Friday, December 2, 2016

Gifts With Commas

One thing I have noticed in my praying about the place of spiritual gifts is that the lists of spiritual gifts are separated by commas, not chapters, not paragraphs, and not even periods. The only thing separating the gifts everyone agrees do apply, from those that many think don’t apply, is commas. First let me show you what I mean, and then let’s ask the obvious questions about how this applies.

8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (I Corinthians 12)

The surrounding context says that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”,[1] and then we are given this list of what the manifestation of the Spirit will look like in the church. All I want to focus on at the moment is that the list is one sentence. There are no periods separating one kind of gift from another. Paul is only making one point, that all these gifts are what it looks like for each believer to be given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good of the whole body of Christ.

Paul even concludes the section by saying, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”[2] We have a sentence that includes all these gifts separated by nothing more than commas, sandwiched between statements that tell us that these are the manifestation of the Spirit for our common good, and all of them are empowered by the Holy Spirit who distributes them to each person as he wills. Grammatically speaking, all those gifts are in one package.

In other words, while all churches would give some acknowledgment that people in their churches could be gifted with wisdom, or knowledge, or faith, or maybe even distinguishing between spirits, the disagreement over whether the spiritual gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues, and interpretations belong in the church is based on some people saying we can live by some components of a God-breathed sentence and not others. And they come to that conclusion while the descriptions are separated only by commas!

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14)

I think that most churches would be okay if someone came to church asking if everyone would please sing a certain hymn-song with them because of how God has used it to minister to them through the week. Many churches would give room for someone wanting to share a testimony of how a particular Scripture taught them something about their relationship with God that then boosted their faith and enabled them to get through a difficult situation.

However, when we get to the next descriptions, many walls would go up, and many people would say that a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation, don’t apply to the church today, even though they are only separated from the hymn and the lesson with a comma.

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (I Corinthians 12)

This sentence is especially difficult since those who believe some of God’s gifts are not available today are not only cutting off one half of a paragraph, or one half of a sentence, but actually have to pick through the sentence to determine which words are God’s will and which are not.

In other words, while acknowledging that the apostles and prophets formed the foundation of the church,[3] there is now the need to pick through the rest of the list and decide that helping and administrating are still applicable since they do not require any distinctive supernatural expression, while miracles, healing, and various kinds of tongues couldn’t apply, even though separated by nothing more than commas, and mixed up with the rest of the list.

Let’s try one more passage since it offers a slightly different element.

 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12)

Once again, this is one sentence. However, it has added semi-colons to distinguish thoughts since the point here is not so much to list the spiritual gifts, but to show what it would look like for us to use our spiritual gifts “according to the grace given to us.”

In this list, I think that most churches would agree that service, teaching, exhorting, contributing, leading, and showing mercy, are all legitimate spiritual gifts for today. However, many churches would claim that the first one listed, prophecy, couldn’t apply because it has a supernatural nature to it (along with so much need for testing that it sounds like a lot of work).

My point here is that, once again, the gifts are in one sentence. No periods. No punctuation that suggests God ever intended us to separate some of the gifts from the others. Along with the fact that there is not one God-breathed expression to tell us that the more evidently supernatural gifts were cut off at a certain point of church history, the repeated inclusion of all the spiritual gifts in single sentences, written in different orders, sometimes intermingled in ways that would question how we decide which ones to cut out of the word, challenges us with Paul’s testimony that he would not “tamper with God's word”.[4]

What do we do with this? We do the same thing with all the Scriptures on spiritual gifts as we do with all other Scriptures. We treat the teachings on spiritual gifts as just as “God-breathed” as the whole rest of Scripture.[5] We affirm that we will live by the “whole counsel of God” on spiritual gifts instead of picking-and-choosing which we decide apply.[6] We will live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God,”[7] instead of treating God’s words on spiritual gifts as if they are a smorgasbord from which we have the right to choose only those items that feel the safest to us.

To reiterate, I do not present this lesson on commas as though punctuation somehow negates any clear, breathed-out words of God stating that all the supernatural or miraculous spiritual gifts ceased in the first century church. There are no words from the mouth of God stating that the words he did say on these spiritual gifts no longer apply.

Instead, I simply present this lesson in punctuation as one more observation of how God spoke these things to us through men carried along by his Holy Spirit,[8] and it is imperative that the church teach Jesus’ disciples to “observe all that I (Jesus) have commanded you.”[9]

In spiritual gifts, as in everything else Jesus taught us, both in his quoted words in the New Testament, as well as considering all the Scriptures taught to us by Jesus Christ, we are to be those wise people who hear his words and put them into practice. Jesus said that it was a foolish man who would hear his words and not put them into practice. The only way we can be the wise instead of the foolish is to treat all his words the same way: if it is his instruction to the church, put it into practice.[10] As we do so, we gain more opportunities to build up the church.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I Corinthians 12:7
[2] I Corinthians 12:11
[3] Ephesians 2:19-22
[4] II Corinthians 4:2
[5] II Timothy 3:16-17
[6] Acts 20:27
[7] Matthew 4:4
[8] II Peter 1:21
[9] Matthew 28:18-20
[10] Matthew 7:24-27

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