Saturday, December 31, 2011

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 9): 1 Cor 12:11

"But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills." (1 Corinthians 12:11)
Each of us are meant to be different. We are not all the same; our gifts, favor, role, and working are all different. God has chosen that His Body should be made up of individual parts, each different from the other. Unfortunately, we sometimes fret over not being like other people. We ask, "Why did God make me this way?" and "Why cannot I be like so and so?" In doing so, we fail to understand that it is God who "distributes to each one individually just as He wills."

There is an interesting story that Jesus told about a fig tree in a vineyard.
"A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'" (Luke 13:6-9)
While there is a lot that could be said about this passage, what I find most curious is, "what is a fig tree doing in a vineyard?" A vineyard is for grape vines, so what is a fig tree doing there?

Truth be told, I have often felt like a fig tree in a vineyard; not fitting in, out of place, different than the others. At times I have wondered why God made me the way He did. However, reflecting on this parable I began to realize why the fig tree was there and why the vineyard-keeper showed so much concern for it, it was because the master plated it there. It was the master that planted the fig tree in the vineyard; for what ever reason, he willed it to be there, it was his doing. In the same way, the reason we are who we are is because the Master made us that way; we are who we are because He willed it to be so. We are who and what the Master has made us to be, and we should rejoice in that.

More to come... David Robison

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 8): 1 Cor 12:8-10

"For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Paul enumerates many of the various manifestations of the Spirit given to us as a result of the gratuitous favor of God; what we typically refer to as the Gifts of the Spirit. However, there is one interesting note in this list where Paul lists "gifts of healing". He does not say "gift of healing" but "gifts", plural. He repeats this again in verses 28 and 30 of the same chapter; always in the plural. We normally think of the gifts of the Spirit as something we have received, such as the "gift of healing" being our ability to heal. However, in listing "gifts of healing" Paul is identifying the "gifts" as not something we receive but rather something we give away. In this case the "gift" is the healing, not our ability to give.

The gifts of the Spirit are not about what we receive but what we give away. They are not gifts because we have received some special endowment or ability from God, they are gifts because of the grace and blessing they bring to the people who receive them; the gifts of healing are gifts to those who are healed. If we can grasp this truth then it will revolutionize how we view ministry and our giftings from God. It is not that we have the "gift of prophesy" but the gift is the prophesy that is given to an individual, group, or church. The gift is not that we receive words of knowledge but it is the gift of grace and deliverance that such a word of knowledge imparts to those that receive it. The "gift" is what is given, not what is received.

Many years ago, while in worship, I had this image in my mind. I was standing there holding a box with a label on it that said "Grace". Inside the box was many individually wrapped gifts. One said "Prophesy", another said "Healing", another "Word of Knowledge", and so on. I saw myself walking about and handing out the gifts to those who had need. Prophesy to those who needed prophesy, healing to those in need of healing, and the word of knowledge to those who need knowledge from God. In the end, I was the same person, I was not the possessors of the gifts, merely the deliverer. I was simply delivering gifts given to me that were meant for someone else. It had nothing to do with me; it was all about what God wanted to give to someone else. The privilege was simply being allowed to participate in God's blessing and provision for another. Simply having a part in God's blessing was sufficient. It was like what John the Baptist said,

"'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent ahead of Him.' He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:28-30)
More to come... David Robison

Monday, December 26, 2011

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 7): 1 Cor 12:7

"But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Paul instructs us that the manifestations of the Spirit are given for our "common good." They are not given for our own blessing or benefit alone (although we are blessed and benefited when we allow God to manifest Himself through us) rather they are given for the benefit and blessing of all. In this, the gifts are meant to be public, shared with all for the benefit if all.

At the end of this chapter, Paul exhorts us to "earnestly desire the greater gifts." (1 Corinthians 12:31) I believe that what Paul was referring to is that we should desire the gifts that have the greater benefit to the Body. That's why Paul later says, "desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy." (1 Corinthians 14:1) We are told to especially desire that we may prophesy because of the special benefit prophesy brings to the Body.

