The Nature of Spiritual Gifts
Does anyone here agree with me that too-happy people are sickening? Will anyone actually be honest with me and admit their sickly-happiness is actually infectious?
We feel better around happy people, don’t we?
Bob Goff is an example of one of those happy-all-the-time people.
By his own admission, Goff is an author, speaker, coach and dreamer. He earned a law degree in 1981 and he founded Goff & Dewalt, a construction law firm.
In 2001, during a trip to India, Goff came across children trapped in bonded labour – a modern form of slavery. This experience ignited a passion for justice in him and inspired the establishment of Love Does in 2003. The non-profit human rights organisation aims to fight injustices committed against children around the world.
Goff’s first book, “Love Does”, became a New York Times Bestseller and has been translated into numerous languages. In this book, he shared his journey of faith and his belief in love’s power to effect real change. He followed this up with two more successful books: “Everybody Always” and “Dream Big.”
Despite his many achievements, Goff is known for his always-on positivity and his down-to-earth approachability. In the back of his books, he includes his personal phone number, inviting readers to connect with him directly.
Today, Bob Goff continues to write and speak around the world, inspiring people with his message of love, faith, and the power of action. Here are a few key points from his perspective:
Appreciation of Life: Goff believes that each day is a gift and we should be grateful for the opportunity to experience life with all its ups and downs.
Recognition of Blessings: He emphasizes that even in difficult circumstances, there are always blessings to be found. By focusing on these blessings, we are able to maintain a positive and grateful attitude.
Building Relationships: Goff encourages us to express gratitude towards the people in our lives. He believes that gratitude deepens relationships and creates stronger bonds.
Faith and Trust in God: As a Christian, Goff sees gratitude as a way of showing faith and trust in God. He believes that by expressing gratitude, we acknowledge God is at work in our lives.
Cultivating Joy: Lastly, Goff believes that gratitude is a powerful tool for cultivating joy. By focussing on what we have, rather than what we lack, we can foster a sense of contentment and happiness.
Through his work and writing, Goff encourages us to develop an attitude of gratitude. For the friend of Jesus, this really is a ‘no-brainer’, for in both the Old and the New Testament, God is seen to graciously pours out gifts on his people. They are to be welcomed with gratitude and used for the good of all.
God Gives Life and Everything Needed for Life
In early October, I will be leading our second Leadership Retreat for this year. During the retreat, we will complete a personality profile and spiritual gifts assessment to bettern discern our calling from God to mission and ministry.
The topic of Spiritual Gifts can be quite controversial, although needlessly; so, the Services Planning Team thought it wise to provide a sermon series on the topic leading up to the retreat. This sermon series is called, “A Study in Spiritual Gifts”.
We will reflect today on the first topic in this series, “The Nature of Spiritual Gifts”.
The first thing to know is that God gives life and everything needed for life. This is described in numerous scriptures, beginning with The Book of Genesis, where we read,
The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man he had formed. The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8–9)
To say that God formed mankind is to say that our Creator gave us life. He then placed us in a wonderful garden, with abundant trees for food, beauty to behold, and sufficient for knowledge. Knowing the difference between a good tree and a bad tree is wisdom, and as it is written,
How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1–3)
Our Creator provides knowledge and wisdom, and happy is the person who delights in the Lord’s instruction, for whatever he or she does prospers. Thus, we can say,
His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)
Our creator God created humankind and always meant for us to enjoy a free, full and forever life, and provided everything needful for such. Life is a gift therefore, and it is not to be squandered.
OT Examples of God Giving Special Gifts
What else could we possibly need? Nothing for ourselves, but we do find in the Old Testament examples of God giving special gifts for the accomplishment of his Purpose and Plan.
God’s Gracious Provision From Above
In The Prophecy of Joel we read,
Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God, because he gives you the autumn rain for your vindication. He sends showers for you, both autumn and spring rain as before. The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with new wine and fresh oil. (Joel 2:23–24)
The Lord graciously provides for our material needs abundantly, far more than we need to merely sustain life. We can see in this generosity a foreshadowing God’s spiritual gifts.
Distribution of Land to Tribes
Then in The Book of Joshua we read,
all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, all the Sidonians. I will drive them out before the Israelites, only distribute the land as an inheritance for Israel, as I have commanded you. Therefore, divide this land as an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh.” (Joshua 13:6–7)
Here we have described for us the distribution of land to the ancient tribes of Israel. Land secures not only a source of food but also a home on which to build a life. Our Creator’s generosity accounts for all we need and more.
The Future Promise of Spiritual Gifts
Again, in The Prophecy of Joel we read a promise of the Lord:
After this I will pour out my Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. I will even pour out my Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days. (Joel 2:28–29)
Besides rain and land, our Creator also generously provides the Holy Spirit, who reveals to us the mind of Christ. This is an experience that is hard to describe, yet is available to all who turn to the Lord.
Even from these few OT examples, the friend of Jesus learns all of life is a gift, and that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (Jam 1:17). We depend on God for what is needful for life, whether material and immaterial, physical and supernatural, and we are grateful.
In His Earthly Ministry Christ Jesus Offered Spiritual Gifts
Where these OT examples demonstrate our Creator’s intention to generously pour out the Holy Spirit as a gift, in his earthly ministry Christ Jesus offered spiritual gifts, for example,
Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
The “rest” Jesus offers to his friends is not a cushion in a quiet corner with puppies to cuddle —although that is nice. The peace Christ offers surpasses all understanding (Php 4:7). It is a spiritual gift.
In his earthly ministry Christ Jesus offered spiritual gifts.
Spiritual Gifts Linked With Grace
As with all gifts, God provides all that is needful for life not because we deserve it, but only because God is love! As it is written,
According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s faith (Romans 12:6)
Our Creator is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth (Ex 34:6). As a result, he is overwhelmingly generous, that goes for spiritual gifts as much as for material gifts. God gives gifts not because of any merit of our own; spiritual gifts are due to his grace alone.
The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts Is to Build up the Church
Yet in his generosity, God gives gifts for the fulfilment of his Purpose, which is as revealed by the apostle Paul,
So also you—since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, seek to excel in building up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12)
The purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the Church. There is no other reason. That is why they are given and we do well to remember that.
Jenny Thompson has won ten Olympic medals in swimming, eight of which are gold. However, she didn’t win any of the golds in individual events; she won them in team events with three other swimmers.
As a result, some people have questioned whether Jenny’s swimming accomplishments ought to rank her with the “great” Olympic champions. She asks that herself. “It’s got to be very different to experience an individual gold versus a team gold,” she says.
[On her story, Pastor Jon Mutchler stated,] I find Jenny’s accomplishments in the ego-driven United States culture refreshing. With ballplayers moving from team to team, demonstrating little team loyalty, Jenny is a marvelous example of someone whose genuine success came in the context of team play.
This is how the church should work. Our true “stardom” occurs when we participate as part of a winning team. On God’s team, there is no room for superstars or mega-celebrities who do it on their own.
Our resources, whether material or immaterial, our gifts, whether physical or spiritual, are to be used for building up the Church for we are all in this together, for each other.
The Body of Christ Benefits From These Varied Gifts
It is no surprise then, the Church has been described as like an organism with many and varied needs, of this the apostle Paul made us aware,
For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body —so also is Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)
The Church, the body of Christ benefits from the variety of gifts used together, not in isolation. The Church functions not just well but at all only when all the parts are working together and everyone is using their gifts for building up the Church. For this, material gifts are just as important as the immaterial, the physical as useful as the spiritual gifts.
