marketplace.

3. Gifts are given for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. Jesus commands His Church to take the gospel to the entire world (Mark 16:15); spiritual gifts are how He empowers that directive. If all members play their divinely assigned role, the church will be strengthened in its service to the community, its mission outreach, its improved program, its ability to respond quickly to needs. The pastor’s effectiveness is multiplied when many people pitch in and do a myriad of tasks, freeing him or her up for spiritual leadership and teaching. (Jerry Cook, author of Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness, had a parishioner call. “Please hurry over! My friend wants to accept Jesus.” Cook graciously refused, telling the lay person, “You can do that! I don’t want to rob you of the joy.”) In fact, one of the pastor’s main tasks is to train others to fulfill as many church functions as possible. Pastor Rick Warren describes how, at his growing Saddleback Church, a member will often ask: “Why doesn’t a big church like this have such-and-such ministry?” Warren’s reply is: “The Lord gave you a passion for that; you start it!” Again, we can feel free to take prudent risks when God’s bank account of talents is opened up to fund our adventures.

This principle also protects us from improper ambition. The oft-discussed “prayer of Jabez,” has a believer asking God to enlarge his territory — but strictly for the building up of God’s kingdom. C. S. Lewis observed that if a military officer seeks to become a general strictly for the glory and the magazine covers, that is a sinful impulse. But if he honestly believes he can serve his country well and shorten a war, it becomes a proper and sanctified desire. So Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 12 by noting that it is good to desire more gifts and “the greater gifts,” motivated by a pure love of God and His Church.

4. Upon being baptized, every member receives at least one gift. It is important to note that spiritual gifts are not precisely the same as natural talents, although they can nicely dovetail! The Bible’s list of gifts, found in both 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 include: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle powers, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation, and administration. And there are others! Some have the ability to prepare savory dishes for potluck. I have a friend who is genius at taking current praise songs and translating them into perfect Thai for mission trips; he captures not only the meaning of the song, but brilliantly calibrates the syllables so the new version’s meter is spot-on. (You should hear seven hundred Thai teenagers, many of them still Buddhist, singing “Come — Now Is the Time to Worship.”)

It is also worth noting that, even if we feel relatively gift-free, each of us has the gift of witnessing. The most tongue-tied convert can tell his friends what an amazing Friend Jesus has turned out to be. NFL quarterback Kurt Warner likened his faith-sharing efforts to a guy getting into an amazing party where the food is good, the people are friendly . . . and the Host absolutely unbelievable. “What kind of friend would I be,” he asks, “if I didn’t at least go to the front door and holler at my teammates, ‘Hey! This guy is amazing! Come check it out”?   

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David B. Smith writes from California. (27 of 28) His web page is davidsmithbooks.com. Biblebay Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information.