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Spiritual Gifts Introduction – Part 4
Permanent vs. Temporary
Before we go to Romans 12 open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 13. Last time I talked about permanent versus temporary gifts. This is a problem today and it has been in the Bible believing segment of the Christian Church in its broadest, sociological sense, since the advent of what is known as the modern Pentecostal movement that began on New Years' Eve in 1901 when a Bible college student in Topeka, Kansas by the name of Agnes Ozman thought she was speaking in Chinese and spoke in "tongues" that night.
This was preceded by a decade or two of an increasing awareness of what is known as the Holiness movement that there needed to be an overt sign of what they thought was the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. They defined it as a second work of grace that came after salvation. Now no movement has probably been as divisive in Christianity as the Charismatic movement. It's been divisive for a number of reasons but primarily because it put its emphasis on experience over doctrine. How do you understand the Bible? Do you understand it on the basis of your experience or do you understand it on what the Word of God says. In the Charismatic movement, known as the Holiness/Pentecostal movement because it came out of that, the problem that they had was that they were interpreting their own spiritual life on the basis of experience.
Unfortunately this is so true about many believers. It's part of a subtle form of mysticism that has entered into evangelical Christianity. Actually it's been there since the Protestant Reformation. It was very strong within the Anabaptist tradition. Later it became strong in what became known as the Pietism tradition and there's always been a weak strain of this in the Bible church movement. It's a little strong in some Baptist traditions because that goes back to the old Anabaptist roots and it's very subtle.
Last summer I noticed with great joy that when there was teaching on certain topics that touched on this at Camp Arete that Jeff Phipps and Mark Perkins and David Roseland, and even Jim Myers all made it a real "slam-it-home" point to try to kick this out of the thinking of young people I wish we could figure out a way to get some spiritual dynamite and blast it out of the thinking of a lot of adults. I was having a conversation with Pastor Roseland this last week. He had come down for a three day Bible conference in Corpus Christi last weekend and he had a great illustration that I just thought I'd pass along. He heard from a number of people who had come there for one reason or another. They hadn't thought about coming and then there was some sort of circumstance in their life that they took as some sort of indication from God that they ought to go to this conference.
If you've heard me teach on how to know the will of God, that is how to know the will of your emotions, how to know the will of your subjective experience, how to know the will of anything but it's not how you know the will of God. And David had a great illustration. Remember he's living outside of Preston City, Connecticut where the temperature has been a little bit colder than it's been here. They've got a little bit more snow of the ground. The heaters in their houses usually don't work like ours. They operate off of a radiator like most of you had in school at one time if you go back a certain distance. Heated water generates steam that goes through radiators and heats the house. I forget what they call them but they're basically floor vents. The hot water cycles through there and heats the home. So when your well goes down, you don't have hot water, and when you don't have hot water you don't have heat. So about a day and a half before David was to leave to come to Corpus Christi something in the well broke and they couldn't get any water out of the well. They still haven't figured out what the problem is unless they have since he went home Tuesday. He spent a day and half instead of getting to study the Word and get ready for the conference trying to get the water to flow, so they could get heat in their house, and so they could take showers, and wash their dishes and do all the things they do with water. So he made the comment that how many people had taken certain positive circumstances to indicate that it was God's will for them to go to the conference. He said if he was basing his decision on being there on circumstances, he never would have left Connecticut.
The apostle Paul if he were basing his decisions about the will of God on positive circumstances he would have bailed half way through the first missionary journey. Probably before that, maybe the time they were trying to stone him in Damascus. When he headed into Arabia he wouldn't have returned. This is all part of the core problem we've got with the whole Holiness/Pentecostal Charismatic movement. The symptom of the problem is their wrong, not Biblically derived emphasis on the Baptism of the Spirit signified necessarily by speaking in tongues as a work after salvation. The real root problem is interpreting Scripture on the basis of experience rather than interpreting experience on the basis of the Word of God. This leads to all kinds of distractions in the Christian life.
I've been surprised although I shouldn't be at how many people, some of whom are in this congregation, some of whom have been part of this congregation or other doctrinal teaching congregations in this city, who, when they said when they read some of these books published recently about people who have an out-of-body experience. I don't remember the names of these books but one was a young boy who told his father about an experience he'd had when he'd had surgery when he was three or four years old. He said he'd had the experience of dying on the operating table and having all these experiences there in heaven. Over the last few years there have been two or three of these kinds of books that have come out.
