Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines. 1 Corinthians 12.7-11
One of my grandsons and I were driving down the road the other day, talking about having superpowers or being superheroes. I don’t know what you talk about with your grandchildren, if you have any yet (and they are so much more fun than children!), but we were discussing what superpower we would choose if we could pick any one we wanted. Ah, the possibilities…! He told me to choose something else when he decreed that being thin was not a real superpower. Obviously, he’s never tried to diet.
The appeal of supernatural powers probably begins the moment a toddler realizes she cannot reach the cabinet to get her own sippy-cup. To be unfettered by our limitations and to do the thing which is beyond our abilities has a beckoning allure. Since being thin was disallowed, eventually I settled on flying. Imagine soaring above the earth, feeling the winds swirl past, dipping down to see the great treasures of our planet, as well as the untold wonders of limitless towns and back-roads, uncharted creeks and little known forests and byways. Breaking through the confines and restraints of mortal life, even for a day, would be a gift of priceless value. And therein lies the appeal of spiritual gifts.
This is my last article in this “sort of” series on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. Gifts and fruit, those things that we get from the Holy Spirit, but we don’t know how and we don’t know when. The coolest thing about spiritual gifts is that they allow us to do what God does. People can see the Spirit right there, upfront and personal, in us. We have broken through the human barrier and display the power of God. To lay hands on someone and see their health restored as Jesus did it…; how awesome would that be? Or, to stand up in the middle of your Christian community and speak a prophetic word from God…? At that moment, you could know for certain that you were the beloved of God, His chosen vessel, good enough to be given a gift, and acceptable as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
We desire spiritual gifts, plain and simple. Really, there is nothing wrong with that. They are gifts from God, given by His Spirit, and we are wrong to spurn or demean them, which some people do. The Spirit gives gifts as He needs, and all Christians should be willing recipients, the available tool for a work of our Father desires done.
Yet, sometimes I think we are mistaken to pursue the gifts too deliberately. As Paul pointed out, gifts are something the Spirit gives “as He determines.” When we pursue the gifts of the Spirit, I wonder if we do not look to God as our children and grandchildren look to us in the cereal aisle of the supermarket. ‘Oh, please, please, please…, please! I will be good!’ As Paul went on to write, “But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” (v. 31) He is talking about the fruit of the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is spelled out in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The fruit of the Spirit – fruit grows; it begins as a little bud that blossoms and produces a tiny, almost invisible, promise of a fruit that slowly becomes sustenance and nourishment – flavor and blessing – for others. Fruit is an indication that the Spirit of God is growing within us, that He dwells in our hearts and minds and is transforming us and preparing us to live in the presence of our Most High God and Father. The fruit of the Spirit are those qualities that belong to Christ by nature and are instilled in us through communion and obedience to His Spirit in our lives. And fruit has a lasting impact; it changes not only us, but all those with whom we come into contact. Gifts fix a moment and reveal God’s power, but fruit has the power to change lives permanently, starting with our own.
God gives gifts as He has need, and those gifts are given for purposes beyond our understanding and control. But that does not stop us from often trying to take credit. Like the Corinthians, we tend to think of spiritual gifts as some sort of privileged status that we almost inevitably, if unintentionally, try to manipulate. But how does one manipulate kindness or gentleness? How does one take pride in peace or control joy?
Ask for fruit; you want fruit. If the fruit of the Spirit grows in you, then any and every spiritual gift you are given will truly glorify Christ Jesus, not yourself. Gifts misused can destroy you and hurt the Body of Christ, but gifts used by those in whom the Spirit dwells build up the Body and reveal an immeasurably good, merciful and gracious God. Eagerly desire the greater gifts; desire the fruit of the Spirit.
In Christ –
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