Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Facets of Spiritual Gifts

In the midst of the singularly most descriptive passage on the subject in the NT, Paul said spiritual gifts have three facets through which we can observe them: (1) we can look at them according to the expressions of God's grace they are; or (2) we can look at them according to what they accomplish in the body; or (3) we can look at them according to the kind of motivational inspiration is necessary to produce them. They are the same gifts regardless of what approach is taken, inspired by the one and same God, but by looking at them through different spectacles we can learn more about them and the blessing they are to believers and the body.

There are three lists of gifts in the NT. None of them is a complete listing of all the gifts by itself; taken together, however, I believe they express fairly fully the spectrum of gifts in the body of Christ. We have already dealt with the list in Ephesians 4:11; somewhat dealt with the list in 1 Corinthians 12:28; and will deal with the list in Romans 12:6-8. If you're wondering where the list from 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 is, it is not included because it is not a list of spiritual gifts but of manifestations (miraculous signs) of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, I believe each of the lists approaches the subject from one of the "facet" perspectives. For instance, the list in Ephesians 4 is prefaced by a discussion on the grace given as Christ apportions it, which results in some being given as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. Thus, we have the gifts presented from the standpoint of the grace of God they express in the Ephesian passage.

Leading up to the list in 1 Corinthians 12 is a lengthy development of the body illustration. The basic force of the argument is that we are functionally different in the church as are the parts of a body, yet are one cohesive entity. Functional body parts are thereby likened to the functional utilities of gifts. Therefore, v. 28's list is the view through the lens of service rendered.

In the Romans passage the we are told we should allow the gift to produce the effect of the gift (e.g. if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully). That is as about as good a way as possible to express the motivational aspect of gifting. Each gift has its own compulsion within it which produces its effects. Paul understood this facet in his own life, we should in ours.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Equippers and the Equipped

In a series of posts last year (1, 2, 3, & 4), I discussed the realities of how leadership (eldership) actually gets expressed in the modern church. Some of what is said in this series of posts will touch on some of the same material, but from a slightly different perspective. You may find it helpful to take a look those articles in conjunction with this series, hence the links for your convenience.

The list of gifts found in Ephesians 4, which we will tackle with this post, I think, is perhaps the most misunderstood of them all. Today, especially in some of the newer church movements, these gifts are seen, it seems to me, as expressions of authority rather than as functional utilities. Polity is established on having people serve in the "offices" of apostle and prophet, rather than understanding these things as giftings which serve a need in the body. I believe this is a misappropriation of the scriptures theorologically [HT: Mark Hadfield (boy, do I miss his blog!)], and practically, such authoritarianism is all too Catholic and cultish. Rather than misappropriating the names of apostle and prophet, why not borrow the tried and true and use bishop; after all, church leadership is established by the NT in the office of elder or bishop. If one can see that folks of many different giftings can serve as elders, the fight for biblical polity and proper understanding of gifting is half won!

There are four gifts mentioned in the list in question: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers. Listing them this way, rather than as five, acknowledges the particular grammar of the passage, even though the other lists mention teaching on its own. Evidently, in the context of Ephesians 4, it is the teaching aspect of pastoring that is being highlighted by Paul, rather than more administrative functions. What these gifts have in common, and what is focused upon in our text, is that they serve a preparatory function within the body of Christ. Peter divided matters of gifting into two, serving or speaking: in our passage, Paul divides them into equippers and the equipped. The named four are the equippers, the unnamed mass (and those that will eventually be the four), are the equipped.

Believe it or not, Romans 10:17 provides a rationale as to why Paul would present the equipping gifts the way he did. Presenting pastoring in the unusual fashion he did (with teaching emphasized), I think, clinches the argument. What is the means by which equippers take the raw material of Adamic flesh and build it into the body of Christ? It is the word. The proclamation of it to the unbeliever brings new birth, the presentation of it to the novice is what inculcates truth, the application of it is what guides the established. In the kingdom, faith is what matters, and faith arises on the wings of the word. So, the most fundamental quality of these four gifts is not authority of position, but in God-given ability to proclaim the word.

Apostles proclaim the word among a people which has not heard it in order to establish the church of Christ among them. Evangelists proclaim the word to folks that have not heard it so they might receive the good news of the gospel. Prophets proclaim the word, fitted for the moment, which helps folks be built up in it. Pastor/teachers proclaim the word to people who need to apply it to living with understanding. All of them endeavor to move folk along on the pathway to maturity and their own service in the body through functional gifting, for what's the use of equipping if the equipment is never used?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Turning the Gem in the Light

How are we to understand the concept of spiritual giftedness? In a nutshell, gifts are resident abilities granted by God, which are different from person to person so that everyone is needed by everyone else in the body. They can be looked at from different angles, which is how the Apostles Peter and Paul presented them and how we'll examine them.

Peter saw the bottom line in its most fundamental nature. Spiritual gifts either result in someone speaking or someone providing some non-verbal service. That's a helpful division, because it means the preacher isn't the only one used by God in the church. He's not even the only one who speaks! Each one is included by Peter, EVERYONE in the church is gifted by God as either a server or a speaker.

