Spiritual Gifts: It’s about God and Us Together!
"Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good..."
So says Paul the apostle in 1 Corinthians 12:7. Though it hasn’t always been the case in church history, it is now clear that Spiritual gifts are significant—important enough that the grand majority of denominations and traditions have developed resources, books, inventories, audio visual resources, seminars, and special events, to help their people get a handle on how these gifts work and what they are intended to accomplish.
Yet most attempts to understand spiritual gifts miss the point.
Gifts are given, so that the God of love may be glorified through the way those gifts create awe at God’s majesty,
and His infinite mercy toward us, even when we don’t deserve it.
Spiritual gifts are not given merely to bless an individual, or even a congregation. Spiritual gifts are given so that whole churches and even regions can know that God is alive, and that God Himself is intervening in human affairs.
Now I never really understood this, even though significant spiritual gifts came my way. At least I didn’t really understand this in my heart, until something unusual happened while serving a congregation in Spruce Grove, Alberta.
In fact, it became painfully clear.
There were a series of significant and medically verified miraculous healings in my congregation. There were 7 of those in a mere three days. Most of those people were near and dear to my heart—as they involved people I had known and loved for years.
One of them was my wife—she was healed of an awful affliction that had put her in regular chronic pain; more than this, she had to keep readjusting her ordinary routines to accomodate to constantly diminishing capacities stretching out over decades. It was heartbreaking.
Now, the account of her healing is a story that merits its own devotion. Yet the purpose of today’s session is to indicate that it was the attitude toward the healing event that got fundamentally changed forever--and that is the point of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 12.
As soon as that healing took place, in the presence of hundreds of parishioners on a regular Sunday Morning service, every person who realized it had happened, man, woman or child, to a person, walked up to tell us how very happy they were for us.
“No more pain! God has healed you! Thank the Lord for His goodness.”
Immediately, my wife began to do things that she had been utterly unable to do for years. We truly knew that the healing was completed, when, about two weeks after these events, she ran up the stairs, raced back down to make an appointment, and hardly noticed that she had just done that! Three hours later, it hit us like a jolt—she had raced upstairs unaided; she needed no help at all and experienced no pain from her running a few short hours before.
It was astonishing—and we were thankful beyond imagining.
Months later, my wife and I travelled to central Africa to take part in a mission’s trip. While we were there, we testified to a gathering of about 500 African tribals that God had miraculously healed her—and they began to shout, jump, clap and celebrate!
“Praise God!” they said, “The Lord has visited your congregation and your city! He is moving among your people.”
Not one of them told us they were happy for us. Everyone told us that they were astonished at what God was doing in a people group, and a region, to create an open door for God to be at work to bring the news of Christ to the town we lived in.
It was just so completely different from the way that my own church responded…
Now here was the clincher. We completed our day, and were getting ready for sleep as we reflected on the completely different responses from the two groups.
That evening our Bible reading was Luke 7:11-17… It was the account of Jesus and the crowd following him, meeting a crowd accompanying a widow whose only son had died. Moved with compassion, in front of two open-hearted crowds of people, the Lord raised the boy from the dead and gave the resurrected lad back to his mother.
The response of the two crowds included a sense of collective awe—yet the focus was magnificently similar to what we had just experienced with the Africans and my wife’s healing. Then we noticed something significant about the gospel lesson: the Bible doesn’t even mention the name of the widow, the name of the son, nor record a single instance of anyone walking up to the lady to congratulate her, or even to marvel that she would not be alone in her golden years. As far as we know from the text, not one of them walked up the widow or the boy to say, “We are so happy for you!”
Instead, their response was this:
“Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited His people!’” Luke 7:16 NASB
My African friends responded exactly as the people did in Jesus’ day—the focus was not on the recipient of the miracle. The focus was on the power of God and what the Lord was doing in the community.
There is a point to this:
Spiritual gifts are given to groups of people, to underscore the majesty of God, and to create collective awe and unity, as the congregation sees the power of God at work. In the process, individuals and families are blessed—yet even they, together with us, in awe, are to:
Turn their gaze on the greatness of the God of the miracle,
Turn their gaze of the greatness of the miracle of the God.
Spiritual gifts are given to “us” (not “me”) to declare that God is alive.
© David Chotka, 2021