The Lord of the Gifts
Too often in life we find ourselves in wrong stories. Cycling in and out of fear and anger. Feeling wronged, and feeling resentful because we feel wronged. If not looking for love in all the wrong places, then at least looking for affirmation in all the wrong places. Sometimes afraid of losing jobs we don’t even like. Feeling estranged from family and friends. Feeling all alone at night in a losing battle, and feeling that whether our story turns out well or not is all up to us. And as much as we can appreciate this country, and the principles for which she stands, life in America can especially make us feel this way – can make us feel all alone.
There is another way, a better way, and so in consideration of the story we find ourselves in, we come to 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. This text begins with, “Now about spiritual gifts I do not want you to be ignorant.” Paul then goes on to write: “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.” He then gives examples of such spiritual gifts and notes, “All these are the works of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”
So the question for each of us is: What are your spiritual gifts, your , charisma (that’s the Greek word for it), in the plural, charismata? Now I was raised to think I didn’t have any. I grew up in church not believing in spiritual gifts, believing that they belonged only to the apostolic age. I kept thinking about it though, which was also a part of my heritage. And I kept reading Scripture, and over the years I have come to see the absolute centrality of the Spirit in the church, and the absolute centrality of spiritual gifts to life.
I’d like to begin thinking this through together by at least quickly tracking these charismata in Scripture. The first thing you’ll note is that there are a lot of them: in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, messages of wisdom, messages of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, tongue speaking, and the interpretation of tongues; then later in this same chapter (1 Corinthians 12:27ff.) apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, speakers in tongues, and those with the gift of administration; or in Romans 12:6-8 gifts of prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leading, and showing mercy. And there are other lists.
But as always to grasp what is happening we have to visualize. We have to travel back in our informed imaginations to AD 55 to places like the church in Corinth. What would certain of these gifts look like or sound like – for instance, the gift of administration? Suddenly a known incompetent is somehow miraculously gifted and pulls off a great Sunday School program? You think! More likely it’s the church at first attributing all that was good to the Spirit of God. It was a church so God-conscious that everything it did it acknowledged as a spiritual gift. And this consciousness, this awareness, this mindfulness changes lives.
Here in brief are my impressions of the charismata mentioned in the New Testament. First, the key is that they are all from God. If you serve, it’s a gift from God. If you teach, it’s a gift from God. If you have a message of wisdom, it’s a gift from God. If you’re good at encouraging people who are discouraged, it’s a gift from God. If you’re good at making others more effective in their ministries, it’s a gift from God. If you’re good at visiting in hospitals, it’s a gift from God. If you’re skilled at sharing the gospel in other languages, it’s a gift from God. If you have extraordinary measures of faith and in times of crisis you are absolutely rock solid, it’s a gift from God. If yours is a home always open to people passing through, it’s a gift from God. If things run smoothly when you’re in charge, it’s a gift from God. Whatever you do that is good is attributed to the Spirit of God, so, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one can [even] say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
Secondly, I would observe that the lists of charismata in the New Testament contain things both “natural” and “supernatural”; many could have been done in ways that no observer would have deemed miraculous. Moreover, those gifts we consider more supernatural happen less frequently in the church at first than we suppose. Paul was always doing things like leaving friends sick, or lamenting their illness, or recommending a little wine as a cure. And most New Testament letters do not even mention tongue-speaking; it’s pretty much a Corinthian happening. In any case, natural and supernatural are probably our distinctions – not theirs. Their point was that it all came from God.
Thirdly, spiritual gifts are described as the possession of every believer, not just some spiritual elite. To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). He gives them to each one, just as he determines (verse 11). On Pentecost Peter cites Joel’s prophecy that God’s Spirit will be poured out on all people (Acts 2:16-21). In Christ we have different gifts according to the grace given us (Romans 12:6). So each one of us should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10). So that looking back at these lists of charismata in the New Testament any group of believers have many of the gifts listed.
And my last impression is the richness and diversity of the charismata. It is not likely that these lists were meant to be exhaustive or complete; rather they are samples of what the Spirit does. The overriding impression of the New Testament is that the Spirit and his gifts account for all that is authentically Christian experience and ministry. Nor would those in the church at first have supposed that this state of affairs would ever end, as if a time would come when the church could make it on its own power apart from the Spirit of God. In fact, it defies the nature of Christian faith to envision that in any age the church could make it on its own. All that is authentically Christian is, always has been, and always will be, dependent on the Spirit and his gifts.
So what is a spiritual gift but the God-given ability to perform any task to which the kingdom calls a person? Just as a natural person becomes in Christ a new creation, so a talent previously considered “natural” when given to God’s service, and directed by his Spirit, becomes a spiritual gift. Look back at verses 4-6 in 1 Corinthians 12: gifts, service, and working are the same thing. Charismata are God-given talents appealed to, aroused, and created by the Spirit of God. And as such they are central rather than peripheral in our lives.
Understanding this makes an incredible difference in life. It’s a whole new world with a rich fantastic point of view. Our lives are transformed. We are empowered in all that we do by God-consciousness. We are never alone. It’s never all up to us. What previously seemed impossible now seems possible. We are always on the lookout for new gifts as the needs of the church arise, knowing that such gifts will be given. And now, knowing the gifts that we have, that we each have, we know ourselves to be gifted. We are all gifted people, empowered by the Lord of the Gifts.
That’s who God is: The Lord of the Gifts. And he has generously given to all of us.
– Dale Pauls