Now that we have solid understanding of what the gifts are (and even what they’re not), let’s talk about why we have them. In this chapter I’ll outline six reasons I believe Jesus showers us with the “spirituals.”
The movie Shadowlands recounts some of the difficulties C.S. Lewis experienced as his wife was dying. As he leaves the hospital room, someone asks him what he’s going to do in light of the situation he’s facing.
“Pray,” he says. “I’m going to pray.”
“Do you think it will change God’s mind if you do?” the friend asks.
Remember, C.S. Lewis had been an atheist himself, someone who didn’t believe in God’s existence. Furthermore, he’d been sure that if God did exist, He certainly wouldn’t change His mind just because people prayed.
I know— the idea sounds ludicrous to you and me, doesn’t it?
Remember where he was on his faith journey, though.
“No,” Lewis replied. “The primary outcome of prayer is that it changes me.”
“Do you even feel like praying right now?”
“No. I don’t. But sometimes when I put myself into the posture, something supernatural happens.”
I love how Lewis says that. Sometimes, actually doing the thing we’ve been commanded to do makes something happen.
Throughout the Scripture we see this dynamic over and over: when God reveals something to us, it’s His invitation for us to experience more of Him. And, when He commands us to do something, He empowers the outcome, the result.
Even if your faith-quotient is low, as Lewis’ was while his wife lay on her death-bed, the action sometimes creates sacred space where something supernatural occurs. The miracles “kick in.” The prayer “works.”
Here’s why: Jesus doesn’t reveal Himself just to impart information or to incite study. Rather, He invites us to a better way of life. He invites us to encounter Him and to experience the blessings of His Kingdom.
If you look through the New Testament, you’ll see that same pattern over and over. When Jesus gives a direction (read: a revelation of what to do next), the people who take action actually experience a miracle. Even when the odds are stacked against them.
Here are a few examples:
Jesus’ direction was always an invitation to take immediate action and experience a miracle. You can look through the entire Bible and you’ll see this same pattern at work. In fact, once you see it you won’t be able to “un-see” it.
As I reflected on this one day I thought about it like this: “God’s commandments to do something are His enablements to actually do it.”
Or, in short hand, “Commandment = enablement.”
I pondered that equation for a bit. I figured if it was true one way, it’s true the other way. In mathematics, an equals sign is good both ways. If a commandment = an enablement then an enablement = a commandment.
That is, if God empowers us to do something, He’s graciously authorizing— tenderly commanding— us to take the leap of faith and do it. Furthermore, even if we don’t feel like it, many times the miracle will come as we step forward and take that action.
If the Spirit has gifted you to write, then write…
If the Spirit has gifted you to serve, then serve…
If the Spirit has gifted you to teach or to prophesy or to build or to plant or to dance or to sing or to do any other thing, then that is your gentle commandment— your providential permission— to do your thing. And, it is your promise that supernatural results will follow.
You see, the spiritual gifts empower believers like us to live beyond our normal capacity, to do the impossible. That’s one of the six purposes.
Ephesians 4 tells us that Jesus gave the five-fold ministry leaders to His church in order to equip them for the work of ministry, “for building up the body of Christ” (4:12).
Some translations say, “for the edification of the body…”
The word edify means “to build.” That is, something is being constructed that exceeds the capacity of all the individual parts.
Notice that the first use of the gifts isn’t evangelism; it’s edification. That is, ministry begins “in house.”
Before my final year of seminary I spent the summer traveling across the State of Alabama and teaching this material with my Dad. We visited every conceivable version of church you can possibly imagine. I saw rural churches that had more attenders on Sunday than the entire population of the city in which they were located. I saw churches located in busy intersections that hardly anyone noticed. I saw traditional churches that were thriving. I saw contemporary churches that weren’t. I saw tiny churches doing ten times the amount of mission work you’d dream possible. I saw stalled-out churches that seemed to have every resource at their disposal. I saw blossoming churches that seemed to grow with virtually no resources at all. I saw it all. Every church was different.
Here’s one thing the thriving ones had in common, though. In fact, some of the non-thriving ones had this in common, as well. They all wanted to grow. In fact, in some of the churches, the pastors were obsessed with growth.
One day, Dad told a group of deacons in one of the healthy churches something enlightening about this entire “church growth” thing.
“There are several types of growth,” he said. “There are at least four.”
He continued, “The first kind of growth is spiritual growth. People in the church connect with their Heavenly Father and gain an acute awareness of His love. They grow in the grace and knowledge of the love of Jesus. They experience the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. They spiritually awaken.”
