A Gifts Complex
‘Imogen, what are your gifts?’
It was a Sunday afternoon in September. I was sitting in the Rector’s living room with his wife, his daughter, and a handful of apprentices and associates, whiling away time before the evening service.
We had just been hearing from one of the other apprentices about his musical gifts (and having known him for over a year, I think he is very gifted musically. But anyway).
Now the Rector’s wife’s attention passed to me. Half a dozen pairs of eyes swiveled towards me expectantly.
It surely wasn’t a question asked to put me on the spot, but I felt the warmth go to my cheeks and my mind falter as I tried to work out my answer.
‘Erm,’ I fumbled. ‘I really don’t know. I applied to this scheme to find out what my gifts are.’
I wasn’t fishing for compliments. It’s so hard to list strengths – far easier to reel off my weaknesses.
And that conversation gave me a bit of a complex for the next few months. I constantly compared myself to others and felt so rubbish and ungifted.
A couple of times I asked people I was closest to what they thought my gifts were. These were their answers:
Empathy. Encouragement. Joy. Singing (apparently I sang a lot whilst cleaning the church). Taking a genuine interest in others. Also, (apparently) Bible teaching.
My convictions about spiritual gifts have fluctuated over the years. In my first year at university, I grappled with people’s different interpretations of prophecy, speaking in tongues and healing. This was because I was a Cessationist before starting university (I thought that spiritual gifts had ceased to exist). And then when someone prayed in tongues over me at a CU prayer meeting, I was properly freaked out, but changed my mind. Spiritual gifts existed, no doubt about it.
But what were my spiritual gifts? What made me different from others? What made me special? What made me more important than others?
Our time in 1 Corinthians later on in the year taught me something I desperately needed to hear.
In chapter 12, Paul goes to great lengths to enforce that there are many different spiritual gifts, but they are ALL from God.
‘Now there are VARIETIES of gifts, but the SAME SPIRIT; and there are VARIETIES of service, but THE SAME SPIRIT; and there are VARIETIES of activities, but it is the SAME GOD who empowers them ALL in EVERYONE. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good […] ALL these are empowered by ONE AND THE SAME SPIRIT, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (12:4-7, 11)
Every believer has been given spiritual gifts, and regardless of what they are, they are all equally valid, as they have all been given by the same Trinitarian God.
Then Paul uses a picture of a human body to explain how the church functions, in verses 12 to 31. Every body part is part of this body, belongs to the body (vv 12-13). No matter who they are, or their function. They are part of their body (vv 14-20). And all the parts are dependent on each other (vv 21-26), even the parts which seem weak (vv 23-24). They are to care for each other (vv 25-26) – if one part is in pain, they all feel the pain (v 26), and if one part is made much of, all the other parts are honoured as well.
Then Paul emphasizes that all Christians are part of Christ’s body, are all members (v 27). Not everyone has the same spiritual gifts (vv 29-30) – there is meant to be diversity.
Then Paul goes onto argue in chapter 13 that using spiritual gifts without love nullifies them:
‘IF I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have NOT LOVE, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And IF I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and IF I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but HAVE NOT LOVE, I am nothing’ (13 vv 1-2).
Because spiritual gifts will pass away (v 8), but love (as well as faith and hope) will abide (v13) – will last forever! They won’t matter in the New Creation.
Therefore, the Corinthians must pursue love (v 1).
And what does that look like in practice?
In the rest of chapter 14, there’s a repeated phrase which brings the last two chapters together. Here are some excerpts, but I recommend you read the whole chapter to get the bigger picture…
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. […] 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. […] 26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
Gifts definitely aren’t about the recipient. They shouldn’t be used to say, ‘Look at me, look at me!’. Spiritual gifts are for building up others in the body of Christ. They’re to be used to point people to Jesus and His truths (that’s the most loving thing one can ever do – to be pointed back into the arms of our Heavenly Father).
And you may be thinking, ‘Well, how obvious! Of course gifts are to be used for the good of others!’
Well, this was news to me!
There’s always been a desire within me to be made much of, to be praised for my achievements. I want people to think well of me, and strive to be in the limelight, as if I somehow I gave myself these gifts, not God.
I’ve rarely thought that gifts are for building up the church, serving my brothers and sisters in love.
It’s drastically changed how I view myself in the grand scheme of church. Instead of fretting about what my giftings are, I’m now eager to serve, get stuck in however I can. Even if I’m just speaking the truth in love to someone else after the sermon or a Bible study, that’s playing my part in body building – serving the other parts of Christ’s church.
And this ‘body building’ angle really helps when tackling the issue of spiritual gifts in the church today. Whatever prophesying or speaking in tongues looks like today (I still am undecided). When someone shares a word, or utters something in tongues, or shares a vision they’ve had, is it going to build up the brothers and sisters gathered there? Does it point us to God, what He’s already revealed about Himself, or does it speculate about something which isn’t clear and vague? Is it for show, or is it genuinely from God?
Let’s not prohibit people from practising their spiritual gifts, out of fear of what may happen. But let’s be wise about what we share in public gatherings, or with other believers. If in doubt about how helpful it is, best to keep silent. But if it would build up, talk to someone about it who is on the leadership team at church. There may be an opportunity for it to be shared at some point.
And let’s not get carried away with it, and neglect to focus on what’s already been revealed to us through the Word. Let’s love other believers first and foremost, regardless of anything which moves us, focusing primarily on what has already been revealed to us by God through His word. Let’s Body Build.