ACST 41: The Giver

gift_box_2 

The Holy Spirit is the primary equipper for the body of Christ. He gives gifts to each member of the body so that we can utilize those gifts to minister to the world, and to each other on the name of Christ. Pentecost initiated that process. The apostle Peter explained how the gifting first experienced at Pentecost is still present in the lives of the church.

 

 

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.[1]

each has received a gift

He describes believers as not only recipients of God’s grace, but also as stewards of it. The Holy Spirit so distributes his gifting that no one person in a given fellowship has a monopoly. Each has a purpose because each has been gifted. Each fits into the plan of God because each contributes toward fulfilling that plan.

use it to serve one another

One of the most significant reasons that we have been gifted is that God the Holy Spirit wants to love us through each other. Peter tells the church that he is writing so that they are to “keep loving one another earnestly.” By exercising our spiritual gifts, we have the opportunity to show love to one another. The spiritual gifts were not gifts that we are intended to use up on ourselves. Rather, we are intended to use those gifts as a service to one another.

One of the benefits of knowing this fact about spiritual gifts is that it helps to eliminate envy. It is actually to my advantage if my fellow believer has a greater gift-mix that I do. I benefit directly from the grace God has given to my fellow Christians. If my neighbor across the pew has a more prominent gift of encouragement, then it works out in my favor, especially when I need to be encouraged. If she is a better preacher, I benefit from that gift. Every greater gift that I do not possess, is a gift to me through the person who has it.

Since that is true, there is no gift that I really do not experience. I possess some gifts because they are given to me to serve others. I benefit from the other gifts because they are given to me to experience through the ministry of others. Either way, I win. Either way, Christ is glorified. The Holy Spirit uses the gifts both to work through me, and to minister to me.

whoever speaks

Peter simplifies the whole matter of spiritual gifts by dividing all the possible gifts into two categories. He first mentions the category of speaking gifts because he is well known for his sermons. Peter had the spiritual gift of apostleship, among others. Apostleship is a speaking gift where the Holy Spirit uses the believer to proclaim his word in a new and different environment. Apostles cross cultural barriers to proclaim the gospel.

There are other speaking gifts mentioned in the New Testament as well. Among the most obvious are evangelism,[2] prophecy,[3] messages in other tongues with their interpretation,[4] and teaching.[5] Peter’s instruction here is that no matter what you say as a representative of God’s kingdom, assume that you are pronouncing “oracles of God.” Even if you cannot precisely place what you are led to say into the exact ministry of a particular spiritual gift mentioned in scripture, let the Holy Spirit use you anyway. This is helpful advice because believers often use “I don’t have that gift” as an excuse. Peter would have none of that. He encourages a broader understanding of how the Holy Spirit operates using the gifts.

whoever serves

Peter’s second major category is that of gifts of service, which is so broad it just about covers anything anyone does in service to Christ and his kingdom. It basically includes any spiritual gift that cannot be specifically described as a speaking gift. His instruction is similar to that he gave in reference to the speaking gifts. He says that if you set out to do anything in the name of Christ, assume that the Holy Spirit will give you the strength to do it.

This category obviously includes the more spectacular gifts of service, like healing,[6] and miracle working faith.[7] But it also includes the more mundane, but equally important gifts of service, like generous giving, leadership, and cheerful acts of mercy.[8] Wherever we can serve, God’s Holy Spirit can serve us, and can serve others through us.

that in everything God may be glorified

One of the major reasons for this outpouring of spiritual energy and power is that through the spiritual gifts, God can be glorified. His reputation is enhanced among those who witness the gifts in operation. Peter mentions someone speaking the oracles of God, and the natural assumption is that he refers to some kind of worship service where this is happening. There are many reasons to expect manifestations of the spiritual gifts when we gather as congregations for public worship:

1. The whole body is present.

2. Words are spoken in God’s name.

3. Words are sung in God’s name.

4. Prayers are offered.

5. Guidance is given.

6. Ministry is encouraged.

7. There is opportunity for giving.

Every element of the formal worship service is an opportunity for God to manifest himself through spiritual gifts. In fact, the first outpouring of spiritual gifts – Pentecost – serves as an example of this fact. About 120 people were all together in one place at the Jerusalem temple courts when all heaven broke loose.[9]

However, the gifts are not to be confined to public worship. Indeed, they cannot be. What took place after Pentecost shows this fact. The speaking could not be confined to the temple courts. Instead, “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”[10] Signs and wonders were being demonstrated by both the apostles and others so gifted (like Stephen) “among the people.”[11] The result was that evangelism was being given a helping hand, because the spiritual gifts in operation were proving the veracity of the witnesses. God was being glorified by his people.

be self-controlled and sober-minded

Peter is aware that practicing the spiritual gifts can become something much different than what it was at Pentecost. In the same passage where he encourages the use of spiritual gifts, he commands that believers exercise self-control and sober-mindedness. Spiritual gifts are not child’s play. Their exercise is serious business which calls for maturity.

