Gifts of the SpiritPersonal abilities and gifts of ministry
The gifts of the Spirit refer to heightened ordinary abilities, sometimes extraordinary abilities, given by the Holy Spirit to Christians to enable them to serve Jesus. This was foretold in Joel 2:28, confirmed by Jesus to his disciples and fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, Act.2:1-21, 33. From this time on Christians have been able to draw on these abilities to equip themselves for their Christian walk and practical service to the church, and through the church to the world.
Word study - "Gifts"
There are quite a few Greek words in the New Testament translated "gifts" in our English Bible. The words refer to gifts given by God to mankind: John 4:10 - Eternal life.
2Cor.9:15- "God's inexpressible gift" = Christ?
Romans 5:15,17 - Salvation.
Acts 2:38 - The Holy Spirit.
Rom.5:15,16, 6:23 - Eternal life.
1Tim.4:14, 2Tim.1:6 - The gift of preaching and teaching given to Timothy.
Rom.12:6-8 - Gifts of abilities and ministries.
1Peter 4:9-11 - Gifts of ministries, hospitality, etc.
1Cor.7:7 - The gift of continence from God.
1Cor.12:5 - Reference to gifts of abilities or ministries given by the Holy Spirit.
Heb.2:4 - Using the Greek word "meresmos" for gifts and noting the Holy Spirit as the source.
One of the key words used is "charisma" which means a grace, favour or kindness bestowed:
Thus, all good gifts come from God. He is the source of all our blessings. He gives us spiritual abilities for our own edification. He also empowers us with spiritual abilities to enable us to perform a ministry to the church or the world (eg. evangelism). God gives these gifts to his people through the Holy Spirit.
We need to be precise with the phrase "gifts of the Spirit". Note some of the difficulties:
i] Every gift we receive is from God. We are recipients of the Father's grace, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. The role of the Spirit is that of the agent. He appropriates the gift to us. There is a tendency to see the Spirit as the source of the gift, and so some people pray to the Spirit for the gift, rather than to the Father through Jesus.
ii] The phrase "gifts of the spirit" is most often used today in a technical sense to describe the gifts of ministries given to members of Christ's body, the church. This paper will often use the phrase in this way, but it should be recognized that all blessings from the Lord can similarly be termed "gifts of the Spirit". The confusion arises from the mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 12:1, "now concerning spiritual gifts". The Greek word "pneumatikwn" is nowhere translated in Greek literature as "spiritual gifts" or "gifts of the Spirit". The term is better translated "speaking in the Spirit" or "speaking in tongues". The problem Paul is dealing with in 1Corinthians 12-14 is tongue speaking, not the gifts of the spirit. therefore he cannot be used as the source of this technical term.
iii] When it comes to the gifts of the spirit it is possible to distinguish between a) spiritual abilities that enable us to function as "gifted" believers for both our own edification and the edification of others (God's gift to the individual) and b) the ministries themselves (God's gift to the church).
a) Each member of a congregation is given spiritual gifts for the common good, 1Cor.12:7. Paul lists some of these spiritual abilities in 1Cor.12:8-10. Obviously, if God gives us the gift to discern spiritual things then we can exercise a ministry of prophecy in the church. If God givers us the gift of the utterance of knowledge then this could mean we are equipped to perform the ministry of teaching - and so on. So a person who is gifted with say leadership abilities is a person we would say is gifted with abilities to perform a ministry of administration. The highest personal spiritual gift is that of love, 1Cor.13. We don't normally call love a "gift", but it is indeed a spiritual quality given to every believer. It is the gift above all gifts. Jesus' command for his disciples is that we love one another, Jn.13:34. It is a spiritual gift that endures forever, unlike the others that only last for a time, 1Cor.13:8-10. It is a gift sufficient in itself, ie. if we possess this gift we need not possess any other.
b) The church is given the gift of gifted members to perform ministries. These gifts of the Spirit build up the body of Christ, the church. The greatest is apostles, second prophets, third teachers etc. 1Cor.12:27-28, Eph.4:11-13.