I have just been amazed at some of the so-called mature believers that I thought knew better who thought how wonderful these stories are. "They tell us so much about heaven," they say. Well why you aren't reading your Bible to learn about heaven? The apostle Paul went to heaven and when he came back God wouldn't let him tell anyone about it. So this little boy is better than Paul? Some of these other people are better than Paul? See, the problem here is that we're judging the Bible on the basis of our experience and we're not learning from the Word of God what it says and then taking that as our spotlight and shining that on our experience and thinking that no matter how much the experience may feel as if something is happening, the Word of God just tells us we're being deceived. What does Jeremiah say? "The heart is deceptive above all things." It also says it's wicked but I'm emphasizing that one attribute. The heart is deceptive. You've got something inside you that is constantly deceiving your mind into thinking that your experience is one thing when in reality it's something else.
The only thing that cuts through that, that shines a light through that, is the Word of God. So this is part of the problem whenever people teach on the spiritual gifts. The spiritual gifts have to do with people's abilities to serve the Lord within the body of Christ. Especially this is true in our self-absorbed culture. I've witnessed this going back to the time I was a teenager that as soon as you start talking about spiritual gifts people start turning inward and trying to figure out, "Oh, what's my spiritual gift?"
A spiritual gift is not a key to growing spiritually. A spiritual gift will manifest itself in your life as you grow spiritually and as you seek to serve the body of Christ. If you are living the Christian life, applying the Word, as you seek to serve in any capacity your spiritual gift will manifest itself over time. It will indicate itself simply because you will end up ministering in areas where you feel most competent and comfortable. Just because you don't have one gift or you have some other gift isn't an excuse for not functioning in all these different areas.
Giftedness or spiritual gifts are only enablements in certain areas. All believers are still held accountable for ministering in all of the different areas of the spiritual gifts. Serving one another, teaching one another, encouraging one another, giving, all of these are spiritual gifts. Leadership, for instance. Some people will lead in one way, some in another. You lead in the home if you're a parent. If you're teaching in a Sunday school class, you're teaching and you're leading. All of these are just functions of the service ministry that every believer is responsible for.
So going back to our doctrine of spiritual gifts, we just covered the one point last time. There are two categories of spiritual gifts, permanent and temporary. This has been such a distraction for a lot of people. I want to go back over it one more time just to hit the high points and help you think through this passage. There are times when you may get involved in a conversation with someone and need to understand what these passages are saying. So we looked at 1 Corinthians 13 which is really the primary passage for understanding that some gifts are temporary, specifically revelatory gifts. A couple of the temporary gifts, though, were not necessarily revelatory, such as healing and miracles. So the best clarification is to classify them as temporary versus permanent.
The temporary gifts had their own basis. The key passage is 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. I just wanted to review some of the observations that we see here. There are three gifts mentioned: knowledge, prophecy, and tongues. Knowledge and prophecy are both said to be partial and they're both said to be abolished at some point in the future. A different verbiage is used for tongues but tongues are said to cease. So those three gifts are not permanent. They're contrasted with three virtues of the Christian life that are more permanent: faith, hope and love. While knowledge and prophecy are said to be partial or incomplete, the gift of languages or tongues is not incomplete. So 1 Corinthians 13:8 says that "prophecy will faith [be abolished], knowledge will also fail." That's the same verb used for prophecy and then 1 Corinthians 13:9 says, "We know in part; we prophesy in part." So those have to do with something that's incomplete.
Paul then states that the partial knowledge and the partial prophecy are abolished when something called the "perfect" comes. This is the Greek word TELEIOS. Perfect is not the best translation here. It has to do with something complete because it's contrasted with that which is partial. So last time I used the term quantitative. You have an incomplete quantity or a complete quantity. So knowledge and prophecy are incomplete but when the perfect [that which completes] comes then that which is partial is done away.
Why is it done away? Because it's no longer needed. That which is complete has arrived. So that's clearly showing that knowledge and prophecy are incomplete and will not continue. The fact that tongues are said to cease indicates that it probably ceases and dies out on its own before something happens that completes the prophecy and knowledge. Then Paul uses that word KATARGEO, the word translated abolished or cease or will fail, again in 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 showing that those verses down there are illustrations of what happens.
So 1 Corinthians 13:11 uses a growth metaphor, "When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, and I thought as a child." A child's thinking is incomplete. It's also immature. Now there are some who hold a view that really isn't talking about the completion of the canon but maturity. Let me help you understand that. In the view of the Church, what makes the Church shift from being immature to being mature is that the apostles and prophets pass off the scene. The apostles and prophets function like a tutor. They function like a nanny. Okay? So the early Church functioned under a system of nannies, of baby sitters, of parents that could guide and direct the early Church because they were receiving new revelation from God which wasn't yet enscripturated and wasn't yet available for all believers. So the apostles and the prophets are said in Ephesians 2:20 to be the foundation of the Church.
So when the apostles and prophets moved off the scene there wasn't anyone left to oversee and guide the Church so that when someone said that God told him to do "x" there wasn't a group to say that you're wrong, that God's not telling you that. They didn't have that authority structure. In that sense the Church moves from immaturity to maturity but what it is that ultimately makes that difference? When the apostles and prophets are there the reason they're needed is because the revelation from God hadn't been completed yet. The New Testament canon hadn't been completed yet so the early Church was functioning on an insufficient knowledge base and it was through the apostles and prophets that you had a system of checks on anyone who claimed to be giving new revelation. They were the ultimate authority to guard the Church.
Once the canon is completed then you have all the information to continue through the centuries. So this is where the maturity view and the canon view are two sides of the same coin. The apostles and prophets pass off the scene because the Church is reaching a maturity stage. What makes it a maturity stage it that it has a sufficient canon. It has a complete canon.
Now when I was teaching this at the conference on Dispensational Hermeneutics at the Baptist Bible Seminary there was a pastor who asked a perceptive question and one I've thought about since. He said, 'Well, when's the canon closed? Does this really end when the apostle John puts the last period and the last verse of the last chapter in Revelation 22? Or is there a transition stage even though at that point even though the canon had objectively been completed most people didn't even have ten books of the New Testament and probably never saw more than ten books. It actually took a period of collection and circulation over the next hundred years before people had most of the New Testament available to them." I've thought about that and most of us has this idea that God sort of separates dispensations with a guillotine. I think I've abused a lot of people with that notion by understanding the idea of transition in Acts. You see this happens every time there's a dispensational shift.
When Abram was 65 years old, God appeared to him in Ur of the Chaldees and told him to get out and to head to a land God was going to show him. That's an objective dispensational shift. But how many people knew that? Abraham. It was a long time before it became apparent that God had shifted how he was going to work in history. But the shift had come objectively. The revelation of that shift took time for it to be communicated. People didn't have Twitter account. They couldn't just flash the news all the way around the world instantly. It took time. I think it's helpful and this is something I've just kind of worked through recently to realize that was probably a bit of transition time there.
Let's just think about this. Let's say you're saved and you're about twenty years old and the year is A.D. 55. So you were born in A.D. 35. You're going to be 65 when the century shifts or technically 66 in 101. Okay? So you get saved when you're 20 years old. You were born in A.D. 35. You get the spiritual gift of knowledge or prophecy or tongues or wisdom. Did that gift disappear when John put that period at the end of Revelation? Or did it still continue throughout your lifetime because that still was needed through that early period of the collection and circulation of the canon?
Now I don't know but I think those are interesting questions to kind of think through and when you read the literature in the early Church at the end of the 1st century and at the beginning of the 2nd century it's clear that they were still dealing with a people who claimed to have some of these gifts. Now there were very strict regulations on this. That's helpful for us because it causes us to understand how the early Church understood these gifts and they understood them the same way the Old Testament did, especially the gift of prophecy.
I pointed out last time in terms of Wayne Grudem's idea that the New Testament gift of prophecy was something different from the New Testament gift. I'm not talking about the apostles. I'm talking about the ones who heard the apostles and listened to the apostles like the Epistle of Barnabas, the DIDACHE of Clement, a 1st century pastor. These were written, some arguably as early as A.D. 60, 70, 90, maybe early into the next century.
It's very clear that by the time you get to A.D. 160 you have the rise of one of the first heresies in the early Church that was known as Montanism. In Montanism you had an early form of the charismatic movement. They weren't speaking in tongues but they were emphasizing prophecy and the Church came down hard on Montanus and his followers. Incidentally, Tertullian, the man who is known as having coined the word Trinity that we use today describing the triune God, was a Montenist and they believed in the continuation of the gift of prophecy. But the standards that the Church used to show Montanism was a heresy came right out of Deuteronomy 13 and 18.
