Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts
J. H. Hughes, Nutley
SPIRITUAL gifts are for spiritual saints. Chapter 12 of the 1st Epistle to the church at Corinth opens with the significant word “NOW.” The beloved apostle is about to describe the working out of the gifts of the Spirit in the assemblies of God’s people, and looking back through the epistle to ch. 2. 15, we find his allusion to the man who is “spiritual,” but at once he adds, “I could not speak unto you as spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ.” Following that, there are no less than nine chapters occupied with questions arising out of the carnality of these believers, chapters containing precious truths indeed, but nevertheless branding this rich assembly as being “carnal” rather than “spiritual.” And there are grievous sins enumerated—lust, idolatry, jealousy, strife—and others. Who does not know the Spirit-quenching effect of any of these if allowed to continue in assembly life. We may therefore with profit ask ourselves if we are in the spiritual state where Paul could address us in the terms of this opening expression.
“I would not have you ignorant.” Yet very many believers are ignorant in these matters, and few manifestly possess spiritual gifts. To possess is to enjoy; not a talent hid in the earth, but in full use and blessing. The hallmark of the Spirit is expression, yet many saints exhibit no particular manifestation of Christ. May these few notes encourage all of us to seek spiritual gifts, for “to each one of you is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal” (v. 7), so if there is no manifestation we may well ask “Where is the Spirit?”
We note first the contrast between the Spirit of God and the idols of the Gentiles, the latter being dumb. “They have mouths but speak not,” and like Baal’s prophets of old their devotees may be as active as they like, but “ there is neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regard.” Let us beware of being dumb in the Church, for “He hath put a new song in our mouth,” and “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” “They all began to speak.” “There is the shout of a King in our midst.” He is coming back with a shout, so we had better be vocal now, or we shall be in poor condition to meet Him when He comes. Let dumbness be to the unregenerate who have no tongue to praise with, but we will remember that “ in His Temple every one speaks of His glory.”
Next we observe the happy harmony in diversion (v. 4). Spiritual gifts are diverse, but are always harmonious. An English wood on a morning in Spring is a delightful place, where many birds blend their songs. Each brings his individual glory, marked and distinct, but the paean is one, and the harmony perfect. So here it is revealed that the churches are in unison with the Divine Trinity with a view to God’s glory in the world. We may put it in this way—the Father works; the Son ministers; the Spirit enables. As in the miracle of the loaves, the Father provided the repast; the Son ministered it, and the Spirit, through the disciples, distributed to the multitudes. The writer was recently in an “all electric home.” Around were all the modern appliances to make life comfortable and pleasant. But God was the ultimate source of it all, for somewhere there was a generating station providing the power. Secondly, many factories had combined to produce the articles around me, and lastly a switch here and there put all these things to their proper use. So there again was variety in harmony, a trinity of operation, all working for the blessing of the household. Similarly we all have our proper place and part, all working for the profit of the whole assembly. And so it is when all the saints fill their proper God-given place, but alas, how often discontent, jealousy, and spiritual indolence mar the harmony of a gathering, and the Spirit is quenched.
One cannot emphasise too earnestly the purpose of all gifts. It is “ to profit withal,” that is, for the profit of all. They are for the common good. We are indebted to each other to minister the gifts in the assembly. None of us would rob another, but many saints are running up a long account of spiritual debt which they apparently feel no urge to discharge. The fact is that many Christians are too selfish to want to help others. This is a great sin. They return from a meeting saying, “I didn’t get anything,” but it has not occurred to them to take anything, unless it were a coin for the offering. Yet Paul distinctly says (14. 26), “When ye are come together each one hath”—what? We are intended to be channels of blessing, but it is sadly possible for all we receive to be drained away and lost. It is true to say that the life of many assemblies would be revolutionised if all went to the meeting with Paul’s five golden words in heart and mind—“How I might profit you.” We all have something to give for the common good, and “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver.” “Freely ye have received, freely give,” said the Lord Jesus, so let us meet in that spirit, that all may go away the richer for having come together.
Finally, there is the great but oft-neglected truth of the Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in the churches. Who can measure the blessing that the recognition of this truth has meant during the past 150 years? He has sent forth a host of messengers with the Gospel into the four corners of the earth. Happy is the assembly where His authority is supreme. Nor must we take too much for granted because our form of gathering is correct. It is sadly possible to have no authority at all, or on the other hand, the authority of some forceful personality, and in either case the Spirit is robbed of His rightful place, which is spiritual dishonesty. Only by prayer and the most humble and constant obedience to the Written Word can the assemblies of God’s children continue in the path of testimony, exhibiting in their conduct that lofty and exalted conception of truth by which the world will know that “God is in you of a truth” (14. 25). This is the most difficult of all things to maintain, and most sects take the easy path of a stated ministry, to the ruin of their corporate testimony. A stated ministry hinders the Spirit in His working, and an appointed minister may easily displace Him. But we may well remember that “a” minister is better than “no” minister, and the saints fail in their testimony if they forget that we come together in the spirit of 1. Peter 4. 10—“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Where this is so we may rely on the Spirit to produce the love and loveliness of Christ in the churches; we may look to the Lord and expect to be endued with power from on high; and we may expect to be able to express ourselves to His glory. To this end we should ever seek to serve one another, and encourage God’s people everywhere to seek the fellowship which gives full scope for the operation of the Spirit in the assemblies of the saints.