“God is at work on this ruptured world, on this world that is suffering under the power of self-endangerment, self-destruction, and sin, under the power of demonic forces and powers, under the illusion of being distant from God and abandoned by God. How are God’s action and God’s presence through the Spirit experienced and mediated in such a way that God’s action in this ruptured world becomes clearly recognizable and can have a liberating effect?” (Michael Welker in God The Spirit)
We live in a world that at times seems so far from God. We live in a world in which it often appears that sin and demonic forces are winning the battle against truth and justice. We live in a world in which the poor seem to continue to suffer under the oppression of the rich and the weak bow at the feet of the mighty. And yet we believe the story of scripture in which Jesus says, “take heart, I have overcome the world.” We believe in the story of scripture that proclaims a God who was willing to give up power and prestige and honor in order to suffer with the suffering, to take their sin and pain on his shoulders, and through dying to self he triumphed over the powers of this world at the cross and subjected them to shame. We believe a story in which God is active in the world and being experienced in personal ways even in the midst of sin and destruction. But how? Through the action of the Spirit, God’s presence becomes known in a powerful way.
Paul at three different points in the epistles speaks of gifts of the Spirit, or charisms. (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4) Some of these gifts are very clearly miraculous (healing, speaking in tongues) while others seem to instead be talents or abilities of some sort (wisdom, giving, administration). At times these gifts seem to form some sort of hierarchy while at others Paul clearly points out that they are all equal. Some Christians believe these gifts ended after the Apostles died while others believe they are still very active today. The only thing that seems to be clear is that there is much confusion about spiritual gifts and their purpose and use. However, some things to bear in mind.
God makes himself known though the Spirit and spiritual gifts. As individuals receive gifts of the Spirit they share those gifts with others and the Spirit becomes recognized in the world. God is able to work on his own apart from humanity but he chooses to work through humanity at times to make himself known to others. Through spiritual gifts Christians are able to give honor to God and point others to God and help him become known to the world.
Spiritual Gifts point towards Christ. Paul is clear that spiritual gifts are not an end to themselves. The gifts are not “empty operating forms of communication” but instead their purpose is to proclaim Christ and to point others towards Christ. The Spiritual gifts are designed to draw others in the community of believers thus “bringing God closer to human beings and human beings closer to God.” Paul even tells the Corinthians in the midst of discussing spiritual gifts to conduct their assemblies in a way that outsiders can recognize that God is among them. The point is for non-believers to see Christ.
Spiritual gifts are for the building up of the body. The purpose for having a spiritual gift is to encourage others and build up the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians Paul says that he wished all would speak in tongues but he would rather speak intelligible words so that the body of Christ might be built up. Spiritual gifts were never about hierarchy or making one person more important than another. Spiritual gifts were never to be used as bragging rights or simply for the benefit of the bearer of the gift. Spiritual gifts were always given, and are still always given, for the benefit of the body, so that the Body of Christ might be built up, so that the community might be strengthened.
How exactly Spiritual gifts work today and how to recognize them can be confusing and difficult to determine. Yet what is certain is that God has chosen to make himself known to a broken world in many different ways and one such way is through spiritual gifts that are given to his followers. These gifts are from the Spirit and are to be used for the benefit of the community to build up the weak, to encourage the timid, and to point all people, both Christian and non-Christian to Christ. And always for God’s glory and God’s honor.
Editors Note: This is part 5 of 6 in a series on the Holy Spirit. The series is not meant to be exhaustive but to serve as a starting point for a fuller understanding of the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer and of the world.