Spiritual Gifts – General Considerations – Part 1

I began considering the work of the Holy Spirit here by saying: “Over the next couple months I’ll consider the work of the Holy Spirit, reporting on my family’s after-breakfast reading from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). We plan to read these chapters on the Holy Spirit from it:
– Chapter 30: The Work of the Holy Spirit
– Chapter 39: Baptism and Filling with the Holy Spirit
– Chapter 52: Gifts of the Holy Spirit (1): General Questions
– Chapter 53: Gifts of the Holy Spirit (2): Specific Gifts”

We read Chapter 30. However in my personal rereading of Chapter 39, I realized how much of it is devoted to arguing against the traditional Pentecostal understanding of baptism with the Holy Spirit and so instead of reading it we read about the baptism in the Holy Spirit in William W. Menzies and Stanley M. Horton’s Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, Missouri: Logion Press, 1993). We’re now reading Chapters 52 and 53.

In preparation for our reading the two chapters, I read several articles and book chapters on spiritual gifts. Two books that I found helpful regarding both general considerations and specific gifts were J. Rodman Williams’ Renewal Theology (Grand Rapids. Michigan: Zondervan, 1996; Chapters 13, “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit,” and 14, “The Ninefold Manifestation”) and Anthony D. Palma’s The Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springield Missouri: Logion Press, 2001; Part 3, “Spiritual Gifts”). However, although I plan to consult both of them and the comments on 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 in my commentaries (especially those by Gordon D. Fee and David E. Garland) as we read Chapters 52 and 53, I haven’t been sharing from them in our family reading and won’t likely share from them here.

Grudem defines a spiritual gift as “any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church” (page 1016). He notes that the definition includes both gifts that are related to natural ability, such as teaching, and gifts that seem to be more miraculous, such as prophecy. Besides the list in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, which Grudem focuses on in Chapter 53, lists of spiritual gifts are given in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28; and Ephesians 4:11.

Although in the Old Testament spiritual gifts were manifest only occasionally, it looked forward to a time when they would be more common:

And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour our my Spirit.
(Joel 2:28-29, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

In the New Testament not only was the power of the Holy Spirit manifested in the ministry of Jesus, but also on the Day of Pentecost Peter told those who gathered that what had happened was what had been prophesied by Joel (Acts 2:17-18). The book of Acts records further manifestations of the spiritual gifts in the ministry of the early church (see for example 5:12-16), and the epistles (see especially 1 Corinthians 12-14) indicate how widespread they were exercised. 1 Corinthians 1:7, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” suggests that they will continue to be manifested in the church until Jesus returns.

Grudem identifies two purposes of spiritual gifts in the New Testament age: to equip it for ministry and to give it a foretaste of the age to come. The former is indicated by Paul’s encouraging the Corinthian believers to use the spiritual gifts “to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). The latter is indicated by his telling them, “We know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (2 Corinthians 13:9-10).

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