John Chrysostom (347-407 a.d.), considered the best preacher in the early Church, had this to say about the use of our gifts:
If you have accumulated wealth, expend it on others; if you have the faculty of teaching, do not bury the talent, but bring it out publicly for the sake of those who need it! Or if you have any other advantage, become useful to those who require the benefit of your labours! Do you not see that for this reason, especially, the bee is more honoured than the other animals; not because she labours, but because she labours for others? For the spider also labours, and toils, and spreads out his fine textures over the walls, surpassing the utmost skill of woman; but the creature is without estimation, since his work is in no way profitable to us; such are those who labour and toil, but for themselves!
All gifts build up the Church and bring honour to God!
Encouragement to Aspire to the Greater Spiritual Gifts
Confuddling the issue, the apostle Paul wrote,
But desire the greater gifts. And I will show you an even better way. (1 Corinthians 12:31; see also 1 Co 14:1)
In this, the apostle encouraged the aspiration for greater spiritual gifts, meaning there is something to be said for wanting to contribute more in a better way; however, the apostle went on to describe that better way:
The Importance of Love in Exercising Spiritual Gifts
If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)
As with all things, whatever gifts we have available to us to share for the building up of the Church, whether material or immaterial, physical or spiritual, let us use our spiritual gifts in and with love. Out of a desire to serve rather than to be served, to honour others rather than to be honoured.
Ultimately, it is not the gift that matters but that it was given in the correct attitude and for honourable reasons. Expressed in any other attitude or for any other reason nullifies the gift for the giver.
It cannot be overstated how important it is that spiritual gifts are exercised in love.
Warnings About Spiritual Gifts
While gifts should be in love, a final warning about spiritual gifts is that they be received with love, as it is written,
So then, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:39)
While there is much that is confusing about spiritual gifts —and they can certainly be misused, even abused— the fact is the Church disciples its members by helping each other to both identify and develop and use our material and immaterial resources, as well as our physical and spiritual gifts for the building up of the Church. Teaching the proper use of our gifts and holding each other accountable will lead to their productive use.
Spiritual gifts should not be feared nor forbidden.
When you wake up in the morning, after you wipe the sleep out of your eyes and down your first cup of coffee, your proper attitude should be one of gratitude that you are alive. Every day is an adventure waiting to happen, a mission to accomplish, blessings to enjoy and blessings to share.
Let us celebrate what has been given, both material and immaterial, physical and spiritual, so that we might experience overwhelming gratitude for the privileges we enjoy as God’s good creation. With a willing spirit, let us then guide our family, friends and neighbours into their own awareness of and gratitude for their own lives as a gracious gift from God to them.
For the friend of Jesus, an attitude of gratitude really is a ‘no-brainer’, for the testimony of scripture is that God graciously pours out gifts on his people. They are to be welcomed with gratitude and used for the common good.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from The Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN, USA: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017).
See also Ex 16:4; Ex 16:8; Ex 16:13–14; Dt 11:14; 1 Ki 17:6; Job 5:10; Is 55:10.
See also Eze 47:21.
See also Ac 2:17–18.
See also Mt 16:19; Lk 10:19; Jn 4:14; Jn 6:51.
See also Mt 10:8; 1 Co 4:7.
See also 1 Co 12:7; 1 Co 14:2–5; 1 Co 14:17–19; 1 Co 14:26; 1 Co 14:31; Eph 4:16.
Jon Mutchler, “Jenny Thompson’s Gold-Medal Teamwork,” PreachingToday.com; as quoted in Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), pg 45.
See also 1 Co 12:14–31; Ro 12:4–6.
John Chrysostom, “The Homilies on the Statues,” trans. W. R. W. Stephens, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume IX: Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), pg 420.
Chrysostom was given the name “golden mouth”, for his eloquent tongue. He preached successfully in Antioch until he was kidnapped and forced into the position of archbishop in Constantinople. His listeners disliked the way he preached against public sins, so he was sent into exile, where he died.
See also Ro 12:5–9; 1 Co 14:1.
See also 1 Co 14:37; 1 Th 5:19–20.