So basically what I'm saying and it's a new thought for probably everyone here, is that maybe you have a little bit of a transition period between A.D. 95 and A.D. 130, 140, 150 that these gifts died out as the canon was taking hold and being passed around. But clearly it's because there's a completed canon and the Church is shifting from that immature dependency view in the early Church to a mature Church based on a completed canon that these gifts died out so that by at least the mid-point of the 2nd century, if not twenty or thirty years earlier, these gifts would have all passed from the scene.
So 1 Corinthians 13:8 which says "love never fails" emphasizes the permanence of love in contrast to the temporary nature of this set of gifts. Then we look at the way in which people have interpreted the "perfect". And this is the real issue. Does it refer to the completed canon or the mature Church? That's the objective view that there's something that happens at the end of the 1st century that brings knowledge and prophecy to a completion point. They're no longer needed so they're no longer given.
Then you have the other view that is really the dominant view. You're going to hear that from a number of people that somehow when we move from this life when we're face-to-face with the Lord, whether that's death or the Rapture or the Second Coming or the eternal state or sometime in the future that that's when perfection arrives. Now this is the key to understanding the interpretation here one more time. If the perfect arrives when we enter an eternal state face-to-face with the Lord, then what that means is that knowledge, prophecy, and tongues continue until we go into heaven when we're face-to-face with the Lord in whatever sense that is and faith, hope, and love continue from that point on in heaven where we're face-to-face with the Lord.
The problem is that since hope and love are contrasted with sight, such as "today we walk by faith, but then by sight" but when we're in heaven we're going to be face-to-face with the Lord. We'll be walking by sight, not by faith. Faith is limited to this earth. Romans 8:24 says the same thing regarding hope. When we're face-to-face with the Lord it won't be hope anymore because is a confident expectation of something and that expectation will be fulfilled. Okay, so hope and faith are for temporal environment today, not an eternal state environment. So obviously we can't have the temporary gifts continuing in a temporal environment and then faith, hope, and love continue in an eternal state environment. Faith and hope won't be there so that means that the temporary gifts must continue to a point in time and then they end. Faith, hope, and love continue after that in time but then when this temporal environment is over with and we're face-to-face with the Lord what continues is love. Faith, hope, and love. Love is permanent. 1 Corinthians 13:8, "Love never fails."
So that makes it very clear that the faith and hope position as related to eternity just doesn't work. The "perfect" as the eternal state just doesn't work with the rest of Scripture. The other key element in opening up this interpretation is that the "now" in 1 Corinthians 13:12 and the now in 1 Corinthians 13:13 reflect different words in the Greek and that's huge! Paul doesn't shift synonyms that close together without a reason. The Scripture doesn't. Now you have a trend in modern studies to shift words for stylistic purposes. Well, Paul uses that verb KATARGEO four times in this passage without changing it. He doesn't change words for stylistic reasons. He changes words for doctrinal reasons.
So the "now" in 1 Corinthians 13:12 is the Greek word ARTI which according to a number of Greek grammars, when these two words are used in the same context, the ARTI means right now, like today or this minute. It's an immediacy. Whereas NUNI, the word used in 1 Corinthians 13:13 has a broader sense like now in this decade, or now in this century or now in this age, in contrast to now today, now in this immediate period.
So the contrast then is between a now that Paul is talking about when knowledge and prophecy are operational and an end in the same Church Age when they're not because love will eventually continue. The same thing is true in relation to the illustrations that he gives. The Church goes through a period like a child and then when he reaches maturity, he puts away childish things, which is incomplete knowledge of life. He next uses the image of a mirror. As I pointed out last time a mirror is not like the old King James version where it says we see through a glass darkly. We're not seeing through glass. We're seeing a mirror that reflects back on us so what we're looking at in the mirror is us. If the mirror is incomplete or if the mirror is foggy then we can't see ourselves clearly. And when knowledge and prophecy are partial and that relates to the mirror, you can't know, so he uses this image of the mirror to say it's face-to-face with the mirror, not face-to-face with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The reason why many people have missed this is that they read it and they read theology into the passage. How many times do you hear someone say that when we die we're going to be face-to-face with the Lord so then you see face-to-face again and you think it should mean with the Lord. That's reading your preconceived notions into the text. When you're looking in a mirror, you're not face-to-face with someone else. You're face-to-face with yourself. That's what this is describing. When the mirror is incomplete it's a puzzle. You don't see the whole picture and that's a picture of knowledge.
