SPIRITUAL GIFTS IN THE MODERN WORLD
Benny Hinn, the television evangelist-healer, draws enormous crowds to his campaigns around the world. He
claims he has received the spiritual “gifts” of healing and evangelism.
Yet a 2007
television news magazine report suggested he lived a lavish lifestyle, put his
family on the payroll, and could not verify the healings reputedly done in his
crusades and on television. The source of this information was people who used
to work for him, including a former chauffeur and accountant.
In recent years we have
seen a remarkable upsurge in Pentecostal religions and the “spiritual gifts”
movement. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of confusion around this issue,
which can be clarified only by reexamining the primary biblical passages that
speak to the issue.
SCREAMING FOR ANSWERS
appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues."
Let us admit that
the biblical teachings about spiritual gifts can be confusing. The apostle Paul
says in 1 Corinthians 12:28 that God has “appointed in the church first
apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of
healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues”
(NRSV).* Clearly, he is referring to some of the spiritual gifts present in the
every period of church history the “deeds of power [and] gifts of healing” have
been seen as dramatic gifts from God, which cannot help deeply attracting
eyewitnesses to them. But what about the other spiritual gifts—of teaching,
preaching, or speaking in tongues? In our time pastors proclaim that all
Christians have spiritual gifts to be used in the proclamation of the gospel,
including administration, hospitality, and nurturing. We are urged to
“discover” our spiritual gifts and then use them. When we do, church growth
Here is where
confusion infiltrates a crucial teaching with questions that scream to be
“Is there a
difference between administration as a skill developed through education and
experience, and administration as a spiritual gift?”
“Is there a
difference between pastoring or teaching as skills one acquires, and these same
qualities as gifts of the Spirit?”
“What is the
difference between being a hospitality celebrity, like Martha Stewart, and
having hospitality as a spiritual gift?”
“Why does a
Christian who feels called to help others possess the gift of service, while a
dedicated Christian social worker in the community does not exercise a
The apostle Paul
implicitly answers such questions in his remarkable discourse on spiritual
gifts in the twelfth chapter of his first letter to the church at Corinth.
These new Christians, fresh out of pagan worship (they were not converted Jews
or “God-fearers”—Gentiles converted to Judaism before they became Christians),
were used to frenzy and ecstasy in their religious experience. Their culture
tended to equate spirituality with emotional intensity. As a result, few if any
ever asked the question in relation to Christian worship: Even if intense, how
do we know our ecstasy is an authentic experience of the divine?
Deeply embedded in
their experience, the new believers could not help ranking their brothers and
sisters in proportion to the sensationalism of the gifts they manifested. If
you performed miracles, uttered prophecies, or spoke in tongues, you were
obviously superior to those who, in their own quiet ways, loved one another and
gave themselves unselfishly to Christ. Week after week, Paul seems to suggest,
the spiritual gifts that elevated people into prominence turned some of them
into self-righteous, unfeeling snobs. Those with less sensational roles became
jealous and felt spiritually inferior. They could not understand why God had
given them “lesser” gifts than He had given to others.
GIFTS—WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Paul tackles this
problem by asking a fundamental question: Why is the Spirit given to the
church? His answer is straightforward: Certainly not for the exaltation of one member over another, but for the good of the whole. Spiritual gifts are to foster unity, not bickering; love, not jealousy. When the result of a “gift” is the fracturing of the church, it cannot be a gift of the Spirit!
helps us distinguish not only between true and false gifts, but between
“talents” or capabilities and “gifts” of the Spirit.A talent is morally neutral: it may produce good or evil. The talent to inspire people through oratory may be used by a Hitler for warmongering, or by a Roosevelt to defend freedom against fascism. Spiritual gifts are different. They are not morally neutral. They must always be used for good and never for evil. True spiritual gifts unify the church; they never result in separation between believers.
To illustrate his
thesis, Paul describes the church with the metaphor of the body. He seems to be
saying, “Doesn’t the foot understand that when it attacks another member of the
body of Christ, it attacks itself?” There is no independent existence in the
church. We are literally “knit together” in Christ. What affects one, affects
all. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12, 13, NRSV).
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."
