The nature and practice of spiritual gifts is one of the most controversial dialogues in the church today. Confusion abounds as the faithful seek to find their place along a spectrum of belief, ranging from cessationists (those who believe the miraculous gifts ceased to operate with the death of the Apostles) to charismatics (those who believe that all gifts are practiced today as seen at Pentecost).
Most “mainstream evangelicals” fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, holding a position that avoids leaning too far toward one extreme or the other. Yet, instead of deciding which spot on the spectrum is most valid, what if we worked toward an understanding of the role God intends for the gifts to play in the life of the Church?
Why This Conversation Matters
A correct understanding of the role of spiritual gifts leads to a correct application of those gifts. Likewise, an incorrect view of the role of spiritual gifts leads to an incorrect application of those gifts. So, what does Scripture have to say about their role in the life of the individual and the Church as a whole?
In Acts 1:8, Jesus introduces the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers and to empower them to walk in a way that glorifies God and builds His Church. In 1 Corinthians 13:10, Paul tells us that the gifts are not perfect but are given to the church until the time when Jesus returns, at which time the gifts will “pass away.” Earlier in his letter, Paul says that the church “is not lacking in any spiritual gift, as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7). Paul goes on to exhort the church in the use of gifts: “let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26b).
The gifts are not for you ultimately; they exist to build up the church to fulfill its mission. This is important for us to note because it points to the role that gifts play in the New Testament Church: Spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Spirit for the edification of the body (1 Cor. 12:7).
How Then Should We View Spiritual Gifts?
In Romans 1:11-12, Paul writes to the church, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”
There is a common misconception that often accompanies this text. Paul is not saying that he wishes to give to the church or its members a spiritual gift but he means that his spiritual gifts will be used in such a way to strengthen the church. Paul wants to use how God has gifted and wired him to edify the church. He also says that he personally hopes to be built up by the giftedness of those in the church so that both his faith and theirs would be encouraged. The apostle Paul gives us both an example and a description of how the gifts are to function in the life of the body: Spiritual gifts are expressions of faith, to encourage and increase the faith of others.
Glorify God, Edify the Church
No matter which gift you are exercising, the purpose in God giving it to you is to glorify Him through edifying the church. Asking ourselves some helpful questions can help determine whether or not we are correctly applying the gifts:
- Does the use of my spiritual gifts terminate on me, or are they being used to increase the faith of others?
- When I use a spiritual gift, does it result in another believer being encouraged or confused?
- Am I seeking to build up the church or am I seeking to exalt myself?
Regardless of which gifts you believe still operate, all spiritual gifts must operate within these boundaries. Any time a gift is used to bring personal gain or glory to its bearer instead of the Giver, any time it causes confusion instead of edification, it is being misused.
Let’s not spend so much energy arguing over certain gifts that we fail to consider the bigger picture of spiritual gifts in general, both miraculous and otherwise. May we labor to gain a biblically informed understanding of how to utilize whatever gifts the Lord has imparted to us in a way that is accurate and faithful.