The “peril of the pendulum” operates in relation to spiritual gifts. On the one swing of the pendulum is the idea that spiritual gifts are essentially irrelevant to Christian service today, because the gifts were given to the early church only and the important matter today is maturity, not gifts. On the opposite swing is the emphasis that you cannot even begin to serve, unless you are sure of your spiritual gift(s). If spiritual gifts were given to the early church only or are irrelevant to service today, then why do they appear in New Testament books written to the second generation of believers and to those who lived throughout the Roman Empire? (Ephesians and 1 Peter) Furthermore, since gifts are necessary for the proper functioning of the body of Christ, how could they not be given today, and yet maintain that proper functioning?
On the other hand, if a believer must know his or her spiritual gift(s) before serving, then why are there no commands to discover one’s spiritual gifts? We are all commanded to use our gift (1 Peter 4:10— “employ it”). No text says we must know what gift we have before we can be expected to serve. Yet, I will risk using the word discovery in this heading in order to encourage the reader to use his or her gifts.
Inform Yourself about the Total Package of Gifts in Your Life:
There exist three categories of gifts in every Christian’s life:
Natural abilities. God-given at birth, they include things like I.Q., a measure of health and strength, musical talents, linguistic abilities, mechanical aptitudes, etc.
Acquired abilities. These include things like cooking, sewing, driving a car, learning a language, learning to play an instrument, etc. While we may tend to take such skills for granted, remember that many people in the world have few opportunities to acquire skills in these areas.
Spiritual gifts. A believer should inform himself or herself of the total’ package of these various abilities which God has placed in his life. In other words, he should take inventory to know what stock he has available for the Lord’s use. Just going through the process of taking inventory periodically may help the believer ascertain what areas of service he ought to explore.
Prepare Yourself by Taking Every Opportunity Available:
This principle applies to all three categories of abilities. Sharpen talents, acquire skills, and work on the development of spiritual gifts. If one thinks he may have the gift of teaching, then it will be necessary to study. The ability to communicate may be more directly given (though even that skill can be sharpened by education), but certainly the content must be learned.
If one suspects he has the gift of giving, then he will work on being a good steward in all areas of life (1 Corinthians 4:2). The ability to be generous is God-given, but to have the wherewithal with which to be generous requires discipline in financial affairs.
The gift of evangelism in the early church, not only involved the preaching of the Good News, but also itinerating with the message. To be able to do this may involve paying special attention to one’s health in order to have the stamina to travel in spreading the Gospel.
If one has the gift of exhortation, it certainly should be based on Biblical knowledge. The only valid and worthwhile exhortation must be rooted in Biblical truths. And, of course, to have Biblical knowledge requires study.
Be Active in the Lord’s Work:
Gifts are both discovered and developed by activity. Practice brings perception of one’s total package of abilities, and practice develops those abilities. If you are seeking to discover your gift(s), then do not turn down opportunities to serve, even if you think they do not fall within the range of your abilities. God may be trying to tell you that you have abilities you do not recognize.
If you are active in doing what you can, then other opportunities may arise which will bring to light additional Spiritual gifts. For example, when we first meet Philip in the Book of Acts, we see him helping distribute the relief money to needy (and bickering) widows. (6:5). It is doubtful that before he undertook this ministry he sat down to decide whether or not he had that Spiritual gift! Here was an opportunity to serve, and he took it. He proved faithful in performing this menial task. The Lord then entrusted him with another ministry, that of evangelizing the Samaritans (8:5), and later, the Ethiopian eunuch. As he used that gift, he became known as Philip the evangelist (21:8). But first he was Philip the helper of widows.
The same principle was true in Stephen’s life. He first served along with Philip in ministering to the widows. But he also was full of faith (6:5), and was a great witness (7:1-53). Faithfulness in one opportunity leads to other opportunities.