Paul, speaking on the same subject, encourages believers not to “be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”[12] The fruit of the Spirit is self-control.[13] When it is the Holy Spirit speaking, he does not cause confusion and disorder. When it is the Holy Spirit working, he does not scare people, or cause them bodily harm. The Bible encourages the use of the spiritual gifts, but also cautions us against their abuse.

Often people who seek to use their spiritual gifts do so for childish reasons. Childishness says “this is my spiritual gift and I have a right to express it here and now.” Maturity says “will expressing my spiritual gift serve God’s purpose here and now?” Paul had gotten word that the Corinthians were showing a childish over-zealous attitude about the gifts. He encouraged them “since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”[14] Childishness says “let’s do this and see what happens,” but maturity says “if we are going to do this, let’s do it properly.” Paul’s advice to the Corinthians was “earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.”[15] Childishness says “let’s stir things up” but maturity says “will confusion honor God?” Paul reminded the Corinthians that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”[16]

keep loving one another earnestly

Coming back to Peter’s instructions on spiritual gifts, we find that mutual love is the atmosphere in which the gifts must be operated. Without the right atmosphere, the mechanics will not work right. For this reason, every major text in the Bible that mentions spiritual gifts also emphasizes love. The reason is that the New Testament authors expected believers to keep trying to use their gifts, and they expected us to get it wrong some time. Mutual love is required “since love covers a multitude of sins.”[17]

In fact, 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) comes sandwiched between two chapters on spiritual gifts. The reason Paul spoke about love is that he needed to explain something important about spiritual gifts. He needed to explain that – without mutual love, the speaking gifts are just noise,[18] and the serving gifts are nothing.[19] Love provides the atmosphere of forgiveness that enables imperfect people to minister to imperfect people, covering over the multitude of mistakes that will be made.

show hospitality to one another

God intends to minister to us through the lives of others – but only if we love them enough to let them get close enough. Love creates an atmosphere of hospitality that encourages the sharing of ourselves and our gifts.[20] One of the reasons the New Testament encourages believers to regularly gather together is for mutual encouragement,[21] and spiritual gifts can help us accomplish this. Or, our worship services can be stiff, formal, and with so little actual personal contact that we might as well stay apart and watch a sermon on television or the internet. The choice is ours.

The apostle Paul gives some systematic instruction on the issue of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all 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 ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 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 one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should 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. 16 And if the ear should 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 be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 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 parts, 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 parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 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 miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and 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 with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

you were led astray

He begins by reminding the Corinthians that before they came to Christ they were in the habit of being deceived into believing the wrong things and doing the wrong things. This is an important truth for believers to remember when it comes to the exercise of spiritual gifts. Most of us were at one time gullible fools. We tended to believe what we wanted to believe, and often would not recognize the truth if it slapped us in the face. Then it did. Now – hopefully — we are a bit wiser, and a good deal more cautious.

led astray to mute idols

The Corinthian Christians had been animistic idol worshippers. They had been fooled into following images which could say nothing. They gave no revelation. they were just there. There was no instruction in the right way to go, or warning against the wrong way to go. The Holy Spirit is not like that. The Holy Spirit is going to provide all kinds of instruction and warnings and revelations. He is going to speak through the other believers. In his role as discipler, the Holy Spirit will continue Christ’s preaching and teaching ministry, and guide the church into all the truth.[22]

speaking in the Spirit of God

Just in case these Corinthians get a little too cautious because they had been burned once by deception, Paul gives them some ways to tell if what they hear is really God speaking through an actual spiritual gift. The Spirit is not going to contradict himself. He has declared that Jesus is Lord, so he will never lead anyone to say the Jesus is accursed. He has breathed out inspired words in the Bible, so he is never going to inspire a believer to deny, take away from, or add to that scripture.

the same Spirit

When the Corinthians were pagans, they got used to the concept of relativism. One person’s god demanded that he eat no meat; another person’s god demanded that she be a glutton. You never could tell what the right thing to do was, because it varied all the time. When they came to Christ, they realized that the God of the Bible is not like that. His ways are altogether righteous, and with him there is no changing like shifting shadows. He can be counted on to always stand for the truth, and that truth never changes. There was something refreshing about that fact that drew the Corinthians to Christ.