Two things struck me about this. The first was that church growth is, first of all, personal growth. Churches aren’t mere institutions; they’re supernatural compositions of people. For a church to grow, the people in the church must first grow.
Second, spiritual growth is largely an “inside job.” It’s not an action, it’s an awakening. It occurs when we see who we really are, when the veil is removed and we connect with who God truly is and who He says we are. In other words, it happens when we’re pulled into a living reality of the truths we discussed in part 1 of this book.
Dad continued, “The second kind of growth is ministry growth.”
He explained the difference between ministry and mission, just like we discussed earlier in the book. “The lines sometimes blur,” he said, “but when I use the word ministry I’m referring to serving people inside the church. When I use the word mission I’m talking about reaching to people outside the church.”
You might recall the concepts from talk 15 where we discussed this graphic...
Both are important, and due to our created design and unique bent, you (rightfully) have people in every church who have a tendency to lean towards one or the other. The place to begin, however, is ministry not mission.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. Church leaders notoriously go straight to the passage at the end of Matthew’s Gospel known as the Great Commission when asked what the church should be doing. There, Jesus tells us (Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV),
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Jesus couldn’t be any more clear, could He?
He’s actually crystal clear. He expects that His church will move throughout the world, taking His message with them as they go.
Again, ministry-mission isn’t an either-or decision. We do both. The second only works after the first is in place, though.
Dad continued, “A church of healthy ministry creates a home-base from which people who are sent into the world can thrive. They can continue serving from an overflow of what they’re constantly receiving, too. That’s why mission growth is the third type of growth— not the second.”
The deacons in that meeting asked a few questions. It was obvious they were trying to understand each of these types of growth.
“I’ve mentioned them as separate areas,” Dad answered. “but they’re really connected. They flow together when things are healthy.”
He explained that people who are spiritually healthy naturally begin serving each other; that is, ministry happens as an automatic overflow of encountering the Father’s heart and our identity in Christ in a fresh way. And people who experience the Kingdom atmosphere of the family of God naturally reach to others and invite them in; that is, mission occurs as an overflow, too.
“When you find a group of people who connect with the Father deeply (spiritual growth), and love each other graciously (ministry), then seek to invite others to join them (mission), numerical growth occurs almost automatically…”
Notice the four kinds of growth Dad mentioned:
In order to empower His church to accomplish this, Jesus provided two things:
He’s given us everything we need.
In addition, Jesus has a specific measure He’s looking for. He doesn’t just want His church to do “good things.” Nor does He simply want His church to grow. Rather, according to Paul, Jesus envisions a church that will grow “into mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:13 ESV). That is, Jesus wants a church that looks just like Him. As we grow into that expression of Christ, we naturally do the things He did. This is perhaps one of the reasons Paul said to actively pursue the gifts which build the body (1 Corinthians 14:12).
There’s one more verse I want to show you about this concept. In Ephesians 4:15 (ESV) Paul tells us,
…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
Though “telling each other the truth” certainly applies to how we should live, the Greek word in this verse is more akin to a total lifestyle. “Speaking the truth” is better translated as “truthing.” That is, truth is something we do. In the same way in which Jesus embodied truth, so also does His church— particularly as we edify each other and more mirror His likeness.
As we embody truth, the Body of Christ is edified and we each encounter His presence (through each other!) in a fuller way. That’s the second purpose of the gifts.
A few years ago I wrote a book about healing— the kind of healing that includes both natural health and supernatural breakthrough. As I studied the topic, it became obvious that I needed to investigate the topic of laying on of hands.
I learned that the Bible clearly tells us that healing can be imparted through the laying on of hands.
First, we see laying on of hands in the Jesus’ own ministry. During His “first burst” of miracles, for instance, He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a deadly fever.
Then the crowds came. Notice what happened (Luke 4:38-40 AMP, emphasis added):
Then He arose and left the synagogue and went into Simon’s (Peter’s) house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering in the grip of a burning fever, and they pleaded with Him for her. And standing over her, He rebuked the fever, and it left her; and immediately she got up and began waiting on them.
Now at the setting of the sun [indicating the end of the Sabbath], all those who had any [who were] sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands upon every one of them and cured them.
Second, Jesus said laying on of hands to heal would characterize His followers’ ministry. He declared that His disciples— past, present, and future— would lay hands on the sick and minister healing (Mark 16:18 AMP):
They will lay their hands on the sick, and they will get well.
