Chapter 16: SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND MINISTRIES


Seventh-day Adventists Believe...

God bestows upon all members of His church in every age

spiritual gifts which each member is to employ in loving

ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity.

Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to

each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and

ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely

ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts

include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy,

proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation,

compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the

help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of

God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by

the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and

teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members

for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity,

and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When

members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of

God's varied grace, the church is protected from the

destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth

that is from God, and is built up in faith and love.

--Fundamental Beliefs,16.

 

SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND MINISTRIES

The words Jesus spoke just before He ascended to heaven

were to change history. "`Go into all the world,'" He

ordered the disciples, "`and preach the gospel to every

creature'" (Mark 16:15).

To all the world? To every creature? The disciples must

have thought it an impossible task. Christ, sensing their

helplessness, instructed them not to leave Jerusalem but "to

wait for the Promise of the Father." Then He assured them,

"`You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon

you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in

all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth'"

(Acts 1:4,8).

Following Jesus' ascension to heaven the disciples spent

much time in prayer. Harmony and humility replaced the

discord and jealousy that had marred much of their time with

Jesus. The disciples were converted. Their close communion

with Christ and the resulting unity were the necessary

preparation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus received a special anointing with the Spirit to

fit Him for His ministry (Acts 10:38), so the disciples

received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) to enable

them to witness. The results were electrifying. On the day

they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, they baptized

three thousand persons (see Acts 2:41).

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Christ illustrated the gifts of the Holy Spirit with a

parable: "`The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to

a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his

goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another

two, and to another one, to each according to his own

ability; and immediately he went on a journey'"

(Matt. 25:14,15).

The man traveling to a far country represents Christ

leaving for heaven. The man's "own servants" are His

followers, who "were bought at a price" (1 Cor. 6:20)--"the

precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:19). Christ redeemed

them for service, and they live "no longer for themselves,

but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:15).

Christ gave goods to each servant according to his

ability, and "`to each his work'" (Mark 13:34). Along with

other gifts and abilities (see Chapter 20 of this book),

these goods represent the special gifts imparted by the

Spirit.(*1)

In a special sense, Christ gave these spiritual gifts to

His church at Pentecost. "When He ascended on high," Paul

said, He "gave gifts to men." Thus "to each one of us grace

was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Eph.

4:8,7). The Holy Spirit is the agent who distributes "to

each one individually as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11) these

gifts that enable the church to do its assigned work.

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

The Holy Spirit gives a special ability to a member,

enabling him to help the church fulfill its divine mission.

Harmony Within the Church

The Corinthian church did not lack any spiritual gift

(1 Cor. 1:4,7). Unfortunately, they bickered like children

over which gifts were the most important.

Concerned about the divisions in their church, Paul wrote

to the Corinthians about the true nature of these gifts and

how they were meant to function. Spiritual gifts, he

explained, are gifts of grace. From the same Spirit come

"diversities of gifts," which lead to "differences of

ministries" and "diversities of activities." But Paul

emphasized that it is "the same God who works all in all"

(1 Cor. 12:4-6).

The Spirit distributes gifts to every believer--for the

edification, or building up, of the church. The needs of the

Lord's work determine what the Spirit distributes and to

whom. All do not receive the same gifts. Paul said the

Spirit gives to one wisdom, to another knowledge, to another

faith, to another miracles, to another prophecy, to another

discerning of spirits, to another tongues, and to another

the interpretation of tongues. "But one and the same Spirit

works all these things, distributing to each one

individually as He wills" (verse 11). Thankfulness for the

working of a gift in the church should be directed to the

Giver, not to the person who exercises the gift. And because

the gifts are given for the church, not the individual,

recipients should not consider the gifts their private

property.

Since the Spirit distributes the gifts according as He

sees fit, no gift is to be despised or belittled. No member

of the church has a right to arrogance because of a

particular appointment or function, nor should anyone feel

inferior because of an assignment to a humble position.

1. The model of operation.

Paul used the human body to illustrate harmony in the

diversity of gifts. The body has many parts that each

contribute in a unique way. "In fact God has arranged the

parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them

to be" (verse 18, NIV).

