Monday, March 18, 2019

Manifestations of the Spirit (Spiritual Gifts) Are for Everyone

Somewhere in California

In churches I've been in I have handed out "Spiritual Gift Inventories," so people could find out what their spiritual gift was. Now, I think that's a misunderstanding. Obviously, the early church in Acts did not use inventories. The situation was more fluid and organic than that. 

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 Paul writes:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Note that what was given were manifestations of the Spirit. Here is God, giving himself to us, in his infinitely variegated personality.

James McDonald writes: “God’s provision for all that we need is His manifest presence with us. God doesn’t dispense strength, wisdom, or comfort like a druggist fills a prescription; He promises us Himself— His manifest presence with us, as all that we will ever need— as enough! We must be terrified at the thought of a single step without it, without the Lord.” (McDonald, Vertical Church) 

Gordon Fee, in his brilliant commentary on First Corinthians, writes:

""Each one," standing in the emphatic first position as it does, is [Paul's] way of stressing diversity; indeed, this is how that diversity will be emphasized throughout the rest of the paragraph. He does not intend to stress that every last person in the community has his or her own gift...  That is not Paul's concern. This pronoun is the distributive (stressing the individualized instances) of the immediately preceding collective ("in all people"), which emphasizes the many who make up the community as a whole." (589)

Fee writes that what "each one" was "given" was not a "gift,' but a "manifestation of the Spirit." "Thus each "gift" is a "manifestation," a disclosure of the Spirit's activity in their midst... [Paul's] urgency, as vv. 8-10 make clear, is not that each person is "gifted," but that the Spirit is manifested in a great variety of ways. His way of saying this is that, "to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit."" (Ib.)

This is about the Spirit manifesting himself within the Jesus-community. It is not a statement about spiritual gifts being given to people once and for all. Paul's emphasis is on the variety and diversity of the Spirit's manifestations. Fee writes:

"Contrary to so much of the popular literature, Paul does not intend by this to stress that every last person in the community has his or her own gift. That may or may not be true, depending on how broadly or narrowly one defines the word charisma. But that is simply not Paul's concern. This pronoun is in the distributive (stressing the individual instances) or the immediately preceding collective ("in all people"), which emphasizes the many who make up the community as a whole...

[Paul's] urgency, as vv. 8-10 show [1 Cor. 12], is not that each person is "gifted," but that the Spirit is manifested in a variety of ways. Paul's way of saying that is, "to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit." (Fee, God's Empowering Presence, 163-164)

The Church is to desire the manifestations of the Spirit. (1 Cor. 14:1) This is Paul's way of saying that a variety of manifestations can be expected in the community. Craig Keener writes:

"Many churches and ministries today use “spiritual gift inventories,” which often tend to be interest or personality tests similar to those used in Christian counseling. While interest and personality tests are often useful and God sometimes gifts us in ways that correspond to our interests interests and personalities, we should not limit God’s gifts to those discovered in such inventories. This is especially true when we are speaking not about gifts we are born with but those we seek from God in prayer to build up Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1)...

Paul also calls us to consider what gifts are most necessary for the church in our time. Having considered them, we should ask God to give those gifts to his body and be open to him using us if he chooses." (Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, pp. 113; 136)

John Wimber held to a similar interpretation as Fee. Contextually, this makes sense to me. Wimber writes:

"Another theological barrier is what I call an incorrect interpretation of 1 Cor­inthians 12, verses 8-10 and verses 20-31, in which the gifts are frequently understood as given individually, and unilaterally to each member of the body. My perception is that we've wrongfully interpreted that text, that if we go back to 1 Corinthians 11, verses 17-18, where Paul says, "When you gather together there are divisions among you," the em­phasis in the entire section (from chapters 11 through 14) is that he is speaking to the church corporately, the congregation at Corinth. Therefore the emphasis on the gifts is that they are not primarily given to the individual but to the whole body.
Another way to understand this is to see them as situational—they are given in the situation, for the use of the individual and for the blessing of others. First Corinthians 12, verse 7, deals with the whole issue of the purpose of the use of spiritual gifts and teaches that the gifts are given "for the common good." In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul emphasizes the multiplicity of gifting that's available to the individual: "If you speak in tongues, pray that you might interpret." Whereas in chapter 12, he says, "One interprets, and one speaks in tongues." In chapter 14 he tells us all to prophesy, whereas he tells us in chapter 12, verse 29, that some are prophets and some are not.

The emphasis returns strongly in the 14th chapter on each individual having a multiplicity—or a potential for multiplicity—of expression of gifts, rather than for just singular expression. This means any individual Christian might prophesy, speak in tongues, interpret tongues and so on, but he should do it in the body, in good order and for the common good." (Wimber, "Spiritual Gifts Ignite Diverse Gospel Expressions")

My two books are:
Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God
Leading the Presence-Driven Church.
I'm working on:
How God Changes the Human Heart
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships