We are in week four of our EQUIP series and we are focusing our attention on "spiritual gifts" for the next three weeks. This week we took some time to address some of the questions associated with this topic.
EQUIP: Why are you so energized about seeing all followers of Jesus using their spiritual gifts to serve one another and their communities?
Marshall: Because our spiritual growth is at stake. Most North Americans think of spiritual growth from an individualistic perspective, that is a “me and God” thing. The biblical reality, however, is that it is much more than that. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4 reminds us that spiritual maturity is an “us and God” thing. This is the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:5-6) that we are members of the same body. As members of that same body we serve one another in a way that builds up the body. The only way we can do that is by using the gifts that God has given to each of us while we are in relationship with one another.
EQUIP: What is a spiritual gift?
Marshall: The description of a spiritual gift in the Bible is fairly broad. The idea behind the greek word charismata is that it is a grace gift. 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 indicate that it is God (Spirit and Jesus) that give these grace gifts. Beyond that the word can be used for almost anything.
Marshall: Look at it this way. Salvation is called a spiritual gift (Romans 5:15-16), and marriage and celibacy are identified as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 7:7). Even the biblical lists of spiritual gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4) are descriptive and illustrative not prescriptive and exhaustive. There are extraordinary things like miracles and fairly ordinary things like helps and administration included in the lists. Paul uses the conceptual idea of spiritual gifts in parallel with workings and service in 1 Corinthains 12:4-6. The New Testament leaves an immense amount of room for what is included in the idea of a spiritual gift.
EQUIP: Do you see all of the spiritual gifts listed in the passages you mentioned as all for today?
Marshall: The not so easy answer and I think the right one is “maybe”. If you are a follower of Jesus the Holy Spirit has equipped you with a spiritual gift(s) that is necessary for the building up of the body of Christ. There is nothing stopping the Holy Spirit from doing this. Some appeal to 1 Corinthians 13:10 and suggest that the “perfect” is the completion of the New Testament and therefore some of the more spectacular gifts like prophecy and tongues are not in existence today. Don Carson (Showing the Spirit” Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14, pages 66-76) and Gordon Fee (First Corinthians in The New International Commentary of the New Testament, pages ) summarize the potential interpretations of this verse and both conclude that there is no biblical support for that conclusion. The “perfect” is best understood as a time of completion or maturation. The parousia or the second coming of Jesus best fits the time of the “perfect”. The fundamental principle is established in 1 Corinthians 12:11 when the Apostle Paul says that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to each one as he determines. We can’t know the mind of God and which gifts he gives to whom, where and for what time. All we know is that he does and according to his plan and will.
EQUIP: Are you implying that some of the gifts may not be permanent?
Marshall: Only God knows. When you examine the lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament it may be implied that some of the gifts each of us is given are more permanent and some may come and go from us given specific situations. Perhaps gifts like healing or miracles come and go while others like helps or administration may be more permanent. This has led some to conclude that we have primary (a tendency) and secondary gifts (situational). In my case the primary gifts, the ones I carry around with me all the time, are teaching and leadership. These two gifts don’t surprise me any more. I bring these gifts to all situations in my life. But there are things that happen in my life from time to time that do surprise me. A couple of Sundays ago I really sensed that God wanted me to speak a word of exhortation into a young man’s life. It was sort of a prophetic moment where I really sensed God wanted me to speak specific words of encouragement into this person’s life. So I did. This isn’t with me all the time but it was in that moment and I think it was a Spirit given gift.
EQUIP: Is there a difference between a “natural ability” and a “spiritual gift”?
Marshall: In some cases it is easy to see the difference. If I were able to wake up tomorrow and share the gospel in any foreign language that would be a supernatural thing because I am unilingual. It is the other non-extraordinary gifts like teaching that cause us to wonder if there is a difference. If I was able to teach before I became a follower of Jesus and I am still able to teach after I am a follower of Jesus does this mean I now have the spiritual gift of teaching or just a natural ability to teach? I answer that question with another question, “does it really matter?”
EQUIP: Why do you feel that is the wrong question to ask?
Marshall: I believe that the problem that many have in the whole area of “spiritual gifts” is that they are too immersed in “discovery”. Some people seem obsessed to get it right instead of learning how to celebrate who God has made them to be. I call this the difference between approaching the whole issue from the perspective of a scientist versus an artist. The scientific approach is linear and step by step and has clear category lines. Abilities, personality, experience, and gifts are all distinct categories. The artistic approach is more abstract and is like throwing different colours of paint on a canvas and taking a step back and seeing the whole picture. There is a lot of blurring between the colours. It can be messy at times but the whole picture is celebrated.
EQUIP: What does that mean for the process of discovering my spiritual gifts?
Marshall: First of all we need to recognize that the Bible is silent on the issue of discovery. The Apostle Paul’s emphasis is on celebrating the diversity of gifts within the body of Christ and using our gifts in ministry with one another. Second, the process of discovery falls within the realm of “wisdom” and the witness of Scripture would seem to suggest that it is the community of faith that can help us in that process. It is best to discover by interacting with others, examining Scripture together, serving one another, and discerning together. We help one another examine the canvases of our lives. I have often wondered how someone in the first century would know what their Spirit given gifts were. I am assuming that they would have asked God for wisdom and sought wisdom from the community of faith. It is through our honest relationships with each other that we can discover. Third, perhaps it would be better for us to not get as bogged down in answering the question, “what is my spiritual gift?” as with answering the question, “how can I serve others with who God has made me to be?”