No part of the body should say to another "I don't need

you!" They all are dependent on one another and "those parts

of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and

the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with

special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are

treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts

need no special treatment. But God has combined the members

of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that

lacked it" (verses 21-24, NIV).

The failure of any organ would affect the entire body. If

the body had no brain the stomach would not function; and if

it had no stomach the brain would be useless. So the church

would suffer if any member, no matter how insignificant, was

missing.

Certain parts of the body that are structurally weaker

need special protection. One may function without a hand or

leg, but not without liver, heart, or lungs. We normally

expose our faces and hands, but we cover other parts of the

body with clothes for purposes of modesty or decency. Far

from esteeming the lesser gifts lightly, we must treat them

with greater care because the health of the church depends

on them.

God intended the distribution of spiritual gifts in the

church to prevent "division in the body" and to produce a

spirit of harmony and dependency, so "its parts should have

equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every

part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part

rejoices with it" (verses 25,26, NIV). So when one believer

suffers, the entire church should be made aware of it and

should help alleviate the suffering. Only when this person

is restored is the health of the church secure.

After discussing the value of each of the gifts, Paul

listed a number of them: "God has appointed in the church

first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then

workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators,

speakers in various kinds of tongues" (verse 28, RSV; cf.

Eph. 4:11). Since no member has all the gifts, he encouraged

all to "eagerly desire the greater gifts" (verse 31, NIV),

referring to those most useful to the church.(*2)

2. The indispensable dimension.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, however, are not sufficient

by themselves. There is "a more excellent way" (verse 31).

While the gifts of the Spirit will pass away at Christ's

return, the fruit of the Spirit is eternal. It consists of

the eternal virtue of love and the peace, goodness, and

righteousness that love brings with it (see Gal. 5:22,23;

Eph. 5:9). While prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will

disappear, faith, hope, and love will remain. And "the

greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).(*3)

This love God gives (agape in Greek) is a

self-sacrificing and giving love (1 Cor. 13:4-8). It is "the

higher type of love, which recognizes something of value in

the person or object that is loved; love that is based on

principle, not on emotion; love that grows out of respect

for the admirable qualities of its object."(*4) Gifts devoid

of love cause confusion and divisiveness in the church. The

more excellent way, therefore, is for each one with

spiritual gifts to possess also this totally unselfish love.

"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts"

(1 Cor. 14:1, NIV).

Living to God's Glory

Paul also spoke about spiritual gifts in his Epistle to

the Romans. Calling on every believer to live for God's

glory (Rom. 11:36-12:2), Paul again used the parts of the

body to illustrate the diversity and yet unity that

characterize the believers who are joined together in the

church (verses 3-6).

Recognizing that both faith and spiritual gifts have

their source in God's grace, believers remain humble. The

more gifts given a believer, the greater his spiritual

influence, the greater should be his dependence upon God.

In this chapter Paul listed the following gifts: prophecy

(inspired utterance, proclamation), ministry (service),

teaching, exhortation (encouragement), giving (sharing),

leadership, and mercy (compassion).As in 1 Corinthians 12 he

ended his discussion with the greatest principle of

Christianity--love (verse 9).

Peter presented the topic of spiritual gifts against the

backdrop of the end of all things being "at hand" (1 Peter

4:7). The urgency of the hour dictates that believers must

use the gifts. "As each one has received a gift," he said,

"minister it to one another, as good stewards of the

manifold grace of God" (verse 10). Like Paul, Peter taught

that these gifts are not for self-glorification, but that

"in all things God may be glorified" (verse 11). He also

associated love with the gifts (verse 8).

The Growth of the Church

In Paul's third and final discussion of spiritual gifts,

he urged believers "to live a life worthy of the calling you

have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient,

bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep

the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace"

(Eph. 4:1-3, NIV).

Spiritual gifts contribute to fostering of a unity that

causes the church to grow. Each believer has received

"grace...according to the measure of Christ's gift"

(verse 7).