See, looking in the mirror is related to partial knowledge. It's a fuzzy mirror, it's a foggy mirror, it's enigmatic but then when the mirror is complete then we'll know completely. We'll have a sufficient knowledge or ourselves. Someone called that the perspicacity of Scripture. That's a great term. The Scripture is not perspicacious if it's insufficient or incomplete. But when the Scripture is complete then it shows us who we are in all of its completion so we move from knowing in part to knowing fully.
Knowing fully doesn't mean omniscient. Even when we're in heaven we're not omniscient. Only God is omniscient. A million years from now when we've been there ten thousand years as we sing in "Amazing Grace" we're still not going to know everything. When we've been there ten thousand times ten thousand times ten thousand there are still going to be things to learn. We're not going to know everything. So we know partially from the Scripture but the Scripture gives us a complete and sufficient knowledge of who we are.
The "now" that Paul talks about is in the timeframe he's living in, when Scripture is still being composed. Remember he wrote 1 Corinthians sometimes around A.D. 54 or 55 when he's in Ephesus and this is during the pre-canon period so he's still a good sixteen years away from the destruction of Jerusalem and the judgment on Israel. That what ends the use of tongues because according to 1 Corinthians 14:21 the purpose for tongues was a sign of judgment for Israel. It's a quote from Isaiah 28:11-12. Israel was warned even in the Mosaic Law that a sign of judgment was that they would hear the Word of God in strange languages, in foreign languages. That was a sign that God was bringing judgment on the nation and on the land.
Paul is talking about this period in which he lived when talking about the immediate "now" when knowledge, prophecy, and tongues were operational. But after A.D. 70 tongues ceased and once the canon was complete then knowledge and prophecy died out. Then you enter into the mature stage of the Church Age, the post-Apostolic period which began in approximately A.D. 95 and will end with the Rapture. After the Rapture comes the Tribulation and the Millennial Kingdom and what endures into eternity is love. As long as we're in this period which includes the Tribulation and the Millennial Kingdom love and then faith and hope will be operational but in the eternal state, God sets up His dwelling upon the earth and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwell upon the earth.
So I concluded then that the perfect completes the two partial gifts which are revelatory, therefore the perfect must be revelatory which means the canon of Scripture. The arrival of the perfect separates the immediate "now" from the future "now". This is then illustrated by the child/adult and then the mirror statement in 1 Corinthians 11-12. So the final point was that the completion of the canon and the passing of the apostolic era transitions the Church from a childhood stage based on an incomplete canon to a maturity stage based on a complete canon.
The bottom line is that you can't evaluate on the basis of some sort of subjective experience. This was the problem the Corinthians had. Corinth is located just across the Isthmus of Corinth and down the road from a place called Delphi. Delphi was known because there was an oracle there, the Oracle of Delphi, who was said to possess a PUTHONOS, a python snake. She sat over this hole in the ground—and no one knows what really came up but some kind of vapors or gas came up and she would enter into some sort of trance—and she would speak in glossolalic utterance, the language of the gods. You also had this tongues-speaking kind of thing in the worship of Dionysius. He was the god of wine. The worshippers would go up into various sacred groves and drink enough wine until they started speaking in these glossolalic utterances because the idea was that if you drank enough wine then the spirits [no pun intended] would enter into you and the god would speak through you in these divine-like languages.
So within the charismatic movement you have people who often make these claims that they're speaking in angelic languages or it's a special prayer language. I had a conversation one time with a charismatic who said, "But when I pray in tongues, God always answers my prayers. It's so much more effective." I said, "Really, do you know what you're praying for?" He answered, "No." Then I said, "Then how do you know that God is answering them if you don't know what you're praying for?" He didn't know, but they make these kinds of claims all the time.
Okay, so the seventh point is that there's a difference between temporary and permanent spiritual gifts. The permanent gifts are given for the edification and the strengthening and service to the body of Christ. These gifts are given to every believer at the instant of salvation by God the Holy Spirit. They're sovereignly distributed. We're given a list of gifts as I pointed out last time in the New Testament but I do not believe that these lists are necessarily exhaustive but a number of these gifts are very broad, like the gift of service or the gift of helps. They're very broad categories and people can have the gift of service and the gift of helps and it can be manifested a lot of different ways. Singing in the choir is not a spiritual gift. Playing a musical instrument is not a spiritual gift. Going on the mission field is not a spiritual gift. But these reflect spiritual gifts. If someone is singing in the congregation in the aid of worship that can be a function of the gift of helps. Some of us really need a lot of help in that area. It can be a function of service.
