Paul’s words here, in his first letter to the Corinthians, are suggestive of a nagging issue with the Church. Maybe he heard a few stories that gave rise to concern, or perhaps he had been plagued with questions. Either way, his subsequent devotion to the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12) – the content of which is rich in imagery and instruction – shows how much value he put on their appropriate expression in the Church.
Reflecting on this opening remark, I do wonder whether this ignorance has subtly held sway in our generation. Aside from the gifts sometimes leaving us feeling a little uncomfortable – can you remember your reaction to first hearing tongues spoken?* – the issue can be a controversial and often a confusing point of discussion.
With this, from my experience, the subject does not always get the attention it deserves. It’s often ignored in full, or too much focus is put on a selection of gifts.
While certainly no expert, I am keen to see the Church explore more fully the spiritual gifts. As Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 12, full expression of the gifts is synonymous with the building up of the Church, with the analogy of the human body used to show how important each part is to the function of the whole body: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)
The Bible makes it clear that the gifts – to take the words of the Glee-ful Don’t Stop Believin’: “Go on and on and on.”. They are as important today as they were in the early Church. While no definitive list is provided – as Paul’s random and overlapping references suggest – what we do have is instruction in a whole range of different gifts that were clearly key to the growth of the early Church.
For this reason, they must be a point of focus for us, with equal attention given to all.
Key passages tell us spiritual gifts include being a pastor, healing, words of knowledge, prophecy, tongues, the interpretation of tongues, administration, discernment, teaching, serving, leadership, encouragement, evangelism and showing mercy. You can find these in Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11; and Peter’s reference in 1 Peter 4:11.
Outside these passages, others could be added, such as celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:7) and, from the Old Testament, craftsmanship (Exodus 31:1-5).
I can recall beginning to understand that God had given me the gift of encouragement. People often told me I was an encourager. Reflecting on these comments alongside my passion for building people up and noticing it as a gift highlighted in the Bible, a shift began to occur. I was more intentional about doing it and growing in it, recognising that it was a role God was asking me to be faithful in.
Not only that, though we are all called to encourage one another, I found it was silly getting frustrated that it did not come as naturally for others. Their strength lay elsewhere – my job being to encourage them in that.
We can easily remain unaware of what God has gifted us in. In fact, we may even be conscious of our tendency to serve or lead, for example, but do not appreciate it as a gift given by God. Understanding this, I think, can better help us see how we fit alongside others in building up the Church, while freeing ourselves from the burden of comparison that can all too easily linger. As Paul says: “Many parts, but one body.”
By underestimating our role we fail to dutifully tap into what God has entrusted to us and, in turn, deprive the Church of its fruit. God wants us to be fiercely intentional in exploring and expressing all that we are gifted in. Like the best of gifts, they are not meant to remain wrapped-up or be the source of abuse, but instead eagerly unwrapped and used as the giver intended.
Paul says: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” (1 Corinthains 14:1). Get filled with the Holy Spirit. Keep your motives right. Study the Bible to see what gifts resonate with you. Ask God to reveal your gifting. Chat to others about what they see in you. Sit down with your church leaders to discuss how you can express and grow in your gifting. Eagerly ask God to be gifted. Faithfully go.
I have already gone Paul-crazy with my references, so I may as well finish with another one: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (1 Timothy 1:6-7).
*My friend and I giggled uncontrollably.