Their Relevance To The Church Today
There are three scriptures that seem to deal with the subject of "spiritual gifts" more specifically than any others. First, let us define "spiritual gifts". Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, uses the word "pneumatikos", actually translated as "spirituals". Strongs (4152) defines the word as "divinely supernatural". The word "gifts" has been inserted by translators to further clarify that these spirituals are something given by God, not manufactured by man or inherently present in man's own being.
Later, in Ephesians 4, we see Paul speakihg again of "gifts", this time given to the church by Jesus Christ. This word translated gift is "doma" (Strongs 1390), meaning simply "a present". In Romans 12:6, Paul again speaks of "gifts", using this time the word "charisma" (Strongs 5486), meaning "an (spiritual) endowment, or miraculous faculty".
We will discuss in detail all three of these instances, and what they mean, but common to all these is one thing...these "spirituals" are the gift of God, and cannot be manufatured by man, and any person who attempts to, or "fakes it", is playing loosely with the things of God to their own peril.
Let's begin with the passages from 1 Corinthians, chaps. 12-14, for it is from these that most people today draw their understanding (or misunderstanding) of the spiritual gifts.
A little history is in order here. The city of Corinth was a bustling metropolis that was a hub of shipping and traffic on the Mediterranean coast. Thru this city passed people of all nations and types, and it was populated heavily with people who came, saw, liked, and stayed. Naturally they brought with them their own brand of religion. Corinth was heavily pagan in its makeup, and many of the new Christians in the Corinthian church had come out of this multitude of pagan religions. Much of Pauls letters to the Corinthians covered subjects intended to clarify in their minds that many of the things they were doing were not right in the sight of God, being holdovers from their former lives as pagans. Keep in mind, though, that regardless of their "carnality" or worldliness, he still considered them "brethren", and fellow believers in Christ, just spiritually immature.
In 1 Cor. 12, Paul points out a number of things. He delineates the fact and existence of the "pneumatikos", or spiritual gifts, emphasizing that while there are many, there is still one God, one Spirit, one Lord, and that these gifts are given by Him at HIS choice, and there is a purpose to the giving - so that every man can profit (spiritually) from the manifestation of the gift. Paul also emphasizes that not all receive the same gift, and the implication is that no one person receives all the gifts. Paul also takes great pains to point out that there is ONE body of Christ, we are all baptized into that body, and we, like the body, must work together. No one part of the body is any better or greater than any other.
Now to the specific gifts. Paul mentions here nine of the gifts, not listed in order of any specific importance. They are:
- (1) the word of wisdom
- (2) the word of knowledge
- (3) faith
- (4) gifts of healing
- (5) working of miracles
- (6) prophecy
- (7) discerning of spirits
- (8) different (divers) kinds of tongues
- (9) interpretation of tongues
These nine gifts are generally referred to as the "sign" gifs, due to the obvious display of supernatural power when they are manifested. It is not my purpose here to go into great detail about each of these gifts, only to clarify what they are. In a later study we will examine each of the gifts in detail. That there was much abuse of these gifts is apparent from the amount of time spent by Paul in correcting the Corinthians concerning their misuse. Much could be said about the same today, but one thing is abundantly clear...even if something is misused or abused, its reality and existence is not rendered invalid.
In Ephesians 4:8, Paul speaks of Jesus giving gifts unto men, and in vs. 11 tells what they are: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In verse 12, he tells us of the reason for these gifts: for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body, and in vs. 13 tells us how long they will last: 'til we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the FULLNESS of the stature of Christ. The context of these verses makes it perfectly clear that these gifts are endowments of power and ability given to specific individuals that they may accomplish a specific purpose, and that they will be with us until the end of this age.
In Romans 12:6, Paul makes a passing reference to gifts. Apparently the Roman church members were having a similar degree of problems as those experienced by the Corinthians, for Paul speaks to the issue of everyone's difference in gifting and the necessity of unity & cooperation. In vs. 6, Paul says "having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith: or ministry, (let us wait) on (our) ministering or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortaiton; he that giveth, (let him do it) with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness".