Let me show an interesting comparison between some of the spiritual gifts and some of the commands which are given to all believers. The bottom line of this comparison simply says that we are commanded to minister in many areas whether or not we think we have the corresponding spiritual gift.
GIFTS GIVEN TO SOME
COMMANDS GIVEN TO ALL
|1. Ministering||1. Serve one another (Gal 5:13)|
|2. Exhortation||2. Exhort one another (Heb 10:25)|
|3. Giving||3. All give (2 Cor 9:7)|
|4. Teaching||4. Great Commission (Matt 28:19)|
|5. Showing Mercy||5. Be kind (Eph 4:32)|
|6. Faith||6. Walk by faith (2 Cor 5:7)|
|7. Evangelism||7. All witness (Acts 1:8)|
Thus, all are commanded to do various ministries, whether or not they possess the corresponding Spiritual gift. If we faithfully obey these commands, we may discover our particular Spiritual gifts.
Be a Good Steward of the Single or Married State:
If either state is a spiritual gift (1 Cor 7:7), then being faithful in the stewardship that goes with either state is essential. Being single or being married are spiritual gifts that need to be developed. Both need to be faithful stewards (4:2). Both need to be growing in sanctification (1 Thess 4:3). Both need to redeem the time (Eph 5:16).
The single person needs to pay particular attention to purity, to financial discipline, to using free time to study the Word, and to seek opportunities to serve, say, in a foreign land for a short term. The single person must be concerned for the things of the Lord and how he or she may please him (1 Cor 7:32). The married person must give attention to the family, and yet put the Lord’s work above all (vs. 29, 33). The proper exercise and development of these gifts may be an important factor in the use of other gifts throughout life.
Be Willing to Do Anything for God:
Actually, dedication or willingness to do anything is more important than discovering your spiritual gift(s). The passage on gifts in Ephesians 4 begins with an exhortation to a worthy life and lowly walk (vs. 1-2). The extended discussion on gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 is preceded in that letter by several exhortations to dedication (3:16; 6:19-20; 10:31). And the passage in Romans 12 begins with that great call to dedication of life in (vs. 1-2). One who is not dedicated will never discover all the abilities God has given him, nor will he fully develop those which he does discover.
THE DESCRIPTION OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS:
Apostleship (I Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11)
In a general sense, the word means, “one who is sent (as used of Epaphroditus in Phil 2:25). But the technical sense of apostleship refers to the Twelve and possibly a few others like Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14). The gift was given for the founding of the church and was accredited by special signs (2 Cor 12:12; Eph 2:20). This is not a gift that God gives today.
Prophecy (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:10; 14:1-40; Eph 4:11)
Like apostleship, prophecy is also used in both a general sense and a technical sense. In the general sense, it refers to proclaiming, and thus to preaching. But technically a prophet was not only able to proclaim God’s message, but he also was able to predict the future. All of his messages, whether proclaiming or predicting, came from God directly through special revelation.
The gift must have been rather widely given in New Testament times, though only a few prophets are mentioned specifically (Agabus, Acts 11:27-28; prophets in the church at Antioch, (13:1); Philip’s four daughters, (21:9); and the prophets in the Corinthian church, 1 Corinthians 14. This too was a gift for the founding of the church, unnecessary after that period and after Revelation was written in the New Testament.
Miracles (1 Cor 12:28) and Healings (vs. 9, 28, 30)
This is the ability to perform special signs including physical healing. Paul exercised this gift at Ephesus (Acts 19:11-12); yet he did not or could not use this gift in the cases of Epaphroditus (Phil 2:27), Timothy (1 Tim 5:23), or Trophimus (2 Tim 4:20). The gift of healing might be viewed as a category within the larger gift of miracles. For example, Paul’s calling down blindness on Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:11) was the exercise of his gift of miracles, but it certainly was not a healing. We recognize that a miracle or healing may be done by God apart from anyone’s exercising a spiritual gift (as the physical sign that accompanied the filling of the Spirit in 4:31).
