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Aug19MonHow to tell whether your gifts are legitimate. August 19, 2013 by Clare Stevens
- Filed Under:
- Opinion & Critical Thought
From creation onward, God's primary aim has been to see his image in us. He sent his Spirit to accomplish that aim and gave many gifts (charismata) of grace as practical tools to help us build God's kingdom. Good theology subordinates these gifts to the Spirit's primary role in refashioning us in Christ's image; bad theology doesn't and sometimes develops an unbalanced “gifts for gifts sake” mania.
In biblical times, that problem arose in the Corinthian church. It surpassed all others in its passion for gifts but it also surpassed them in its lack of Christian maturity. Paul described its members as carnally minded “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1 ASV). Spiritual gifts and the carnal mind do not mix! Gifts equip us to serve others. The carnal mind always serves itself and the implicit conflict between the two is irreconcilable. To correct the problem in Corinth, Paul made some key points about spiritual gifts:
1) Spiritual gifts are given and directed by the Spirit as he wills. We don't choose, induce, orchestrate or stage legitimate gifts by human manipulation. This makes computer programmed “gift tests” highly suspect. They assume divine gifts and natural personality traits are the same, but the traits they identify may not be spiritual gifts at all. More insidiously, their alleged gifts may give rise to pride. I have heard graduates of gift testing celebrate such gifts, claiming God could really use them if he'd just awaken to their potential.
2) The notion that our gifts empower the Spirit is an absurdity. He alone empowers us. We never empower him, but pride reverses those roles and places us first. Pride plagued Corinth. Even without computer tests, the Corinthians mustered enough of it to make gifts a mark of status. Paul urged them to recognize their interdependence and reminded them that not many were “wise after the flesh” and that God chose “foolish things” to confound the world's arrogance (1 Cor. 1:26-27 ASV). His letters include a number of invitations to humility, proving he thought many Corinthians could use more of it.
3) Nothing invalidates a gift of grace like self-exaltation. It quenches any true work of the Spirit and opens doors to treacherous deception. In Corinth, bizarre exhibitionists turned public worship into chaos and disgraced the cause of Christ with foolish behaviour. Even more insidious false teachers, claiming the cloak of special gifts, attacked the very identity of Jesus. Throughout subsequent history, most false cults and heresies have been started by self-proclaimed prophets or apostles wrapping their claims for status in “last days” or “latter rain” language and insisting they were opening up new spiritual horizons through supernatural gifts and insights. As shown from Jonestown to Waco and elsewhere, their claims led to disaster.
Given today's interest, we can heed Paul's counsel and ask the following insightful questions to test the validity of a spiritual gift: Is it of divine origin? Does it bring good to the whole body of Christ or divide it? Is it patient and kind? Is it free of bragging or arrogance? Does it reflect maturity that has dispensed with childish thinking? Is it wrapped in God's selfless agape love? If not, beware!
Clare Stevens speaks at Army events across Canada. His formal training in Scripture began in university and has remained a lifelong passion. Clare and his wife, June, attend Cariboo Hill Temple in Burnaby, B.C.