Someone who goes on the mission field may have the gift of evangelism, may have any of the spiritual gifts, actually because all of those things are operational on the mission field. Many of them have the gift of pastor-teacher. But one of the things I've always been concerned about since I was a young man is that on the mission field you have pastors and teachers who are always the most obvious. But in order for any pastor to be effective in carrying out his ministry there are dozens and dozens of people who are working behind the scenes to make that happen. We have deacons who serve in the church leadership. We have a lot of other volunteers who do many, many things in this congregation that are often unseen or unknown by most of the people. They just assume that bills get paid and the floors get vacuumed and websites get built but people in the congregation help do all of these things. That's the body of Christ working together.
And that's true on the mission field. I find that it's a little bit shallow for a lot of Christians who say they want to support Billy Graham, Jim Myers, or George Meisinger, but what about supporting the secretaries? What about supporting the people who are working in the offices that help them produce the materials they need to produce? Working on translating materials? All of these kinds of things. Some of that can be done by volunteers, some of it needs to be done by people who do it full time and need to have enough financial remuneration to be able to live according to that. It's just as important as supporting the person who's at the front, the one who is seen and heard most of the time. All of that is important. All of that is part of the mission field. So missionary is not a gift. It's just someone who decides that instead of being a pastor in Houston, Texas or in Cleveland, Ohio or in Los Angeles, California that he's going to just be a pastor in Berlin or Kiev or in Rome or in Thailand. They're just using their gift of pastor-teacher or evangelist in another location.
This takes us to the eighth point which is the purpose of these permanent spiritual gifts. It's for mutual ministry within the body of Christ. The purpose of spiritual gifts as I pointed out a couple of lessons back isn't for you to use it at work. If you have the gift of evangelism, you as stated in Ephesians 4:11-12 you are to equip your co-workers. Right? No, it doesn't say that. It's to equip the body of Christ to do the work of the ministry. It's to equip your family. No, it's not to equip your family. It's not to equip your neighbors. It's to equip the members of the body of Christ to be more effective in evangelism.
The work of the spiritual gifts is to minister to one another. That's other believers in the body of Christ. This is one of the weaknesses we have when the body of Christ gets atomized into small groups, usually one, sometimes two, who are crutching along on tapes or media or internet or something like that because they don't have a group of believers to minister to. It shortcircuits the operation of their spiritual gifts to the body of Christ. On the other side one of the things I've witnessed (and its good and bad, depending on where it is) is that in some internet communities it's provided people who are isolated to get together with other believers via the internet so that they cannot gossip. That's a failing that can happen some times, but it's so they can have a ministry to one another.
We live in a world today where the body of Christ, in terms of a true disciples who are seeking to grow and mature on the basis of the Word of God, is shrinking. In some locales, even in large urban areas, it may be extremely difficult to find a local church where the pastor is teaching the Word of God and where there's not too much heresy and too much distraction. I've always counseled people that you can go someplace and things may not be everything you want them to be but the pastor may give you a great opportunity to teach a Sunday school class or just to help out here or help out there and you may have a tremendous ministry in that local church. You never know how you might impact that local church over the next five or fifteen years. Just because you go in there and the pastor is pretty shallow and superficial, don't just write that off. Look at going to church as not what you're going to get from it, me, me, me, but how you can have a ministry to this local body.
Now I'm not addressing this to people here in West Houston Bible Church as much as I'm addressing that to a lot of people who listen. A lot of people have drifted into a bad habit where they just flip on their iPad or their iPhone or whatever and listen and they think that's great, that's wonderful. You're missing out on a whole portion of your spiritual life, which is ministering in some capacity to the body of Christ within a local church ministry. The local church was instituted by Jesus Christ, not the internet.
Now it's great to have the internet. I had a guy listen to me one time when I was talking about this. He lived up in Vermont. He sent me an e-mail that said, "Pastor, I've really tried to be part of a local church. The best church in town is a Congregational Church and the pastor doesn't believe in the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ and I just don't feel comfortable taking my kid there anymore. We've been going there about five months." I said, "No, you don't need to go there." You don't sacrifice core orthodox Biblical doctrine to be part of a local church but there are a lot of local churches that aren't that bad. They may not be that great and you may not be the most comfortable all the time.
