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The Charisma of God, Part 2

April 12th, 2018

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:27-31 ESV)

The “more excellent way” that Paul wrote of is the way of godly, unselfish love. The church had become competitive in the exercising of its gifts, with some calling attention to themselves. Paul answers with the fact that, yes, some gifts are more important than others, but no Christian is more important than another. The end result of all gifts is that the body of Christ may be built up, and that means that every part of the body.

In the preceding verses Paul wrote:

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable … God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Cor. 12:22-25)

The way of love should color every part of church life and of our ministry. Does love have its limitations? No. According to the next chapter: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:7-8).

Some gifts are not for public display

Some, I know, will misunderstand this point and think that this means that all gifts are equal – they simply do not separate the value of the gift from the value of the individual’s personhood. They would vote for people who are tone-deaf to torture the congregation with their “singing” to emphasize the importance of these people. But this passage is making the exact opposite point.

The gift of service, for example, is humble in its nature, and these people delight in meeting needs in a gracious and loving way. They work behind the scenes. They should be appreciated and affirmed, their work should be mentioned, but it would be a misuse of the church life to display her gift as though it were the same as teaching – “Now let us worship God as we watch Sister Edith fold sheets as she does when she helps with the sick.”

But “Sister Edith” may have a personal testimony that is uplifting, or someone may have a testimony of how her loving service had touched them.

The gifts move from the few to the many

In the list of spiritual gifts above, they move from the apostles, who were few in number, to the more common gifts. Not everyone was an apostle, prophet, or even a teacher, but everyone had at least one gift. Healing, helping, administrating, and tongues were the more widespread gifts.

How are we to think of these higher gifts and these lower gifts? Using a city or a nation as an analogy, we might think of what are the more important professions for the city. If we had to remove half of the professions in the city or in the nation, which professions would we be willing to part with and which would we insist we needed to maintain?

Undoubtedly, some professions would come to the top. We would choose farmers, for example, over elite restaurant owners. In healthcare we would choose general practitioners over specialists. And we would choose school teachers over many other professions on the basis that so long as we had school teachers we could eventually have every other profession as well. It would be a slow suicide for any nation or city to close its schools and try to retain its workers, for all the workers would eventually die out and they would have none.

So in the church, the higher gifts are those connected with proclaiming the truth of God and teaching the people of God. So long as we retain these higher gifts, we can eventually have every other gift. But if these are neglected, then the church will commit a slow, lingering suicide of sorts. And, by the way, it is the neglect of biblical teaching in the Western church that has created this exact situation – a slow, lingering suicide of the church in many places.

Experiencing love is the goal of the gifts

All of the gifts have as their goal that the people of God would experience the love of God. The preacher and teacher, no less than the healer and helper, are to touch people with the love of God. In a healthy church the whole church is involved in expressing, sharing, and receiving the love of God. People need to interact with one another, get to know one another, share life together and share Christ together.

Church can never become only coming and sitting and listening. We need to share Christ together. The small group is an essential factor in a church. The worship leads to empower and enable people to know one another and to experience Christ with one another. And in so doing we learn of and experience His love.

Spiritual Gifts

The Charisma of God

April 11th, 2018

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NIV)

God’s grace to us is more than only forgiveness. Paul wrote, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom. 5:10). The much more of the Christian life is living in the constant reality of the new life of Christ, which includes God’s peace, joy, fullness of life, and all the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

The word charisma is the New Testament word meaning a “grace gift,” and it is the word used in Romans 6:23 above for “the gift of God,” or “the charisma of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The word has a broad use in the New Testament and is not limited to “spiritual gifts” as some think it to be. All that God does in our lives, all the blessings we receive are included in the charisma of God.

Its fullest use is in 1 Corinthians 12 and there it is best translated simply as “gifts.” The apostle is explaining to the Christians in Corinth why different believers seemed to have different gifts. In the superstitious pagan culture they had come from, there was the belief that different gifts came from different gods – they would say that a good orator, for example, was inspired by the god Hermes – which is exactly what happened to Paul when he and Barnabas in Lystra (Acts 14:12). So Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 12 that all of these different gifts were given by the same Spirit of God.

There are several different terms Paul used in this chapter to describe what we usually call a “spiritual gift,” and charisma is only one of them.

  • Pneumatikon, 12:1, “spiritual things” or “spiritual gifts” from the context. Used for “spiritual matters” in (Rom. 15:27 and 1 Cor. 2:13).
  • Charismaton, 12:4, “grace gifts,” plural of charisma
  • Diakonion, 12:5, “administrations” or “ministries”
  • Energematon, 12:6, “workings”
  • Phanerosis, 12:7, “manifestation” or “appearance”

So the apostle calls spiritual gifts by five different words in this single chapter: “spiritual matters,” “grace gifts,” “ministries,” “workings,” and “manifestations.” All of these are helpful and each is essential to understand what spiritual gifts are. But it seems that the word charisma captured more fully the other meanings, and it is the word used at the end of 1 Corinthians 12, and in Romans 12:6, and 1 Peter 4:10.

Charisma means a grace gift that we believers receive freely from God. It cannot be earned or merited. As a grace gift it is part of the great grace of God to the church of Jesus Christ. Spiritual gifts cannot and should not be separated from all that God does in our lives by His Spirit. Just as He gives peace that we cannot earn, so He also gives gifts of service that we cannot earn. We may develop these gifts and use them wisely, but they are clearly gifts – unearned treasures.

Charisma means that they minister the whole life of God to the whole church of God. The church is commanded to earnestly desire the greater gifts (1 Cor 12:31), but that is not a command to the individual, who receives from the Spirit what the Spirit deems proper to bestow (1 Cor. 12:7). Paul wrote, “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom. 12:5-6).

Charisma means that they express God’s love for the whole church and for the whole Christian. The gifts are not to be seen or used selfishly. Some gifts are greater than other gifts, but no Christian is greater than another Christian. No individual should be exalted above another in the church based on himself alone. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43). The greater gifts are those that impact the entire body of Christ, namely preaching and teaching, and the church should be more concerned about these greater gifts than those that only impact a few. But to be healthy and effective, the church needs a variety of gifts.

Charisma means a grace gift that reveals who God is. “Manifestation” means that each spiritual gift reveals the character, the love, and the holiness of God. Whether someone is preaching or someone is helping and serving a special need, in each case the heart of God is being revealed. It is particularly described in Romans 6:23 as eternal life in Christ Jesus, and it is always life in Him. God does not bestow any other kind of life on the believer other than life in Christ, “so that in everything [Christ] might have the supremacy” (Col. 1:18).

Charisma means that God’s work is singular in our lives and in our world. The broad use of this word in the New Testament helps us to see these spiritual matters in their proper perspective. We tend to compartmentalize these things, creating an artificial distance between our inner personal peace and our spiritual gifts. We need to keep in mind that all that God does in our lives can be described as the charismata of God. Though there are different administrations and different workings the purpose of God is singular – to redeem us from sin and reconcile us to Himself through His grace. The giving of life to the believer and the bestowing of some spiritual gift on the same believer are inseparable works of God. We should not see them otherwise.

No physician can treat one organ of a body without realizing that that organ is connected to the whole body. The physician’s purpose must be larger than just repairing that single organ. His goal must be to restore the whole person to complete health. And whether we speak of a single Christian life or the entire church of God, our purpose and goals should be singular – that the entire Christian and the entire church would be fully redeemed and brought to life by the Lord. This is the way spiritual gifts should work.

Spiritual Gifts