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First Thoughts

Caring for One Another With Spiritual Gifts

Sadly, much of the discussion regarding the topic of spiritual gifts among Christians is fraught with tension and division. Fights break out over which gifts, if any, have ceased or continue today. This division is especially evident with respect to the so-called miraculous spiritual gifts, such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing. In response, Christians can develop pride, jealousy, or even spiritual depression when comparing gifts or being confused about the matter.

All of this is so very counter to the emphasis in the New Testament around the subject of spiritual gifts. Correctly understanding spiritual gifts according to the Bible will actually lead to caring for one another. As a church, we want to reclaim love and learn how to be people of compassion in a world full of hate. In this post, I want to share three ways that spiritual gifts help us to care for one another.

Spiritual Gifts Demonstrate our Unity as the Body of Christ

Rather than causing division, spiritual gifts are actually meant to demonstrate our unity as Christians in the church. The Apostle Paul appeals to this unity in the context of spiritual gifts by emphasizing that every Christian has the Holy Spirit. In fact, we could not make a genuine profession of faith without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). All Christians have the Holy Spirit, so when the Spirit gives his various gifts to various people in the body of Christ, they all still have the same source, namely the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). So, the same Spirit saves and empowers every believer, and he does so for the same purpose, what Paul refers to as “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). There are many members of the body, but it is still one body (1 Corinthians 12:12).

With reference to spiritual gifts, the body of Christ is similar to a sports team. Think of football, not everyone on a team plays the same position or has the same abilities. Some play offense and score points, and some play defense and stop the scoring. Some of the offensive players are good at catching, others at running, and still others even at blocking or kicking. They don’t all have the same role on the team, but the whole team has the same goal, namely, to win games.

In our local church, on any given Sunday, there are members of the body of Christ teaching and singing, but also greeting, working media, changing diapers, coaching teens, and managing security, among many other tasks. We are all doing lots of different jobs, each of which is being performed by someone with the corresponding giftedness, but we are all serving for the same goal. In our church, we phrase our focus for the Great Commission as reaching all of Jacksonville with all of Jesus for all of life. To accomplish this one unified goal, we need a unified group of diversly gifted servants.

Spiritual Gifts Develop Humility in the Body of Christ

As opposed to promoting pride, spiritual gifts should actually develop humility in the body of Christ. We can derive this conclusion from several angles. First is simply the clear affirmation that we didn’t do anything to earn our giftedness. After all, it’s called a gift, and we are stewards of that gift (1 Peter 4:10). The Holy Spirit, as the third person of the trinity, sovereignly chose according to his will which gifts we should have and which ones we should not have (1 Corinthians 12:11, 18).

Secondly, we need to recognize that as members of the body of Christ, we are not the whole body but individual parts. Appealing to the body metaphor, Paul points out that the foot is not the hand, and the ear is not the eye, and the head is not the hand. Without all the various parts of the body, with their individual contributions and giftedness, the body would not be able to function properly. Therefore, “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21).

Thirdly, Paul exhorts the church in Rome to have “sober judgment” with regard to their spiritual giftedness and “not think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). God has assigned to each one a specific gift and not given other gifts. So, focus on your gift. If your gift is giving, then do it with generosity; if your gift is leading, then do it with zeal; if your gift is acts of mercy, then do it with cheerfulness (Romans 12:8). Focus on and lean into your gift, and don’t worry about the fact that you don’t have other gifts.

No one person has every spiritual gift, so we shouldn’t pretend we are omnicompetent and try to do everything. Let others who are more gifted in certain areas do those areas of service. Have sober judgment that if you aren’t good at teaching or singing, then be humble enough to recognize that and not try to teach or sing anyway. But figure out what you are good at, whether that’s administrating Sunday School, serving widows with handyman tasks, caring for babies, running media, greeting visitors, providing security, or any number of serving roles, and focus on and lean into those opportunities. Correctly focusing on your spiritual gift will develop humility in the body of Christ.

Without Love, Spiritual Gifts Destroy the Body of Christ

In the midst of three chapters on the subject of spiritual gifts in his first letter to the church of Corinth, Paul takes a whole chapter to discuss the subject of love (1 Corinthians 13). Even if someone had all the amazing miraculous gifts, but they didn’t have love, those gifts would be useless (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Spiritual gifts are meant to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16), but without love, they can lead to tearing down the church. Spiritual gifts will one day end when they are no longer needed, but love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:8). Even faith will one day turn to sight, and hope will be fulfilled when Jesus returns, but love will abide, that’s why it’s the great virtue (1 Corinthians 13:13).

If we want to honor the Lord and serve the body, we must use our spiritual gifts with the love that Christ commands and that he won for us on the cross. The test of discipleship is not our giftedness but our love for each other (John 13:34-35). Spiritual gifts are given so that we can love God more by loving his people more. Correctly understanding and applying spiritual gifts will lead us to care for another with these gifts. And if we do that, then we will be reclaiming love and showing ourselves to be people of compassion in a world full of hate.

Listen to Pastor Richard’s sermon on Caring for One Another with Spiritual Gifts from the Sunday night series entitled Reclaiming Love: People of Compassion in a World Full of Hate.

Richard Lucas (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Pastor of Teaching and He is the co-editor of Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture.

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