SERMON

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.





QUESTIONS

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."

NRSV

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

early church.



At

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

will result.



Here is where

confusion infiltrates a crucial teaching with questions that scream to be

asked:

“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

spiritual gift?”



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.



TALENTS AND

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!



Paul’s counsel

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."

NRSV

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

Jesus.



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.



A

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.



KEY TEXT...

1 CORINTHIANS 12

Now concerning

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.



KEY TEXT...

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

way.

FOR EXAMPLE

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

than oneself.



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.



When a

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. 



*Bible texts

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.


James J. Londis
Dr. Londis chairs the Department

of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kettering College, Ohio. Prior to

that he taught religion at Atlantic Union College where he later became

President, pastored the Sligo Church in Maryland, USA, and served as the Ethics

and Integrity Officer of the Kettering Health Network. He holds a

Ph.D in philosophy of religion from Boston University and was a

Merrill Fellow at Harvard University. He is married more than 50 years to

Dolores Kennedy and has two children and three grandchildren.

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