iv] The phrase "gifts of the Spirit" implies that spiritual abilities are unnaturally acquired, i.e. spiritually endowed. Without a doubt this is true, but this does not rule out the natural process of acquiring abilities. The Lord works in many mysterious and wondrous ways through the natural order. He uses our natural abilities, moulds and enhances them for His glory. The difference between many of our so called natural gifts before and after conversion, is that after our conversion the Spirit uses, empowers and develops the gifts for the growth of Christ's body (the church). eg. Some of our greatest preachers were very good actors in their early years. These natural and acquired skills are now used for exhortation, prophecy and evangelism. cf. Matt.25:16-28.
It is clear that the Lord equips us with all the abilities to enable us to stand firm for Him to the end. He works on us from within and without that we might grow in Christ-likeness, that we might be holy. This is so for every believer. So when we become Christians we notice that God, through the Holy Spirit, becomes involved in our lives with dramatic results e.g.
i] We grow in love. God is love (1Jn.4:8), and we find his love at work in us. Jesus said that the world would know we were His disciples by our love for one another, Jn.13:34-35. When Paul was dealing with the gifts of the spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14, he described love as the greatest gift, 1Cor.13. The fruits of the spirit, described in Galatians, fall into this category, Gal.5:22-23.
ii] We grow in understanding. The Holy Spirit teaches us all things, 1Jn.2:26-27.
iii] We grow in obedience. We find we are able to do what the Lord requires of us (sometimes!). The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to serve Jesus, eg. He gives us the words to say in a witnessing situation, Matt.10:19-20. He provides a way of escape when facing temptation, 1Cor.10:13. etc.
So there are fundamental gifts which each member of the body should have. They are the gifts which make for unity, oneness and fellowship. The gift of love is the sum of these gifts. It is a fundamental gift that marks us as disciples of Jesus. In fact we are warned that if we have no love we are not one of his, 1Jn.4:7-12. On becoming a disciple of Jesus, His spirit recreates us (rebirth, regeneration), makes us new, makes us in his image. So we start to display his character, we display the fruits of the Spirit.
Over and above the spiritual endowments that every Christian has, are special spiritual endowments ("gifts"). The purpose of these is to equip church members with specialized abilities for the upbuilding of the church (the body of Christ) and its outreach to the world. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives these special abilities to individual members to enable them to perform a ministry (a work, task) that Jesus would perform if He were present. Different members receive different gifts to enable them to perform different ministries. The total sum of these ministries gives a complete ministry of Jesus to the church, and through the church to the world. The church is one body having different parts, each part performing its role to give balance and harmony in the operation of the body, 1Cor.12:14-26, Eph.4:11-16.
Concerning these specialized gifts, note the following:
i] There is variety. There is not just one gift. 1Cor.12:4-11 only lists some of them.
ii] There are many gifted people, 1Cor.12:14-26. The clergyman is not the only gifted person. The body, the church, is made up of many members/parts. Each part/member is to use their gifts for the upbuilding of the whole. Variety produces harmony and completeness. Nor does the Bible suggest that everyone must have each gift, or all have the same special gifts. "If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing. Rather, there are many parts, yet one body".
iii] Not all are specially gifted. This is contentious, but the Bible does seem to imply that not every member of a Christian fellowship has a special spiritual gift. Jesus sees to it that the body is complete, that gifted members are present to supply the whole range of ministries to the church. It is not necessary for every member to be specially gifted over and above the gifts that are necessary for them to be faithful disciples of Jesus.
iv] Gifts are promised. In the same way as Jesus has promised to give each disciple the equipment necessary to serve as a disciple, so he has promised to equip the church for its role as the body of Christ in the world. If we are faithful in prayer we will see church members equipped with spiritual abilities to enable them to minister to the Body of Christ in upbuilding the members and reaching out to the world.
