Spiritual Gifts – Their Distribution And Relationships

The previous article examined three major items related to the subject of spiritual gifts; namely, a definition and the discernment and purpose of spiritual gifts.  The present article will investigate several more items.

The Sovereign Distribution Of Spiritual Gifts

Although Paul told the Corinthian Christians to “covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31; cf. 14:1), he made it clear that the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts according to His sovereign will. After having listed several different gifts which the Spirit gave to believers (1 Cor. 12:8-10), Paul declared, “But all these worketh that one and the very same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Cor. 12:11; cf. 12:18).

The fact that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts according to His sovereign will indicates several things. First, believers have no guarantee that they will receive the specific spiritual gifts which they desire. The reception of gifts is determined ultimately, not by their desire or seeking, but by the Spirit’s will. Second, Christians cannot obligate or force the Spirit to give them certain gif ts. Third, there are no magic formulas, no planned schemes, no set procedures which believers can devise or employ to obtain specific gifts.

Nowhere do the Scriptures teach or propose the development of such man made, artificial gimmicks for the purpose of receiving genuine spiritual gifts. Instead, the Scriptures indicate that the reception of gifts is governed by the Spirit’s choice and that He determines to give every believer at least one gift (1 Cor. 12:11; 1 Pet. 4:10).

Limitations Upon The Distribution Of Spiritual Gifts

The Scriptures present at least two significant limitations which God has placed upon the distribution of spiritual gifts. First, God never gives one particular gift to all believers. Paul indicated this in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 where he declared that the Spirit gives one kind of gift to one believer and a different kind of gift to another believer.

The obvious reason for this limitation is the fact that God does not want all believers to have the same ministry. The body of Christ, the Church, would be lopsided in ministry if God were to give every believer the same gift. Paul declared, “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” (1 Cor.12:17). Just as God designed the human body to have several members with different functions, so He designed the body of Christ, the Church, to have many members with different ministries.  Paul said, “For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Cor. 12:14, cf. v. 12), and “But now hath God set the members, every one of them, in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body?” (1 Cor. 12:18-19). If all believers had the same spiritual gift, then the Church really would not function as a body.

In order to emphasize the fact that God does not give one particular gift to all believers, Paul asked the following series of questions in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” In the original New Testament there was more than one way of asking a question. One of those ways implied a “no” answer to the question.’ Paul used this specific way in every one of his questions in verses 29·30.

Thus, every one of those questions implied a “no” answer, and Paul was thereby indicating that God does not give the same gift to all believers.

It is important to note that one of Paul’s questions which implied a “no” answer was, “Do all speak with tongues?” The required negative answer to this specific question indicated that the gift of tongues was subject to the same limitation which God placed upon the distribution of all spiritual gifts. Thus, even in apostolic times God never gave the gift of tongues to every believer. He purposely refused to do so, so that the New Testament Church would not be lopsided in its ministry. It was wrong, therefore, for every believer to expect to speak in tongues.

Since God gave the gift of salvation to every true believer but refused to give the gift of tongues to every believer, it can be concluded that God never intended speaking in tongues to be a sign of salvation. Earlier it was noted that the purpose of every spiritual gift is to enable the gift possessor to minister to others, not to minister to himself. Thus, the God·ordained purpose of the gift of tongues was not that of assuring the tongues speaker of his salvation.

The second limitation which God has placed upon the distribution of spiri­tual gifts is as follows: God never gives all the spiritual gifts to one believer. This limitation was also implied in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 where Paul declared that the Spirit gives different gifts to different believers.

God purposely refuses to give all the gifts to one believer because He does not want a self-sufficient “Super Saint” who has no need for the ministries and fellowship of other believers. Paul wrote, “And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble, are necessary” (1Cor.12:21-22). God intentionally distributes the gifts in such a way that believers need each other and care for each other. God does not want Christians to be “loners” who divide themselves from the rest of the body of Christ. Paul expressed it this way – “That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Cor. 12:25). In other words, God has designed the spiritual gifts to be a source of unity, rather than a source of division, for the Church.

The Relationship Of The Gift Of Tongues To Spirit Baptism

On the day of His ascension Jesus indicated that His apostles would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few more days (Acts 1:5). When that promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles spoke in tongues (Acts 2:4). On another occasion, Cornelius and the members of his household spoke in tongues when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them while Peter spoke (Acts 10:44-46). Later Peter indicated that Cornelius and the others had been baptized with the Spirit on that occasion (Acts 11:15-16).

In light of these incidents in which Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues took place at the same time, some sincere Christians have concluded that Spirit baptism involves the reception of either the Holy Spirit or His supernatural empowerment, that Spirit baptism may happen to a believer sometime after salvation, that tongues speaking is the sign that one has received Spirit baptism and that any believer who has not spoken in tongues has not received Spirit baptism. Because of these conclusions, some Christians zealously press other believers to seek “the baptism” by speaking in tongues.