Paul saw things a bit more layered. He saw the results of being "inspirited" by the Lord as producing "gifts" that could be seen through three different facets: one could look at them as expressions of grace [charismaton]; or one could see them for their utility, or service rendered [diakonon]; or one could view them through the lens of the influence, or energy, that motivated them [energematon]. Regardless, they were all inspired of God in EVERYONE, and each of them have the privilege of manifesting the Holy Spirit (vs. 7-11).

In his other writings, Paul gives lists of gifts three times. Some of the details in each occurrence are repeated or are similar, some are different. In each instance, he approaches the subject from a slightly different perspective. I'd like to think those perspectives correlate to what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. In other words, I see one of Paul's lists emphasizing the grace that is responsible for their expression, in another the utilitarian result of their existence, and in the third the motivating quality that compels them.

In my next post, we'll look at those lists and see what they tell us about how many gifts there actually are, at least we'll sketch it out. We'll also continue turning the gem under the lights, so its various colors and sparkle can be recognized and appreciated.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Manifestation Destiny

I'd like to explore the notion of spiritual gifts for a while. Since this will be a topical exploration, we'll start broadly and then narrow our focus over time and postings...

Let us begin with the difference between a manifestation of the Holy Spirit and a gift of the Holy Spirit. There are two levels of inspiration to what are commonly called gifts today. As I will use the word throughout this series, a gift is something that is resident in the gifted person, and correlates to the gift/service/working level mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. It is taken to oneself and possessed by the believer. It may develop over time, but it is without repentance (from God). It is the body part a believer is. When I refer to a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, I mean a momentary effect or evidence that the Spirit of God is in action though a person, and which correlates to the manifestations listed in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. These may or may not be indicative of that person's actual giftedness.

Every Christian is gifted by God with some resident ability or abilities that make that believer of indispensable utility to the body of Christ. I would liken these skills to the plying of a trade in the world at large. Though each trade has it's own skill and art, and expertise is generally limited to one's own trade, each tradesman still has a toolbox. They may look different from one another, but every tool box has a hammer, some kind of wrench, a screwdriver, a cutting implement. You get the picture-- all the tradesmen use the same basic tools (which I liken to the manifestations in this illustration). It is the task at hand that determines which tools get used and how. No tradesman uses only a hammer, nor is one sentenced to use only a saw, just because he or she used one once, or happens to be a carpenter.

The Apostle Paul, not wishing us to be ignorant about how the Spirit inspires what he does, laid out this basic concept for us: in God everyone is gifted, and all the gifted can manifest the Holy Spirit. Your gift doesn't determine what you manifest, the Holy Spirit does in the moment according to his will. Your gift will be apparent to others over time, what you manifest is never apparent until the moment it comes out. Some gifts, of course, will manifest some things more than others, but any of the gifted can produce any of the manifestations.

I think we need to expand our horizons and whet the appetite of our expectations in regard to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God means more for us than we are generally satisfied to receive. The Holy Spirit isn't cheering us on from the sideline, he's in the game with us-- in fact, he's our uniform and padding. We're all meant to play, and he intends us to win! Regardless of what position we may play (how we are gifted), we are all meant to evidence the miraculous moving of the Holy Spirit. It is the way the church is supposed to function and fulfill our mandate. Call it, our Manifestation Destiny.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Where Did Evil Come From?

There is evil in the world, everywhere. A biblical Christian would even say that there is a cabal of unseen conspirators promoting it. Where did it come from, and how did it manage to sprout like weeds under the eye of an omniscient and omnipotent God? To answer, "de Debil,"a la Mama Boucher, is too facile and adds no true value to understanding the ultimate question. The Devil is evil, it's in his name. He is the father of much that is evil in the world today, but where did his evil come from?

The Bible tells us that mankind is inherently evil. I agree and would attribute their evil to the same source as the Devil's. It wasn't God for he is inherently good-- at least it wasn't him, directly. God is the ultimate free moral agent. He is sentient with powers of will and choice, and he made mankind and angels with similar powers and turned them loose in creation with freedom. Therein, is the seed of evil.

How can those abilities which so distinguish us from the plethora of slime and the menagerie of the mobile be responsible for evil? I'll have to define evil before proceeding: evil is that which is not good, and by extension, that which is out of harmony with God. Evil is the un-God. When choice and will were expressed independently of, and in opposition to God, evil was born. Evil was the the risk intrinsic in freedom.

All that is was made as the home of God's crowning creation-- mankind. When man embraced evil and shattered the crystal of the pristine environment, they alienated both the creation and the creature from God and what is good. As a result, sin and death, evil and it's fruit, have spattered everything in the universe and infiltrated all that is alive and inanimate. Man, beast and the environment we live in has all been tainted by evil. Creation may still bear the fingerprints of God, but its smudges betray, all too clearly, that it was also touched by a "fallen angel."