Not all gifts are the same and, when we gather together corporately, we should be cognizant of those gifts that offer a greater benefit to the Body. "But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?" (1 Corinthians 14:6) Paul does not discount the value of speaking in tongues to the individual, but he exhorts us to rather employ those gifts which benefit all. Speaking in tongues does benefit the individual but offers no benefit to those gathered, unless it it interpreted. "Greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying." (1 Corinthians 14:5)

In the church, our focus should be on benefiting others, not ourselves. This is why Paul gives us this instruction.
"Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue." (1 Corinthians 14:16-19)
Much has been written in the past several years on manifestations, their validity, and their value to the church. Some have found such manifestations odd and foreign to their experience and understanding of religious life. Such manifestations as laughing, falling out, and acting as drunk can seem strange to us. However, these manifestations are not new. Some exist in the biblical record others in the accounts of revivals past. The issue should not be as much on the existence of these manifestations, but how we should grow in our understanding and operation of these manifestations. For example, in some circles, much is given to being "drunk in the Spirit", and there is biblical evidence for such a manifestation. "But others were mocking and saying, 'They are full of sweet wine.'" (Acts 2:13) The issue we must address is how such manifestations should be included in our gatherings.

Paul, speaking of himself, says, "For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you." (2 Corinthians 5:13) Paul does not discount even the more bizarre manifestations of the Spirit, even appearing "drunk" or "beside ourselves", however, he does encourage us, when we are gathered together, to rather prefer sobriety in the Spirit over drunkenness in the Spirit for the benefit of all; that we would not be focused on ourselves but others. When we do this, we extend the love and grace of God to others and the Body is built up.

More to come... David

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 6): 1 Cor 12:7

"But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Notice Paul does not say to a few, to the mature, or to the specially anointed; rather he says that the manifestation of the Sprite has been given to each one. Each of us has been given favor from God by which we may manifest His Spirit. Not to some of us but to all of us. "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." (Ephesians 4:7) We do no all have the same gift, but we each have a gift and grace according to that gift. The gift is different, but it is the same favor of God that empowers us and uses us to manifest the Spirit through the gifts we have received.

Peter further concurs with Paul when he says, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (1 Peter 4:10) We each have a special gift from God, a gift that is as unique as God's grace in our lives, and we are called to use that gift in serving others. As we do this, we are manifesting God's manifold grace to each other and the world around us. God is a god of infinite nature and character and it takes many people, each exercising their gift, to fully disclose and manifest the fullness of God. None of us can do it ourselves, it takes all of us to properly manifest the Spirit.

Each of us not only has the privilege of manifesting the Spirit, but it is also our responsibility as members of Christ's body.
"What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (1 Corinthians 14:26)
God's plan is that, in our gatherings, each of us would use our gifts to manifest the Spirit so that all "so that all may learn and all may be exhorted." (1 Corinthians 14:31) God never planned that, in our gatherings, most if us would be silent spectators while the professional clergy perform the work of ministry. Our gatherings were never suppose to be "services" where some serve and others are served. They were intended to be times when each of us would give what we have received from God; each of us manifesting the Spirit according to the grace and favor given to us by God.

How great has been the loss in the church that we have gone from "each one" has to "only one" or  "only a few" has? Not only has this weakened the Body in that no longer does "every joint supplies" (Ephesians 4:16) but our view of God has become limited in that we are missing out on the fullness of the manifestation of the Spirit that has been silenced in our midst.

This change has been for our loss and not our gain. Somehow we must find our way back to what the church was meant to be. Somehow we must restore the full participation of the Body to our gatherings. Somehow we must once again release the manifold manifestations of His Spirit within our midst.

More to come... David

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 5): 1 Cor 12:7

"But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7)
The manifestations that Paul is writing about are the manifestations of the Spirit, not the manifestations of us. When we exercise the manifestations of the Spirit it is important to do so in a way that brings attention to God and not to ourselves. The goal of these manifestations is for people to recognize and experience God, not to make ourselves know or to bring glory to ourselves. Even Jesus, when He moved in the supernatural, did it in a way as to not bring attention to Himself.

There is the story of the man who lay sick beside the pool of Bethesda. After speaking with the man, Jesus said, "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." (John 5:8) and immediately the man was healed. Unfortunately, this healing was done on the Sabbath which made the Scribes and Pharisees quite unhappy. They questioned the man as to who had healed him.
"Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, 'It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.' But he answered them, 'He who made me well was the one who said to me, "Pick up your pallet and walk."' They asked him, 'Who is the man who said to you, "Pick up your pallet and walk"?' But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place." (John 5:9-13)
Jesus just performed a notable miracle and then He disappeared into the crowd; no fanfare, no praise, just a simple quiet miracle.

When it comes to the manifestations of the Spirit, we must remember what John said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30) It is tempting to want to be known for our gifting and power, but those things are given by God so that He might be made known. When we minister in the Spirit, people should remember what God did for them and how He revealed Himself to them, not who it was that God chose as a conduit of these things.

