The Unopened Spiritual Gifts

How do you think about spiritual gifts? Do they merely enhance the functioning of church? While re-reading Ephesians 4:12-16, I was stunned by Paul’s radical answer. Check for yourself.

To get another view, I took an online “spiritual gifts inventory” produced by a prominent church consulting firm. My personalized analysis was compared to nationwide tabulations. The results were intriguing—and disturbing.

Of over 162,000 pastors who have completed the questionnaire, results indicated that only 8% had the gift of teaching, despite the requirement that pastors be “able to teach.” (I Timothy 3:2) Only 6% were said to have the gift of exhortation, despite the requirement in Titus 1:9 that pastors be able to exhort. Strangest of all, 34% were reported as having the gift of pastor/shepherd, implying that 66% of self-identified pastors were not so gifted.

I appreciate the intent behind the questionnaire. It communicates that spiritual gifts matter. It can stimulate thinking. That’s good. But it can also add to the confusion that already exists. In my case, the gift I was confident that I had showed up in my personalized analysis as dead last.

Spiritual gifting is somewhat foggy for many of us. Apostles Peter and Paul did not live in that fogginess. In a day without scientifically designed surveys, they seemed to assume that the disciples in Corinth, Cappadocia, Rome, Pontus and everywhere else were clear on what spiritual gifts were and which ones they had been given.

Even when we take spiritual gifting seriously, the supernatural work of God is often reduced to a natural one, like a job skills assessment. That impression was increased when I noticed that the spiritual inventory that I took omitted all supernatural gifts such as healing, miracles, distinguishing of spirits, and others mentioned in I Corinthians 12. So the process seems prejudiced at the outset against the supernatural.

What is normal?

The Holy Spirit intends to do amazing God-like things with His gifts to us. In Scripture there seems to be a presumption of a supernatural level of living that is normal disciple life. The book of Acts shows the divinely inspired picture of what that life should look like. There, disciples prayed and saw supernatural answers from God (see Acts 4:24-31 and 9:10-19). Paul includes miraculous gifts along with the others as normal (I Corinthians 12:7-10). This is the benchmark for disciple life in Scripture—for every disciple.

In other words, all disciples should teach, show mercy, pray and sometimes participate in miraculous healing, and so on. Giftedness in Scripture rises above this level when the Holy Spirit manifests in extraordinary ways in each disciple with gifts of His choosing.

But our expectation of normal is so far below the Biblical benchmark that we end up regarding as extraordinary what Scripture treats as normal. So someone who is serious about prayer and sometimes receives supernatural answers is called a “prayer warrior” or a “praying Christian” (not to be confused with a non-praying Christian). One who faithfully evangelizes and sometimes sees others saved is presumed to have the gift of evangelism, though Jesus calls all of His disciples to make more disciples.

The result is that we ordinarily accomplish what we can do. Church programs are often well managed. Once in a while, disciples are added, but not multiplied. A lot of gifts stay unopened.

There are still unanswered questions. But this is not as good as it gets. The Holy Spirit has something much better. Interested?

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1 Response to The Unopened Spiritual Gifts

  1. Clarence says:

    “How do you think about spiritual gifts, and do they enhance the functioning of the church?” The simple answer to what you have asked is, YES! As we read our Bibles carefully (which we are so often prone not to do) the body of Christ, the church, functions like a well oiled, precision piece of machinery as we employ the gift, or gifts, God has given us. Each part doing its job to the delight of the One who put us together.
    Having said that, however, “reality” has to be considered. We know from Scripture that we are a work in progress. (Phil. 1:6) The work of sanctification, almost always, is long and hard and covers a lifetime. Nevertheless, we keep keeping on. And to the degree that we are maturing in our walk with the Lord, and to the degree that we are using our spiritual gifts, will be the degree to which we are a church that is making a difference in this lost and dying world, or a church that is just spinning its wheels………at least in this man’s opinion.


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