Yesterday Cal taught on the gift of Wisdom. It is important for believers to grow in wisdom if they are to become mature. And it is not just the ability to give wise (sage) advice. Wisdom encompasses lifestyle decisions and technical skill as well. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about one of the challenges in growing in wisdom in a charismatic arena. That challenge is excessive focus on spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are one of the primary focal points in charismatic/Pentecostal groups. In those groups, it is tempting to become imbalanced in our lives due to overly emphasizing spiritual gifts.
Without proper mature guidance, it is easy to develop a theological position that the evident presence of certain spiritual gifts is evidence that one is close to God and therefore holier. But that isn’t necessarily the case. 1 Cor. 12 mentions Spiritual gifts being given for the edification of the church (corporate). The main point of spiritual gifts is not for the edification of the individual. Nor is it for the elevation of the individual.
A Strong Gift Doesn’t Equal More Holy Person
When we are in charismatic/Pentecostal circles that are errant in addressing this by word and example, impressionable believers can come away with the assumption that the presence of a powerful gift = a holier person. Since the gift is given for the church, the gifted person may or may not be as pious in their personal lives. That is the conclusion observers make when the see a powerful gift on display. It is easy to assume a gifted prophet, healer, or miracle worker is closer with the Lord and therefore have received these gifts as a result of their piety. But more often some is gifted because of God’s sovereign choice for the body they are part of. This begins a cyclical effect. People believe the person is closer to God because of their gift. Then the person becomes convinced they are closer, and therefore “higher” than others because the gift is proof. Soon their egos get filled because of people’s admiration of them. As a result, the gifted person may stop working on character development, thinking they have somehow arrived, or don’t need to. This is a dangerous place to be in when something bad or difficult happens. Without building up character, even the most gifted person can begin making decisions that are destructive and harmful as a way of dealing with the difficulties.
Man Celebrates Gifted People, God Celebrates Righteous Character
Jesus warned people in Matthew, “Many will come to me on that day (Day of Judgment) and say, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy , and cast out demons, and heal the sick in your name?” And I will say to them “Depart from me you evildoers, I never knew you.”
At the end of time, Jesus is going to want people who have put in the hard effort of “working out their salvation with fear and trembling,” not those who coasted by on the accolades of men because of the gift(s) the Holy Spirit chose to give them for the Body of Christ. Time and again, we see exhortations in Scripture about being people of righteous character (making consistently righteous decisions and habits). In the end, godly character will be key to hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the rest of the Lord.”
It is good and exciting to see the supernatural power of God working through people in his body. It is right and good to give God the praise for all the powerful things His Spirit does in our midst. We do well when we do this. And at the same time, it is important to remember that our fellow believers are just as human as we are. Powerful gifts are not proof of their closeness with God.
It Is Easy To Fall Back on Spiritual Gifts To Avoid Developing Good Character
A lot of character is built in the context of relationships. When someone wrongs us or when we wrong others and need to address it, that is when we either grow in good character or bad character. Developing respect for others is another character growing area. But when our pride gets in the way, we tend to find excuses as to why we don’t need to resolve the conflict. This is where spiritual gifts can play a damaging role to character and relationships. Sometimes, if we have a strong gift of prophecy or leadership, it is easy to expect others to just recognize it and listen to us. When they don’t we are insulted. And sometimes, the way we convey a message or direction hurts others. It is easy to think that if someone gets hurt by our “message from God” then that’s their problem. But it really is our problem. Paul encourages us to “Season our words with grace.” It is possible for us to use our gifts in ungracious ways and harm others. That is where the test of character comes in. If we find out someone was hurt by us, we need to own that with the person and resolve it. It isn’t a matter of apologizing for our message, it’s a matter of treating people with dignity and respect as humans with feelings. We will be held to account by God in these areas, so it would be best to address this here and now, rather than later.
So in the end, I believe the spiritual gifts are present today with the same mission and purpose as in the New Testament: for the edifying and building up of Jesus’ church. I have often seen these three points neglected in local bodies. An overemphasis on certain spiritual gifts has the danger of creating celebrities in local and national churches where people will flock to them. Our job as believers is to build the church up for the Glory of God and help the community live in righteous freedom and character. That means doing the hard work of mentoring and exhibiting character development in our communities.
The challenge for church leaders is to strike a balance between fully engaging in the Holy Spirit and recognizing spiritual gifts and drawing and challenging people to grow in godly character. That way we can avoid neglecting the spiritual gifts as well as ensuring godly character is recognized and celebrated in our communities.
Let us pursue the Power of God in the Spiritual Gifts. And let us also pursue a deep, unmovable character of righteousness where we’re willing to admit and right our wrongs, and call others to righteous living as well. For in that, we will be living the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven. Only Jesus can save us. Only the Holy Spirit will empower us. Only we can cooperate with them.
Thank you for reading this week’s post. I hope it has got you thinking a bit more about the spiritual gifts series and how to grow in God. May we continually experiences our Lord’s
Presence. Love. Power.