Section One: The Spiritual Characteristics of a Godly Life.
Our current theme: Characteristic Two: Being Empowered.
Our reading for today: 1st Corinthians 12: 1-7 (MsgB)
What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn’t know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It’s different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. For instance, by using your heads, you know perfectly well that the Spirit of God would never prompt anyone to say “Jesus be damned!” Nor would anyone be inclined to say “Jesus is Master!” without the insight of the Holy Spirit. God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God Himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!
Paul begins here by saying how important it is for followers of Christ to have a full understanding of the “various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives.” And just as it was nearly 2,000 years ago when Paul first wrote these words of clarification to his friends in Corinth, so it is today.
You see, the Bible talks a lot about the Holy Spirit! And there are several places throughout the New Testament where the text indicates that there are two unique ways in which the Holy Spirit manifests Himself through the lives of Jesus-followers. Last time, we discussed the first manifestation; the fruit of the Holy Spirit…
Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.
Paul describes a second type of Holy Spirit manifestations in several of his letters, including today’s passage in 1st Corinthians. Here, he talks about gifts of the Holy Spirit, gracelets of God’s power that are distributed into the lives of Jesus’ disciples in order to bear testimony to the unmatched power and authority of Christ’s Good News message of grace and mercy.
And as Paul explains to his readers here, it’s some of these unique power gifts that can be so very often mis-understood, mis-used, and mis-construed by followers of Christ. To say it nicely, there are those in the church today that believe these gifts to be so controversial, it’s simply better to ignore them all together and just focus Christian discipleship on the fruit of the Spirit and not even mention the gifts Paul speaks of.
Sadly, the discipleship book series we are using as a base for our blog discussions on Christian discipleship (Mentoring His Way by Roy Comstock) apparently chooses to take that route, ignoring completely these controversial gifts of the Spirit. But I refuse to do that, my friends, so here we go…
First, let me be completely honest with you…
Throughout my 30+ years pastoring in the Americanized church, the Pentecostal and charismatic camps (of which my tribe, the Vineyard, is many times associated with) have so very often taken these power gifts Paul talks about and have run with them as though there were no tomorrow. I simply can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in meetings where very well-meaning but biblically-unwise leaders parade the gifts of the Spirit before the crowd, treating them as if they were no more than a circus act. And quite honestly, I fully understand why some portions of the church today have pretty much outlawed the use of the gifts because of such childish ways they have been used by some in the past.
But friends, let me encourage you in this…
It’s also been my experience, throughout my years of pastoral work, that when God’s people are well taught, as Paul states here, to fully understand and honor the gifts, holding them in full balance with the fruit of the Spirit, the church can operate wisely in these power tools, which I believe, have been given to the Church for the edification of God’s Word. So briefly, let me give you here a very abbreviated overview of the Holy Spirit gracelets Paul mentions in 1st Corinthians, chapter 12…
Wisdom: a supernatural sense of understanding that allows us to see a common earthly matter through the expanded eyes of God.
Knowledge: a supernatural unction to know something in the natural realm we just simply would not know otherwise.
Faith: a supernatural ability to hold onto Jesus, trusting Him alone, in situations where our flesh just wouldn’t normally be able to do so.
Healing: a supernatural grace of healing power that deeply touches a person’s wound (physical or spiritual), a sickness, or injury that seems un-healable to our human mind.
Miracles: a supernatural act of God’s in-breaking power that simply cannot be explained in any earthly manner.
Prophecy: A supernatural ability to for-tell or for-see something in the future that we would simply not be aware of outside of God’s power.
Discerning of Spirits: A supernatural ability to identify an inner spiritual core-truth of something or someone; identification simply not possible outside of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Speaking in Tongues: A supernatural gift to speak of God’s glory using either a heavenly language or a language outside the realm of the speaker’s own human abilities.
Interpretation of Tongues: A supernatural ability given in response to the gift of tongues (above) and used in bringing a “translation” or clarification to the words that were spoken.
You will notice that I use the word “supernatural” in every definition given above. For me, this is the key to understanding the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every gift Paul mentions (there are a few others listed in other parts of the New Testament) is a supernatural work that belongs to God alone and is simply “on loan” in our lives via the working of the Holy Spirit. The idea that you or I can own a gift, or can turn a gift on or off at our own choosing is, quite honestly, a very immature view that must be overcome if the Church is to be successful in the utilization of these amazing gifts of the Spirit.
My mentor, John Wimber, used to encourage us to humbly seek the Lord, asking Him to release any or all of these gifts through us, the gathered Body of Christ, as the Spirit determines is right and necessary. Each gift, when used in coordination with the fruit of the Spirit, can bring the light and love of God to this often dark and loveless world we live in. And many times, the results can be nothing short of supernatural, indeed!
But, in conclusion, here’s the warning…
Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul also offers excellent advice to those of us who can so very easily become over-enamored with the power gifts of God, calling for a balanced approach to the working of both the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit in our lives. Let me close by quoting you his fatherly advice…
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1st Corinthians 13: 8-13 (NIV)
My prayer: Father God, I realize the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can become very divisive in Your Church, and in the hands of immature Christians, it will continue to be problematic. Just as Paul addressed his friends in Corinth, I too believe that You give all of these wonderful gifts generously for the glory of Jesus. Now Holy Spirit, give us the wisdom and maturity to operate in these gifts as we see Jesus doing so. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So am I presently operating in any of the gifts of the Spirit? If so, am I acting in a mature and wise manner, making certain that the gifts are used for the glory of Jesus? Am I finding that wonderful balance Paul talks about in 1st Corinthians 13, where both the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit are working hand in hand, so in the end, all that remains is faith, hope and love?
So what is God speaking to you today as we attempt to live the Christ-centered life?
Over a thirty-six week period, you and I will take a deeper look into twelve key characteristics of a godly life. In other words, we’ll take A Journey into Christian Discipleship. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Journey home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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If you’ve been reading our Christianity 101 series, this concludes the 12-session blog. Click here to go back to our Christianity 101 homepage…