“All these [gifts, achievements, abilities] are inspired and brought to pass by one and the same [Holy] Spirit, Who apportions to each person individually [exactly] as He chooses. I Cor. 12:11
As much as we are taught and exhorted to understand that the grace of God is without merit, somehow that performance based mentality is continually creeping into our mindset. Most of the time we don’t even realize it. Even when we get the grace concept nailed down in relationship to our eternal salvation and forgiveness of sin, it’s still easy to fall back to merit based applications in other areas of our relationship with God or in our view of the Church and its operations. I’ve heard it often when it comes to the spiritual giftings or the spiritual experiences of individuals.
First of all, I’m using the phrase ‘spiritual giftings’ instead of ‘spiritual gifts’ very intentionally. My desire is to avoid the readers application of this article to a narrow listing of specific spiritual gifts and their own specific definitions or understandings of what they are and how they operate. At the same time, my terminology is meant to be inclusive of any extraordinary ability or experience which has been given or endowed upon an individual by the Holy Spirit.
I hate labels. Although certainly necessary and helpful, labels can also be limiting and potentially confusing as well. Take tomatoes for example. Because they have seeds within them, they are technically a fruit. However, if you look for them in your grocery store, you will not find them with the fruit, you will find them with the vegetables (where most of us would agree that they belong). Spiders are not technically insects, because true insects have six legs. Yet, this distinction really becomes moot when we are trying to rid our house of ‘insects;’ we want all creepy-crawly critters with legs from 4 to 100 eliminated.
So, lets not get technical with the ‘what is a spiritual gift and what is not’ question. That’s not the issue. The issue is: On what basis are supernatural giftings and experiences given, and should we consider those who have experienced the more extraordinary in the spiritual realm to have merited these gifts; to have somehow earned them based upon their pious obedience or extreme development of their spiritual understanding? Have they ‘reached’ a spiritual level or plane that we have yet to attain? Or, could it be, that they have done nothing more or different than you or I and it has simply been the Spirit’s choosing to pour out on them in a different fashion and different measure than He has on us?
These questions may be a bit more complex than what I can fully address in a short blog article. In addition, I am probably not the proper person to address them that fully anyway. But I do feel I can speak to the more simple issue of merit versus grace in this area. For it really isn’t complicated. It is just a matter of remembering that our God is a Living Being, not a set of rules and principles. When we want to understand how He operates in a given area, we need to look at His character, His personhood. He will not operate differently in regards to our spiritual being than He does with our physical, mental and psychological being.
Not everyone is given the same physique, mental capabilities or personality traits. We can development and enhance what we have, but cannot and should not attempt to achieve what God never initially gifted us to achieve. I do not have an ear for musical notes, while others can sing harmony at a young age. I can learn about music, but I will never be a Mozart, unless God supernaturally endowed me with a late in life musical talent. We need to look at spiritual giftings and experiences the same way.
Although, we may find a listing of spiritual gifts or spiritual offices within the Bible, we must not assume that God runs his organization like we run ours. Yet, I’ve often heard people talk about it in that way. Their approach seems like that of making speaking in tongues the first stripe of rank that is received, and with each additional experience – healing, miracles, teaching, prophesying – a stripe is being added as we climb the ladder of spiritual ranking. Why would we think God would operate that way?
Often times, we don’t apply this spiritual ranking to ourselves, but to others. If someone is given the gift to distribute physical healing by the Holy Spirit, we make the assumption that they are ‘higher up the ladder’ and therefore we turn to them for insight into all manner of spiritual things, expecting spiritual endowments that may or may not have been provided to them.
Yes, I know the verses that exhort us to seek after the greater gifts, however, that gives us no reason to assume that we can ‘earn’ them, by our seeking, our faith or our obedience. We have a loving Father who delights to give good gifts to His children. It has been my experience that He always gives much better gifts than I deserve. I am thankful that He does not operate on a merit system in the area of gifts, any more than He does in the area of forgiveness. His character remains one of merciful grace.
If you are blessed with great visions like the Apostle Paul or the ability to bring physical healing with your touch, thank God for those blessings and use them as He directs for the benefit of all, but do not assume or allow anyone else to assume that you have done anything to deserve the blessing of being used to minister in His name. He has given it as a gift for His own reasons. Honor Him by walking in humility, understanding that you remain dependent upon Him for all things, and remember to look at others who have been blessed in such ways with the same point of view.