Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Spiritual Gifts

If you've never heard of spiritual gifts before I would encourage you to look up 1 Corinthians 12. it's the most famous passage on the subject. I, however, sometimes even resent calling them spiritual gifts. For those of us who grew up in the church or have spent enough time in the church culture we already have some sort of idea about what we think about spiritual gifts. You may have even taken tests, surveys or exams to help you determine what your gift is. If this has been your experience then you're much like me. Where you may differ from me is in my general uneasiness with this kind of mentality.

On the whole I think that we've lost a lot of the meaning and power behind what a spiritual gift is supposed to be, but more importantly what it's supposed to do. I don't have the time in this medium to explain all the scriptural/interpretive reasons why (come see my sermons if you want that), but I do want to lay out a couple of my issues quickly.

1) Spiritual Gifts do not mean possession:

This is one of my biggest beefs. The problem comes when we start to think that God gives us a 'gift' and then that 'gift' becomes 'ours.' I feel as if the modern world has prioritized possession and ownership to a level where we can't understand things without it. We understand gifts in terms of possession primarily. If someone gives you a 'gift' then it becomes your possession. Or so goes the understanding. And it is this very idea of possession that becomes the problem.

Do we now own this piece of God? Does that power and manifestation of God become ours to control and use at will? Does God give up a piece of himself so that we, humans, can weild his strength to our purposes?

This is, of course, ridiculous. Gifting in this sense does not mean possession, but is rather about the idea of presence. The phrase "spiritual gifts" from 1 Corinthians 12:1 is more accurately translated "spiritual things given to you which come from a spiritual place." You can see how gifting is sort of implied, but you can also see how it can be read differently. But instead of getting into the minutia of the Greek I would rather us focus on this idea of gifting which doesn't include possession, which gets to the heart of the matter.

Think of spiritual gifts in this way as gifts of experience. If someone were to gift me with a vacation to Scotland, I do not now own Scotland. Instead I simply gain the wonderful experience of Scotland and a closer relationship to the person who gifted me with this experience. This is what spiritual gifts are suppose to be. They are experience gifted to us from God which brings us closer together.

2) Gifts are communal:

One of the worst things about how spiritual gifts are discussed is about 'mine' beyond possession into 'mine' as an individual. Even the most cursory reading of these passages should show you that spiritual gifts have almost no meaning or power outside of its use in community. In fact, nearly every major passage which discusses spiritual gifts are in the greater context of the church as a whole, and usually linked to Paul's illustration of the church as a body.

Spiritual gifts are not given to 'you' they are given to 'us.' It may manifest itself through one individual, or half the individuals present. But their purpose and meaning is for everyone present. This always holds Paul's theology on gifts.

So what now?

Looking forward we need to realize exactly what gifts are and what they're supposed to be. Spiritual Gifts are the power of God coming into our midst. It's God making himself real in the presence of believers by working through each other. God's manifestation comes through our bodies in ways that we couldn't possibly do on our own. By speaking things we don't know, by healing other, by loving, by caring, by teaching all in ways that we couldn't without God we show his presence and power in our midst.

This is the purpose of spiritual gifts. It's a sort of incarnate lifestyle, where God becomes incarnate (if in a limited way) in our bodies and lives to show his presence and power to each other. The difficult past is that means that there is a human element to these gifts as well. We will often need to follow God's prompting and leadership if we're going to see his power working through us in these kinds of meaningful ways.

So whether they're gifts of instruction that are meant to teach each other the proper and best ways to live in our context. Gifts of encouragement which are meant to motivate us to this kind of living, or if it's gifts of care which are meant to uplift each other and meet the needs of each others lives. We need to accept the responsibility we have to meet with God in the act of God meeting each other through us. Spiritual Gifts are God's power and work, but in choosing to do it through us he chooses to involve us in this work. This is a great privilege and a great responsibility.

Discussion Questions:

1) Instruction - How have you experienced God's instruction through others? How are they present in your house church? Do you feel as if you have lived up to your responsibility to share what God is teaching you?
2) Encouragement - How have you experienced God's encouragement through others? Have you ever shied away from encouraging another? Have you lived up to your responsibility to encourage at God's prompting?
3) Care -  How have you experienced God's care through others? have you lived up to your responsibility to care for others at God's prompting?


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