Not every one who is gifted is godly. It is possible that someone can possess exceptional gifts in teaching, evangelism, service, or some other form of ministry and yet not demonstrate any of the fruit of the Spirit. Giftedness is not the same as fruitfulness and yet the terms are so often confused as synonymous. It is dangerous for us to confuse gifts and fruits.
We are often quick to assume that some level of earthly success is equivalent to godly approval. Church sizes, ministry followings, book publications, and more become barometers for determining the godliness of ministers and ministries. The problem here is that equate ministry success with fruitfulness and yet the Scriptures tell us clearly that the two are very different. Several examples can help us to see the difference.
Paul warns us particularly that there will come seasons and times when ministries will “succeed” precisely because they avoid the truth. He writes to Timothy in order to encourage him to be faithful in preaching the Word, but he warns him such preaching will not always be appreciated. He says:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions (2 Tim. 4:3)
He even tells Timothy that there will be people who have “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). This is the sort of thing we run into when we seek to evaluate people based solely on giftedness. There are those who have the “appearance of godliness” because of their skill, but whose lives deny the power of God.
Paul points us to another example in his writings to the Corinthians. The Corinthian church, we are told, is a congregation full of spiritual giftedness. They lack none of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 1:7). Yet, they are a church full of rebelliousness, sin, and debauchery. They have created factions and divisions among themselves (chapter 3). They have a man among them who is sleeping with his step-mothers, and Paul has to write to confront their tolerance of his sin. (chapter 5). Others are sleeping with prostitutes (chapter 6). They file lawsuits against one another (chapter 6). They’ve even got people who are getting drunk at The Lord’s Table (11:21). They are a church that is gifted and yet full of ungodliness, pointed and serious ungodliness.
The distinction is important. It is possible to be gifted and yet not be godly. We must look for more than giftedness, we must seek to identify fruit in the life of a person. Galatians 5 identifies the fruit of the Spirit that we are looking for, it says:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; (Gal. 5:22-23)
It is not enough simply to identify who is “successful,” or who has compelling gifts and ministries. What matters is character. Look beyond ministry to a person’s life. Look at their family. Look at their integrity. Does a person reflect the character of God, the fruit of the Spirit? Jesus tells us that we will no a person by their fruit (Matt. 7:16), and that ministry itself is not a marker of godliness (Matt. 7:22-23). Giftedness is not the benchmark, we want to see something more.
Why write about all of this? Why does this matter? This is not a post written with any one person in mind. As a church we must be careful about our evaluation of ministries and individuals. Godliness is not determined by a successful ministry, a church full of thousands, or numerous published books. We don’t evaluate men by the number of national speaking engagements or compelling rhetorical skill. We must look at their character. We want more than the “appearance of godliness.”
Be careful then, friends, who you listen to, who you support, and who you recommend. Gifts and fruit are not the same. A successful ministry is not equivalent to a godly minister.