For many people today, ‘spiritual gifts’ are the touchstone of an authentic church. A church which does not exercise the Gifts of the Spirit has lost touch with the ‘forgotten person of the Trinity’.
Yet, where does the Bible teach us about the ‘gifts of the Spirit’? Modem translations use the phrase in 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1, but in both cases the Greek word is pneumatikon/a. This is a hard word to translate, but does not explicitly refer to ‘gifts’.1
There are other references in 1 Corinthians 12, one to the “manifestations of the Spirit” (in v7) and one to “the different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit”. This latter reference is paralleled in the following verses: “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”
The ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ are mentioned in Hebrews 2:4 as one of the accompaniments to the apostolic preaching. The content of the gifts is not elaborated.
If the New Testament does refer to the gifts of the Spirit, then why don’t I believe in them? The point I wish to make is that this is not a distinctive ministry of the Holy Spirit. If we compare the so-called ‘gifts of the Spirit’ in 1 Corinthians 12 (apostles, teachers, prophets etc.) with Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, we find that virtually the same gifts are given by God the Father and the ascended Lord Christ.
How then can we limit ‘gift-giving’ to the Spirit? In what sense is this the distinctive ministry of the Spirit?
The Spirit’s special ministry is to testify to the world about the gospel, to bring people to new life, to promote our growth in holiness, and to act as a guarantee of the good things that are to come. Christ is absent—he is seated in heaven at God’s right hand—but the Spirit is here with us. Thus, Christ is with us in and by his Spirit. The Spirit inspires the Scriptures and opens our minds to understand them.
While I wouldn’t want to exclude the Spirit from giving gifts, it seems to be inconsistent with the language and ideas of the New Testament to make this the distinctive mark of the Spirit’s work.
1 see D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit (Lancer, 1987) for a discussion of this.