God’s Gifts or Our Own Strength?

1Two of the big issues that are the heart of a lot of controversy in the church today relate to divine gifts. Firstly the gifts of the Spirit, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians:

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 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. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

And secondly the gifts given to the church by Jesus, as mentioned by Paul in Ephesians:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Today we find large sections of the church rejecting these gifts by insisting they are no longer valid, having been relegated to history; or we find other sections of the church abusing the gifts, changing them into something contrary to their intended purpose and nature as revealed in scripture.

Both “categories” of gift were given for a reason, to equip believers for life and service as followers of Jesus, making us into a living body of people truly representing Him. It therefore isn’t surprising that the validity of these gifts is constantly challenged and brought into question. Without them, all we can rely upon are our natural abilities and our own strength.

32 thoughts on “God’s Gifts or Our Own Strength?

  1. I think that’s exactly and entirely the choice the whole controversy breaks on: is it our doing or the Spirit’s ?

    The consideration that ANYTHING we do of ourselves could possibly please God is completely contrary to everything about our faith. Off-track on the face of it.

    But “works of the flesh” (or “of the law”) is all Christianity could consist of when the workings of the Spirit are “theologized” away.

    In Jesus, Steve

  2. Hi Steve,
    I wanted to go into this in more depth but found I wasn’t able to yet, so I’ll possibly add more later.
    Not only does the “gifts have passed away” path leave us with only our own abilities to work with – it helps to entrench the “clergy-laity” divide, creating and maintaining the passivity of the majority of belivers who leave Christan ministry to the “professionals”. Paul’s description of the gifts shows that they allow each of us to minister in some way within fellowship meetings.

    As for the Ephesians reference, removing that plurality of ministries also keeps “ministry” in the hands of individual professional ministers (often labelled “pastors”).

  3. As for “our own strength” vs. God’s gifts, Paul lived within the Roman setting where the thing to do was to boast of strength and triumph, as whoever was strongest and could take over by force was to be presumed blessed by the gods and represenrative of them and deserving to dominate and hand out gifts of support and honor and to be praised. The scene was disgusting (as powerful people and those who cow-tow to them can distort the face of God in any time). We are to aim rather for the gifts of the true God.

  4. Let me put it better this way: Paul was telling his listeners to aim for the gifts of the one true God. The people who represented his teaching were not to glory in their own hierarchical positioning if they were “fortunate” enough (whether that would be a good thing or not) to have this.

  5. See, for another context, “kowtow” (especially in Encyclopaedia Britannica) [or kautau, kotou, and other spellings depending on where you read]. Striking similarities.

  6. Hi, Tim: I was brought up against an interesting sidelight on the “cessationist” debate; and an out-working of your insight that “cessationism” entrenches the idea of leaving it to the “professional” ministry. Over here that manifests in many Christians’ unwise attachment to pastoral superstars: from references in your posts, I take it you have the same problem there.

    Won’t go into it all here, but I wrote about it at http://cross-purposes.blogspot.com/.

    In Jesus, Steve

  7. Yes Steve, same problem here. But it’s not only “superstars” the local church minister can also be given far too much authority by those in his church. Thanks for the link to your blog post . I’ll have a look later. I’ve been away for a few days and have a lot of catching up.

  8. Onesimus, I don’t see more dominating pastors in cessationisrt places; I see them in both mindsets.

    Steve, I agree the go-ahead on a Bible half full of commentary by a big name is rather arrogant.

  9. Mostly the problem in the church is not “dominating pastors”, it is the attitude of “church goers” who think they can leave everything up to pastors, as if the pastor is a priest who deals with religious obligations on their behalf. That includes the reading and interpretation of scripture which they have been conditioned to believe can only be done by an “ordained” specialist. People believe false teachings such as cessationism because they have chosen to accept the word of teachers instead of the Word of God.

    The following refers more to the condition of those who are taught than to those doing the teaching:

    For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

  10. Thanks for the link to your article Steve. I’ve posted a comment on your blog and have added a link to your site in my “blog roll” (see right sidebar of the main page of this blog).

  11. Well, yes. But still, I don’t see it more — even if we put it as the the “goer” not taking responsibility. I’m not impressed when the idea of speaking in tongues is hyped and a person is told to start babbling so the Holy Spirit will (as if) then jump in, so then the “responsible” goer is like, “Yeah, I’m ‘all that.’ What?” I agree it may be mostly about so-called “charismatics” doing things wrong, but then there you have it anyway (so, like I’m saying, you don’t end up with people actually doing better in any way on the whole or for the most part in comparison).