Christ Himself "gave some to be apostles, some prophets,

some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." These

gifts are service-oriented ministries given "for the

equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the

edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the

unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a

perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness

of Christ" (verse 11-13). Those who receive spiritual gifts

are especially to serve believers, training them for the

types of ministry according to their gifts. This builds up

the church to a maturity that reaches the full stature of

Christ.

These ministries increase spiritual stability and

strengthen the church's defense against false doctrines, so

that believers will "no longer be children, tossed to and

fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the

trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie

in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may

grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ"

(verse 14,15).

Finally, in Christ, spiritual gifts bring about both the

unity and the prosperity of the church. "From Him the whole

body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,

grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its

work" (verse 16, NIV). In order for the church to experience

the growth God intends, each member must use the gifts of

grace He supplies.

As a result, the church experiences a twofold growth--a

growth in the number of members and an increase in

individual spiritual gifts. Again, love is a part of this

calling, for the church can realize this edification and

growth only as it uses these gifts in love.

Implications of Spiritual Gifts

A Common Ministry

Scripture does not support the view that the clergy

should minister while the laity merely warm the pews and

wait to be fed. Both pastors and laity make up the church,

"God's own people" (1 Peter 2:9, RSV). Together they are

responsible for the well-being of the church and its

prosperity. They are called to work together, everyone

according to his or her special Christ-given gifts. The

difference in gifts results in a variety of ministries or

services, all united in their witness to extend the kingdom

of God and prepare the world to meet their Saviour

(Matt. 28:18-20; Rev. 14:6-12).

The Role of the Clergy

The doctrine of spiritual gifts places the responsibility

for the training of the congregation on the shoulders of the

minister. God has appointed apostles, prophets, evangelists,

pastors, and teachers to equip His people for ministry.

"Ministers should not do the work which belongs to the

church, thus wearying themselves, and preventing others from

performing their duty. They should teach the members how to

labor in the church and in the community."(*5)

The minister who does not have the gift of training, does

not belong to the pastoral ministry, but to another part of

God's work.(*6) The success of God's plan for the church

depends on the willingness and ability of its pastors to

train the members to use their God-given gifts.

Gifts and Mission

God gives spiritual gifts to benefit the whole body, not

simply the individuals who receive them. And, just as the

recipient does not receive the gift for himself, so the

church does not receive the totality of gifts for itself.

God endows the church community with gifts to prepare it to

fulfill the mission to the world He has assigned it.

Spiritual gifts are not rewards for a job well done, they

are the tools to do the job well. The Spirit usually gives

gifts compatible with a person's natural gifts, though

natural gifts alone are not spiritual gifts. It takes the

new birth to energize a person with the Spirit. We must be

born again to be endued with spiritual gifts.

Unity in Diversity, Not Uniformity

Some Christians try to make every other believer like

themselves. This is a human plan, not God's. That the church

remains united in spite of the diversity of spiritual gifts

points to the complementary nature of the gifts. It

indicates that the progress of God's church depends upon

every believer. God intends that all the gifts, ministries,

and operations within the church blend together in the work

of building on the foundation laid by the church of history.

In Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone, "the whole building,

being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord"

(Eph. 2:21).

Witnessing--the Purpose for Gifts

Believers receive a diversity of gifts, an indication

that each has an individualized ministry. Yet every believer

should be able to witness about his faith, sharing beliefs

and telling others what God has done in his life. The

purpose for which God gives each gift, no matter what it may

be, is to enable its possessor to witness.

The Failure to Use Spiritual Gifts

Believers who refuse to employ their spiritual gifts will

not only find that their gifts atrophy but also that they

are jeopardizing their eternal life. In loving concern Jesus

solemnly warned that the servant who did not use his talent

was nothing less than a "`wicked and lazy servant'" who

forfeited the eternal reward (Matt. 25:26-30).(*7) The

unfaithful servant freely admitted that his failure was

deliberate and premeditated. Thus he had to bear the

responsibility for his failure. "In the great final day of

judgment those who have drifted along, dodging opportunities

and shirking responsibilities, will be classed by the great

Judge with evildoers."(*8)

