This is Part 2 of our ongoing series on spiritual gifts. Click here for part 1: An Introduction to Spiritual Gifts.
When I first learned about spiritual gifts, I was a young kid growing up at Briarwood Presbyterian church, a very biblical, solid and not at all charismatic church. My mom had a good friend at that church named Brenda that taught neighborhood Bible studies and often welcomed us kids into her home. When we memorized Bible verses, she would give us pieces of gravel that were spray-painted with solid gold paint, and I horded those pieces of gravel like a pirate’s treasure. I was a huge fan of hers, and became an even bigger fan when I found out that SHE SOMETIMES HID OUT IN HER CLOSET AND SPOKE IN MAGICAL TONGUES!! At least, that is how my nine year old mind processed things when my mom, in hushed tones appropriate to the occasion, told me that Mrs. Brenda had the gift of speaking in tongues
Tongues…TONGUES? What a fascinating name – kind of yucky, and totally amazing! What in the world did the word tongues mean?? Did mrs Brenda have more than one tongue – maybe one for regular talking, and one for spiritual talking? Actually, no. My mom explained to me that speaking in tongues meant that you could talk or pray in a language that nobody understood – maybe even an angelic language. As you might imagine, that was fascinating to me as a young boy, and the knowledge of the gift of tongues launched me, in a way, into a lifetime of being interested in the Gifts of the Spirit.
Upon entering seminary, I found myself serving as a youth minister in a somewhat traditional and dry church. During that period of dryness, my heart began to yearn for a legitimate and real move of God’s Holy Spirit, and I myself began to deeply seek an “experience” of God. Thus began a years long search to try and ….obtain? the gift of tongues. I prayed, and prayed. I talked with every charismatic pastor and tongues-speaker that I could find, and asked them all the secret of speaking in tongues. I read books, and bought teaching tapes. I tried just about everything that I was supposed to try, and yet – NO TONGUES! I was frustrated…I so wanted to experience God by speaking in tongues. I thought it would be interesting, refreshing, and a cure to the dryness that was in my soul, and the boring dryness in my church.
One pastor in particular, Pastor Andy, informed me that he had also sought the gift of tongues – for years – until God finally saw fit to give it to him one night while he was praying his heart out on his couch. That led me to many nights of – you guessed it – passionately praying to God for the gift of tongues on my couch. Surely that would be the key to finally speaking in tongues!
It wasn’t. At some point in this series, I will write more in depth about the gift of tongues, and about whether or not God ever answered my many hundreds of prayers about that gift, but for now, we need to move into deeper waters. I badly wanted the gift of tongues, in part, because I thought it would make me spiritual, and it would give me some real spiritual bona fides with my more charismatic friends. That was a bad motivation – maybe even a dangerous one.
Unfortunately, despite being in ministry, and despite being in seminary, I had a very low understanding of spiritual gifts, and the reason or purpose that they were given by God to His church. So – why does the Holy Spirit give gifts to followers of Jesus? Let’s dig into the Word and consider these deep questions: What are the purposes of spiritual gifts?
Ephesians 4: Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Paul lists four or five gifts here (depending on whether or not we should count pastor-teacher as one gift or two.) These gifts are often called the “Five-fold gifts” and sometimes differentiated from the other spiritual gifts that are listed in Romans 12, 1 Peter 4, and 1 Corinthians 12-14. The purpose of these four or five gifts seems to be related to equipping the Body of Christ for works of ministry, but I would argue that the purpose of ALL of the gifts seems to be in that same area: equipping one another and edifying one another. Ultimately, I don’t believe that Paul here is intending to differentiate between these gifts and the other spiritual gifts and thus I tend to think that the truth that Paul is applying here to these five gifts actually applies to all of the gifts as well. And that truth is that Christ makes the Body fit together perfectly and grow together to health, maturity, and increase in number as each part does its own special work.
The ultimate purpose of each and every spiritual gift, given to each and every Christian, is to equip, edify and expand the Body of Christ. I was mistaken in my pursuit of the gift of tongues – not because I believe that the gift has ceased – but because I was interested in that gift building ME up. Ultimately, the greatest purpose of spiritual gifts is not self-edification but church-edification. Put another way, God gives me spiritual gifts to equip, edify and encourage you; and He gives YOU spiritual gifts to equip, edify and encourage me! Our spiritual gifts are not for ourselves, they are for each other, and when we are all exercising our spiritual gifts, the net result is that the church will be encouraged, it will be built up, it will grow in number, and it will grow in joy and victory.
1 Corinthians 12:7, “A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial:”
1 Corinthians 14:12 “It is the same with you. Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, seek to abound in order to strengthen the church.”
1 Corinthians 14:26, “Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification.”
So I close with this exhortation: Be eager for spiritual gifts and pursue them, but not like I did – for my own edification and fascination. Rather, eagerly pursue spiritual gifts in order to encourage, edify and equip each other for the glory of God! John Piper gives us an excellent reminder here that our gifts are for the benefit of each other:
“The first and most obvious thing we learn from this text is that spiritual gifts are for strengthening others. This, of course, does not mean that the person who has a spiritual gift gets no joy or benefit from it. But it does suggest that gifts are given to be given. They are not given to be hoarded. “I desire to share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” John Piper, commenting on: Romans 1:11-12, “For I want very much to see you, so I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.“