More Than Openness to the Gifts of the Spirit

Let’s admit it. Some thirty, forty, fifty or more years ago, most of the western church was not open to the gifts of the Spirit that are specifically mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Paul lists them here:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Even in some groups, these were anthametised or seen as demonic, especially the gift of other tongues. We’ve moved far away from such a view, not because we are headed down some slippery slope into false belief and practise, but because we have begun to be more open to such. You even have churches today from more traditional, cessationist backgrounds actually open to the gifts of the Spirit. Even major theologians are purporting that they are continuationists, at least in some sense – Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Jack Deere, Gordon Fee, Sam Storms, etc.

What are some reasons for more of an openness amongst the church today? Well, there are quite of few, but here are are three major reasons that I believe we are now more open to such:

1) The more modern worship movement possibly starting with the Jesus-movement but continued on with such people like Keith Green, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Kevin Prosch, Larry Norman, Delirious, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, etc. [Just as a note, I am not promoting the idea that worship is a ‘movement’. I adamantly believe there is much more involved in being ‘living sacrifices’ (Romans 12:1-2).]

2) The afore mentioned solid theologians who are continuationists, believing all gifts from 1 Corinthians 12 are still available today. These people have faithfully, humbly and biblically looked to understand the importance of such gifts for the body of Christ.

3) There are now some 500 million plus Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-charismatics. Such leads us to at least consider that this many true followers of Jesus are not that crazy.

Again, there are other reasons, such as a more a practical reality that attended a gathering where the gifts were being actively utilised. I’ve heard tons of these stories, of which I have one to share myself and hope to soon.

Yes, I am also aware that many of us have been to gatherings where these gifts have been abused and misused. I’ve been to some myself. And it’s hard to be open when we see such. But for every abuse, I suppose there are some 100 healthy and faithful uses of these gifts. It’s just that the television happens to blur this reality. It doesn’t report on the church down the road with about 50 adult members who are being used in prophecy or words of knowledge and even healings.

But, here is my point with this post: I think we need to be careful that we are not simply open to the gifts and we never look to see God use us in these gifts. This, I believe can leave us wanting in regards to what God would do through His Spirit.

‘Now wait a second here, Scott. Don’t forget 1 Corinthians 12:11, which states, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”‘

Oh yes! He is the one who apportions at His own will. So I am not up for some manipulation scheme. I am up for true, God-honouring use of the gifts. But let me point out two other important verses in the midst of Paul’s words on the gifts of the Spirit.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1)

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

Paul starts out this whole section by telling the Corinthians that he does not want them to be uninformed. I could try and go into the ancient language and show how we get our word agnostic from the Greek word used in the text. Therefore, Paul is telling us to not be agnostic, or possibly apathetic, about these gifts. And I think such is valid to consider.

But with regards to the Corinthians, they were already wanting these gifts to operate in their gatherings. They were just misusing them most of the time. So Paul is challenging them to be correctly informed about the gifts and how to utilise them. Hence his practical exposition in chapter 14 in regards to the three speech gifts of prophecy, tongues and interpretation.

Still, here is a challenge for us today, to those who say they are ‘open’. I really believe it would be sad if our motto for the rest of our lives is that we were ‘open’ but we never saw the gifts utilised in our gatherings, in our lives, in our world. I don’t believe openness is the end goal with regards to these gifts of the Spirit.

I don’t want to simply be open to Jesus. I want to truly follow the divine God-Man.

I don’t want to simply be open to the gifts of the Spirit. I want to see us truly used with these gifts, for they are given for the ‘common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7).

But to be honest, many of us don’t know where to start. Now, there is the possibility that God could simply impart the knowledge and understanding so that we are no longer uniformed. He is sovereign, so by no means do I want to deny Him such a right and privilege. But it seems the normal way, at least that I have noticed, is that God likes to use others in the body of Christ to help us understand certain spiritual aspects. Hence why I believe God gives leaders within the church – to equip the saints (see Ephesians 4:11-16). I learned how to walk with Jesus from a man that had been doing it for a couple of decades. And, oddly enough, he also taught me about the reality of the Spirit of God and His gifts.

Still, we can be left timid to take that step. Who do we trust? What do we study?

Well, we start by trusting God the Holy Spirit to be faithful and we start in Scripture. And, as we do so, we seriously ask God to start opening doors to specific people in our lives that are faithful with these gifts. I know we can turn on the television and watch a ‘Christian’ station and then we simply want to give up on this whole mess. Not all of those on the tv are bad and unhealthy. But, by far, most are. I am ashamed of this truth.

But this leaves us with the necessity of pressing into God. Remember, as we like to say in regards to the gifts, He is sovereign. So, let’s trust Him enough to connect us to people who are honest, real, authentic, biblical, wise, faithful, and walk out a whole host of other Christlike characters, as well as look to see these gifts operate today. Those guys I listed earlier on seem to fall in that vein. And you might think of a handful of others.

But I don’t want to be ‘open’ and also ‘uninformed’. I want to move towards seeing God’s people empowered in these gifts. This leads me on to the second verse, again quoted below:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

Openness without earnest desire will lead down an unhealthy path. I am not sure it prepares our hearts for what God would truly desire.

Interestingly, we get our English word zeal from the Greek for ‘earnestly desire’. So the verse could also read: ‘Pursue love, and be zealous for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.’

Are we zealous for these things of God, for they are of God?

Now I know the objection that is usually raised: I don’t think we should desire the gifts. We are to desire the Giver Himself.

The thing is this: we are challenged in Scripture to earnestly desire spiritual gifts. So, let’s take Paul’s words at face value. I think he really wanted God’s people to desire and be zealous for these things. And this was written to a people who were going overboard. So he simply wanted them to earnestly desire them in a healthy sense.

And this is why I believe Paul would say to earnestly desire the gifts. When the gifts of the Giver are utilised in our midst, we taste the Giver. I have no doubt about such.

So, though many can say they are open to these gifts, and I do respect such a stance, I think we cannot stop there. I don’t believe it’s the heart of God to only be open. Many are open to lots and lots of things. But, in our new life in Christ, we are not to remain open to the things of God. We are to walk them out in grace and truth.

Therefore, I believe it is God’s desire that we 1) not remain uninformed and 2) that we also earnestly desire these gifts of the Giver. For when we see these gifts operating in a faithful manner according to the heart of God, we will see the people of God built up, encouraged, strengthened, challenged and a whole lot more. As Paul said, this is all for the common good.

Let us be challenged to move past our openness and move into calling on God to stir both an understanding and a passion for His Spirit’s work.

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