Suppose you are in church and it’s testimony time. One of the most respected members steps up to the microphone. To your surprise, he says something like this: “I’m not sure what to make of this. I might not believe it myself, had it not happened to me. Judge for yourselves.
“About a year ago several of us men began meeting for prayer with a fresh desire to listen to the Holy Spirit. One of the other guys had serious, seemingly unsolvable problems. The rest of us prayed and tried to help with advice, but he needed more than good advice. Time passed, and I had an unusual dream. The brother with the needs was in it, along with a definite indication of how the Spirit desired to meet his needs. After I shared this dream with the men, remarkable changes began to take place. What has happened in that brother’s life startled all of us.”
How would you react to such a testimony? Become suspicious and nervous? Avoid the brother who shared it? Most of us have heard stories of too-good-to-be-true miracles done through dreams and visions. Wishful thinking, dubious claims and outright fakery have discredited the idea of signs and wonders in our time.
However, Scripture presents supernatural expressions, including the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in a fundamentally different way. Paul, for example, while correcting the abuse of spiritual gifts, was not anxious or suspicious of any of the Spirit’s gifts. He embraced all of them as essential for building up the church.
He also treated the Spirit’s gifts as normal for disciple life. Think about this: do you know the spiritual gifts of those in your church during a typical Sunday assembly? Paul thought the Corinthian Christians did. He instructed them that if anyone speaks in a tongue, “one must interpret. But if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church . . . ” (I Corinthians 14:27-28). Think about the implications. To follow those instructions, a person ready to speak in a tongue would have to know, before speaking, that an interpreter was present. So the Corinthians, (and other churches), likely knew who in their church had which gift, and they didn’t need the apostle’s help in sorting it out. Maybe in the controversy over tongues-speaking, we have missed a bigger point.
Does our practice reflect the Biblical priority on the Spirit’s gifts? Our churches would not dare neglect communion, and rightly so, though that ordinance is discussed specifically in only one passage in Scripture. Spiritual gifts are discussed in at least six passages in the Bible, yet we only vaguely understand them and pay scant attention. Perhaps better understanding would help. Here is my baseline observation of what Scripture teaches.
A spiritual gift is a “manifestation of the Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:7). So it is recognizably supernatural, not a natural ability. Your spiritual gift is not a professional skill or personality trait that you use to help a church program function smoothly.
A spiritual gift is a regular way the Spirit expresses Himself through each believer. Though He does supernatural things from time to time through Jesus’ followers, a spiritual gift is consistent in each individual. This allows us to be “stewards” of the gifts, giving active attention to and participating with the Spirit in how He desires to express His grace (I Peter 4:10).
A spiritual gift is for “the common good, (I Corinthians. 12:7), and “building up of the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12). It might strengthen a disciple’s faith. But primarily one’s gift is “others directed,” not something the Spirit does to help him or her grow.
The most compelling reason to embrace all of the spiritual gifts is Jesus Himself. Jesus was not God pretending to be a man, using his “God power” for extra hard miracles. He was God who came to earth as a real man and lived the life He wants us to live, empowered by the Spirit. Scripture indicates that Jesus exercised all the spiritual gifts, with two possible exceptions. He exercised all the gifts that each of us partially have as “members of His body.”
Even after His resurrection, Jesus still lived as a man empowered by the Spirit. He gave final orders to His apostles “by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2). Luke also wrote, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1), implying that his second account (Acts), is about what Jesus continues to do. That is where we come in. Jesus is still interested in pouring out His Spirit. He invites us to learn more about and step into the supernatural life He lives.