Okay, this blog has been a LONG time coming. Months ago, I asked God what He wanted me to blog about next. To my surprise, He told me to write about my biggest insecurity. First of all, that’s a challenging writing prompt, and second of all, I wasn’t actually sure what my biggest insecurity was. So I spent some time thinking and praying and trying to figure it out. To my surprise again, I realized that one of my biggest insecurities was actually one of my spiritual gifts. That seemed pretty odd to me, so I spent some time thinking about why this was. But still, I didn’t REALLY want to write about it, not until today. I had a list of at least 10 other blog ideas, and I kept trying to write about any of those, but I hit a wall every single time. I ran out of steam on writing them and lacked direction. I even presented all my blog ideas to my friend, and out of all the options, she suggested I write about spiritual gifts… but I STILL didn’t really want to. So this morning, I was journaling and talking to God again about why I was having such a hard time writing. I knew it was because I was being disobedient in not writing about what He had told me to. And all it took was me asking Him for the inspiration and desire and words to write this blog, and He provided. Funny how that works. 😉
I am actually going to break this up into two blog posts so it’s not too overwhelmingly long. This first post is going to talk more about what Scripture says about spiritual gifts and their purpose and what can happen when we are not good stewards of these gifts. The second blog post will include what God has specifically and personally taught me lately about my insecurities related to my spiritual gifts, which hopefully will also be relevant to others. Let me also make clear that I am DEFINITELY NOT an expert on spiritual gifts, so please let me know if you have any corrections or additional insights – I would love to hear them!
Let me start with a brief overview of what the Bible says about spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are not from us, and they are not for us. Different gifts are given to different people, but these gifts are all from the same God to serve the same common good. They are given to us by God to contribute in specific ways to the body of Christ (the church). Each gift is very important to the proper design and function of the church. We are not to take selfish pride in our gifts but instead to view ourselves as playing a part in this greater whole. There are several examples of spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, though I won’t go into each of them specifically in this blog. These passages have most shaped my understanding of spiritual gifts and their role within the church, and are included below.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
1 Corinthians 12:4
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But 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. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
GIVEN BY GRACE
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” (Romans 12:6). This verse highlights the fact that our different spiritual gifts are specifically given to us by GRACE. We have not earned them. We do not own them. They are not inherent parts of our humanity that we can claim apart from God. They are appointed by God to be used for God’s glory. So often I fail to remember this, and in my mind claim “encouraging” as some trait that is mine. But this is a huge mistake – God, in His grace, has given me this gift for His purposes. It is God’s grace that has even given me life to begin with, and it is His grace that has given me a specific role to play in his grand story. As a selfish, sinful being, I have done nothing to deserve life at all, but He in His goodness and rich grace gave it to me. He has taken my self-seeking nature, my inherent filthy sin, and wholly redeemed them into something beautiful and purposeful. He has given me full and abundant life. He has given me Himself. It makes me think of these lyrics in a song called Saturn by Sleeping At Last:
“You taught me the courage of stars before you left.
How light carries on endlessly, even after death.
With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite.
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist.”
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist. Wow. SO TRUE, yet how often we spurn this beauty and indulge in selfish desires that blind us to the Creator of it all. Though we can at times feel like we are walking on this earth alone and separate from our Creator, He has left us with His Spirit, with light to guides us and endlessly point us back to Him.
Our spiritual gifts are in part a means of experiencing the power and love of God in personal and intimate ways. He longs to connect with us, for us to draw near to Him, for us to experience life WITH Him on this earth.
However, the minute I let greed and pride fester in my heart, I disregard its holy purpose and squander the gift completely. When I start to let my ego inflate by people telling me how encouraging I am, that’s my reward, and I have squandered the gift as purposed by God. As believers, we are not here for earthly rewards such as this, for they are empty. In his book, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (side note: this book is SUPER short and worth reading… like I read the entire thing during one elliptical workout), Tim Keller compares the human ego to a distended, bloated stomach. Overly-inflated, empty, and painful. So when we are exploiting our spiritual gifts as a means of boosting our pride, this is what we are doing to ourselves – filling ourselves with emptiness that provides no benefit to the body and is actually hurting ourselves. And not only ourselves, but to the entire body of Christ. If we are the person in the church who is exploiting our gifts for selfish purposes, we are hurting the whole body. It is important to know ourselves and be aware of the ways God has uniquely gifted us, but that awareness should drive us to worship God and selflessly serve others.
