The Spiritual Gifts: More than Charismata

Every Christians believes in the continuance of the Spiritual Gifts…if we define spiritual gifts properly. Our temptation is to limit the gifts to the charismatic, the miraculous and dramatic. The Bible, however, acknowledges a breadth and diversity of spiritual gifts. There are non-Charismatic gifts, and they are worthy of our attention. Christians must highlight more than just the Charismatic gifts.

The Bible has two key lists for Spiritual Gifts. The lists are somewhat similar, and yet also reflect  a few distinct additions. So, for example, in Romans 12 Paul lists the following gifts:

prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy (Rom. 12:7-8)

With the exception of prophecy, much of the content in that list is not Charismatic. It’s not less spiritual, but perhaps less dramatic. Contrast and compare that with Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 12:

word of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. (1 Cor. 12:7-11)

Here we see the more dramatic gifts delineated. Prophecy appears on both lists, and would correspond to Paul’s emphasis on this as an important gift (1 Cor. 14:1), but otherwise they represent very different emphases. Paul is not interested in defining spiritual gift “too narrowly” (Carson, Showing the Spirit, 33).

The diversity and similarity are important to emphasize. On the one hand we do have a tendency to elevate the dramatic and charismatic above the other gifts. We do this primarily by limiting discussions of the Spiritual Gifts to the handful of controversial gifts (prophecy and tongues most notably). But these gifts are not more important than service, mercy, and leadership (to pick a few). In fact, Paul sternly warns against emphasizing some gifts over the others – this is the major thrust of all of 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. Furthermore, it is clear from Scripture that not everyone experiences these dramatic gifts the same way (12:29-30). If we elevate the dramatic over the mundane we will elevate those gifted in certain ways over others. This is contrary to the very nature of the church, which should show no partiality. Furthermore, it undercuts the bulk of ministry in the church. These gifts do not reflect the totality of ministry within the Body of Christ. Most of church ministry consists in mercy and hospitality, teaching and exhortation. We ought, then, to be willing to emphasize these spiritual gifts as much as tongues, healing, or prophecy.

On the other hand, we also have a tendency to suggest that these less dramatic gifts are somehow less Spirit-given. We tend to think that leadership and teaching reflect skills, and hospitality and giving reflect personalities. Yet, the Scriptures tell us these are “Spiritual Gifts.” They are given by the Spirit of God. We do not perform in our own strength, not if we are performing truly spiritual work. A person may be a competent public speaker, but that does not mean he possesses the gift of teaching. A person may be kind, but that does not mean they possess the unique spiritual gift of mercy. We must not only be careful to avoid classify some gifts as better than others, but we must avoid classify some gifts as spiritual and others as natural. They are all spiritual. Paul can rightly ask the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive” (1 Cor. 4:7). The obvious answer being, “nothing.”

Even as we prepare to dive into the more dramatic and Charismatic gifts in this series, we want to do so with the reminder that these are not more important gifts than others. We want to emphasize that all these gifts are spiritual, and all are important to the church. Again, as Carson notes, “Paul tends to flatten distinctions between the ‘charismatic’ gifts and ‘non charismatic’ gifts in the modern sense of those terms” (34). When we speak about the Spiritual Gifts we must remember that there are more than the Charismatic ones.

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