True spiritual gifts will manifest that same rock-solid continuity. Paul emphasizes this by using the word same so many times. The gifts are the work of the same Spirit,[23] the same Lord,[24] and the same God.[25] His gifts are not going to direct us away from his paths. He is going to continue to be consistent with himself. When we are being used by him for his purposes, we are not going to be at cross purposes with him or with each other.

varieties of gifts

There is diversity in the kinds of Spiritual Gifts, although their function is unified. Their function is unified because behind them all is the same Holy Spirit, doing the same will of the Father, fulfilling the work of the body of Christ. There are varieties of gifts because the work of the body is more than just one work. His work is not confined to only the sermon preached or the worship music or the children’s class. He is doing it all through the various gifts he has distributed throughout the body.

varieties of service (ministries)

Peter had divided the gifts into two categories: speaking and serving gifts. Paul uses another kind of classification. He talks about varieties of service, and varieties of activities. Perhaps a better translation of the Greek for service here would be ministry. What Paul describes here are all the gifts which the Holy Spirit imparts to believers which they regularly and consistently manifest as part of their ministry. These are the gifts associated with the Holy Spirit’s call to a certain ministry. It is not uncommon for an individual with a ministry gift to keep exercising that gift for a lifetime.

Some Speaking Gifts which are often considered Ministries

1) Apostles – gifts enabling people to do cross-cultural ministry.

2) Prophets – gifts enabling people to speak for God.

3) Teachers – gifts enabling people to systematically train others in doctrine and ministry skills.

4) Tongues and interpretation– gifts enabling people to effectively communicate in languages other than their heart language.

Some Serving Gifts which are often considered Ministries

1) Miracles – gifts enabling people to perform extraordinary acts.

2) Healings – gifts enabling people to restore the health of those who are ill or injured.

3) Helps – gifts enabling people to render faithful service to others.

4) Administrations – gifts enabling people to manage the affairs of the Church with efficiency.

These appear to be what Paul referred to as the “higher gifts.” He encouraged the Corinthians to earnestly desire these gifts because through them the believers would consistently serve each other and their community. Without love, even these ministries could be abused, but when the ministries are performed in a loving way, they accomplish what the Holy Spirit wants.

varieties of activities (manifestations)

Paul’s second category is activities. This word probably refers to the times when the Holy Spirit works among us in ways that we do not expect. Since he is sovereign over the spiritual gifts, he is free to zap me with a gift I have never experienced before, and might not ever experience again. He may use me to heal someone, but that does not mean I should quit my writing and set up a healing ministry. This kind of gift is a manifestation. It is something the Holy Spirit does among us, and through us, but it is less permanent because it is not associated with a lifetime call.

Any of the ministry gifts may also appear as a one-time manifestation. Believers should be careful not to assume a calling simply because God used them once in a particular way. The beauty of the manifestation gifts is that believers cannot rule out the Holy Spirit using them in a speaking gift, when their ministries are usually serving gifts, and vice-versa.

the body of Christ

The predominate metaphor that Paul used to explain spiritual gifts is that of a body – the body of Christ, with each believer being a member (a limb or organ) in that body. The metaphor emphasizes the concepts of the Holy Spirit’s unity amidst the church’s diversity. It also implies another teaching that Paul stressed: we need each other. Paul asked “If all were a single member, where would the body be?”[26] It takes all of the limbs and organs for the body to function properly. For that reason, people in prominent ministries should not act as if they were the whole church.

