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Spirit Gifts

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In the mid-1970s I had my first encounter with the charismatic movement. Keith Matthews, the young adult sponsor in our church, had been profoundly influenced by the movement. The best argument that could be made for the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit"s gifts was the vibrancy of life that we all experienced through Keith. He was a humble guy, an architect, more importantly he was open to what the Spirit had for him. Naturally, with such a character, Keith was in trouble with the authorities in the church both because of the nature of his gifts and the teaching that surrounded them. In my mind such opposition almost guaranteed the authenticity of what Keith was experiencing.

As Keith and I became close friends he began to take me along in excursions to charismatic settings to gain more understanding of how the Spirit was moving and how we could be part of that movement. I"ll never forget going to what was normally a very staid Anglican church only to see hundreds of people singing in tongues, and in harmony to boot. It certainly sounded like a heavenly choir to me, something utterly out of this world, something that caused a deep sense of peace and spiritual harmony within me.

Such an effect of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not always as peaceful; it could be quite disruptive and disturbing. I remember going to a small church and watching men and women collapse at the altar and go into convulsions all of which was interpreted as the slaying in the Holy Spirit and part of the reception of the baptism of the Spirit. I knew that something powerful was happening although how to interpret what was happening and how to discern whether it was helpful or not was awfully confusing.

My own experiences of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the charismatic style came in the form of speaking in tongues. I was by no means an extroverted tongues-speaker and only used it for personal edification and in hushed tones. What I appreciated about my experience of glossolalia was the emotional relief that came through expressing myself to God in ways beyond language, directly from the emotions. Keith attempted to enlighten me as to the meaning of this gift in my life. He told me it was the sign that the Holy Spirit had baptized me for service. I felt a rather uncomfortable with this interpretation since I"ve always believed, still do, that the baptism of the Holy Spirit takes place when a person is immersed in Christ at the beginning of their experience with him. I wasn"t much up for second blessing theology.

What I was sure of was that the Holy Spirit had to be a part of the way that I exercised any gifts or natural abilities that I had. This genuine recognition led me down the winding path of trying to sort out which gifts I had and in what proportion, as well as, how to use them. I came to recognize that talk of gifts and the search for them drew an awful lot of attention to the one seeking discernment.

Everyone likes to think that they are gifted and to be gifted by the Holy Spirit was in some sense to be special. What started off as a sense of reliance turned out to be a way of aggrandizing my ego. I remember that for several months Keith and I and the youth group that we were part of studied the nature of the spiritual gifts, trying to ascertain exactly how many there were, how they were to be manifest, and whether they were natural gifts or supernaturally given. It became awfully confusing.

I think one of the most fortunate things that happened to me in the intervening years is the fact that I have put trying to understand the spiritual gifts away on the back burner of my consciousness. My focus has been upon how I use the gifts not what they are and how I got them. This strategy has worked very well until just recently.

Lately, thanks to J. I. Packer"s book, I have been thinking about how the Holy Spirit mediates the presence of Christ. Packer has a very unique understanding of how this mediation is related to the topic of spiritual gifts. Perhaps unique is not the best word since what Packer has done is to recover a very quintessential biblical teaching about where the gifts of the Spirit come from. According to Packer, the gifts of the Spirit could be described as gifts of Christ which come to us through the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are in fact part of the Spirit’s mediating role whereby he takes what is Christ"s and makes it our own. The spiritual gifts then are mediations of the Spirit of Jesus Christ through his followers. The chief end of the gifts therefore is to build up, edify, and point to the new humanity, the kingdom of God that Christ inaugurated. To quote Packer:

—the truth that we must grasp here is that our exercise of the spiritual gifts is nothing more or less than Christ himself ministering through his body to his body, to the Father and to all mankind. From heaven Christ uses Christians as his mouth, his hands, his feet, even his smile; it is through us his people that he speaks, acts, meets, loves and saves, here and now in this world.

This Scriptural perspective evoked my old memories of Keith the youth sponsor. Keith"s connection to the Holy Spirit allowed him to mediate the Spirit of Christ to me and gave me a first-hand experience of the Risen One. It was not so much that Keith was a particularly "gifted" individual, that his gifts were spectacular or well executed. What made Keith"s gifts so profoundly helpful was the fact that they came not from himself but through the Spirit which brought about encouragement, companionship, and wisdom. Keith did not have to have snappy supernatural gifts and nor did he have to be capable of writing scholarly literature, all Keith needed was to be open to the Spirit. The verification that Keith"s gifts where from Christ via the Holy Spirit is that they were edifying and had a powerful effect on those around him in spite of his talents or lack of them. When the Spirit works in us he is asking us to minister in the same way that the Spirit does, by pointing not to ourselves but to Christ.

This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.’"

(Ephesians 4:8 TNIV)

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