I know of one person. I'm not going to mention his name because he brings his pastor to the pastor's conference all the time but he could run intellectual circles around almost every pastor we know and his pastor isn't that well-educated but this man has had an incredible ministry with that pastor. Another one is George Meisinger. George goes to a huge church in Albuquerque and since he's been going to that church he's been meeting with that pastor one-on-one and challenging him in areas of exegesis and getting deeper in his messages and has had a tremendous ministry there. When I went to Israel last year one of the ladies on the trip helps with her husband teaching a Sunday school class and whenever her husband can't be there, George teaches it. It's had a tremendous impact on the adults in that congregation.
But George or someone like that could say, "You know, I could run intellectual, theological circles around this pastor and leave them in the dust but I can have a great ministry here serving the Lord and have an impact on this congregation instead of being self-absorbed and saying you're here just to see what you can get out of it." I've heard that from a lot of believers over the years. They say, "Well, I went there once or twice but I can't get anything out of it." On the other hand, I recognize and I know someone who may even be listening tonight who really put forth a strong effort to be involved in a local church that was fairly close to where he lived. He doesn't live here in Houston, he lives somewhere else in the state. It just finally got to a point where the pastor asked them to leave because every time the pastor would ask them to teach a Sunday School class or this thing or that thing this man would teach something and the pastor would say, "No, no, no. That's not right." There were just too many little doctrinal conflicts that eventually they just couldn't operate there.
So we have to understand that we have a role as believers in mutual ministry in service to the body of Christ. That's something that's true at West Houston Bible Church. Another thing that's part of that is that you have to get to know people in the congregation in order to be able to minister. Now you can't know everyone in the congregation but you ought to get to know four, five, or six people fairly well. Not just walk in at the last minute and walk out as soon as I say Amen. You have to know people to have this kind of ministry with them in the body of Christ. I keep coming back to that because it's so obvious. But I keep hearing Christians say they can function in their spiritual gift at the office or with other Christians I know but the focal point of these passages is within the local church. That's what was established by the Lord Jesus Christ. So we have to function there.
We also have to balance this by realizing spiritual gifts are not the means of spiritual growth or church growth. The reason I added that last part is because we live in an era when something started, something horrible started, in the late 1960s. It doesn't sound like a bad idea. It spawned a lot of bad ideas and that's known as the church growth movement. The church growth movement came mostly out of Fuller Seminary. A few other places were influential. C. Peter Wagner was one of the leaders. This spawned a lot of those mega-churches and it believed in building churches just on the basis of human skills and human tactics.
I interviewed Wagner around twenty-five years ago. We got around to talking about this. I had had him recommended in a couple of seminary classes telling me I had to read Peter Wagner's book on spiritual gifts because you have to get your people to know what their spiritual gift is. Otherwise you can't build a healthy church. Well, I've known a lot of healthy churches that never did that. They weren't going to go along with the self-absorbed culture of the day, but that's where the self-absorbed go. It says, "You've got to get people plugged in to their spiritual gift." No, you have to get people plugged in to the Word of God. You have to get people plugged in to doctrine. And you have to get them walking by the Spirit so that the Holy Spirit can enable them and strengthen them in their spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. The issue is the Word of God, not the experience.
You may go your whole life and never know for sure what your spiritual gift is if it's not one of the more obvious one. But that doesn't mean that you're not utilizing it in your spiritual life. That's really the ninth point, which says that it's really not necessary to identify your spiritual gift in order to use it. As you're growing and maturing in Christ, as you seek to serve the Lord, you will use your spiritual gift. The tenth point I have is that there's a distinction between natural talents and abilities and spiritual gifts. Some of us were born with great natural talents, natural skills mentally, an I.Q. of 140-150-160. Other people had great skills with numbers in mathematics. Other people had great skills in their ability to think logically. Some people didn't. I've known some people who really weren't all that bright but they sure were faithful to their study of the Word. I think some of those people are going to be in some tremendous places in the kingdom because they were just faithful to the Lord. They weren't given a lot of natural talent but they used it well.
People are born with natural talents and abilities in music. Some people are naturally good orators, good speakers. That's not their spiritual gift. They would be that way even if they were unsaved. They just have a natural ability or talent in that area. Spiritual gifts are divine enhancements that are given at the point of salvation. It's developed in some degree as you develop spiritually and it becomes more and more apparent.