Paul here introduces certain gifts not previously mentioned, namely exhortation, giving, ruling, mercy. This certainly should make us aware of the fact that there are more gifts than just those mentioned.
Reflecting back to 1 Cor. 11, the depth of what Paul says becomes more apparent: "But ALL these (gifts) worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing (distributing) severally (specifically) to each as He wills". The Holy Spirit gives to every born-again Crhistian a gift, and He alone decides what that gift may be. Sometimes that gift may be immediately and abundantly clear, not only to ourselves but to others. Sometimes we have to diligently seek what that gift is, and grow into an understanding of what it is and what we are supposed to do with it. It is also apparent that we do not choose the gift, or tell God which one we want. We are to accept WHAT He gives, learn WHAT He wants us to do with it, and USE it in accordance with His purpose.
Concerning the relevance of spiritual gifts to the church today, I can only give my opinion based upon what I read in the Bible. There is wide and varied disagreement upon this subject, but I will state what I believe, and why. The gifts are real. The Word tells me they are. I can not find anyplace in the Bible where it says they have stopped, only one where it says they WILL stop (future tense). In 1 Cor. 13:9-10, Paul says "for we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but WHEN THAT WHICH IS PERFECT IS COME, then that which is in part shall be done away (with)". Because of the context of these verses, everyone generally agrees that the reference concerning knowing and prophesying are generalized references to the gifts spoken of in detail in chap. 12. Where the difference arises is in the meaning of "when that which is perfect is come". A large segment of Christianity today is of the opinion that this is a direct reference to a point in time when what we know as "canon", or inspired writings, would be finished. Some date this as approx 95 AD, when John wrote the book of Revelation. Some say it is when Paul wrote his last epistle. Others say it didn't occur until the council of Nicea first gathered the writings that have since become what we call the Bible.
It is my opinion that "that which is perfect" refers to the specific point in time when Jesus returns to this earth to establish His millennial kingdom. Immediately following vs. 12, we see "for now we see through a glass darkly (our understanding is limited by our mortality) but THEN face to face: now I know i part, but THEN shall I know EVEN AS ALSO I AM KNOWN". It is obvious that Paul is speaking of a time when he shall be FACE TO FACE (in the presence of) someone who knows far more than he, whose understanding is complete, and that at that time, Paul also will KNOW MORE PERFECTLY. He could ONLY be referring to when his mortal body is perfected, and he is in the presence of Jesus Christ. To those who have died, they are in the presence of the Lord, and it is clear that they have not received their perfected bodies. When Jesus returns to this earth, He will bring with Him the saints, He will raise the bodies of those who were "asleep" in Him and re-unite their bodies and spirits, and will "translate" those who are still alive on this earth (see 1 Thess. 4:13-17). We shall see Him as He is, and we shall know what He knows. Additionally, every reference bible that I have seen cross-references this passage to 1 John 3:2, which is a direct statement concerning the return of Jesus Christ. While many will argue that the Word, our Bible, is the perfect (inerrant) Word and expression of the will of God, I would maintain this: the Word is perfect, but our understanding is imperfect. Our inability to comprehend, or translate adequately, or put together many things of the Bible does not take away from it's "perfection" as the expressed will of God, but it certainly leaves a lot to be desired in the application of that perfection. Therefore, it is not the perfection spoken of in these passages.
Because of the serious nature of this subject, I urge you to read and study for yourself from the Word. Put aside all you have heard, and all that you have read that is not direct scripture. Pray, and ask for guidance. He has promised that His Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.
There are many today who abuse and misuse the "spirituals" just as they did in Corinth. This abuse causes even further division within the body of Christ, and should be condemned when it is encountered. But don't throw the baby out just because the bath water is dirty. The gifts of God (which are without repentance) are useful and necessary, so that we "all may come into the unity of the body, and to the knowledge of the FULLNESS OF THE STATURE OF CHRIST".
It is my hope and prayer that this is of some help in understanding some of the difficult
questions that confront all Christians, new and old. May God bless you richly in understanding
His Word, and His will.