Mark tells us the disciples actually did what Jesus said they would do. Notice (16:19-20 AMP):
So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and He sat down at the right hand of God.
And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord kept working with them and confirming the message by the attesting signs and miracles that closely accompanied [it]. Amen (so be it).
Notably, Mark mentions Jesus’ ascension. Recall, it’s from His throne that He pours the Holy Spirit upon us (Acts 2:33).
Further, Mark acknowledges that although the disciples did the work of ministry, Jesus did it through them. This is much like Paul’s admission that “I worked, but not just me… the Lord worked through me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
As we discussed earlier, you have the very life of Christ when you become a Christian. As such, you embody His presence. He lives through you. You impart from Him through you to others.
For instance, Ananias lays hands on Paul to bring healing to his blindness (Acts 9:17). And, he imparts the Holy Spirit at the same time.
This shows us that Jesus clearly uses His people to do the ministry He does. Since the Lord is not physically present as He was when walking this earth (John 1:14), He uses His body— His church— to connect with people relationally. In order to minister to someone, Jesus works through someone.
We discussed another use of the laying on of hands in part 2 of this book, when we noted that the Holy Spirit was often imparted to others through the laying on of hands. Though not present in every instance of the imparting of the Holy Spirit, laying on of hands was such an obvious marker that during Phillip’s revival in Samaria a local magician, after seeing mass healing, miracles, and demonic strongholds broken, wanted to purchase the ability to lay hands on people and impart the Holy Spirit to them like he saw the apostles do (see Acts 8:18-19).
In addition to imparting healing and the gift of the Holy Spirit, there are at least two other reasons I see the laying on of hands in Scripture. Let me describe them and then I’ll make my point.
Reason #1: Impart leadership and boldness through the laying on of hands. The Bible shows us that leaders can be set aside through the laying on of hands.
Often, Christians take this to be a symbolic act only. In the Baptist churches I attended growing up, we ordained our deacons through the laying on of hands. Men who had already been ordained as deacons were permitted to come pray for the man being set aside as new deacon.
If asked what we were doing, everyone would say that we were speaking a blessing over that man— or that we were encouraging him. This is, in fact, how the event was explained from the stage. This is somewhat different than what we see in the Bible, when leaders were actually given something through the act of laying on of hands.
By the way, you’ll notice that these categories are somewhat arbitrary and overlap. We’ll see in a moment that Paul actually imparted spiritual gifts to Timothy through the laying on of hands— most likely while he was being set aside for leadership. These different uses can be working together, then (as you may even see in the instance of Paul being healed and receiving the Holy Spirit through Ananias’ laying on of hands in Acts 9:17).
There are two examples here I want to show you of people being set aside for leadership through the laying on of hands. In both instances their leadership took a quantum lead forward. One is an Old Testament example (Joshua); the other comes from the New Testament (Stephen and Phillip).
Example #1: Joshua was anointed and empowered because Moses had laid hands on him. God told Moses to command, encourage, and strengthen Joshua, since he would lead the people into the Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 3:27-28 AMP, emphasis added).
Get up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and behold it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over before this people and he shall cause them to possess the land which you shall see.
We read that Moses obeyed and laid hands on Joshua: “And he laid his hands upon him and commissioned him, as the Lord commanded through Moses” (Numbers 27:23 AMP). Later, we read that “Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid hands on him...” (Deuteronomy 34:9, emphasis added). Notice the cause-effect relationship here. Moses did something and Joshua received something.
Example #2: the apostles laid hands on the “seven” in Acts 6:6, then released them into ministry. Immediately thereafter we read the stories of two of the seven, Stephen and Phillip. The seven were originally chosen to assist the apostles with the distribution of food to the widows (see 6:1). As the church was grew, the apostles’ time was being eaten away from the ministry of the Word and prayer (6:4). Their qualification for next-level leadership was that they were all “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” and were “of attested character and repute” (6:3 AMP). The laying on of hands equipped them with the empowerment to match their character.
Here’s the result.
