Friday, March 27, 2015

Reflections on Spiritual Gifts from a Missional Perspective

How do Spiritual gifts function in a missional community? Let's take a look at how the apostles described gifts in the house churches of the 1st century Christ following movement.

NIV 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

NIV 1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

NIV Romans 12:3 - 9 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

NIV Romans 1:11-12 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong-- 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.

NIV 1 Peter 4:7-11 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Key Takeaways:
1) Avoiding the Disease of Conceit. 
A consistent theme running through several of these texts is the danger of individual members thinking too highly of themselves. Nothing kills community more than this.  The World values the wealthy, the beautiful, and the powerful. May this never be true in the Church of Jesus Christ. Each person has been created purposively with great potential by God. It is not the purpose of the body of Christ to downgrade or place on the sidelines any member. Rather we need to celebrate each person whom God sends into our communities as a gift from God. It is crucial that those with more visible roles publicly value those who do not and model humility and a proper sense of balance in the way that they interact with others. The leadership of a community can destroy any chance for the full participation of whole body if it explicitly or implicitly gives the impression that it is the most important component. 

2) Encourage Uniqueness over Cloning
When I read the Scriptures, I do not get the sense that every follower of Christ looks, talks, and acts in the same fashion.  For too long, communities of faith have operated by plugging people into programs. This amounts to making clones of people. The above texts speak of a plurality of gifts.  Yet in our drive for organization we often domesticate the unique gifts and talents of people to make them fit our programs and our perceptions.  What if instead of forcing members to fit our Church, we instead made it a core value to expand our vision for the community by reorganizing ourselves so that each person’s gifts, talents, and passions could be fully unleashed and utilized in a way that glorified the Giver of All Gifts.  How would our communities of faith be different?  Every person longs to be part of a community where they are loved authentically and invited to use their gifts, talents, and passions for something bigger than themselves.   

3) Deployed for the sake of the Body
God gives gifts to communities of faith.  What do all of these gifts have in common?  They are people. What if every community of faith valued each person who entered its doors? What if this valuing was not based on how much money a person could provide to fund a program or on how well a person would fit in to current ministry offerings? 
Gifts are for serving others and building up the faith of others.  The deployment of gifts is not for self-glorification, but for the praise of God and for the mutual benefit of all.  The offering of our gifts, talents, and passions for the good of the whole is part of our being shaped in the image of Jesus who “came not be served to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

4) Under the Umbrella of Love
The greatest of all gifts is love. This is not a sentimental, fleeting feeling, or a flippantly offered “I love you” but a love that embodies commitment, faithfulness, and a desire for authentic relationship with others. It is a love backed by action. Love is the distinctive mark of the Christian community. It is the tangible evidence of God’s presence. Apart from love the deployment of gifts often turns into opportunities for self-aggrandizement and fulfillment. As Peter says above, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” No community is perfect. Our own brokenness often causes injury to others in our community, but in a community in which God’s love is authentically embodied, God can take all of the brokenness of each member and craft us into a masterpiece – a mosaic of transformed persons who have turned from self to God and others. Love creates an atmosphere of safety in which God through the Spirit can work powerfully to shape each of us into the people that he created us to be and to invite others to become part of the movement of followers of Jesus Christ.

5) Fuel for Mission
These texts may offer a false impression if not read missionally. On the surface, most of these passages offer the impression that gifts are purely for the "good" of the body. On one level this is true: When the body operates up to its potential, things happen.  Community grows. Prayers are offered.  Members are unleashed.  People discover their true humanity. 

But on the other hand, a healthy, vital, and vigorous body serves as a profound witness to the world. The biggest mistake that we make as followers of Christ is to believe incorrectly that visible acts of love in the world and evangelism are gifts that God gives only to certain parts of the body. This belief has hamstrung the movement of Jesus Christ as much as any heresy. The mandate for all believers is to MAKE DISCIPLES (Matt 28:18-20). Each follower of Jesus Christ needs to live a missional lifestyle. The power of the whole body working efficiently has its full impact when new persons enter our faith communities and encounter God working among us!

What would it look like for my community of faith to embody such a vision? How would we have to change?

What would it mean for me personally to live in such a community?

What kind of person do I need to become?

What if following Jesus Christ were the way to unleash all of the gifts, talents, and passions that God has implanted in us?

© 2015 Brian D. Russell (Revised 2017)

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