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Five Questions (LifeLift #21)

lifelift podcast Jun 30, 2020

I’ve thrown a lot of information your way during this series of talks. After writing about the gifts and after teaching about them in several environments for the past twenty years, I’ve noticed the same questions tend to surface. 

Some of the most common questions are— 

  1. Can my gifts grow and change, or am I stuck with what I’ve got?
  2. Is there one specific place where I can find all of the gifts listed?
  3. Can you fake the gifts? Do people fake them?
  4. Can spiritual gifts be abused? If so, how cautious should I be about using them?
  5. Do gifts only work in the church, or do they go with me everywhere I go? 

You’ll likely notice that we covered most of this information earlier in the book. As such, this chapter will largely be a means to condense our thoughts and provide easy space for review.

 

1. Can my gifts grow and change? 

Since the gifts are relational, they’re relationally fueled. The more you attune yourself to that relationship with the Father, the more readily those gifts flow. And the more they likely grow.

Earlier in this series I referenced Phillip. The first time we see him even mentioned in Scripture is when he’s ordained as one of the “seven” in Acts 6:5. He’s said to be “full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” as are the other six (6:3).

When persecution ensued, Phillip moved to Samaria, where he led a full-blown revival (Acts 8:4f.). We discussed this in chapter 9, so we won’t go into detail here. It’s clear, though, that Phillip’s gifts grew. And they continued to blossom—

  • After leaving the revival, he led the Ethiopian Eunuch to faith in Christ.
  • Then he traveled to Azotus, preaching the Gospel to every city all the way to Caesarea (8:40).
  • In time, Phillip grew even more in his faith and became known as “Phillip the Evangelist” (21:8). He became one of the five-fold leaders, an equipper.

I’ve seen this in my own story. 

  • I’ve always been a teacher. But my skill has increased with time, as has my insight. And I’ve learned to teach through different platforms. At the core, whether I’m speaking in front of a group, teaching via podcast, sharing on a live video, or writing a book or blog post, it’s all an expression of that same gift.
  • But a few years ago I discovered I have a gift of healing. Sometimes I teach people how to be well; others times I actually lay hands on them, pray, and they’re healed. At the time, that was something new.
  • And then there was the “praying in tongues” issue. A few years after I noticed the gift of healing operating in my life, this one surfaced. 

Were these gifts always there and I just didn’t know? Or were they  actually new? 

From God’s perspective, nothing is new. He’s eternal. From before time began, He fore-ordained the great works we would walk in (Ephesians 2:8-10). Part of our journey, is awakening to the blessings He set along our path.

 

2. Is there one list of gifts?

I don’t think so. I believe there is an indefinite, open-ended possibility of the gifts. In fact, I discussed this at length in chapter 16.

In each of the instances in which we find the gifts mentioned, the New Testament authors provide us with practical tips on how to use them. Sometimes, they’re encouraging us; other times they’re correcting and rebuking us. There’s no instance in which they provide us with an exhaustive list, though. In other words, rather than telling us what the gifts are, they focus on explaining how we should use them. 

(Look here for more info on this.)

That said, we don’t find one consistent list. Each list differs just a bit. We find the created designs (often referred to as gifts) in Romans 12:3-8. Paul mentions a handful of the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. We read about the five-fold ministry offices in Ephesians 4:11-12. Peter references three gifts in 1 Peter 4:10-11. If God wanted us to have a closed list, my guess is that somewhere in the Scripture we would find a list labeled as such.

No such list exists, though. And that takes us back to one of the first observations we made about that gifts, that is, that we shouldn't view them as distinct entities which are separate from God Himself.  

The gifts are relational; they’re the presence of the Holy Sprit actually working through us. In the same way you can’t reduce the intimate relationship between a husband and wife to a mere list of bullet points, neither can you confine the bounds of how God works through His people to a simple list or tidy definition. 

Go back to our working definition of the gifts. Here’s what we said in talk 15.

Spiritual gifts are the presence and power of God expressing Himself through His redeemed children to empower them for the work of ministry to the church and mission to the world.

Remember, too, that this definition is in process. It’s not the "final answer.” Rather, it’s a means whereby we can see, sense, and feel what the Lord is doing.  

