Dialogs and Commentary

Spiritual Gift Use & Abuse



A corrective response to the idea that every Christian has every spiritual gift, and what to do with the misguided "minister" who wants to make all of us like him; by Dean VanDruff.

The Scripture is clear that the Spirit gives gifts as He will, at His prerogative. This is bound up in God being "Lord"; of His Sovereignty as King, right?

1Cor 12:29-30 (NIV) Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

All are not the hand or the toe (as we will read in scripture in a moment) but each is given one or more unique grace-gifts just as the "Lord" (He who is in control) chooses. The ramifications of this are very down to earth, practical, and instructive; as we will see in the points made in a moment. But first we must make sure it is sufficiently clear that not everyone has every spiritual gift.

There is a difference between having an ability and having a gift. For example, all believers must have some faith, but not all have the gift of Faith (with a capital F, if you will). All Christians should be giving people, but some have a special dispensation of Giving. All should teach (at least with lifestyle) but "Are all Teachers"? We all should be able to win someone to Christ, but some believers have an exceptional passion and ability to Evangelize. With the sign gifts (like tongues) there is no gradation, it is either / or; but for most of the spiritual gifts we all have some ability. Unique and powerful spiritual gifts are given by the Lord to certain believers among us for the benefit of the entire body. We "have all the gifts" in fullness only in so far as we submit to the whole body.

Gifts are up to God, and He has made it abundantly clear that He chooses who gets which. Let us give the Holy Spirit His due. If we say "all" receive any particular gift ("Do all speak in tongues?") or alternatively that everyone receives all the gifts, then our assertion grieves the truth of the Holy Spirit's sovereign choice. For there is no choice if "all".

1 Cor 12:1-11 (Wey) It is important, brethren, that you should have clear knowledge on the subject of spiritual gifts. Now there are various kinds of gifts, but there is one and the same Spirit; various forms of service, and yet one and the same Lord; diversities in work, and yet one and the same God--He who in each person brings about the whole result. But to each of us a manifestation of the Spirit has been granted for the common good... who bestows His gifts upon each of us in accordance with His own will.

The all too clear point here is that the Spirit chooses.

This is an important dynamic to understand, for this "choosing" means "not all" have the gifts; and it skewers the popular false teaching that all christians receive all the gifts as a sort of "package deal". On the contrary, wherever you find a scripture on the gifts, this point is insisted on: God chooses which gift to give to whom. And why? So that we might "fit together" in mutual interdependency into a collective "body". We need each other, by God's design. Americans like to be lone-rangers or marines, and perhaps this is the motive source for this false teaching; but God has another idea. By choosing the gifts and not giving any gift to all, or all the gifts to one, we must submit to each other or we will never truly experience "life more abundantly". So God has told us why the Spirit chooses... as well as that He does choose.

Rom 12:4-6 (NAS) ...We have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function... Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.

1 Cor 12:11 (NIV) All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Cor 12:4 (KJV) Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

Rom 12:6 (NEB) The gifts we posses differ as they are allotted to us by God's grace, and must be exercised accordingly.

1 Pet 4:10 (TEB) Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God.

1 Cor 12:4 (NAS) But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

Eph 2:21 (TCN) ...every part of the building, closely joined together, will grow into a Temple, consecrated by its union with the Lord.

This full orchestra of gifts makes up the "church" as the Spirit would have it.

Now imagine an orchestra where the flautists felt they were the only ones who counted, and who began to try to train the cellists to "get with the program" in playing the flute. Well, a great cellist might be a lousy flautist; and by such misdirection a great cellist is lost and a sour flautist is gained. Yet is this not what we see routinely occurring in the spiritual life of the church? And what would the conductor say if he heard about this nonsense? Instead of letting God choose, we want to boast in our particular gifting and make it seem like we are the "end all", and that everyone who is not like us is somehow spiritually defective.

The following passage is critical to understanding the interplay of the gifts in the body, and how we can go far wrong due to "ignorance", as we will see momentarily. While it is the same Holy Spirit working, in each person it is "different".

1 Cor 12:1-31 (NIV) Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant... There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit... 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. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ... Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable... God has combined the members of the body... so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

Giving gifts uniquely--and the subsequent mutual interdependence that results--is God's "new wineskin" when it comes to the gifts. Specialization of tasks and work was not invented in the industrial revolution; it is a consistent Biblical teaching about how God has ordered His body to "work". If we recognize and submit to this, we can be highly productive in the spiritual. If we resist it and try to cross-train everyone, then we are tacitly asserting that ministry can be done without the Holy Spirit's power and sovereign choice. Let us not miss God's wisdom about this because we are off trying to prove some hobby-horse egalitarian theory.

What is the practical point of this? What does is matter, anyway? Why the big deal?

1Cor 12:17-19 (NKJ) If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

The above text is rebuking a tendency that we see way too much of in modern Christianity. Specifically, we have the hand proudly asserting that the rest of us should all be like him, and we take this for ministry and feel guilt. If you don't agree and feel guilty, well, the hand is going to slap you silly until you do. The most obnoxious in this venue are teachers and evangelists, but most any gifted person can turn epileptic on us. We need to stop doing this. We have been warned not to, but here we go again...

