Rom 12:6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; Rom 12:7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; Rom 12:8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
I have been preaching through 1 Corinthians and find myself in the middle of chapter twelve and the subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; a daunting task to say the least. While the debate of which gifts are to continue throughout the church age continues there are certainly some practical things to consider no matter on which side of the subject one might come down.
I find it interesting to see that there are only three times in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed for us in the NT. In 1 Cor. 12 alone are tongues, miracles and healings listed. In the other two places as seen in the above verses the listed gifts are exclusively gifts of service and exhortation and edification. I find that a little more than interesting. Similar gifts are also found in 1 Corinthians and none of the lists are the same indicating to me that there might be any number of different gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the church as they are needed.
What I find important is that the bulk of gifts mentioned in the NT are ones of serving each other in the church family. Even what I and others would term the “sign gifts” were given to help in the church and they were not to be used in the church if they didn’t edify. Paul takes pains to point out that speaking in tongues in which no one understands is pointless in 1 Cor. 14. To me this indicates that the most important gifts are ones that help us serve each other. When we think about how all this is played out in the modern Charismatic Movement a couple of red flags arise in my way of thinking.
Now I know that we cannot paint all Charismatics with the same brush and that not all practice what I am speaking of here but there is a general principle it seems among what I would see as traditional Pentecostalism that the most important gift is tongues. They are told to pray for it because that is kind of the litmus test of whether one has the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is an important part of their worship services and we won’t even get into healings and “words of knowledge” and the like. Now I think a good, sound case can be made that the whole idea of being baptized by the Spirit in the Charismatic sense is completely unbiblical but there is a fundamental problem with all this that in my mind reveals a flaw in how they view and use spiritual gifts.
My question, having said all this, is why are they so concerned with the gift of tongues when admittedly there is seldom any interpretation (and if there is, who can verify it beyond question) and so there is no edification? At least one of the reasons Paul mentions tongues in in 1 Cor. 12-14 is because they saw themselves as more spiritual than others because they had this gift and so were using it to elevate themselves. This is one reason why Paul says they need to be seeking the gift of prophecy because that was much more beneficial to the church because people could understand and be edified.
Why the big emphasis in tongues and showy, potentially prideful gifts rather than the gifts that are mostly mentioned in the NT which are clearly serving gifts? Why don’t we hear of people being exhorted to seek the gifts of cleaning the toilets in the church or being patient with the weak saint and helping them overcome problems in their lives? How about seeking gifts of humility or the ability to teach clearly and faithfully our brothers and sisters the Word of God instead of being consumed with gibbering in a language that at best can only impress the poor confused person next to you in the pew who can only wish the Holy Spirit would display such amazing things in his life?
Is not the Holy Spirit called “Holy” because he is to create Christlikeness in us and that is his primary function? Even if tongues are to continue today is it not obvious that tongues are a minor gift that pales in comparison to gifts that cause us to serve and edify one another? If we want to be Pentecostal in our theology then let us at least grasp what is important and what is not. Unfortunately another abuse of gifts is to emphasize them over the careful study of God’s Word and so it becomes a vicious cycle of studying mainly the book of Acts and passages that deal with spectacular gifts and failing to put tongues in their proper relation to the other gifts.