When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephe 4:1-6)
Denominations, or schisms, as Paul called them, are the invention of humans. And even though there are many today, there is but one church. You can’t join it, you have to be born into it. It doesn’t meet in any particular building, nor is it one. The only name on the door is the name of Jesus, and to all who knock it will be opened, irrespective of merit. There are no pledge cards or reserved seating, and the membership role is the Lamb’s Book of Life. To be included you have to believe that you’re a sinner in need of a Savior, that Jesus gave His life to purchase a pardon for your sins and become your Savior, that His resurrection is proof that this alone was sufficient to save you, and that there’s no other way to salvation but for you to accept it in faith.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (Psalm 68:18) (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions -Lit. depths of the Earth)? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephe 4:7-13)
The New Testament contains three lists of attributes, or gifts, given from the Triune God to mankind. The first list is found in Romans 12:6-8. It comes from the Father, and includes seven gifts of grace, or charismata; Prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving (philanthropy), leadership, and mercy (compassion). While the context of Romans 12 clearly points to the Church, even a casual observer can see evidence of the above gifts at work in men and women throughout the human race, irrespective of spiritual condition. We’re all created in the (now flawed) image of God, whether we believe it or not.
The second list comes from the Ephesians passage above and is given by the Son. Those who view these gifts as offices say they define church hierarchy: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher. Obviously, no one alive today can meet the Biblical requirement for the office of Apostle, which is to have been taught directly by Jesus and to have personally seen Him after the resurrection. And, as we’ll see below, the Lord Himself currently occupies the office of Prophet. So if you subscribe to the “office” view you’re left with Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher. I prefer to think of these attributes as spiritual gifts as well, with apostle corresponding to the leadership gift in the Romans passage and prophet meaning “having the gift of prophecy.” This seems to fit better with Paul’s explanation of the need for a diversity of gifts in the Church to make the body complete. (1 Cor. 12: 27-31)
And the third list, probably best known, comes from 1 Cor. 12:4-11. It’s a list of nine gifts, distributed by the Holy Spirit to each believer as He sees fit for the common good of the body. Gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous power, prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues are listed here.
So we have three lists of gifts given by one or more members of the Trinity. By the way, so you won’t think I’m totally bonkers, this idea is summarized in Paul’s introduction to the gifts of the Spirit, where he mentions all three. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (1 Cor. 12:4-6)
In 1 Cor. 12:27-28 two additional gifts appear along with several already mentioned. They are “helps” (providing relief) and administration. Some feel these are just different ways of describing gifts previously listed, with helps being compared to giving, and administration compared to apostle. (The Greek words for both administration and apostle can be translated governing.)
I should note that in the New Testament the gift of prophecy, which appears on all three lists, is different than the office of Prophet in the Old Testament. Before the cross, prophets were called, usually one at a time, to speak to the people for God. The Prophet was the mirror image of the Priest, who spoke to God for the people. Our unresolved sin problem precluded direct contact with God by any other than the holders of these two offices.
After the cross, the barrier between God and us was removed and now any believer can speak directly to and hear directly from God. The One and Only Prophet in the Old Testament sense for the Church Age is Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2). The gift of prophecy in our time is more for the purpose of clarification than revelation. The Book so named (Revelation) was God’s final word to man.
A couple of good rules to follow in receiving prophecy in the church today are,
1. “If it’s new, it can’t be true.” All current prophecy has to be compatible with God’s revealed Word or else God is not infallible, doesn’t know the end from the beginning, and has had to change His mind about something.
2. Seek confirmation. If a word of prophecy is true, it will be confirmed for you from a second source unrelated to the first one, in fulfillment of Deut. 19:15. I personally would not act on any message given to me by another believer as “a word from the Lord” unless and until I received independent confirmation. It’s OK to ask the Lord to provide this confirmation. After all, these are His rules.
One final note on Spiritual Gifts. The phrase “speaking in tongues” refers to the supernatural ability to communicate in a language one hasn’t learned, and as Paul explained in 1 Cor. 14 is intended more for private prayer than public utterance unless there’s also an interpretation given. Otherwise, how can the body be edified and the purpose of the gift fulfilled? For example, in the Book of Acts the gift of tongues was first used to tell foreigners in Jerusalem about the Messiah, and after that to show the Jewish Apostles that Gentiles had been given the Holy Spirit. In each case, the body was edified and the purpose fulfilled.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephe. 4: 14-16)
If the Lord was demonstrating His manifold wisdom in creating this new race of human we call the Church, (Ephe. 3:10) then His will for us is to live in peace and harmony with one another. By distributing these gifts across the Body He was creating an interdependence that would help keep us on track and prevent the introduction of false doctrine into our thinking.
Each of us has been assigned a unique role in the working of the Body of Christ. If we focus our energy on discovering and perfecting that role, we’ll all be much better protected against the wiles of the evil one and his minions, both supernatural and human, who strive to divide us.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8) Good advice, Paul. Selah 08-15-04