While individually and corporately, few of us would intentionally seek to use the manifestations of the Spirit for our own self aggrandizement, we must continually ask ourselves as to whether or out our behavior and ecclesiastical structures serves to inadvertently deflect some of the attention due to God away from Him and onto ourselves.

More to come... David Robison

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 4): 1 Cor 12:7

"But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7)
The concept of "manifestation" is very simple, it's the making know or visible of something that had previously been hidden of invisible. The understanding of the "manifestation of the Spirit" is the same; it is the making know in the natural that Spirit which lives in the supernatural. It's making evident in the natural realm Him who lives in the hidden realm, the spiritual realm; making visible Him who is invisible.

As human beings, we are well versed in the natural realm but the spiritual realm remains hidden to us. We perceive the natural world all around us but the working of the spiritual world is invisible to our eyes. How can a world who is limited by its natural bounds find, perceive, and experience the reality of the world of the spirit which exist all around us just beyond our sight?

God desires to make Himself know to His creation, to reveal Himself to those who are limited by their physical senses. However, instead of revealing His form and likeness which is ineffable and invisible, He has chosen to reveal Himself by the effects of His presence upon the natural realm, especially upon those men and women who love and serve Him. This is what Jesus meant when he spoke of the Spirit,
"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)

Just like the wind, the Spirit is invisible, but also like the wind, its effects on the world and those who live in it is evident to those who are willing to see it.

When we manifest the Spirit, we are revealing the Spirit to the world through Its effects upon our lives. People cannot see the Spirit but they can see His effects and workings in our lives. For example, consider what Paul says regarding prophesy,
"But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you." (1 Cor 14:24-25)
When an ungifted or unbelieving person enters the church and experiences prophesy, the Spirit if manifested before their eyes, their heart is convicted, and they acknowledge God as real, alive, and active in the lives of men.

What we refer to as the Gifts of the Spirit are merely the manifestation of the Spirit through our lives. For example, when we prophesy we manifest the inaudible words of God spoken in heaven to the physical ears of men here on earth. There is an interesting story where Moses begged God not to send him to Pharaoh but rather to send someone else. God, angry at Moses, relented and sent Aaron with Moses, yet it was to be Moses who would speak to Pharaoh, not directly, but through Aaron. Moses would speak to Aaron and Aaron to Pharaoh.
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land.'" (Exodus 7:1-2)

Moses, as God to Pharaoh, spoke to Aaron and Aaron "prophesied" those words to Pharaoh. Prophesy is simply revealing openly to others the words of God spoken in secret. God speaks in secret, we declare it (or prophesy it) in the open.

Similarly, when we express the manifestation of "helps" (1 Corinthians 12:28) we are revealing in the natural the hidden truth of God. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1) When God manifests His healing through us, He is revealing His power and the perfection that is in heaven. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases." (Psalm 103:2-3) When God manifests Himself through us in a word of knowledge, He is reveling Himself as the all knowing and all seeing one. "For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He watches all his paths." (Proverbs 5:21)

The Gifts of the Spirit are not about what we have or who we are, but about how God has chosen to reveal Himself through us. They are the effects of the Wind of God blowing on and through our lives. When we yield to the Spirit and allow Him to express Himself through His gifts in our lives, then the world can see and hear and perceive that God is truly alive and active in the world today.

More to come... David Robison

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 3): 1 Cor 12:4-6

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons." (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
Paul gives reference here to three aspects of the wind of the Spirit and three aspects of God. Notice he speaks of Spirit, Lord, and God; a reference to God the Spirit, God the Son, and God the Father. It is the one God that works all His works in us, distributing them just as He pleases. Paul also mentions gifts, ministries, and effects.

Gifts: The Greek word is charisma and it means a gift of grace, or a free gift. However, this gift is different from a present; there is another Greek word for that. This gift is associated with grace and has the connotation of unmerited favor. One could translate charisma as "gratuitous favor". God's gratuitous favor is bestowed upon us in a variety of ways. For some, it may grant prophetic insight, for others the faith to declare healing, still for others the grace for administration, helps, or hospitality. Whatever is found in us to be good and worthy is the direct result of God's charisma in our lives. We have each received of God's gratuitous favor in our lives and that favor which is specific to us is what makes us unique in God's kingdom.

Ministries: The Greek word is diakonia and it means ministry, service, and administration. It is the same word from which we get our word for Deacon. The understanding of this word is found more in terms of one's function and one's authority. God has given us a specific function within the Body of Christ. We all have a place, a part, and a role to play. Paul repeats this idea when he said, "the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part." (Ephesians 4:16) We are all members of the one Body of Christ and each of us have our own function and role within that Body. Our roles may be different, but it is nonetheless necessary. When some of the roles within the Body are missing, the whole Body suffers. We are all needed; we are all necessary.

