There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
I Corinthians 12:4-11 (NIV)
I was so intrigued by the topic of spiritual gifts that I couldn’t help but return to the subject for today’s study. As I read the above passage, I gleaned three points that were new to me:
(1) Paul says that the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one,
(2) the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good, and
(3) the Spirit gives gifts to each one as he determines.
Now you must understand, I grew up under the teaching of cessationalism (that spiritual gifts such as prophesy, speaking in tongues, and miraculous healing ceased after the authenticity of the Gospel message was established across the Roman world during the time of first-century church, after the scripture had been written in its entirety). I always had the impression that the Spirit of God didn’t manifest himself in Christians in miraculous ways anymore, and that people claiming to have had such experiences either had been subject to a hyper-emotional psychological phenomenon, demonic influence, or a bad case of self-deception or straight-out lying. I never had any reason to think otherwise, given my background beliefs and the interpretation of scripture that I had been taught, and I never encountered anyone with a testimony that caused me to question my belief that supernatural spiritual gifts were ancient news. Maybe some of you can relate to my position! Anyway, I believe that God in his providence has started to open my eyes to his power and the reality of his presence in the lives of his dedicated, obedient followers. Let me explain: over the past month or so, God has been providing me examples of testimonies where God used his Spirit to accomplish miraculous wonders to draw people into his kingdom. My husband Josh recently told me of a time when he saw someone stand up and speak in tongues, and as skeptical thoughts began to enter his mind concerning the authenticity of the event, someone else across the sanctuary stood up and began interpreting the words of the one speaking in tongues. That sounds biblical to me! Out of curiosity, I started to question God, “Why hasn’t your Spirit manifested itself in me like that?” He started to reveal many things to me that are relevant not only to the topic of spiritual gifts, but also to what it means to be obedient to God in every aspect of life.
As I was praying with the question “What do I need to do to be used in a miraculous way by your Spirit,” God whispered to me something fairly obvious but that many of us overlook. He said, “You must read and meditate on My Word.” I was surprised and convicted at the same time. I go to church every Sunday, I discuss theological issues with my husband or other academic colleagues pretty much every day, and I’m even part of a prayer group… surely I’m a good Christian! So I thought. I realized, though, that although my mind was constantly entertaining issues presented in the scriptures, and even though I had been presenting requests before God, I was lacking in my relationship with God. It was all one-sided. I hadn’t taken enough time to listen to him. How can you have a relationship with someone if you are constantly talking and rarely allow the other person to interject thoughts of their own? I felt ashamed and foolish. Why would I expect God to grant me with spiritual gifts if I only let him talk to me for about an hour or two on Sunday morning, promptly drifting away into my own little world of thoughts and experiences for the rest of the week, leaving God behind as only a spectator? After God brought my erroneous ways to light, I felt convicted to seek after him. In fact, that is exactly what prompted this daily bible study blog. As I read and meditate upon the Words God has spoken to us, I gain new insight into God that I previously lacked.
Now, back to the topic of spiritual gifts. Paul says that the Spirit manifests himself in each one for the common good (or encouragement, perhaps) of believers. Perhaps he was referring only to the church of Corinth—or maybe to the church of that day—but it is not clear to me that his vision is so restrictive. My instinct is to assume that he is speaking to all believers, so unless I find another reason to doubt this assumption, that’s what I’ll go with. Anyway, he goes on to list several ways in which the Spirit chooses to manifest himself, even ordering them by their greatness. As I read the entire passage of I Corinthians 12, I notice that Paul makes an analogy between the community of believers and the parts of a human body. There are parts that are common, but their work is essential. There are parts that are considered less honorable, but they are treated with special honor. It seems that the point of this analogy is to convey that every part of the body of Christ has a purpose and is essential to the function of the body, so we should value every member regardless of their function. However, at the end of the section, it appears as though he encourages them to desire the greater gifts! Is this contradictory? I don’t think so. My impression is that God gives greater responsibility to those who are responsible with what he has already given; thus, it is an honor to have greater gifts, since it shows that we are very responsible people! I am convinced that responsibility is not the only factor, though, but obedience, depth of relationship with God, and God’s sovereign plan determine whether a believer receives supernatural gifts from the Spirit (and to what degree they receive them).
In conclusion, I see no harm in seeking to deepen my relationship with God in order to prepare my heart for the possibility of receiving a supernatural gift from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps spiritual gifts of this sort are no longer given to believers in this day and age, but if there is even the slightest chance that they are (or can be), then I want to be in a position to receive such gifts for the common good. Thus, I will continue to seek the presence of the Lord and empty my heart of worldly or selfish desires so that the Spirit of God will have a pure and spacious temple to live in and minister from, if he so wishes.
Dear Lord, I invite your presence into my dwelling place and into my heart. I am waiting in silence. Speak, Lord, and I will hear your voice. Guide me in your truth, and draw me close to you. Amen.