FOR THE GOOD OF THE BODY
1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” As a student physical therapist, I understand this concept in a very literal way. SO many injuries and pains that patients experience are actually caused by another part of the body. For example, I developed patellofemoral pain syndrome, or “runner’s knee,” in undergrad while training for my first half marathon. I went to physical therapy because I experienced sharp pain in my knee when sustaining any position (bent or straight knee) for more than a couple minutes. Pain is a often way of alerting us to something that is not working properly in our body, but the root of the problem may not be the actual painful body part; my PT found that my knee problem was actually caused by a tight IT band, weak hips, trigger points in my glutes, a leg length difference, force transmitted to my knee through my excessive heel strike when running, etc. Who knows which of those problems came first, but the point is that one part of my body had subtly gone awry, but soon caused a chain reaction that eventually caused my knee to painfully alert me to this problem and my entire being not to function correctly.
My knee pain became a mental distraction in class if I did not have enough leg room to straighten my leg periodically. It also decreased the distance I could run, which then affected my stress relief, prayer, and processing. Similarly, if a member of the body of Christ is not using his or her gifts for the common good, he or she may very well be preventing the rest of the body from functioning at maximal capacity. If a person with the gift of encouragement/exhortation is not using their gift to build others up but is instead taking pride in how encouraging they are (read: me), they are not providing the enrichment to the lives of others that is designed to help them use their own gifts (of teaching, acts of mercy, discernment, etc.) to best serve the church. Withholding or exploiting our purpose in the body of Christ may actually be contributing to harm of the body.
Pain also can cause a person to compensate for the suboptimal body parts, often producing further pain and injury in other body parts down the road because they are forced to work extra hard in ways they are not optimally designed to. God has designed the human body with compensatory patterns to temporarily cover for parts that aren’t doing their job, but since they’re working in a way they were not specifically designed for, then the church is again going to be functioning at a suboptimal level. For example, if I was temporarily performing a role of administration due to a lack, I could make it work for a short while, but then in time if someone with the gift of administration did not take over, the church body would suffer from my lack of organization and lack of care for details.
Spiritual gifts are designed for the good of the body of Christ. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7. God has given us certain gifts so that we may build up other believers and empower them in the faith. These gifts are not to boost our ego. These gifts are not to impress others. These gifts are meant solely for the purpose of glorifying GOD. This means that as we explore understanding of the gifts God has given us, we also need to lean into this concept of humility.
USED IN HUMILITY
In his book, Humility (side note: highly recommend – this book challenged me in the best ways), Andrew Murray says, “The highest glory of the creature is in being only a vessel, to receive and enjoy and show forth the glory of God. It can do this only as it is willing to be nothing in itself, that God may be all. Water always fills first the lowest places. The lower, the emptier a man lies before God, the speedier and the fuller will be the inflow of the diving glory.”
We have to understand that without God’s grace, there exists nothing good inside of us. All that is good within us is from God and for God, and self must die that Christ may be all. Our greatest and richest privilege in life is to be vessels filled with the Lord, displaying Him to everyone. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book, The Cost of Discipleship (side note again: SUCH A GOOD BOOK – I am still reading it, but this is SUCH a theologically rich and intellectually savory book), “’If any man would come after me, let him deny himself.’ The disciple must say to himself the same words Peter said of Christ when he denied him: ‘I know not this man.’ Self-denial is never just a series of isolated acts of mortification or asceticism. It is not suicide, for there is an element of self-will even in that. To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self denial can say is: “He leads the way, keep close to him.”
We must deny ourselves to begin to experience this humility. We must increase our awareness of Christ in all that we do. In terms of spiritual gifts, experiencing this humility means that we must give up all rights to recognition and praise from others when we serve, that we must absolutely depend upon strength from God and guidance by the Holy Spirit in using our gifts wisely, that we must look first to the good of our fellow believers and not to ourselves, that we must be obedient and bold, and that we must earnestly seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) and trust deeply in the Lord’s provision. We must also recognize that in dying to self, we are also surrendering the right to always see the fruit of our gifts. We must trust that God is at work in our humbled service, even when the evidence of this is not plain to see.
C.S. Lewis writes in his book, Mere Christianity (side note: … you already know… highly recommend), “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”
This means we must not think more highly of ourselves than others. We must think of how we can best love, serve, encourage, and cherish them, not how we compare to them. “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” – 1 Corinthians 12:18. The God who knit us together in our mother’s womb, who knows our innermost being, chose which spiritual gifts to give each of us. He created us, He knows us better than we know ourselves, and we must trust that He knows what He’s doing in each of us. We must believe in His holiness and sovereignty and perfection, and we must believe that is manifest in the spiritual gifts He has specifically given each of us.
Alright, that’s a wrap on blog 1 about spiritual gifts. If you made it all the way through, SERIOUS kudos to you! I feel like I just ran a mental marathon while writing this, so I hope it came out somewhat understandably to read! Stay tuned for blog 2, coming soon.