August 4, 2014 Broadcast

The Gifts of the Spirit

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Scripture describes the church as a body made up of many parts with various roles and functions. But have you ever stopped to ask how the many parts are assigned? The answer has to do with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as Dr. R.C. Sproul explains in this lesson.

From the series: Foundations: An Overview of Systematic Theology

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Further Study On This Topic

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    Many Gifts, One Body

  2. devotional

    Gift-giver and Protector

  3. article

    Spirit of Light

Many Gifts, One Body

Burk Parsons

A few years ago I was given a month-long sabbatical to study in Wittenberg, Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. While in Wittenberg, I stayed at the Evangelical Preacher’s Seminary, which shared the same courtyard as Martin Luther’s home. From my room on the third floor, I overlooked the dining room and kitchen of Luther’s sixteenth-century house. I recall that on many occasions in the late evening after a traditional German meal, I would open my window to the courtyard and look at the walkway below that led to Luther’s house. I considered the floral surroundings that adorned the windows and the trees that cast evening shadows on the old stone facade of the five-hundred year old house that was being renovated at the time.

One evening, I remember looking at the scaffolding that had been erected on the exterior of the house. Standing several stories high, the scaffolding consisted of hundreds of connecting braces and joints. Each brace was attached to a corresponding brace with a nut and bolt. As one giant assembly, the scaffolding supported dozens of masons, brick workers, and painters. Yet, if just one bolt were to have slipped out of place and if one brace were to have come loose, the entire structure could have tumbled to the ground.

In the first epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul reminded the church at Corinth that the body of Christ does not consist of one member but of many members. He writes, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. … But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable … .”

The apostle’s point is clear. Just as each and every bolt is necessary to the stability of an entire structure of scaffolding, so is each member of the church necessary to the proper function of the body of Christ. Even though there are members of the body that may seem to be less important, each one is absolutely vital for the well-being of the entire body.

Too often, however, the body becomes fragmented, and certain members of the body are cast aside and put out of commission. They are told that they are not vital to the proper functioning of the body of Christ. They are made to feel worthless, and to a large degree, they never attempt to become a functioning part of the body. They simply enter through the church doors on Sunday mornings and then promptly exit after the service, not to be seen again until the next week.

For all intents and purposes, they do not consider themselves vital members of a living organism; rather, they see themselves as mere observers of a great play with star performers. What they do not know, however, is that the author and producer of the grand production has cast them in starring roles as well.

While it is the job of the pastor to equip the members of the body for ministry, it is the job of each member to fulfill the particular role to which he has been called. In many churches, the pastors are considered the hired guns to get the work of ministry done. And many people think the pastor is paid to take the responsibility of ministry for the entire church body. Yet, on the contrary, by way of shepherding his flock, it is the pastor’s responsibility to make certain that the sheep of Christ are nourished with the Word of God so that they are able to fulfill their callings as members of Christ’s body. In order to do this effectively, the pastor is not simply to be paid to get a job done. Rather, he is to receive appropriate compensation so that he does not need to serve tables in order to provide for his family’s needs (see Acts 6:2). For the pastor serves as the shepherd of Christ’s sheep. Under the authority of Christ, who is the Great Shepherd, the pastor serves as an under shepherd to Christ. And, in so doing, he is called to tend to the body of Christ by providing the body with the Word of God. This is why James teaches that not many should become teachers. He writes, “For you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Those who have been called to teach the Word of God to the people of God will indeed be called to account for their words, and they will be judged by God more strictly.

Nevertheless, the body of Christ has many members, and each member is critical for the proper function of the body. As a result of the philosophy of ministry that suggests that the church is better off when the body is segmented by age, many churches have taken steps to provide various services for all ages. Members who are older should attend an early service that features older, more traditional songs. Members who are younger should attend a later service that features newer and faster songs. Children are not required to attend either of the services. In fact, there is a special service just for them with even newer and faster songs, games, and a nice little message on the side. However, such segmentation is found absolutely nowhere in Scripture. On the contrary, we are taught that the body of Christ is one body and that every member of every age is needed for the well-being of those members of each age group. The body of Christ is not just one in theory, it is one in reality. It cannot be divided for the simple reason that Christ cannot be divided (1 Cor. 1:13). It is such a wonderful sight on a Sunday morning to look out over the congregation and see children sitting beside parents and grandparents. Indeed, to observe the entire covenant community in corporate worship is one of the joys of being a pastor.

