By Brian Knowles
ames, Jesus’ half brother, wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows,” (James 1:17). God is a giver of gifts, but what sort of gifts? How do we position ourselves to receive them – or does God do the positioning?
James partially answers these questions in the next verse, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created,” (James 1:18).
To sum up the above: God, who created all of the heavenly bodies – sun, moons, stars – with their endlessly shifting lights, is unchanging and consistent. He is the source of all that is good. He has taken the initiative in distributing his gifts to Mankind. He birthed the human race. Then he birthed Israel, his priestly nation. Finally, he has given us Christians a redemptive spiritual rebirth at the level of the inner man. With each birthing, he showered the creation with gifts – yet many have wittingly or unwittingly rejected those gifts.
As Christians, we have already experienced this rebirth. In Christ, we are new creatures. Daily our old carnal self incrementally dies and is replaced by the new Christ-like child of God. Paul describes this process in Romans: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Romans 12:1). Our new birth produces a fresh, spiritual mentality the object of which is to discern and internalize the will of God (verse 2). This process of redemption, rebirth and transformation generates the giving of other gifts on the part of God – gifts that are important for our spiritual development. Put simply, we are all spiritual works in progress and that progress is accomplished by divine gifting.
The Gift of Grace
Speaking of the Church, Paul wrote the Ephesians, “But to each of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it,” (Ephesians 4:7). As the executor of the divine plan, Jesus dispenses gifts of service within his body, which is his instrumentation in the world. Paul then quotes from a Messianic psalm to underscore his point, “This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men,” (Ephesians 4:8). The psalm quoted is worded somewhat differently in the original: “…you received gifts from men…” (Psalm 68:18b). Many scholars have attempted to reconcile this apparent contradiction in wording (the Hebrew requires “received” whereas the Greek means “gave.”) We will not try to trump those efforts. Suffice it to say that Paul clearly meant that our Lord gave gifts of service to church members, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service…” (Ephesians 4:11,12a).
These are not ranks but roles or functions. Their purpose is not dominance and control but service. Jesus’ teaching on this is plain, “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”(Matthew 20:24-28 NIV).
Here Jesus sets the example and the tone for the use of ministerial gifts within his witnessing body – the Church. The key to status within the body is not authoritarian rule but service in a spirit of humility and self-sacrifice.
Some have accepted the idea of these gifts of service, but not in a spirit of giving or humility. Rather, they have viewed them as ranks in a quasi-militaristic ministerial structure. They have ruled by fear, threat and intimidation. This toxic mentality may be witnessed in some of the larger institutional churches, and in smaller cults of personality.
Peter, one of Jesus’ original talmidim (students) learned well his master’s spirit of humble servanthood when he wrote to leaders to be “…eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…” (I Peter 4:2b & 3). He instructed elders, “…clothe yourselves with humility…” (verse 5, middle). Being truly gifted by God can be a humbling experience.
Putting it another way, it is possible to misuse divine endowments. Gifted speakers can mouth perverse or deceptive words. Those who serve may become bitter about being “used” or taken advantage of. Those with the gift of prophecy may begin to utter their own thoughts in the name of the Lord. No matter how we’ve been gifted by the Holy Spirit, we are still free agents. We can use God’s gifting to his glory, or to our shame.
The nine “charismatic” gifts of the Spirit of God are listed in I Corinthians 12:4-11. Ministerial giftings are found in Ephesians 4:7-13 (already covered). The fruit of the Spirit is also a divine gifting (Galatians 5:22-25). Romans 12:6 offers another gift list. All of these gifts are part of the divine cornucopia meant to be shared by the whole church for its edification.
These are only a few of the many gifts God has given the Church. There are many others but let’s focus for a moment on the ones we’ve listed.
I Corinthians 12:4-11
The Fruit of the Spirit
The Spirit of God is the divine gift that makes us a part of the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13). When we truly have God’s Spirit we may be able to produce its fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If we find that we are not manifesting these fruits or products of the Spirit, perhaps it is because we have passed by those selections in the divine cornucopia (horn of plenty or smorgasbord).
The whole point I’m trying to make here is that God has gifted the church with an enormous, sumptuous banquet or feast of goodies. If you’ve ever been to a great smorgasbord or Sunday brunch you’ll understand the picture. Let’s suppose you go to such a feast. Before you is arrayed roast beef, filet mignon, prime rib, chicken, fish, a wide array of vegetables, lots of exotic fruit, hash browns, baked potatoes, yams, a selection of desserts, fine wines, chocolates and other enticing items. You scan the whole selection and choose a white bread dinner roll and ignore the rest. This is what I believe much of the church does when it comes to the divine cornucopia. We select one small part of what God offers and ignore, discount, or attack the rest. Then we try to discredit those who make a larger selection!
Think about the phenomenon of denominationalism in the church. Most denominations are built around the hang-ups, doctrines, ideas, notions and theology of one man or woman. These individuals may have selected one or more items from the divine banquet table, circled the wagons around them, hardened them into dogma, and called it the one and only true church.
Examples: The Catholic Church focuses on the liturgy – the administration of the seven sacraments. The Pentecostals and Charismatics focus on the Spirit and the devil. Other groups focus on the New Testament and Psalms and pretty much throw out the rest of the Bible. Some concentrated on prophecy. Sabbatarian groups make Sabbath-keeping the center of things, others do the same with Sunday. Some add the feast days, others delete them. Some emphasize Hebrew roots studies at the expense of morality or life in the Spirit. Since there are thousands of Christian denominations in the world, you can see this could go on forever. Instead of considering the whole feast that God has set before us, Christians tend to build their denominations around cherry picking - an item here, an item there.
The Greatest Gift?
God is a giver. Perhaps the greatest gift he has given us is his Son, Yeshua ha Messchiach – Jesus the anointed one. Think about the wording of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave…” What did he give? “His only begotten son…” Why did he give us this most precious gift? “…that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16. As we read at the beginning, “God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He gave us life itself, and when we rejected it through sin, he gave it back to us in Christ. He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us succeed, to empower us, to gift us, to heal us, to help us overcome, to help us to pray and to produce its fruit in our lives.
So we see a principle at work here: When God creates something, he gifts it. When he created mankind, he gave us dominion over a beautiful, bountiful earth and all of its creatures. He gave those early generations what are called the Noachide Laws.
When God created Israel, he gifted her with a land of milk & honey located at the crossroads of the world. He gave Israel his Torah – his instruction or direction. Those who lived Torah-true lives were blessed.
When God created the Church, he blessed it with the Holy Spirit, Jesus and his teachings, and a full banquet of spiritual giftings. As children of our heavenly father, we need to look at the divine cornucopia and at least sample a greater variety of what God has to offer. I haven’t even covered all that God offers us in this brief sermon. That might make a good study project for someone – see if you can list all of the gifts that God offers us and then ask, “How many of these have I checked out?”
Remember this rule: Whatever you feed, you’ll get more of. If you feed the things of the Spirit of God you’ll get more of them. If you feed the works of the flesh, you’ll get more of them. If we feed on the things that are spread out for us on God’s banquet table, we’ll get spiritually healthier. The more enthusiastically, and gratefully, we receive and partake of God’s gifts, the more spiritually complete and blessed we’ll be. Don’t hold back – don’t be afraid to explore the whole table!