Posts Tagged ‘spiritual gifts’

JOHN 6:24-35

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

“What must we do to perform the works of God?” Spirituality is not simply a matter of contemplation and inner peace. It’s also about work – the effort, the deeds, creations, actions and fruit of our actions. Being Christian, then, is also about more than church attendance, Bible reading, and prayer before meals. Jesus was deeply interested in what comes out of our lives, what is produced in the way of a visible, audible, and tangible witness to a deep mystical faith.

So many people reach out to religion for the acceptance, security, and afterlife insurance they need, but never find the fulfillment to their spiritual quest. Why is that? To a great extent we must hold the religious institutions responsible, but the solution will not come from there. The real solution will come when individuals begin to discover the gifts of God that have been distributed so generously throughout the human community.

These are the many organs and appendages that God desires to activate and inhabit by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing each one into coordination with the larger whole. Each part depends on the health and functional performance of all the rest, and strives to fulfill the higher purpose of the whole through its own humble and faithful work. What must we do? Die to self, and live as Christ!

Sadly, it is precisely this sacrifice of What I want (ego) that so many find too threatening.

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EPHESIANS 4:1-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Youth would have us believe that world-salvation is our heroic calling. We are idealistic, invincible, and immortal; and if the world would only submit to our truth, all would be well. As we mature, we thankfully learn that we are not as potent as we initially believed, and that life itself is less a problem to be solved by mastery than it is a mystery to be entered with humility and faith. Also, when we were younger we had, as the psychologist Robert Bly says, “a 360-degree personality, with energy radiating from all sides.”

This goes to explain our youthful savior complex. But with age our fantasy accommodates more and more to reality, and we discover that the world is just too large, its multiple currents too complex, and its habits too deep-set for us to achieve its salvation all by ourselves. We get wise and leave the salvation to God while looking for opportunities where we might be useful.

And that’s precisely where the whole matter of spiritual gifts comes into the picture. In the Christian worldview Jesus Christ is the redeemer and we together are the “body of Christ” – interdependent and integrated parts of the divine reality, cooperating for the single work of the whole. Just as the eye can’t do the work of the total body, so none of us alone can achieve what only the united body of Christ can. So you can only do x; now find a community where the wide variety of spiritual gifts and talents is affirmed and developed – and then plug in!

2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-13

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
    and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you.12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

As we discover the unique powers and talents that God has given us, we become aware also that exercising and investing them can open us to significant risk. What if David had kept his stones in the bag for fear of embarrassment should he wind up but miss his target? What if, for fear of being skewered and squashed by the giant, he had ducked out behind the tents of Israel and cowered with the rest of them? The impulse for self-preservation is strong in all of us, and the risk of losing our standing, our reputation, our control, our security, or our life can sometimes be enough to keep our spiritual gifts tucked away and out of sight.

The Christian community in Corinth had apparently become a hideout for some who didn’t want to expose themselves to the chance of falling victim to shame, blame, or hardship of any sort. Paul’s exhortation for them to “open wide your hearts” saw their rational precaution for what it was – rationalized fear. The apostle wasn’t bragging, but his short list of troubles and persecutions suffered at the hands of the world was the experience behind his testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace. He had taken many risks – some of which we might consider imprudent and foolhardy – in his devotion to the gospel, and was intimately familiar with the dangers of being a Christ-follower. And yet, he insisted, Jesus never promised us a safe haven.

1 CORINTHIANS 12:3-17

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?

The influence of the Corinthian church plant on the subsequent history of Christianity cannot be overestimated. It was at once a highlight and a profound burden for the apostle Paul – almost from the day he began the mission. Family disputes, immorality, infighting among rival divisions in the congregation, negotiating tension between wealthy and poor, Gentiles and Jews, men and women, slaves and free citizens – the volatility of this group was at times almost more than Paul could manage.

And then this. Perhaps members were so eager to use their talents and resources for the cause of Christian outreach, that in their enthusiasm to plug in and make a difference the congregation began to divide according to the distribution of what Paul would come to call “spiritual gifts.” Whether a natural talent activated by the Spirit of God or more like a special ability endowed on an individual by the Spirit from outside, Paul at least was persuaded that spiritual gifts were how the Church does its work.

                                                                                                            

Whereas a primary role of God’s Spirit was associated with creativity, life, inspiration and wholeness, the upsetting consequence of all these purpose-driven charismatics contending for influence and recognition was the opposite. Elitism was motivating the like-minded and similarly equipped into competitively higher ranks, to the point where the very integrity of the congregation – not to mention the public image of the emerging Christian movement – was in jeopardy.

This is when Paul came to perhaps his most important insight. The Church, he said, is the resurrected body of Christ, the continuing voice and active work of Jesus in the world. Insofar as Christ lives in the individual believer, his or her spiritual gift will necessarily be used for good, be inspired by love, and build up the body rather than tear it apart. Each member has something to contribute, and the outcome will always be unity.

When members begin to grow possessive of their gifts, however, when they start comparing and competing for the stage, this is not of God.

It wasn’t long before the Christian movement fell apart along these dividing lines, of what each faction felt was most important. Today there are hundreds of separate denominations – some based on the gift of teaching, others on the gift of prophecy, others on healing, others on miracles, and still others on ecstatic utterance. Add to this the further disagreements over doctrines, sacraments, purity, and inclusion, and what you have is more like the dismembered cadaver of Christ.