In another place
Paul uses the image of putting on Christ as one would put on a robe or a
uniform. When we see firefighters or police officers, for example, the uniform
minimizes differences of color, ethnicity, or gender, and highlights the fact
that these people are united in a common mission. That uniform means they are
dedicated to taking care of us as well as one another. In Christ our
differences are as nothing compared to what we have in common—the Lordship of
A talent is mine
and has a life of its own. It leads to rivalry (we compete through our talents
for careers, schools, and even romantic interests). We receive our talents at
birth and enhance them through education and practice.
gift does not belong to me but to the church. It has no life apart from the
church. It leads not to rivalry, but to mutual support. It is received at
baptism, not at birth, and it is
nurtured not through education or practice so much as daily spiritual discipleship.
A spiritual gift may manifest itself through a talent, but it is not the same
as a talent.
1 CORINTHIANS 12
spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2
You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols
that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking
by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can
say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are
varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services,
but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same
God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation
of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the
utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the
same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing
by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy,
to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to
another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and
the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit
chooses. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the
members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in
the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or
free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not
consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, "Because I am
not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less
a part of the body.
1 CORINTHIANS 12
16 And if
the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the
body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole
body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing,
where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in
the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where
would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The
eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the
head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, the
members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those
members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor,
and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas
our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the
body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no
dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one
another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member
is honored, all rejoice together with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and
individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first
apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of
healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30
Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31
But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent
Talents in the
ministry of the church would refer to one’s personal and professional
qualifications, such as good judgment, intelligence, pleasant preaching voice,
educational preparation, etc. The spiritual gift of ministry would refer to how
one dedicated those talents to the building up of the body of Christ rather
A talented singer’s
performance focuses on the audience’s response to their singing; a spiritually
gifted singer (talented to be sure) is primarily conscious of how God might use
their gift to build up the church. While a talent well utilized is a pleasure
to experience, a spiritual gift faithfully exercised is a blessing to one’s
experience. Martha Stewart may know how to set a table and make people feel
comfortable; a church member with the gift of hospitality makes his guests feel
accepted by Christ Himself. A talented person informs and performs; a
spiritually gifted person is used by the Spirit to transform.
A talented singer’s performance focuses on the audience’s response to their singing; a spiritually gifted singer (talented to be sure) is primarily conscious of how God might use their gift to build up the church."
THE GIFTS TO HUNGER FOR
Even though Paul is
diplomatic with his new members, not wanting to unnecessarily discourage or
offend them, the point is obvious: the least desirable gifts are those that
create friction and disunity, such as speaking in tongues. The “best”
gifts—such as faith, hope, and love—unify! And unlike tongues, prophesying, and
healing, faith, hope, and love are the most widely distributed spiritual gifts.
All members have them, and for that reason alone they are the most important.
You cannot be
jealous of a member whose love embraces you; you cannot envy a member whose
faith and hope inspires your faith and hope! It is the externally obvious gifts
that create problems. So as Paul moves into 1 Corinthians 13, he nails home his
thesis: Without love, all the other gifts are virtually worthless.
Faith, hope, and
love cannot fracture the church. Furthermore, because every believer is given
these desirable gifts, they cannot produce envy. You cannot be jealous over
love or pout over hope when all believers possess them! All this counsel is a
preface to Paul’s magnificent discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13.
If you belong to
Christ, you are gifted with love. Spiritually centered people impress others
with their sincerity and devotion to the cause of God, not because of the
“wonders” they allegedly manifest.
congregation’s best soprano sings a difficult and impressive aria from the
Elijah just before the pastor’s sermon, they need to remember that they are
worshipping God through singing. Their aria is a gift to God and through God to
the congregation. It is not primarily for the congregation that they sing.
Their offering to God is designed to facilitate the work of the Holy Spirit as
He seeks to transform the congregation through the worship experience.
Regardless of how we view spiritual gifts, Paul reminds us that the “best
gifts” (faith, hope, and love) seldom get applause. Let us earnestly covet the
best gift of all, without which all our other gifts are like “sounding brass
and tinkling cymbals”—noisy and attention-getting, but without lasting
significance. Let us seek to build up the church and bear witness to the power
of the gospel.
credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible,
copyright ” 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council
of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. This article was first printed in the Adventist Review, March 12, 2009. Used with permission.