Effects: The Greek word is energema and means operation, working, or effect. This is same Greek word from which we get our word for Energy. This is also the same word Paul uses later when he speaks of the "working" of miracles. Each of us have a different effect on the Body and the world around us. For some, their effect is well know and seen by many. For others, their effect is more subtle and behind the scenes. For some, their work is a work of power. For other, their work is a work of influence. Some impact our lives for sudden change. Others serve to accomplish incremental advancements in our movement towards God. What ever the effect, it is the same God who works all in all.

Each of us are different. God's favor in our lives is different, our role in the Body is different, and our working and effecting of the Body and the world around us are different, yet it is the same God who does all these things. We were not meant to be the same, we were meant to be different. God does not want just one type of believer, rather He wants a multitude of believers who will manifest and express His manifold nature to all of creation. We were meant to be different.

More to come... David Robison

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 2): 1 Cor 12:2

"You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus is accursed'; and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:2-3)
In contrasting God with Idols, Paul reminds us that "God is not mute." In Paul's day, people looked to idols for guidance, protection, and provision, yet their idols were without hearing, without speech, and devoid of life. People looked to idols for help but they were incapable of helping. Idols were lifeless and unable to interact with the world of men. This, however, is not so with God. God is not mute, He is not distant, nor is He oblivious to the affairs of men.

"Come and see the works of God, Who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men." (Psalms 66:5)
In contrast to idols, God is near, He is involved, and He manifests Himself to men. In this verse, Paul refutes those who imagine God to be some impersonal force, or a power that created the universe and then left it alone. Paul also refutes those who see God as one who, in past times, manifested Himself, but today is silent.

God is not silent; He is not mute. God has chosen to reveal Himself to the world through those who love Him; through the blowing of His Spirit.

More to come... David Robison

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 1): 1 Cor 12:1

In these next series of articles we will be studying 1 Corinthians 12 to examine what Paul has to say regarding Spiritual Gifts and their role and place in the church.
"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware." (1 Corinthians 12:1-2)
Paul begins his discourse by introducing the topic for discussion. Verse one is often translated as, "Now concerning spiritual gifts", however the word "gift" does not appear in the original Greek text. Paul literally says, "Now concerning spirituals". The word he uses here is pneumatikos which is typically translated as "spiritual", "supernatural", or "pertaining to the spirit". Thayer further adds this definition, "pertaining to the wind or breath; windy, exposed to the wind, blowing." Paul is not talking here about spiritual gifts but about the moving, or blowing, of the Spirit. Paul's focus is not the gifts of the Spirit but rather the wind of the Spirit. Paul's words remind us of what Jesus said regarding the actions of the Spirit.
"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)
We cannot see the wind but we can see its effects. In the same way, we cannot see the Spirit but we can see His effects. The Spirit manifests itself through its blowing, and the result is what we typically refer to as spiritual gifts: prophesy, tongues, healings, and the like. I think this verse is best translated by Darby as, "But concerning spiritual manifestations"; not gifts but manifestations.

This is an important distinction as we attempt to understand the words of Paul. Paul words are not focusing on us but on the Spirit. This passage is not about us and what we may have received from the Spirit, but is about the Spirit and how He moves and reveals Himself among us. It is not our gifts that is of concern here but the Spirit's manifestations.

Paul further tells us that he does not want us to be unaware, or ignorant, of the Spirit's manifestations. There are a handful of things that Paul said he wants us not to be ignorant of:
  • Romans 1:13 His intentions towards the church
  • Romans 11:25 God's love for Israel
  • 1 Corinthians 10:1 How, though all Israel experienced the same things, God was not pleased with many of them
  • 2 Corinthians 1:8 The suffering that came upon Paul in Asia as he sought to further the Gospel
  • 2 Corinthians 2:11 Satan's devices
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13 The hope and future of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord
To this list, Paul adds the working, moving, and blowing of the Spirit. Understanding the manifestation of the Spirit was important to Paul and it should be important to us. The manifestation of the Spirit is something we should not be ignorant of; either by lack of knowledge or lack of experience. It is not enough to gain insight to the Spirit's manifestation but we must also become familiar with His manifestation though experience. Paul congratulates the Corinthian church, not just for their knowledge of spiritual things, but also for their experience in spiritual things,
"I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift." (1 Corinthians 1:4-7)
To fully understand the manifestations of the Spirit we will require more than mere knowledge and information, we will also require first hand experience of His wind.

More to come... David Robison