Spiritual gifts are not as controversial in the church as they were a generation ago. There is a broad acceptance that the Bible teaches that spiritual gifts are intended for the church today.
However, just because we believe that they are for the church today does not mean that churches recognise gifts or that we use them. Yet, even the most brief reflection on Romans 12.3-8, Ephesians 4.11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, underline that the church cannot function to the spiritual capacity that God intended without the use of spiritual gifts.
How can we make sure that the church does function the way that God intended?
First of all we need to remind ourselves of the importance of spiritual gifts.
Paul begins the Romans passage on spiritual gifts with reference to his own apostolic authority: For by the grace given me I say to every one of you (Romans 12.3). That is his way of emphasising the importance of what he is about to say.
You might wonder how any Christian who claims to take the Bible seriously could forget the importance of gifts.
There are all sorts reasons. We can neglect our own gift. We can rely on the gifting of one or two very gifted individuals. If we have experienced the abuse of gifts, we can draw back from the use of gifts. Or we can develop a theology that accepts gifts for today but set the bar so high for the use of gifts that they never get used.
Spiritual gifts are important. In fact they are so important that all three members of the Trinity are involved in the giving of gifts: the Father (Romans 12), the Son (Ephesians 4), the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12 &14).
Secondly, spiritual gifts have impact.
When you think of a gift – whether a birthday present or a Christmas present or a surprise gift, the gift affects in some way or other the person who receives it.
The same is true of spiritual gifts. In a passage like 1 Corinthians 14.24-25 the impact of the use of spiritual gifts is very obvious. In Romans 12.6-8, the impact might not be so obvious. Consider this, however: what if those who have the gift of prophecy didn’t prophesy? If those who are encouragers didn’t encourage? Or the givers didn’t give? And what if you extended that across the range of gifts that Paul mentions? The church would be much weaker. Sometimes we only appreciate the impact of gifts when we realise how much the poorer the church would be if people stopped using their gifts.
Finally, even though gifts are important and make an impact, we should not base our identity on our gifts.
Paul says in Romans 12.3 that we should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought but rather think of ourselves with sober judgment.
There can be a temptation to build our identity on our gifts. Often that results in us having an inflated idea of our own importance.
Instead Paul says we are to think of ourselves in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of us. In other words, we are to base our identity on who we are in Christ.
Jesus said something similar in Luke 10.20 after His disciples returned from a very effective outreach:
However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
Gifts are important. They have impact. But they do not make us who we are. Who we are is defined by the work of Christ and the impact of His grace in our lives.