Stephen became the first Christian martyr, and preached the longest recorded sermon in the New Testament (see Acts 6:8-8:1). We read that Stephen was “full of grace (divine blessing and favor) and power (strength and ability) worked great wonders and signs (miracles) among the people” (6:8 AMP). The laying on of hands catapulted Stephen to the following:
Whereas Stephen remained in Jerusalem, Phillip scattered with the persecution and led a revival in Samaria (8:4f.). I’ve referenced his story a few times in this book. His revival was the first instance of mass conversion outside of the Jerusalem-region. Phillip “went about [through the land from place to place] preaching the glad tidings, the Word [the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God]” (8:4 AMP). The laying on of hands launched Phillip to the following:
The final point about Phillip interests me the most. You see, Phillip didn’t just have a one-time encounter in which the Lord used him. The supernatural became his normal way of living. After he left Samaria, Phillip preached to the Ethiopian Eunuch, the Treasurer of that nation (8:28f.). He later 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). That is, he became one of the five-fold leaders, an equipper.
This is where Luke, the author of Acts, first met Phillip. Luke informs us that Phillip had four daughters who were prophetesses (see Acts 21:9). They, too, seem to be equippers, five-fold ministers designated to encourage, equip, and empower other members of the body to discover and deploy their gifts.
Now, let’s close the loop by answering this question: What instigated all of this?
Yes, several leaders laid hands on these men and empowered them to do ministry.
This leads us to our second observation.
Reason #2: Impart spiritual gifts through the laying on of hands. Paul apparently imparted spiritual gifts to Timothy via the laying on of hands. In his second letter to his son in the faith, Paul admonished him to not walk in fear and intimidation, but to “stir up the gift which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6, NKJV, italics mine).
Notice that Paul says the vehicle for placing the gift in Timothy was the laying on of hands. The Amplified Bible infers this was done at his ordination, that is, the time in which they publicly set him aside for ministry: “...that is in you by means of the laying on of my hands [with those of the elders at your ordination]” (2 Timothy 1:6 AMP).
Another passage in 1 Timothy clarifies that prophecy was also involved in impartation: “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership” (1 Timothy 4:14, NKJV, emphasis added).
It is unclear as to whether these two verses refer to the same impartation or not. We know Paul would have been accepted with the elders of the church at Ephesus, where Timothy led. Paul was the one who took the twelve disciples in Ephesus into an encounter with the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:6). And, Luke indicates Paul maintained a deep relationship with the leaders of the church, no doubt fueled by their early beginning together (see his farewell words to the elders of the church in Acts 20:17-38).
Why do I share all of this information with you here?
Well, spiritual gifts— the manifestations, expressions, appointments, and divine energies— are the means whereby the Lord works through us. Throughout this book we’ve discussed they are a means whereby we partner with the Lord for the achievement of His purposes in us and in this world.
In addition, imparting spiritual gifts is another means whereby we partner together with Him. He works through us, supplying the empowering grace that is needed as we allow Him to work through us.
In each of these cases, this holds true: most of what Jesus does He chooses to do through people.
This leads us to the fourth purpose of the gifts, that is, spiritual gifts establish believers in their faith.
To establish means “to set up on a permanent basis.” Due to the relational nature of the gifts— the gifts are the expression of the Holy Spirit in us, they are used to serve other people, and they are often imparted or confirmed by others in the body— the gifts fulfill one of our deepest needs: belonging.
Last year I read and re-read Paul’s letter to Rome. I noticed something totally related to this relational idea.
Now, before I tell you what I saw, let me remind you of something. Namely, Romans is a theologically dense book. If you ask most pastors what the book contains, they’ll tell you it’s a systematic summary of our past sin, our present salvation, our ongoing sanctification, and our ultimate glorification.
The book drives deep and reminds of truths like:
I know. That’s an incredible list. It’s so rich that, in all honesty, it seems too good to be true until I open the Bible and see it again that, yes, the Bible really says all of that.
Now to the relational thing I saw…
Do you remember what we discussed a earlier about how the laying on of hands is sometimes used to impart gifts to people?
Notice this— from Romans 1:11. Paul writes of his desire to visit the church at Rome, so that he may “impart some spiritual gift to them.”
Then, he adds, “that is, so that you and I may be mutually encouraged.” It seems that he feels they would impart something to him, too (Romans 1:11).
Frankly, this blows my mind. Paul infers that some truths certainly can be shared via pen and parchment. Or via text and screen. Or via telephone.
But there are some things that can only be done face-to-face. The grandest treasures of the Kingdom, the most robust means the Lord uses to establish our faith (read: to set it up on a more permanent basis) only happen in person.
Notice the reciprocal nature of what Paul suggests:
The Scripture is clear that believers impart something tangible to one another— something that may not be physical yet is more real than the actual things we can see and touch. Every time this happens we become more established— more permanent— in our faith.