We cannot think, however, that the body is never sick. There are times in the life of the body when healing is needed. We have all experienced those times, and for some churches, healing seems insurmountable. In many congregations, the heart of the problem may be with the pastor who is not fulfilling his calling to serve God in holiness and fear. There is usually not a month that goes by that I do not hear about a pastor who has com- mitted some heinous sin and is defrocked from his position. Still, in other situations the problem is not with the pastor at all. In many churches, the body is diseased and dying because of a severe problem that is infecting the entire body.

One of the greatest diseases in the body of Christ is gossip. We do not realize how much damage we do when we unjustly criticize our brother or sister in Christ. For we are not only destroying a single person, we are contributing to the destruction of the entire body of Christ. If we only realized the fact that we are all part of the same living organism, we would not seek to destroy a particular part. Instead of gossiping and back-biting, we would seek to help that part of the body that needs it. When a certain part of the physical body is injured, antibodies rush to that area and begin the healing process. If we truly understood that we share the same duty as members of one another, we would not continue to practice the fine art of gossip; rather, we would rush to the aid of our brothers and sisters and help them in their struggles. In the same chapter that Paul tells us that “as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another,” he tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:4–5, 15). When one part of the body rejoices, the entire body should rejoice. When one part mourns, the entire body should mourn. And if we are truly in touch with what is going on in the rest of the body, we will not be able to avoid doing this — it will be natural.

Each of us possesses particular gifts. Some among us are called to teach; some are called to encourage others, to show mercy, to contribute with generosity, and to lead with zeal, but these things are not mere duties. Our fulfillment of the gifts that God has given us is not first and foremost about what we do; rather, it is about who we are. We are members of the body of Christ, and we have been equipped by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us to sustain us in our divine calling. As Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15–16).

Gift-giver and Protector

Benefits flow from Christ’s seating at the right hand of the Father (His “session”) as well as from His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Christ’s glory as our Head, evident in His session at the Father’s right hand, benefits us because Jesus gives gifts to His church and protects us from our enemies (The Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 51).

Today’s passage is the basis for the catechism’s teaching on the blessings we receive from Christ’s session. Ephesians 4:8 quotes Psalm 68:18, but Paul uses the phrase “gave gifts” rather than “receiving gifts.” In his Ephesians commentary, Charles Hodge writes that Paul is not changing God’s Word; he is giving the general sense of Psalm 68, not a verbatim quote. This was a common Apostolic practice. Furthermore, Psalm 68 echoes Numbers 8 conceptually, as the Hebrew text of both passages is quite similar. Since Numbers 8 refers to God receiving the Levites as gifts only to give them back to Israel, Psalm 68:18 indicates that the Lord’s reception of gifts is followed by His returning these gifts to His people. Paul was familiar with the original Hebrew and likely would have heard this echo as he read Psalm 68, so he brings out the distribution of said gifts explicitly in Ephesians 4:8.

Paul’s main point here is that Christ pours out a multitude of gifts on His people through His Spirit. These gifts include the offices of prophet, evangelist, shepherd, teacher, and Apostle. These offices have been given to the church, some of them permanently, and others such as Apostle and prophet, temporarily, for the sake of mature and effective ministry (vv. 11–12). To this list we may also add gifts such as wisdom, discernment, and the others mentioned in passages such as 1 Corinthians 12.

The other benefit of Christ’s session, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, is that “by his power [Christ] defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.” This is a clear implication of Psalm 68, as quoted in Ephesians 4, because Psalm 68 emphasizes God’s victory over His foes. Christ has triumphed over His enemies; therefore, He can protect us from them. Even though these foes may sometimes seem to defeat us, we actually get the last laugh. The worst they can do is kill us, but what kind of victory is that if we will be resurrected to rule over them (2 Tim. 2:12)?

Spirit of Light

Sinclair Ferguson

The reformers placed tremendous stress on the gifts of the Spirit to the whole body of Christ. John Calvin himself has rightly been described as “the theologian of the Holy Spirit” (B.B. Warfield). Yet Reformed Christians always have been given a “bad press” for their views on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Our conviction is that God purposefully gave some gifts (specifically the ability to work miracles, the gift of revelatory prophecy, and speaking in tongues) only for a limited period. We have solid Biblical reasons for believing this:

1. A temporary manifestation of these gifts is characteristic of God’s pattern of working. Contrary to popular opinion, such gifts as these were given spasmodically in Biblical history. Their occurrence is generally contained within a handful of time periods lasting around a generation each.

2. The function of these gifts, namely to convey and to confirm revelation (now ceased until Christ’s return), is underlined in the New Testament itself (Acts 2:22, 14:3; cf. 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3–4).

3. The history of the New Testament suggests that by the close of the apostolic age the role of these gifts was being superseded by the completion of the New Testament. Thus, there is no reference to their presence—or, more significantly, their future regulation—in the Pastoral Letters.