Discovering Spiritual Gifts

For members to be successfully involved in the church's

mission they must understand their gifts. The gifts function

as a compass, directing the possessor toward service and the

enjoyment of the abundant life (John 10:10). To the extent

that we "choose not to (or simply neglect to) recognize,

develop, and exercise our gifts, the church is less than it

could be. Less than God intended it to be."(*9)

The process of discovering our spiritual gifts (*10)

should be characterized by the following:

Spiritual Preparation

The apostles prayed earnestly for a fitness to speak

words that would lead sinners to Christ. They put away the

differences and desires for supremacy that had stood between

them. Confession of sin and repentance brought them into

close fellowship with Christ. Those who accept Christ today

need a similar experience in preparation for the baptism of

the Holy Spirit.

The baptism of the Spirit is not a onetime event; we can

experience it daily.(*11) We need to plead with the Lord for

that baptism because it gives the church power to witness

and to proclaim the gospel. To do this we must continually

surrender our lives to God, abide fully in Christ, and ask

Him for wisdom to discover our gifts (James 1:5).

Study the Scriptures

Our prayerful study of what the New Testament teaches

about spiritual gifts allows the Holy Spirit to impress our

minds with the specific ministry that He has for us. It is

important that we believe that God has given us at least one

gift to be used in His service.

Openness to Providential Guidance

We are not to use the Spirit, but He is to use us, for it

is God who works in His people "to will and to work for his

good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13, RSV). It is a privilege to be

willing to work in any line of service that God's providence

presents. We must give God the opportunity to work through

others to solicit our help. So we ought to be ready to

respond to the needs of the church whenever they present

themselves. We should not be afraid to try new things, but

we should also feel free to inform those requesting our help

about our talents and experience.

Confirmation From the Body

Since God gives these gifts to build up His church, we

may expect the final confirmation of our gifts to arise from

the judgment of the body of Christ and not from our own

feelings. Often it is more difficult to recognize one's own

gifts than those of others. Not only must we be willing to

listen to what others have to tell us about our gifts but it

is important that we recognize and confirm God's gifts in

others.

Nothing is more exciting and fulfilling than to know that

we are occupying the position or ministry or service that

Providence has ordained for us. What a blessing is ours to

employ in His service the special gift Christ has given to

us through the Holy Spirit. Christ longs to share His gifts

of grace. Today we can accept His invitation and discover

what His gifts can do in a Spirit-filled life!

 

References

1. See e.g., White, Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 327,328.

We cannot always easily distinguish between the

supernatural, the inherited, and the acquired abilities. In

those who are under the control of the Spirit these

abilities frequently seem to blend together.

2. See Richard Hammill, "Spiritual Gifts in the Church

Today," Ministry, July, 1982, pp. 15,16.

3. In the broadest sense love is a gift from God, for all

good things come from Him (John 1:17). It is the fruit of

the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), but not a spiritual gift in the

sense that the Holy Spirit has distributed it to some

believers and not to all. Everyone is to "pursue love"

(1 Cor. 14:1).

4. SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 6, p. 778.

5. White, "Appeals for Our Missions" in Historical Sketches

of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists

(Basel, Switzerland: Imprimerie Polyglotte, 1886), p. 291.

Cf. Rex D. Edwards, A New Frontier--Every Believer a

Minister [Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1979], pp.

58-73).

6. Cf. J. David Newman, "Seminar in Spiritual Gifts,"

Unpublished MS, p. 3.

7. On the seriousness of this condition, see White, "Home

Discipline," Review and Herald, June 13, 1882, p. [1].

8. SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 5, p. 511.

9. Don Jacobsen, "What Spiritual Gifts Mean to Me,"

Adventist Review, December 25, 1986, p. 12.

10.See Roy C. Naden, Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts

(Berrien Springs, MI.: Institute of Church Ministry, 1982);

Mark A. Finley, The Way to Adventist Church Growth (Siloam

Springs, AR: Concerned Communications, 1982); C. Peter

Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow

(Glendale, CA.: Regal Books, 1979).

11.Cf. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 50; White, Counsels

to Parents, Teachers and Students (Mountain View, CA:

Pacific Press, 1943), p. 131.