In my last post after quoting Wayne Grudem’s definition of a spiritual gift as “any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church” (Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994, page 1016), I noted how spiritual gifts were manifested and what their purposes were in the New Testament age. In this post I’ll consider briefly some questions that Grudem discusses about spiritual gifts: how strong does an ability have to be to be called a spiritual gift? do Christians possess spiritual gifts temporarily or permanently? are spiritual gifts miraculous or nonmiraculous? and how should we seek and use spiritual gifts?
How strong does an ability have to be to be called a spiritual gift?
Paul’s telling those who have the gift of prophecy to use it “in proportion to our faith” (Romans 12:6, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) and telling Timothy “not to neglect the gift you have” (1 Timothy 4:14) indicates that possessors of spiritual gifts might vary in how effectively they use them. This raises the question of how strong an ability has to be to be considered a spiritual gift. Grudem observes that although the Bible doesn’t answer this question, Paul’s relating spiritual gifts to “building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12) and Peter’s relating then to “serv[ing] another” (1 Peter 4:10) suggests that they thought of them as abilities that were “strong enough to function for the benefit of the church” (Grudem, page 1023).
Do Christians possess spiritual gifts temporarily or permanently?
Paul’s comparing the role of possessors of spiritual gifts within the church to the role of parts of the human body within the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 indicates that they possess those gifts permanently. However Samson’s having his strength restored to him one last time (Judges 16:28-30) suggests that gifts may be given for a special need and his losing it earlier when he shared its secret with Delilah (Judges 16:17-21) suggests that gifts may be lost by grieving God. As well 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, which I’ll consider in my next post, indicates that the present spiritual gifts will be superceded by something greater after Christ returns.
Are spiritual gifts miraculous or nonmiraculous?
In my December 3, 2013, post, “Miracles,” I defined a miracle as as “an extraordinary event which cannot be explained by the known laws of nature and is attributed to God.” According to this some spiritual gifts would generally be recognized as miraculous and others would generally be considered nonmiraculous. Included in the former would be most or all of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, which I’ll consider here when my family and I read Chapter 53, “Gifts of the Holy Spirit (2): Specific Gifts” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology in our family Bible reading. Included in the latter would be most or all of the gifts contained in Paul’s other lists of gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11) but not in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10).
At the same time we should remember that the Bible says: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (Corinthians 12:4-6).
How should we seek and use spiritual gifts?
Grudem offers several suggestions for discovering one’s spiritual gifts and for seeking for more. I’ll repeat briefly some of his suggestions here. If anyone wants to know more of what he says, please ask in a comment on this post.
Members of a church uncertain of what spiritual gifts God has given them can begin by investigating to see what needs and opportunities exist in their church and by examining themselves to determine what interests and abilities they have. They can go on to try ministering in the church in various ways, such as helping with a School School class or praying for others, and seeing where God brings blessing.
Paul’s telling the Corinthians “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:12) indicates that we should seek for more spiritual gifts. How do we seek them? We should ask God for them. Paul says that “one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret” (1 Corinthians 14:14) and James says “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5). However we should make sure that our motives in asking for additional spiritual gifts are right ones. Our motives should be to bring glory to God and to help others, not to glorify ourselves as Ananias and Sapphira sought to (Acts 5:1-10). After asking God for additional spiritual gifts, we should look for opportunities to try using them. We should also continue to use the spiritual gifts that we already have and should be content if God doesn’t give us any more.
Finally, we should remember that the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts for the work of ministry, not to be a source of personal pride or to be looked upon as a mark of spiritual maturity, and we should thank God for giving us them to enable us to minister on His behalf.