    Personally, I see more responsibility taken for regular life in people who go to places that don’t put emphasis on speaking in tongues and acting like magical things are going on (ever in anticipation as it is useful for the misleading or drawing of others when nothing is really happening). I think it has to do with them not engaging in “magical thinking” about LIFE-life and abusive relating and the kind of fake stuff I’ve already mentioned. The Bible says the person who doesn’t live up to family responsibilities, for instance, is WORSE than an infidel.

    Bottom line, though: I agree each person has to take responsibility themselves and not mostly follow.

  12. As I think I’ve said, it should not be an issue judged according to the extent that people are abusing/misusing/counterfeiting the gifts of the Spirit and miracles.

    But what is the truth according to scripture, and why is the biblical truth about gifts and miracles important? if scripture indicates that the gifts are no longer needed or available than we should accept that. If scripture doesn’t indicate the withdrawl of gifts and miracles, then maybe we should consider when and why God provides them and for what purpose.

  13. Yes, the “issue” shouldn’t be judged on misuse. What the Bible says about the issue matters. I think I have agreed with that. But when we move from the issue into what is actually happening, that is observation and contrasting, then I have to acknowledge my actual observation. I can’t agree that “charismatics” or people who attend these places are better people or more responsible people, people less dependent on ministers, etc.

  14. Oh, and then there are those who can believe “gifts” haven’t ceased and not care much if at all what ordained ministers say but heap up teachers in the sense of truly whatEVER they want to hear and think and justify. LORD have mercy; I know someone who has been all over the place with speaking in [purported] tongues, having dreams (for which he could not accept the more obvious meaning than what he came up with to point at someone else), believing “God” is multiple aliens, calling himself a hedonist, calling himself a Christian (when he’s not denying he ever called himself a Christian, for arguments’ sake, just to be contrary to the person who knows him most). His problem is he’s always resisted ordained ministers or anyone else telling him he’s a sinner in the sense that it’s actually wrong and can stop. No one’s perfect and no one is better than anyone else, except of course he is so much more awesome than his biological terrrible brother. Either that or he’s pathologically incapable of understanding — marginally insane or mentally ill (while exceedingly capable of carrying out a high profile respected career with other people). He and his Christian friends are the right kind of Christians, free of rules or standards… or respect (although they’d reject this observation if they’re like him)… unless it’s about them, they deserve respect. They ARE the standard. And then I could say, sure, that he needs to believe the Bible. But what this is good for to him is justifying interest in any number of women (or men) and that he’s just being ultra magnanimous not to act on that (if in fact he doesn’t act on it or simply evades consequences, you know — love, his kind of definition where if he can convince himself no one is hurt it’s for him to smile about and anyone else to get over… bullshit love). But he doesn’t say gifts have ceased and doesn’t listen to ordained ministers — although he goes to great lengths to set up venues for a charismatic ministry/church. Yes, I’m very frustrated with facts on the ground. Yet gifts have not ceased is true.

  15. ” I can’t agree that “charismatics” or people who attend these places are better people or more responsible people, people less dependent on ministers”

    That’s the kind of point I’ve been making since I started blogging many years ago.

    Charismanics have been guilty of some of the more extreme theological errors I’ve come across, and that is because of their lack of responsibility to themselves and others. Again it is because they have followed men instead of God.

    There are false teachers and false theologies to suit every taste. Some like a more sedate and intellectual approach others like something lively and exciting. There are teachers suitable for every kind of itching ear.

  16. From Isaiah 57


    The righteous man perishes,
    …. no one understands.

    Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
    and did not remember me,
    did not give me a thought?
    Have I not held my peace, even for
    a long time,
    and so you do not fear me?
    I will tell you of your righteousness and your doings,
    but they will not help you.


    And it will be said,
    “Build up, build up, prepare the way,
    remove every obstruction
    from my people’s way.”
    For thus says the high and lofty
    One who inhabits eternity,
    whose name is
    “I dwell
    in the high
    and holy place,
    and also with him
    who is of a
    and humble
    spirit, to revive
    the heart…..

    Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,
    says the LORD; and I will heal him.
    But the wicked are like
    the tossing sea;
    for it cannot
    rest, and
    its waters
    toss up mire
    and dirt. There
    is no peace,
    my God,
    for the wicked.”

  17. The “righteous man” is contrasted with “your righteousness and your doings,”
    not to say there is no righteous man or weaker person perishing.

    The people who are told no one understands think
    they have righteousness they should be patted on the back for meanwhile.

  18. Godly righteousness (in contrast to self-righteousness) is expressed with humility, and with no sense that we deserve praise. We recognise that anything good within us, and any good we are able to do, is entirely due to what God has given. That humility also requires we don’t push aside God’s provision: those gifts that He has given for an important reason. They are not given frivolously, so they should not be treated frivolously. They should not be treated as if we can take or leave them. They should not be treated as if their purpose is for our own amusement.