Understanding the purposes of the gifts (we enumerated 6 in chapter 18) and asking the questions that help us evaluate the effectiveness of our gifts (the five “F” questions at the end of talk 19) help us discern more. 

When we serve from that place— from remembering that the gifts are the presence of God, that the definition is more important than a list, that the purposes of the gifts should remain forefront, and that we should openly evaluate our service— we realize that the gifts can vary dramatically— they can be anything the Lord calls us to do and then empowers at a supernatural level. The Spirit can express Himself in business, in crafts and trades, in the arts…

Remember, the first time we see the Spirit of God fill anyone to do anything is when He fills Bezalel “with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Exodus 31:2-5 ESV). That is, the first person filled in order to minister was someone implementing the vision of the Tabernacle that was given to Moses, the great deliverer of Israel, and not Moses himself. This, to me, speaks volumes about the breadth and magnitude of how God gifts His people and the infinite number of ways He desires to express Himself through them. 

Empower the preachers. 

And ordain the film-makers and artisans. Lay hands on the craftsmen and brilliant business women. 

Embrace the writers and the painters and the people who can do incredible things with the Internet and social media.

Recognize, too, that there will be unique expressions of our culture in the future, offering new ways whereby the Spirit of God will work through His children through means yet to be seen.

This is why it’s essential that we lead people back to the place of intimacy, to that sacred rest of awakening to who the Lord says they are. Then, we call forth the ways in which we see Him express Himself through them, ultimately resulting in His glory and the building of His Kingdom.

Note, though, the power is supernatural. And, since the laying on of hands can impart the presence and power of the Spirit, Paul cautions us not to lay hands on people hastily (1 Timothy 5:22). In a real sense, we want to develop the character (read: instructional obedience that matches our calling (created design and spiritual gifts).

 

3. Can you fake the gifts? Do people “act out” or “put on” the gifts?

In short, yes. 

A few years ago I read a book by John MacArthur named Charismatic Chaos, in which the well-known Bible teacher spends 200-plus pages outlining why certain gifts passed with the apostles, as well as why all modern expressions of them were fake. Further, he cautions us that some of these faux expressions might actually be manifestations of the devil himself. 

Let me first say this: MacArthur is an incredible Bible expositor who’s led his church for decades with amazing integrity and honor. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned from him, even though I disagree with him on this point.

People, like MacArthur, who argue that some of the gifts have passed, are known as cessationists— a word derived from their argument that the more demonstrative gifts— things like healing, prophecy, and tongues- “ceased to exist” around two thousand years ago. They land on 1 Corinthians 13:10 as their linchpin verse. In that chapter, Paul says that all of the gifts will one day pass. That’s right, all of them. Even the preaching gift these proponents of the argument use to contend why the “power gifts” have already vanished. 

In that verse, Paul says, “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” 

It’s clear that the “partial" is the gifts. It’s unclear, though, as to what the perfect is.

MacArthur and others argue that “The Bible” is the perfect, that the written text is what Paul refers to. They suggest that people in their day needed expressions of miracles, signs, and wonders in order to validate the message of the apostles. Since we have the written record, now, we don’t need the power gifts.

I don’t subscribe to this.

First, Jesus clearly said His followers would actually do the power gifts (see Mark 16:15f.). He proposed His followers would do “greater things” than He did precisely because He was going to the Father and sending the Spirit to them as a better alternative (see John 14:12). He never placed an expiration on that promise. That means the disciples past, the disciples present, and the disciples future will walk in those gifts.

Second, Paul cautioned Timothy that a day would come when the church exhibits a form of godliness but deny its power, just as these cessationists do by arguing some gifts have ceased (2 Timothy 3:5). I’ve referenced this passage a few times in this book. In  the same passage, Paul encouraged Timothy that all Scripture is inspired— and that it’s all profitable for equipping us for every good work we’ve been called to do (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Though we find scores of verses about the gifts, we only find one that could possibly be bent to suggest some gifts are gone. That leads me to the next point.

Third, 1 Corinthians 13:10 clearly tells us the gifts will cease. No question. We’re just not sure when.

