The Misconception of “Spiritual Gifts” Part 3: The Body Of Christ
Before starting this three-part blog series, we laid the foundation for every Christian to prophesy, heal the sick, and walk in power in The “Spiritual Gifts” Are For All Christians. Then we saw that “grace-effects” is a better translation than “spiritual gifts,” and that the term is talking about individual manifestations of God’s grace, not “special powers” distributed to certain people. In the last post, we gave further support to this, making the case that the one gift is the Holy Spirit and that Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 is addressing the different things they are presently doing (diversity of function in unity), and not the things that they are capable of doing.
We are continuing today by discussing how we can understand this in conjunction with the truth that we are the body of Christ with different members. Quotes from Garth Weibe are from his article “Gifts of the Spirit”: Literally not even in the Bible. Quotes from James A. Fowler are from his article on the “charismata”.
So What About Being The Body Of Christ?
What I’ve said so far brings up a lot of questions, and there are many cross-references to consider. The main ones are Romans 12:3-8 and Ephesians 4:7-16. Both of these passages talk about the church as the body of Christ with different members and functions, as 1 Corinthians 12 does.
Doesn’t the idea that any Christian can have any and every one of the “Charismata” manifest through him contradict the truth that the church is Christ’s body? After careful consideration, I’d say “no.”
First, let’s consider Garth Wiebe’s commentary in the light of what we learned about the context of 1 Corinthians 12 being instructions for a meeting and the “charismata” being individual manifestations and not “special powers”:
When we have a gathering of the out-calling (εκκλησια, “ekklesia”), we might distinguish different functions in the body, according to the “grace-effects” that we recognize that people excel in and manifest in practice. In the example of Corinth, they all did “speak in tongues” in assembly (1 Cor 14) and that’s why the exhortation in 1 Cor 12:29-30, rendered literally, says “…no all to-tongues…” 1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14 teach us to behave in an orderly way as a unified body for the right reasons, motivated out of unity and love, not selfish motives.
While it is too much in this article to go into a detailed commentary on all the cross-references, it is true that different Christians are “placed” in different areas and we see variety in function according to where they are placed. The manifestation of God’s grace through each member varies according to where we are “placed” and the corresponding need.
Heidi Baker, for example, is “placed” in Africa with the responsibility to care for many children, and thus the “grace-effect” of working of miracles to multiply food is more evident. If I am “placed” in a situation in which I’m encouraging several pastors, the “grace-effects” of words of wisdom and encouragement may be more evident.
It still stands that the fullness of Christ dwells in every believer and so we each have abundant grace available for the manifestation of whatever “charismata” or “grace effect” is necessary to meet the need before us. Understanding this, we should never feel the need to say “this isn’t my spiritual gift” when we encounter a need. I believe that if Jesus lives in me, then I have what the person before me needs. Acting on this belief has produced miracles and varied manifestations of God’s grace through me personally so that I can say that to some degree I’ve experienced all the “charismata” named in 1 Corinthians 12 manifesting through me.
What about Romans 12:3 then?
Romans 12:3 (NIV) For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Quoting again from James A. Fowler’s article on the charismata, here is his commentary on Romans 12:3.
Paul sets the stage for his discussion of multiplicity in singularity, particularity in comprehensiveness, by noting that God has uniquely and providentially imparted or apportioned to each individual Christian a measure or component of faith. No one Christian is capable of expressing the totality of God’s action in Christ, but every Christian has received the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9) in His totality, and therefore is a component in the total faith-expression of the Body of Christ, the Church, as each individually allows for the receptivity of Christ’s divine activity in them. Though we receive the Spirit “without measure” (Jn. 3:34), we each comprise but a measure of the total ministry of the Church, indicating our need for each other in the oneness of the whole. “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7).
The English translations which indicate that God has “allotted” (NASB) or “dealt” (KJV) to each Christian a measure of faith, again open the door for misunderstanding by the possible connotation that God has “dealt us certain cards” or “assigned to us a particular lot” of the commodities known as “spiritual gifts.” Paul’s intent would better be explained by saying that “God has uniquely apportioned to each Christian a portion of the total ministry of Christ.” That would be consistent with Paul’s personal explanation of his own ministry using the same Greek words, merizo and metron, in II Cor. 10:13: “we will boast within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you.”
So how do we understand the admonition to “not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” This doesn’t mean I limit how I believe the Holy Spirit can manifest his grace through me, seeing a need before me and saying “That’s not my spiritual gift.”
Rather, I simply encourage and make way for the whole body of Christ to express God’s grace. When Paul said that all things should be done “decently and in order,” the context speaks of an order that allows for us to receive God’s grace through various members of his body, such as having the one prophesying speak and then sit down and allow two or three others to prophesy.
When ministering healing, the body of Christ has been moving away from the long prayer line in which one person ministers to every single person in need of healing. When I minister as a guest, I always teach the congregation to minister healing to each other rather than personally ministering to each need. There is a greater manifestation of the Holy Spirit in this way, and it’s healthy because it encourages individual Christians to act according to the truth that Christ lives in them. I should not think of myself more highly than I ought by trying to do everything. Rather, I honor the grace of God manifested through the various members of Christ’s body.
Jesus said the Father gives the Spirit without measure. (John 3:34) Some people say this scripture applies only to Jesus and not to us, because if we received the Spirit without measure we wouldn’t need the body of Christ. I disagree. How can anybody who believes in Jesus do the “same works and greater” if the Father gives us any less of a measure of the Holy Spirit then he gave to Christ?
Jesus had the Spirit without measure, but he himself was strengthened by angels and ministered to by other people. None of us as the body of Christ do all of Christ’s work on earth, but each of us can receive the Holy Spirit without measure in order to meet whatever need is before us.
Abundance of Grace
When we consider that the term “charismata” is more literally “grace-effects,” we should then consider what the Bible says about how much grace is available to us in Christ.
I encourage you to search a concordance or a Bible study program for the word “grace” and do your own study. However, let’s just consider two scriptures for now.
Romans 5:17 (NIV) For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
2 Peter 1:2 (NIV) Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
How much grace is available? An abundance of grace. “Abundance” means “more than enough for every need.” Whatever need for a manifestation of the Holy Spirit is in front of you, you have more than enough grace in Christ to meet that need.
Whatever the need before me, Christ in me is enough to meet it. If we understand this, we will no longer say “Ummm…this isn’t my spiritual gift.” Rather, we step out in faith and grow as we learn to minister God’s grace.
Ephesians chapter 4 teaches that the purpose of the “fivefold ministry” is to equip the body of Christ for the work of ministry. Not everybody is an apostle, going to plant churches among the unreached. But all Christians are to go and preach the gospel, whether to their neighbors or around the world. Not everybody is a prophet, being “placed” in the body of Christ where they are equipping others for the work of ministry. But the grace of God is abundant for every Christian to prophesy according to the need.
I have personally never felt like prophecy and words of knowledge were my strongest point. But when I encounter a need, I step out and speak in faith. And the manifestation of God’s grace in my life through prophecy and words of knowledge has grown tremendously. As you step out in faith to meet the needs of people around you, the various manifestations of God’s grace will increase in your life.