As has already been stated, a minister is a person who is endowed with abilities to perform a ministry (function, work) within the congregation for its edification and upbuilding, Eph.4:11-16, 1Cor.12:4-7, 14:12, and outreach, 1Cor.14:21-25, Act.2:12.
Not all ministries have the same importance. The ones related to the proclamation of the Word of God are the most important. Paul orders them first apostles, second prophets ,and third teachers, then the rest. These may not have the same mighty outworkings of power as say, miracle workers, healers or tongue speakers, but this deficiency is made up by their additional dignity. This gives balance to the ministries, for each member has an important part to play in the welfare of the whole body, 1Cor.12:20-26.
The lists of ministries in 1Cor.12:28, Rom.12:6-8, Eph.4:11, are not meant to be taken as complete lists of the only ministries available to the church. Any role practiced by a member that upbuilds and extends the body of Christ is a valid ministry.
The listed ministries are also, in some cases, difficult to define. The Bible gives little information on many of them and so we are left to guess.
Ministries of the Word
Initially this referred to the twelve whom Jesus chose to be with Him and who were sent out to proclaim the gospel in power. Later the title was applied to Paul, Rom.1:1, Barnabas, Act.14:4, Andronicus and Junias, Rom.16:7, etc. When a replacement was made for Judas the office was filled with a person who had been a disciple from the ministry of John to the resurrection. He must be a witness to Jesus' resurrection, Act.1:15-26. It is difficult to know whether all those called apostles in the New Testament were witnesses to the resurrection. Paul's Damascus road vision and personal commissioning by Jesus authenticated his claim, even though he was not a witness to Jesus' resurrection. Yet what of the others who were not members of the twelve? It is usually accepted that the ministry of the apostle was limited to the 1st Century. Their witness to the resurrection and its proclamation to the world is now enshrined in the New Testament for all to see.
The role of the New Testament prophet is probably no different to that of the Old Testament prophet. They proclaimed the word of God in power within the framework of the Kingdom of God theology. At times there would be associated signs and wonders, predictions of future events, Act.11:28, 22:10cf. Their proclamation was for the edification, exhortation and consolation of the church, 1Cor.14:3. Today a preacher whose sermon is framed in the theology of the Kingdom of God, is strongly exhortatory and powerful (ie. we recognize the Spirit's empowering in the prophets words or actions), can rightly be classed as prophecy. Yet we cannot give modern preaching the same weight of authority as either the Old Testament or New Testament prophecy. Only in so far as it agrees with scripture is it valid.
One who expounds and applies the revealed truths of the Bible. The term pastor/teacher is used in Ephesians to define the shepherding role of the teacher to the flock (church) by means of the exposition of scripture.
A gifted proclaimer of the gospel.
v] Tongue speakers
A word of prophecy in ecstatic form (Act.2:11, 15-18, 1Cor.14:1-5) conveyed in an abnormal manner, either understood by the hearers or requiring interpretation. (Its method of delivery requires a ministry of interpretation of tongues).
Ministries of practical service
ii] Helps, givers of aid
One who performs works of mercy.
iii] Financial supporters
Liberal alms givers.
iv] Miracle workers
The ability to perform miracles of various kinds, Act.9:36ff, 13:11, 20:9.
The miraculous ability to restore health. Act.3:6, 5:15ff, 8:7, 19:12 etc.
vi] Discerners of spirits
Some suggest this is the ministry of determining whether a person is demon possessed, and therefore would include the ability to cast out the demon, Lk.10:17-20. Other possibilities are: distinguishing between true and false prophecies, 1Thess.5:20, or distinguishing between true and false tongues.
As members of the body of Christ we all need to assess what our church lacks as Christ's body and pray that the Lord will raise up ministers, gifted members, to meet that need. We should also examine our own abilities and assess if we ourselves are gifted to perform a ministry within our church. Rom.12:3-8 (esp. v3). We should pray for an understanding of our gifts and how the Lord would want us to use them. We should also pray for an enriching of those gifts, and even pray that God would bless us with new or special gifts we can use in ministry.
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