Sometimes I believe, although I can't give you a Scripture on this, but I think spiritual gifts often intersect with your natural talents and your natural abilities and they work together so that spiritual gifts look different in everybody. Everybody is different; they have a different personality. If you're a pastor then you're going to have a different personality than the pastor that influenced you because he's a different person. Doctrine doesn't change. Teaching the truth doesn't change. But be true to yourself, be true to your own personality, be true to your own style, your own talents, your own abilities and whatever the spiritual gifts are that God's given you. But don't make the mistake of identifying spiritual gifts with natural talents or abilities.
Point eleven says that spiritual gifts only have spiritual efficacy when operated under the filling of the Holy Spirit. I don't mean that you can't use your spiritual gift unless you're operating under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. I don't mean that. Just like anything else in your spiritual life, unless you're walking by the Spirit when you're doing it, it's either going to be gold, silver, and precious stones or wood, hay, and straw. If you're walking according to the flesh it's just going to produce wood, hay, and straw. People may benefit from it because God is going to bless His word even if you're out of fellowship but if you're in fellowship it's going to accrue spiritual significance to you and to others.
The twelfth point is that we have to recognize that the body of Christ is like a team. Think about a team like the Seattle Seahawks as much as you may not like them. Where would they be without a quarterback? Where would they be if all they had were quarterbacks? See, there's a lot of different positions and a lot of different talents and a lot of different skills that need to come together to produce a healthy team. That's what the body of Christ is. There's a lot of different people doing a lot of different things and they don't have to all be the same way so we have different positions, different spiritual gifts, and when we're all walking by the Spirit it is a magnificent and wonderful thing.
The thirteenth point is that the purpose of spiritual gifts is to edify the body of Christ and not unbelievers. And I mean the local body of Christ. There are ways in which we can minister to other believers at times but the primary purpose as seen in the New Testament is functioning in the local body of believers. Spiritual gifts is not about what you get out of it. Although a person may receive edification as a by-product of his use of his spiritual gift, this can be a big problem in the charismatic movement. They think they're edified when they use their spiritual gift of tongues. Well, buddy, the use of your spiritual gifts is to edify somebody else and not yourself. If you're doing it for yourself then you're carnal and it's a wrong use of a gift. You may be edified as a by-product.
Let me tell you. I learn a lot studying the Word of God when I'm preparing for a message but I don't study the Word of God for what I get out of it just in terms of my own spiritual life. I'm studying it so I can utilize my spiritual gift to help guide, teach, and inform believers so that they can be more effective in their spiritual life. And yeah, I enjoy that, and I get something out of it but I'm not doing it for what I can get out of it. I'm doing it because I want to serve other people. There's a by-product of knowing that you're being used by God but the personal enrichment side of it is not why we utilize our spiritual gift.
Then the last point is that a person may have more than one gift. A person may have different proportions of those gifts. So some people may be richly given the gift of pastor-teacher or just have it in a smaller amount. He may have smaller gifts, such as mercy, such as helps, such as evangelism so no two pastors are going to be the same and God uses each individual in rich ways to minister to the body of Christ. That tells us we shouldn't ever idolize a pastor because God has given many different pastors in the Church Age and they contribute many different things to the body of Christ. There are some wonderful pastors and there have been some great pastors and there have been some intellectual pastors and there have been some very caring pastors but every one of them are fulfilling God's mission for them and God has provided many different pastors for the body of Christ and not just one.
We need to recognize that there are different pastors for different congregations. Sometimes the congregational needs shift and another pastor needs to come in. Think about the church at Ephesus during the 1st century. Paul was there. Timothy was there. Apollos was there. There were a number of different pastors. The last pastor they had was the Apostle John. So over a course of about forty years they have four or five great men in that congregation in Ephesus. They had other congregations there as well and in some of the other towns around Ephesus. Ephesus was sort of the Las Vegas playground of the ancient world and so they had a lot of distractions to deal with. But there were a lot of different pastors who just came and went. There wasn't just one. Timothy was there for about twenty years. You didn't hear people say, "Well, you can go listen to Timothy but I'm going to listen to the Apostle John. He was Jesus' best friend." You didn't have that kind of nonsense going on there. We need to correct our attitude on some of these things. Next time we'll come back and we'll get into our final discussion on spiritual gifts in Romans12 and then we'll go into the next section dealing with love in the body of Christ.