Monday, October 29, 2012

Spiritual Gifts: Their Purpose and Use

            One of the common queries for believers comes down to, “What is my spiritual gift?”  These believers will go to their favorite Christian bookstore, and comb the shelves for something that will indication them how to discover their spiritual gift.  With the dawn of the internet many organizations have added “spiritual gift analysis”.  In a Christian college a person will often take one of these tests in a Christian Ministry class. 
             The Apostle Paul is the only author of the New Testament to discuss Spiritual gifts.  There are three lists of spiritual gifts in different books that he authored;  Romans 12,  1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.  In one of these chapters, Paul gives a very clear description of the purpose of spiritual gifts.  “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;”[1]
            Now there are people who will look at the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22 and associate that with spiritual gifts.  Spiritual gifts are bestowed on each believer at the time of salvation, and will often be reinforced by some natural talents as well.  So why does the Apostle Paul address the fruit of the Spirit? In the area of Galatia there was a great resurgence of Jews going to these various Churches and counseling these believers the need to be circumcised and follow the Law in order to be saved.  In writing to these believers Paul was reassuring them that they were free from the Law because the Law is not what justifies or saves.  However, as he was beginning to finish his letter he wanted to stress that although the Galatian believers were free from the obligation to the Law it was not to serve as justification for living according to the flesh.  In Galatians 5 Paul gives a contrasting example, the fruit of the flesh which leads to spiritual death or separation from God.  He then focuses on the fruit of the Spirit which leads to a walk with God.
            Although the gift of tongues is stated in a few passages, there are only two demonstrations of this gift which instigated division in the Church of Corinth, and causes division today in the Church as well.  In the Holman Christian Standard Bible the Greek word glossa and dialektos is translated languages.  In the demonstration of tongues found in Acts 2 it actually gives a definition of what the people where hearing.  “How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language”[2] and “Cretans and Arabs we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages”[3].  In this passage tongues was known languages of the Jews from different regions of the Roman Empire.  The other demonstration of the gift of tongues was in Acts 10 when Cornelius and those in his house heard Peter’s sermon.  The biblical definition of tongues then would be only seen in these two passages, and was the definition Paul was using when describing the spiritual gifts.  
            The demonstration of the gift of tongues is often associated with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  This links back to the two demonstrations of tongues in Acts 2 and 10.  This however, seems to be a misconstruction of the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Dr. Towns defines the baptism of the Holy Spirit this way, “The baptism of the Holy Spirit is an act whereby the individual is placed in the body of Christ.”[4]  When one looks at the various letters of Paul it does appear that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is something that occurs at conversion, and not at some point after.
There are denominations that believe that to demonstrate the gift of the Holy Spirit one must speak in tongues.  This would be in disagreement with the Apostle Paul when he is talking to the Church of Corinth.  “Do all have the gifts of healing? Do all speak in other languages? Do all interpret?”[5]  This is a series of rhetorical questions which Paul is answering answers in a previous verse, No.[6]  Each of the gifts of the Spirit is a part of the body of believer.
            As demonstrated in Acts 2, there no longer seems to be valid evidence in the gift of tongues 
 today.  In 1 Corinthians 13:10 Paul discusses when the “perfect shall come the partial will come to an end”.  In today’s society many linguistic specialists go throughout the World with the purpose of living amongst an indigenous populace.  These missionaries spend years living amongst the people, and learn the language of the people. They will complete a translation of the Bible for those people hence the need for tongues because the people are then able to partake of the perfect Word of God.

[1] Ephesians 4:12 (New American Standard Bible)
[2] Acts 2:8 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
[3] Acts 2:11 (HCSB)
[4] Elmer L. Towns, Theology for Today, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001), 296.
[5] 1 Corinthians 12:30 (NASB)
[6] 1 Corinthians 12:28

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