  19. Absolutely not for our own amusement. That can be so ugly or shameful.l, and is. And not to be treated frivolously either, almost the same thing I’m thinking. Now, the “take or leave” question/rumination might have more subtlety to consider since i don’t think rejection is like deciding we can take them or leave them. But someone earlier in these postings (probably under another heading) said that it’s up to God to, for instance, heal or not heal in a particular instance. I agree with that person on possibly having to take no for an answer at times (which is a mild form). I don’t think we can make God give the kinds of gifts we tend to call gifts.

  20. I think I have to comment further in the interest of clarity. In saying a person might not get an asked-for healing, I wasn’t referring to the reviving of the heart to leave wickedness behind… which is classified as “healing” in Isaiah 57 above (RSV). I believe THAT will certainly happen if you want and appeal in Jesus’ name. I’m appreciating that particular detail from Isaiah over again just now because, the “gifts we tend to call gifts” in my previous statement being physical healing and other more seemingly unusual happenings, it is well considered to see a healthy spiritual heart as gifting as well.

  21. I can see two forms of the “take it or leave it” attitude. One considers that Spiritual gifts aren’t important, we don’t really need them in our lives so we can ignore them and not desire them.
    The other considers that the gifts are no longer needed and God has withdrawn them; they are no longer available and are mere “relics” of early church history.
    To me, both of those approaches take the view that our own strength and abilities are enough for us to live effective Christian lives; that today we no longer need the equipping gifts that God gave to the early church.

  22. Yes, if we thought they weren’t or aren’t important, then they would be more like entertaining or frivolous. So, like, are you thinking in terms of people who get ordained (with or without education) but aren’t gifted (as one example)? Yikes — kinda’ scary to think of a designated pastor or his listeners only finding it amusing if he is actually gifted… that is if it crosses their minds But you probably mean more like prophecies and physical healings being amusing or frivolous. I’ve even encountered a pastor (not a pastor in a local setting at the time), one who did in fact believe in gifts (especially tongues) who said healing and miracles were the worst reason to believe. I don’t agree with that. Anyway, back to a pastor being gifted, it see.s to me then I would feel more like I’m supposed to learn from him. So if I should be learning directly myself from the Bible, then I’m thinking he might be likely to get frustrated (my fellow believers not hanging on his every word). I’m brainstorming a little here.

  23. The gifts are available and given to all believers so that all believers can minister to each other in turn.

    To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good


    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. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,

    When I refer to the frivolous, I’m thinking mostly of the unscriptural Charismanic antics that have created such a negative reaction to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But most of their “frivolity” has nothing at all to do with genuine spiritual gifts as described in scripture. They have created their own “spiritual” manifestations and experiences that are far from Holy.

    Unfortunately, many in their desire to support “cessationist ideas” are reacting against Charismania (and presenting that reaction as evidence) instead of honestly coming to terms with what scripture reveals about the nature and relveance of Spiritual gifts.

  24. Do you think pastoring is somewhat like prophesying and speaking in tongues? Just about anyone in the congregation or gathering can be called on in any particular moment to fulfil the role? And others are to weigh and consider (analogous to giving interpretation for tongues)?

  25. “Pastor” is another type of God-given gift along with the gifts of apostle, prophet and evangelist. There’s some ambiguity about whether pastor and teacher are listed in Ephesians as separate gifts to the church. Like anyone else in the body, a pastor can receive and minister with the gifts of the Spirit.
    A pastor should not be THE minister in a fellowship and should not be established as its authority figure.

  26. I wasn’t going to bring up apostles unless the pastor topic were to be more resolved, because there you have an even more heavy-duty character (so to speak). But now I’ve said it. One of the two [or three] teachers I have learned most from in recent years (one of whom is a pastor* too I think, but not where I live) says something kinda different from the norm that I don’t plan to get into here, about offices with titles, and I tend to think he’s right about it. Anyway, I don’t get real concerned about whether I should find an apostle or not any more (not that I knew that was what I was looking for or would find way back when as what I had been trained to do was find a pastor — which is actually usually mainly a teacher in our conceptions, and I don’t think pastor and teacher have to be linked, but I don’t think a pastor who is not a teacher would be recognizable within our habits — that and an active congregation) since apostleship is about a person taking a new or corrected message message where it hasn’t been. On the pastor front, all I’ll say (other than that it — like teacher — can also be combined with apostle, and I have appreciated someone* in the setting of a congregation who was both… teacher and apostle along with pastor and often evangelist, but not a one and only minister) is oh well for now.

    * [someone a lot like this person in function although not so much personality]

  27. One addition to my post above:

    In many of our Christian traditions the pastor-teacher is in fact more a pastor-evangelist (as to content).

  28. It’s interesting to read the article and see how a person’s words can be manipulated to create a totally different meaning to the one intended.

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