It’s the week after Pentecost Sunday, the day when the Holy Spirit was made available to everybody — male and female, young and old, slave and free, near and far (Acts 2:1-21).
We often associate the gift of the Holy Spirit with a blessing we receive: salvation, life, peace, joy, etc.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is also about what we are able to give to others. The Holy Spirit fills us so that his grace can pour out of us to bless others.
Paul calls these spiritual gifts:
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
I believe spiritual gifts are misunderstood in at least two ways. As Inigo Montoya would say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
1. Sometimes gifts are described as the equivalent of natural strengths or temperament. My spiritual gift is whatever I’m good at.
Certainly there is sometimes overlap between gifts and strengths. The trouble is that God often calls people to ministry in areas of their weakness. Moses is a good example. God calls him to be a public speaker and he is “slow of speech and tongue” (see Exodus 3-4). Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us grace to do something precisely because we need the grace…because of our weakness! Which makes the glory of God all the more evident in our lives when we cooperate.
This is an important point because it’s possible to use spiritual gifts as a cover up for selfishness or fear. If something is outside our comfort zone, we might be tempted to say, “Well, that’s not my gift.” By which we mean,”That’s not my natural strength.” But what if the Holy Spirit is calling us to do something outside of our strength so that the image of Jesus might be formed more fully within us?
2.Sometimes spiritual gifts are assumed to be permanent. This is my spiritual gift for all time.
This assumption is built on the first misconception. If my gift is my natural strength, then it will always be my gift. But the language that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12:7ff. is “manifestation.” Another word for it is “appearance” — as in, if the gift appears, it can also disappear. Paul is saying that gifts “show up” in disciples to bless people and build up the church and then they go away. Granted, some gifts, like “apostle” or “teacher” may have a longer vocational shelf-life, but it seems that there are shorter term gifts as well (e.g., gifts of knowledge, wisdom, discernment, etc.).
So what are spiritual gifts then? Notice the words Paul uses for them in the passage above: gifts, service, and working.
Spiritual gifts are like an assignment from the Spirit. A role. A job. And the purpose of that assignment is to strengthen and bless the church for the good of the world.
The good news of Pentecost is that everybody gets to play! Everybody who receives the gift of the Spirit also receives an assignment in the body of Christ that helps to implement the restoration of the world.
What are the implications of understanding spiritual gifts in this way? How does this understanding compare with yours?