Mr. Soulwinner has had great success in a brief career of winning people to Christ. But instead of continuing to practice his unique grace-gift for the general benefit of the body, he grows irritated that others do not share his passion to win souls, and concludes that those in the body who are not-so-gifted are all screwed-up. And--you guessed it--now he is going to "fix" the rest of us. This pathology is all too familiar: a bit of success in the field and then the evangelist turns inward like some rabid dog to "minister" to the rest of us for the remainder of his life about how complacent we are for not doing more of what he once did. Instead of this, he should be out winning more souls, for that is his unique, exemplary, and edifying role among us. But instead, we are sure to get harangued at every prayer meeting, discussion, or sermon for not being as good as he is--or once was.

1Cor 12:19 (Jer) If all the parts were the same, how could it be a body?

Scripture passages like this should teach us to avoid such pride masquerading as ministry, but apparently we have missed the point.

Mr. Bibleman reads the bible many hours every day and gets a lot out of it, for his gifting is teaching. But rather than just teach, he likes to bully the flock and make others feel inferior if they do not understand the Bible as well as he does. He feels it essential that you know niggling innuendoes of various Greek and Hebrew words, whether it is edifying to your life and faith or not. And if you do not spend as much time in scripture as he does, you are an inferior Christian, lukewarm, and in spiritual danger. It never occurs to him that the single mother he is trying to make into an "eye", like he is, has another gifting that will not be used if she obeys such misguided instruction. And if all were so knowledgeable, who would Mr. Bibleman teach? With such a corrupted spirit within him, he actually gets mad when people ask him questions, rather than answering gently and with patient instruction. His gift is derailed, and he wants to make legalistic multi-hour-a-day bible readers out of all of the rest of us.

We have fallen far, far, from the glory of God; that we tolerate such among us without seeing if for what it is: an ear saying, "You must all be ears like me!" This is pride, not "ministry" or "equipping the saints". Yes, the mature evangelists should train up the newly gifted evangelists, but leave the rest of us to our work... for crying out loud. And teachers, why not just enjoy your studies, teach, and give answers, rather than beat us all up for not being as smart as you? And so forth and so on.

We need to stop the self-flagellation and stop behaving collectively like spiritual spastics. God gives gifts as He chooses, and it is silly to encourage people who don't have a gift to "be like us" in the flesh. Yet--you wait--it will not be long before you sense this same foul spirit of "be like me" coming in self-attack in the body. <sigh> It is time for us to stop this nonsense. We have been warned against it, no?

God the Holy Spirit chooses who gets what gifts; not us. Let us acknowledge that this is true, and begin resisting "ignorant" teaching to the contrary of God's word. Let us silence the talk of foolish men who think they can usurp the Holy Spirit and clone people into themselves through another guilt-ridden sermon meant to stoke the flesh into action. We have allowed a few to many spiritual bullies to pummel the flock for all too long.

2Cor 11:19-20 (NRS) For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face.

I hope that after seeing this clearly, you will never again be deceived to mistake this sort of spiritual abuse as "ministry". I pray that you will from this point onward be able to see this bullying for what it is: an appeal to the flesh as if flesh could replace spirit, and a sort of spiritual bragging. God told us not to do it, and it is not "big" of us to tolerate it, it is stupid.

Luke 12:45 (NIV) "...Suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants..."

From the debauched and bruised status-quo, real spiritual health and coordination seem a long way off. But if we wait upon Him and quit striking out in the flesh, then we will see a real "spiritual house" (to switch metaphors) built. If the Lord takes a long time doing so, then that is His business. He will come if we wait, even in the workaday sense of waiting in the upper-room for real spiritual gifting and empowerment. This is a far cry from someone trying to slug us into external obedience in the flesh. And He will come ultimately as well, for a pure and spotless bride, who has made herself ready.

Ps 127:1 (NKJ) Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.

Eph 4:14-16 (NIV) Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Imagine a healthy, functioning body, where each member is doing its part and is not focused on itself or some other part. That is what 1Cor 12 is encouraging us to be. Let us stop the chest-beating antics, and let us stop beating each-other other up as well. Let us join together as team specially selected by the Lord, each of us with a unique gift and something to offer the body. Let us go to our proper stations and just do it. For without Christ in us by the Holy Spirit, we "can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). But with Him, as He reflects through us each and all differently, we can produce much fruit that will last and display His glory on the earth.

We need each other, by design. Let us pull together, acknowledging the truth about the gifts, and leave the days of ignorance behind us. Let us celebrate the body just as God has chosen it to be, rather than trying to conform it to our image.

Rom 12:4-6 (NIV) Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us...

Eph 4:16 (Wey) Dependent on Him, the whole body--its various parts closely fitting and firmly adhering to one another--grows by the aid of every contributory link, with power proportioned to the need of each individual part, so as to build itself up in a spirit of love.

Eph 2:21-22 (Phi) In him each separate piece of the building, properly fitting into its neighbor, grows together into a temple consecrated to the Lord. You are all part of this building in which God himself lives by his Spirit.




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