We all like receiving gifts. Let’s face it, it feels good when someone expresses their affection or appreciation for us by giving us something. Some gifts maintain their usefulness for a long time. Others, like fruitcake and cheese logs, may have lasting effects, but are often under-appreciated. I remember Christmastime as a kid, the anticipation of what I would be getting was torturous. Sometimes I would try to sneak a peek at my gifts to ease my “suffering.” It’s no surprise that when we read that God gives gifts, we want to peek and see what gift we’re getting. The truth is, it doesn’t really work like that with God.
Perhaps the most famous passage regarding what we call “spiritual gifts” is 1 Corinthians 12. Interestingly, that chapter is less about gifts, and more about unity in the church. The emphasis in the chapter is about the oneness–the unified diversity in the church, and less about the individual gifts. The point of the passage is that individuals will experience a variety of manifestations of God, but all these manifestations are the work of God and serve to glorify God and accomplish his purpose through his body, the church, and cannot serve to divide the church simply because some people experienced God this way or that, and others haven’t. Too often we use this passage of scripture to try to figure out what gift we have and therefore how we should (and more often, should not) serve in the body of Christ, and we wind up missing the whole point.
God has shaped certain people for specific purposes in the church. Those people are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd/teachers (see Ephesians 4:1-16 and 1 Corinthians 12:28-29). These people are gifts to the church for the purpose of building the church, promoting unity, and fostering maturity. Apart from that, there is one gift God has given to the church: Himself.
In 1 Corinthians 12:7 we are told that “to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The key is that word “manifestation.” It essentially means that God’s unseen Spirit becomes tangible as he works and moves through his body, the church. We get a little sideways when we view the work of God as gifts he gives to us. It’s not like he gives us a superpower and sends us off to go have fun trying it out. He gives us his Spirit who is present and active within us. When we keep in step with, and live in the Spirit, he works through us making his presence known both to us and through us (he glorifies himself). We don’t receive one ability and go on our merry way. We receive God’s Spirit and must remain devoted and surrendered to his lordship. As we walk with him, in him, we will see God do some pretty amazing things in and through us. God is healer, so we will see healing. God is truth, and so truth will be revealed. God is love, and love will overcome a multitude of sins. God is mighty, so we will experience his power doing what only God can do. It’s not about titles and limitations and what one thing God wants to do through me. Quite the opposite, 1 Corinthians 12 is about the vast diversity of God’s work through all his people in the world around us for his glory and purpose.
There are no markers of limitation on the manifestations of God in 1 Corinthians 12. What I mean by that is the manifestations are as fluid as the Spirit who works them, and when Paul talks about “gifts of healing,” it doesn’t only mean that God gives an ability for you to heal someone. It means God is healer. You may be used to work healing, or you may receive healing, but in all of it, God is glorified. God is the God who speaks. You may be used to speak prophecy, or you may receive a prophetic word, but in either case, God is glorified. The point is that any manifestation of God serves to glorify God and fulfill his purpose. It’s about God, it’s not about you and what “part of the body” you are. We have to separate the metaphor from the reality. Paul mentions specific parts, but that is to illustrate unity in the body, not to teach that one person = one specific body part. The church is a body and we are all part of the body. We want to know “what part,” but that’s not the point. We are all members of God’s kingdom and family, and God will decide how we should move and when. You may realize any manifestation of God at any time. When it’s time for you to move, you will be given everything you need to glorify God and fulfill his purpose. God did not withhold his only Son to work salvation for you. Do you think he will withhold anything as he continues his redeeming work?
We will know that we, as the church, are in step with God’s Spirit at work in the world when we see God glorified through his body, the church, as healer, speaker, almighty, wise and discerning, and able to save all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are no limits with God, yet our view of what we call “spiritual gifts” is so limited. I pray that God will awaken us to a biblical understanding of how he moves in and through his body and that we will be surrendered and responsive to his prompting in every opportunity we are given–individually and corporately. Then we will see the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” Then we, along with the world, will see God and his kingdom as it’s meant to be.