(These questions stem from our July 27, 2014 sermon. –geno)
Q1: Do we get one “set” of gifts right away and that’s the same set we always will have? Is this why you said to focus on gifts we have and not gifts we’d like to have?
A1: I do not believe the Bible answers your first question directly. My hunch is that the gifts we receive at conversion when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives are the gifts which will be operative throughout our lives. I think many of us may not know what those gifts are and when we discover a spiritual gift later in life it may be as though a new one was imparted to us. On the other hand, there is nothing in the New Testament that mitigates against receiving new and different gifts later in life.
In answer to your second question, I said to focus on gifts you have and not gifts we’d like to receive because Paul teaches that God is sovereign in distribution of the gifts. This means HE chooses and not we ourselves. However, I think it is fine to petition God for a particular gift. Just realize HE chooses and not you.
Q2: In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul seems to suggest that we should all pursue (& expect?) the gifts of prophecy, tongues and interpretation so as to better serve/love God and one another. How does this relate to your saying that we should just focus upon what we have (already) been given?
A2: As I read Paul in 1 Corinthians 14, I understand him to be saying that we should value prophecy over tongues as a gift because a prophetic word in language the hearers can understand is more helpful than a word given in a tongue the hearers cannot understand (see 1 Cor. 14:6). Also the text says ‘Pursue love’ prior to ‘earnestly desire the spiritual gifts’ (1 Cor. 14:1). This was Paul’s way of starting his teaching on using the gifts in an orderly (loving) fashion. He winds up this section with, “earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” (14:39)
Again, I think this is a plea for loving people around us by exercising spiritual gifts that edify, that can be understood. This is what love does. I do not think this means everyone should expect to prophesy or speak in tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 seems to me to mitigate against such an expectation (e.g. ‘Do all speak with tongues?’ with the expected answer, ‘No.’)
Q3: When do you believe you receive the Holy Spirit? Is it at the time you are saved, or later like in the Book of Acts in the upper room?
A3: I believe each person that calls on the name of Jesus for salvation can only do that in (or by) the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). So I believe we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives in the process of conversion. However, I also believe that we can receive a great measure of (or a greater openness to, sensitivity to) the Holy Spirit at subsequent times in our lives. Sometimes we need to repent from seasons of sin and not just particular sins and get right with God. These ‘times of refreshing’ to which Peter referred can include a fresh infilling of the Spirit of God. (See Acts 3:19-20)
Q4: 1 Cor. 12:31 “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.” 14:1 “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” Which gifts are greater? What about the laying on of hands? If the gifts have no rank, how are some referred to as greater? 1 Cor. 12:31, 14:1 Is the issue more honor and belonging than rank?
A4: My point in saying there is no rank in the spiritual gifts was to teach that all are equally valid and equally valuable because they come from God and He is the one who distributes them according to His purposes. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts. Some are ‘higher’ or ‘better’ in the sense that they may have more obvious purpose. That’s how I understand the apostle in these texts.
He just spent two paragraphs teaching that there should be no division among variously-gifted members, many of whom have gifts that seem to be less ‘honorable,’ but which are actually more important, more valuable. We are taught to provide ‘the same care’ for all regardless of gift (12:25). See also my words above in A2.
Q5: Do you need to identify your gifts to be operating in them?
A5: No. You have to identify your spiritual gifts in order to operate in them skillfully.
Q6: Some churches are called to serve the poor while other churches struggle with that, and other churches have the gift of evangelism while others are trying to build on that. Is this one of the reasons that it is so important to partner with and respect other churches and sects of the body of the Christ in our city and beyond? Even if it’s outside your comfort zone?
Q7: What if your spiritual gift is illegal? Such as preaching in a country where you would be thrown in jail.
A7: I don’t think our discussion of spiritual gifts has anything to do with this question. Instead, I would urge a person with the gift of preaching who lives in a country where this is illegal to consider the more important point of whether and/or how God wishes for this person to preach the gospel. Multitudes of faithful witnesses have given their lives because they bore witness to Christ in a hostile setting. The question is not so much whether one’s gift is illegal in a given setting, but discovering what God’s will might be in that particular setting.
Q8: Wouldn’t the behavior of flocks also be “a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”?
A8: Certainly. But without understanding more about the agenda behind this question I cannot comment further.
Q9: Can spiritual gifts come from one(s) who know God, yet have yet to know Christ (aka…Muslims) “Spiritual gifts, everyone has them, no exception.”
A9: Let me begin by saying that my statement quoted at the end was meant to apply only to Christ-followers. I was careful to make that clear in my sermon. The only persons for whom that statement is true are those who name the name of Jesus as Lord.
Do I believe that those who do not claim Christ can operate in a spiritual gift? Yes. But I do not think this is the norm, nor do I believe that such a gift in operation remains with the non-believer. Please remember that there are other spiritual sources outside of the Holy Spirit in our world. If a Muslim seems to operate in a spiritual gift from God then he/she has come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah OR he/she is being empowered by a spirit NOT from God. (See Acts 16:16-18)
Q10: Spiritual gifts exalt Jesus: when do we know? Before or after we walk in it for a while? Make mistakes?
A10: I do not think it is all that hard to discern whether or not a spirit is exalting Jesus. Is the name or character of Jesus praised? Or is something else being lifted up? Sometimes a non-holy spirit will simply replace Jesus with something or someone else and exalt that characteristic or person. Listen carefully to what is being said.
The result, or fruit, of the exercise of a spiritual gift should result in the glorification of Jesus Christ and no one else. We all make mistakes. But one who loves Jesus will not make this one often.
Q11: I was just looking at I Cor. 12 again just now and wondering how verse 28 fits with your sermon when there seems to be a very clear ranking of spiritual gifts, which is reiterated in v. 31 (“eagerly desire the greater gifts”). Why should we eagerly desire the greater ones if God in His Sovereignty has already doled them out? Perhaps He gives us more gifts as we yearn and seek after them?
A11: I think your last line has merit. But the New Testament does not address that directly. See A4 and A2 above.