More could be said here in terms of Biblical Christology, for the outpouring of the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and miracles at Pentecost was specifically intended to mark the coronation of Christ. It was, therefore, inherently intended to be a non-permanent feature of the life of the church. But in this context, it probably is more important to emphasize another, often-ignored facet of Reformed teaching. It is well-expressed in some words of the great Puritan John Owen:

“Although all these gifts and operations ceased in some respect, some of them absolutely, and some of them as to the immediate manner of communication and degree of excellency; yet so far as the edification of the church was concerned in them, something that is analogous unto them was and is continued” (Works, Vol. IV, p. 475).

What does this mean? Simply this: It is the same Spirit who gives both temporary and continuing gifts to the church. We should not be surprised, therefore, to discover common threads in both.

Perhaps the most important common thread is the Spirit’s ministry in illumination—He enlightens our minds to enable us to know, see, grasp, and apply the will and purposes of God. There was an immediacy to illumination in the temporary gifts. The Spirit taught the apostles “all things” (John 14:26) and led them into “all truth” (John 16:13). Now, however, He continues this work in us through the Scriptures He enabled the apostles to write for us. Indeed, during the Farewell Discourse (John 14–16), our Lord made it clear to the apostles that this would be one of the central ministries of the Spirit in their lives: He would remind them of what Jesus had said (the gospels), lead them into the truth (the epistles), and show them the things to come (e.g. Revelation).

Why, then, are Christians today—in contrast to their fathers—so thirsty to experience immediate revelation from God, when His desire for us is the ongoing work of the Spirit opening up our understanding through the mediated revelation of the New Testament? There seem to be three reasons:

1. It is more exciting to have direct revelation rather than Bible revelation. It seems more “spiritual,” more “divine.”

2. For many people, it feels much more authoritative to be able to say, “God has revealed this to me” than to say, “The Bible tells me so.”

3. Direct revelation relieves us of the need for painstaking Bible study and careful consideration of Christian doctrine in order to know the will of God. In comparison to immediate revelation, Bible study seems—to be frank—boring.

Lest we be brow-beaten and develop a kind of siege mentality as Reformed Christians, here are some things we should bear in mind about the work of illumination:

1. Jesus experienced it. Yes, our Lord prophesied; yes, He worked miracles. But we would be guilty of Docetism (the view that Jesus’ humanity only seemed to be like ours) and untrue to Scripture if we failed to recognize that Jesus Himself grew in wisdom and favor with God (Luke 2:52) by patiently meditating on the Old Testament Scriptures. (I suspect He probably knew them by heart.) The third Servant Song of Isaiah (Isa. 50:4–11) gives us an extraordinarily moving picture of the Lord Jesus waking up each day, dependent on His Father to illumine His understanding of His Word that He might think, feel, act, and live as the Man full of the Spirit of wisdom and understanding (Isa. 11:2ff).

2. This is the divine method that produces authentic Christian growth, because it involves the renewal (not the abeyance) of the mind (Rom. 12:2) and it is progressive (it takes time and demands the obedience of our wills). Sometimes God does things quickly. But His ordinary way is to work slowly and surely to make us progressively more like our Lord Jesus.

3. The result of the Spirit working with the Word of God to illumine and transform our thinking is the development of a godly instinct that operates in sometimes surprising ways. The revelation of Scripture becomes, in a well-taught, Spirit-illumined believer, so much a part of his or her mindset that the will of God frequently seems to become instinctively and even immediately clear—just as whether a piece of music is well or badly played is immediately obvious to a well-disciplined musician. It is this kind of spiritual exercise that creates discernment (see Heb. 5:11–14).

Well-meaning Christians sometimes mistake the Spirit’s work of illumination for revelation, which, unhappily, can lead to serious theological confusion and potentially unhappy practical consequences. But the doctrine of illumination also helps us explain some of the more mysterious elements in our experience without having to resort to the claim that we have the gift of revelation and prophecy. Here the late John Murray spoke with great wisdom: “As we are the subjects of this illumination and are responsive to it, and as the Holy Spirit is operative in us to the doing of God’s will, we shall have feelings, impressions, convictions, urges, inhibitions, impulses, burdens, resolutions. Illumination and direction by the Spirit through the Word of God will focus themselves in our consciousness in these ways. We are not automata.… We must not think [these things] are … necessarily irrational or fanatically mystical” (Collected Writings, I, p. 188).

God’s Word, illumined by God’s Spirit, is, as Psalm 119 so magnificently shows, the pathway to spiritual stability and liberty. It leads us unwaveringly to knowing, loving, and doing God’s will on a daily basis. It brings joy through light.

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