The key biblical passage on Spirit baptism is opposed to these conclusions and actions. The only passage which identifies the significance, recipients and time of Spirit baptism is 1 Corinthians 12:13. Paul declared, “For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

Paul’s declaration indicates several significant things concerning Spirit baptism. First, it indicates that every believer has received Spirit baptism (“by one Spirit were we all baptized”). That this is so is supported by the fact that the Scriptures never urge or command believers to be baptized with the Spirit or to seek Spirit baptism. Indeed, nowhere do the Scriptures record believers seeking this baptism. It is senseless to seek for something which has already happened.

Second, Paul’s declaration indicates the time of Spirit baptism. Since every believer has received Spirit baptism, it can be concluded that Spirit baptism happens at the moment of salvation. If it were to happen sometime after salvation, then Paul could not have said that all believers have been baptized with the Spirit. Some would have been baptized; others would have not by the time of Paul’s statement. Since all believers receive Spirit baptism at the time of salvation, it is wrong for some Christians to press other believers to seek “the baptism.”

Third, Paul’s declaration indicates the significance of Spirit baptism. It has the significance of placing the believer into the body of Christ, the Church (“by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body”), not the significance of supernatural empowerment. In the context of his 1 Corinthians 12:13 declaration, Paul drew an analogy between the body of Christ, the Church, and the human body (vv. 12-18). Just as the body even though it has many members, so the body of Christ is only one body even though it has many members.

In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul told how believers at salvation are put into the one body of Christ to become its members. It happens through Spirit baptism. In other words, Spirit baptism is that work of God which builds or forms the body of Christ, the Church.

An important contrast should be observed between Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and that in 1 Corinthians 12:30. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul taught that every believer had been baptized with the Spirit, but, as noted earlier, in 1 Corinthians 12:30 he indicated that God refused to give the gift of tongues to every believer. Thus, in Paul’s day all believers had been baptized with the Spirit, but many were never given the ability to speak in tongues. The fact that God gave every believer Spirit baptism but refused to give every believer the gift of tongues indicates that tongues speaking was not to be the sign that one had received Spirit baptism. In order for it to be such a sign, every believer would have to speak in tongues, since every believer had been baptized with the Spirit. Thus, it is wrong to conclude that any believer who has not spoken in tongues has not received Spirit baptism.

Some would object to this conclusion by insisting that the New Testament draws a distinction between baptism by the Spirit and baptism with the Spirit. They would assert that these are two different Spirit baptisms with two different significances. According to this approach, baptism by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) places every believer into the body of Christ at the moment of salvation, but baptism with the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 11:15-16) gives supernatural empowerment, is accompanied by speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4; 10:44-46) and can take place after salvation. Thus, tongues speaking would be a sign that one had been baptized with the Spirit.

The Relationship Of Spiritual Gifts To Spirituality

The possession and exercise of spiritual gifts do not make a believer spirit­ual. In addition, the possession and exercise of spiritual gifts are not a sign of spirituality. The Corinthian Christians clearly demonstrated the truthfulness of these statements. On the one hand, as a group they possessed and exercised all the spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit gave to the early Christians (1 Cor. 1:7). But, on the other hand, Paul declared that they were not spiritual (1 Cor. 3:1-3). There is a definite distinction between the possession and exercise of a spiritual gift and spirituality. The possession and exercise of a spiritual gift are the.result of the Holy Spirit giving the believer a particular ability to minister to other people. Spirituality is the result of the Holy Spirit controlling the life of the believer. The possession and exercise of a spiritual gift relate primarily to what the believer does in the realm of ministry. Spirituality relates primarily to what the believer is and does in the realm of character. The possession and exercise of a spiritual gift produce a ministry impact upon the lives of others. Spirituality produces a godly character which is characterized by the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control -Gal. 5:22-23). It also produces a godly lifestyle which is characterized by purity and obedience to God (Gal. 5:16-21).

In light of the facts that the Corinthian Christians possessed and exercised numerous spiritual gifts and yet were not spiritual, and that there is a definite distinction between the possession and exercise of a spiritual gift and spirituality, two major conclusions can be drawn. First, a Christian does not have to be spiritual in order to possess and exercise a spiritual gift. In other words, a godly character and pure, obedient lifestyle are not required in order to possess and exercise a spiritual gift. This has frightening implications, for it means that a believer can perform a ministry even when his character and conduct are not what they should be. This explains, then, why some pastors, Bible teachers and television evangelists have the ability to continue their ministries in spite of the fact that they are involved in illicit affairs and pursu­ing extravagant lifestyles.

Second, the possession and exercise of spiritual gifts cannot be made a test of spirituality. As noted earlier, spirituality is associated with the fruit of the Spirit, which includes love (Gal. 5:22-23), but Paul indicated that it was possi­ble for a believer to do such things as speak in tongues and prophesy without having love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). In other words, a believer can possess and exercise spiritual gifts without being spiritual. Since a believer can possess and exercise spiritual gifts without being spiritual, it is wrong to make the possession and exercise of any spiritual gift a test of spirituality. Christians, therefore, should never make such a thing as speaking in tongues a test of spirituality. The true test of spirituality is as follows: Is the believer’s life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, purity and obedience to God?

The next article will begin to examine the issue of the duration of spiritual gifts.

ENDNOTE
  1. H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927), p. 265.

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