What, then, is the role of those the Holy Spirit calls into lifelong ministry? Paul deals with that question when he writes about spiritual gifts to the Ephesians.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”[27]

Here, Paul stresses some of the same principles that he had taught the Corinthians about the spiritual gifts. To emphasize unity, instead of speaking of the one Spirit, he focuses on the one head. Since Christ is the head, our goal in ministry should be to get all the members to grow up into him. That stresses maturity as well as unity. Paul also mentions a variety of ministry gifts, not just one. We need each other. The Holy Spirit uses many to minister to all the saints, and the work of ministry belongs to all the saints.

to equip the saints

The specific role of the ministries listed in verse 11 is to equip the saints for the work the Holy Spirit calls and empowers them with, and manifests among them. Rather than becoming a club of separated professional clergy, these believers are to invest their lives and gifts in the training of all the others. They are not performing their gifts correctly if the others do not learn to perform their gifts. If the evangelist merely thrills everyone with her ability to convert the masses, she is a failure. She is called to convert the masses into evangelists. If the pastor merely encourages the weak in his own fellowship, he is a failure. He is called to produce more pastors.

This role of equipping the saints for ministry is the work of the local church, and cannot be passed off to bible colleges and seminaries. I speak as a graduate of a great bible college, and two wonderful seminaries, and as a professor at a bible college as well. These can be wonderful tools for ministry training, but they can never replace the role of ministry training within the local church. Places of specialized intensive training work best when they supplement work already begun in the body environment of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 6.

unity of the faith

Equipping ministries need to work together to build unity of the faith into the lives of all the saints. It is remarkable how easy it is to get sidetracked from this task. Many believers who know they are called to build unity actually spend most of their time fostering disunity. When we pit one legitimate theological stance against another for the purpose of accentuating the difference, we are more likely to foster disunity and separation.

Paul deliberately described a healthy body as “held together by every joint with which it is equipped.”[28] When the equipping ministries function properly, they serve as connecting joints for the body. It is their task to see to it that the limbs and organs do not go their separate ways, but function properly together. A church blessed with a biblical equipping ministry team will exercise its spiritual gifts, but will think of that process less in terms of individual ministries, but as facets of the overall ministry of the fellowship. It will be less “me” and “mine” and more “us” and “ours.” Equipping ministries help us be us, instead of individual me’s.

knowledge of the Son of God

Equipping ministries pass on information as well. Believers do not automatically gain the knowledge of who Christ is by being baptized. We need solid biblical teaching over a lifetime to gain insight into the person and work of our Lord. The Holy Spirit makes provision for that need by gifting faithful teachers who invest their time and effort into the hard work of passing on this information.

the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ

The ultimate objective of equipping ministries is more than just making us unified or educated. It is to make all of us mature and Christ-like. This is a life-long process that happens when believers submit themselves to discipling and faithfully stay with that commitment. It produces a mature, developed wisdom that a person can trust. The enemies of that kind of commitment are many, particularly in a community where the only recognized equipping ministers keep getting voted out.

We should not be surprised that the resulting immature church looks very much like the world from which it came.

Spiritual gifts used properly produce spiritual growth. The body functions properly as it continues to grow. The measure of that growth is not how I compare with the other limbs and organs of the body. The measure is Christ. Healthy living and proper use of spiritual gifts means that the church will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”[29]


[1] 1 Peter 4:7-11.

[2] Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5.

[3] Luke 2:36; Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; 13:2; 14:29, 32; Ephesians 3:5; 4:11.

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:30; 14:13, 27-28.

[5] Acts 2:42; 4:2, 18; 5:28; 13:1; 28:31; Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 12:28-29; 14:6; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 2:7; 3:2; 4:11, 13; 5:17; 6:2; 2 Timothy 1:11; 2:2, 24; Titus 2:1.

[6] Acts 4:9, 14, 22, 30; 5:16; 8:7; 28:8; 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30; James 5:16.

[7] Acts 8:13; 19:11; 1 Corinthians. 12:10, 28-29; Galatians 3:5; Hebrews 2:4.

[8] Romans 12:8.

[9] Acts 1:15; 2:1.

[10] Acts 5:42.

[11] Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8.

[12] 1 Corinthians 14:20.

[13] Galatians 5:23.

[14] 1 Corinthians 14:12.

[15] 1 Corinthians 14:39-40.

[16] 1 Corinthians 14:33.

[17] 1 Peter 4:8.

[18] 1 Corinthians 13:1.

[19] 1 Corinthians 13:2.

[20] 1 Peter 4:9.

[21] Hebrews 10:25.

[22] John 14:16; 16:13.

[23] 1 Corinthians 12:4, 8, 9, 11.

[24] 1 Corinthians 12:5.

[25] 1 Corinthians 12:6.

[26] 1 Corinthians 12:19.

[27] Ephesians 4:11-16.

[28] Ephesians 4:16.

[29] Ephesians 4:15.

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