Here’s my argument. Paul tells us that “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (13:12). This fits incredibly well with the imagery we see in other places in the Scripture about our identity being so wrapped in Christ that looking at Him is like looking in a mirror (see chapters 2 and 3 of this book for review). 

That leads me to this: right now, it’s like a mirror. At some point, it won’t be. We’ll actually see Jesus. And that’s when the gifts disappear. 

We don’t need gifts like healing in Heaven. People are all whole. Well. All things have been made new (Revelation 21:4). 

In other words, the “perfect” to which Paul refers isn’t the written word, the Bible; the perfect is the Living Word, Jesus.

By the way, that word perfect in the Greek language is telios, that same word we’ve referenced a few times. Remember, it means “to reach full potential.” Our full potential isn’t to receive a sacred book. Our full potential is to meet Jesus face-to-face. That’s where this story goes. 

Anyway, MacArthur argues that since all of the gifts have passed away, the gifts you see in operation now are fake. Since they don’t exist, according to his argument, they must be fake.

That said, I agree with him on this specific point: the gifts can be  counterfeited. That doesn’t mean real examples don’t exist, though. By its very definition, a counterfeit is a pretend of an authentic commodity. 

In fact, think about it like this: people only counterfeit things that are not only real, they only counterfeit things which are valuable. No one counterfeits Walmart clothes; they counterfeit designer fashion trends. No one counterfeits soup can labels; they counterfeit money. Rest assured, if a counterfeit of anything exists, it’s because there’s a real version somewhere that people value and desire.

So are the gifts counterfeited? 

Of course. Sometimes it happens on purpose; others times people are simply doing the best they can, seeking to navigate their way into the deep water of incarnational ministry.

If I find counterfeit money, I’m setting that fake money aside. I’m not going to stop using all money. That’s how we should treat the gifts.

 

4. Can gifts be abused?

Some people are afraid of the gifts because they can be abused. In fact, let’s be honest, the gifts often are abused. 

But it’s not just the “power gifts” or “charismatic gifts” which are abused, is it?

You’ve probably been somewhere and heard a preacher put such a guilt trip on you than you needed a travel agent and a set of new baggage to handle what was happening. That’s an abuse of the preaching gift.

You’ve probably watched someone serve in such a way that they made others feel “put out” or like they “owe them” because of their service. That’s an abuse of the gift of helps.

In talk 11 we discussed how Solomon used his God-given gift of wisdom to defy everything the Lord specifically instructed his kings not to do. In other words, he abused the holy trust of his gifts.

The reason Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about the gifts is because— get this— they were abusing them. They created a hierarchy whereby the gift of tongues became a mark of spiritual maturity or superiority (see 1 Corinthians 14). Ironically, many charismatics do the exact same thing today. 

Gifts can be abused in several ways, though. They can be abused by misuse. They can also be abused by non-use. (Whereas Charismatic churches can lean to one extreme, Reformed churches can easily lean to the other.)

People abuse many things. Sometimes it’s intentional; sometimes it’s not.

But the fact they abuse things doesn’t mean those things are inherently evil or that they should be avoided. Rather, they should be redeemed and used in the right way, for God’s intended purposes in giving those resources to us.

Think with me…

People abuse fire. But I’ll continue using fire to cook food and to provide warmth in my house. And when I cook s’mores with my kids and camp out. 

People abuse sex, too. But I’ll receive and redeem the Lord’s precious gift of radical total intimacy.

And the gifts… I’ll pursue those in the right way, too. Even if they can be abused— and even if, in my sin, I’ve abused them.

 

5. Do the gifts only work in church?

The gifts work everywhere you go, because the gifts are the unique expression of the Holy Spirit in your life. 

Earlier in this series I told you part of my story. I’ve always been a teacher. Always. In the church and outside of the church. That gifts works everywhere and it works for anything because it’s part of who the Lord has created me to be.

When He gifts you, He gifts you. Irrevocably. 

Remember, though, the gifts are— as we’ve mentioned several times— relational. They flow from our identity and from walking in the presence. As such, the more we lean into that relationship, the more readily the gifts flow— regardless of where we find ourselves. 

(As I mentioned earlier, there may be a slight bent towards more gifts functioning outside of the church than inside of it— that is, for mission rather than ministry— because of the Father’s desire to reach everyone, everywhere.)

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