Later in the New Testament, Paul speaks of visiting the Church at Thessalonica to “complete what is lacking” in their faith. He tells them, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV).
Presumably, if Paul could have “supplied what was lacking” via pen and parchment, he would have done so. Some things can only be bestowed face-to-face, though.
This ability to impart is why Paul urges Timothy not to lay hands on people too quickly: “Do not be in a hurry in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22 AMP).
When we lay hands on someone, something happens. A supernatural empowerment can be given to them. They become more established, more resolved in their faith position.
If they have the character to contain it, it works wonderfully. If not, the results can be disastrous. Remember, when the apostles set aside the first seven deacons, they chose men who were of good reputation (6:3). Their character could carry the anointing placed on them. A lesser character may not be able to do so.
Now, here’s an issue related to impartation (giving away something) through the laying on of hands: You can only give away what you have. If you don’t possess it, you can’t give it away. This is the pattern we see throughout the New Testament.
Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 10:8, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (NIV). They can give away these things because He Himself has given them to them just a few verses earlier: “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (10:1 NIV).
We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We forgive because we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13). The Old Covenant taught you would be forgiven— but only if you forgave... it was conditional. You had to give in order to get. Now, we can give away love and forgiveness because we already possess it.
One time I heard Pastor Bill Johnson say that a young pastor asked him for “a double portion” of his teaching gift.
“I want twice what you have!” the young man declared.
Johnson laughed, “I do, too!” Then— “But I don’t have double to give you.”
Of course, he prayed and blessed the young leader, no doubt establishing him in his faith as Paul describes.
Again, it is the Lord that does all of this, but He chooses to work through people and through the relationships that we possess. Those relationships may be deep and long-lasting. Or, they may be simply for the ministry of the moment. Since Jesus is not physically present in His own human body, He now chooses to use the hands and feet of His Body, His church. We are that body— and He desires to express Himself through us. However it occurs, we all become more established in our faith.
It’s essential that we see this, like Paul, as a two-way flow. We neither simply receive ministry— nor do we simply give it. We do both.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14 NKJV, emphasis added).
Maturity comes, too, through the very act, the experience, of God using us (Hebrews 5:14). That is, we move from spiritual milk to spiritual meat as we “do the stuff.”
Whereas in the Western world we equate the accumulation of Biblical information with spiritual growth, people in Jesus’ day equated the ability to “live the message” with spiritual growth. In other words, you simply have to do it... you grow in the very act of “exercising” the spiritual senses.
Using the gift establishes us. It solidifies our faith, rendering it more permanent and stable. That’s the fourth purpose of the gifts.
A few paragraphs ago I mentioned church growth. Let me show you something that happened in the book of Acts after the apostles empowered others to minister. I believe this occurs when church leaders release ministry to the people, giving them the opportunity to each live their calling.
Go back to the beginning of that book. We learn there were 120 people in the Upper Room, praying before Pentecost. Remember, Jewish believers often “rang the holiday in” by praying and studying Scripture through the night, highlighting the passages from Exodus about the giving of the Law, which is probably what the disciples were doing.
Notice the growth pattern at Pentecost and following.
We read that people even brought sick friends and family members into the streets where they believed Peter would be passing— so that his shadow might fall upon them and they might be healed (see Acts 5:15). This type of supernatural presence and power, no doubt, helped accelerate the rapid growth— by fast addition— which we see in the early church.
Here’s where it gets interesting…
One chapter later the apostles set the first deacons into office— initially to handle for food distribution for widows. This was an extremely practical need that, today, we would probably overlook. And, there are Greek names in the mix, meaning they broadened beyond Jewish circles in terms of their leadership (Pentecost achieved this on a “membership” level).
After this, the church no longer grows by addition. Rather, Luke tells us clearly that the number of disciples begins multiplying, particularly as more believers are empowered to do the work of ministry (see Acts 6:7).
Both the “ministry of the Word and prayer” and feeding the people in need were so important that they made sure they delegated leaders for both. Empowering the others achieved a growth result that Peter’s Pentecost sermon and people being healed by his shadow just didn’t achieve.
The spiritual gifts empower people to minister unencumbered. That leads to exponential growth.
Ultimately, the gifts are about Jesus. They are the means He uses to express Himself to the world. We are the connectors, the conduits He uses.
In one of the verses which mentions several of the gifts, Peter reminds us (1 Peter 4:11)—
If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen
Ready to take a shot at it?
In the next talk we’ll discuss how to discover the unique ways Jesus exalts Himself through you.
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