If this is so, then it does not follow that if one considers the gifts of miracles and healings temporary, he is also saying that God does not perform miracles or healings today. He is simply saying that the gifts are no longer operative, because the need for them has ceased; i.e., to authenticate the Gospel message.
A believer today cannot necessarily expect to be healed. It is not God’s will to give everyone good health. Though Paul prayed earnestly and repeatedly, and though he himself possessed the gift of healing, it was not God’s will to heal Paul of his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:8-9). If it were God’s will to heal every believer, then no believer would die, for even the last illness would be healed. Healers recognize their limitations, for they do not claim to heal decayed teeth nor to instantaneously mend broken bones.
To disregard human means available for healing and to simply pray for a miraculous cure is like praying for a harvest and then sitting in a rocking chair, refusing to plant or cultivate the ground.
Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues (1 Cor 12:10)
Tongues is the God-given ability to speak in a language of earth that is unknown to the speaker. Interpretation of tongues is the ability to interpret that message in a language understood by the hearers. Unquestionably, the first occurrence of tongues in Acts 2 was languages (note the word “languages” in vs. 6 and 8). The presumption is that the tongues in Corinthians were no different.
The purposes of interpreted tongues were two: To communicate truth from God, and to authenticate the truth of the Christian message, especially to Jewish people (1 Cor 14:5; 2:1-22). Because the Corinthians were abusing this gift, Paul laid down strict regulations for its use: only two or three were to speak in any meeting; no one was to speak in tongues unless the message could be interpreted; prophecy was always preferred; and women were to keep silent (1 Cor 14:27-34).
Uninterpreted tongues, especially a private prayer language, is unfruitful (1 Cor 14:14), simply because even the one praying does not know what he or she is asking for. Therefore, it is better to pray with understanding, which means using a language that the person understands.
Whether one believes the biblical gift of tongues is given today or not, the Pentecostal teaching that tongues are the necessary sign of having been baptized by the Spirit is wrong. Paul said that all the believers in Corinth were baptized (1 Cor 12:13), but not all spoke in tongues (vs. 30).
Evangelism (Eph 4:11)
This ability to proclaim the Gospel message with exceptional clarity, also included the idea that the ministry of an evangelist was itinerant. It might also be done publicly or privately. Whether or not one has the gift of evangelism, all believers are to be witnesses.
Pastor (Eph 4:11)
This is the ability to shepherd, provide for, care for, and protect God’s people. In vs. 11, teaching is linked to pasturing, and in Acts 20:28 ruling is.
Serving (Rom 12:7; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:12)
This is the ability to help or serve in the broadest sense of the word.
Teaching (Rom 12:7; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11)
This is the ability to explain God’s truth to people. Apparently, the gift is sometimes given alone, and sometimes in connection with that of pastor.
Faith (1 Cor 12:9)
This is the ability to believe God for the supply of specific needs. Every believer should walk by faith, and each has a measure of faith, but not all have the gift of faith.
Exhortation (Rom 12:8)
This involves the ability to encourage, comfort, and admonish people.
Distinguishing Spirits (1 Cor 12:10)
This was the ability to distinguish between true and false sources of supernatural revelation when it was being given in oral form before the completion of the canon.
Showing Mercy (Rom 12:8)
Like the gift of serving, this involves succoring particularly those who are sick and afflicted.
Giving (Rom 12:8)
This seems to be the ability to be very generous with what means one has. It should be exercised with simplicity, i.e., with no thought of return or self-gain.
Administration (Rom 12:8; 1 Cor 12:28)
This is the ability to rule in the church.
Wisdom and Knowledge (1 Cor 12:8)
Like other early-church gifts, these involved the ability to understand and communicate God’s truth to people.
The list numbers eighteen separate gifts (though I have linked several together). Is this all? Nowhere is there any suggestion that there are other gifts, and these that are listed would seem to be sufficient for the building of the body of Christ.