Recently I started a new blog series on "The Gifts of the Spirit" by talking about being “Equipped for Significance.” I want to take a different approach to the gifts than what you might normally see. My view of the gifts is simple: they are supernatural. They are given (hence the word "gifts") by God as needed for service. As I said, simple. So, go on this journey with me as we flesh out what Paul has to say about them and how we are "gifted" to glorify God.
Many people, when they approach the gifts, come to them with the idea that certain gifts are okay and certain gifts are not. Especially when you get to miraculous power or the effecting of miracles, they think “for sure no longer for today” and we hear “Let’s praise God for what He used to do, but don’t get too excited because he doesn’t do it today.” The Greek word there is dunamis and simply means, “the operation of power.”
If we’re going to affect our communities, we need the operation of power. If there’s no operation of power then it really is all up to you and me, and we better be smart. We better be good. You better never make a mistake. But you know as well as I do, none of us are that slick or that smart.
As I mentioned, a lot of people’s theology says: “this is not for today. God used to do these things, he doesn’t do them anymore. We do not worship the great ‘I Am.’ We worship the great ‘I was’ or ‘I used to.’”
I think the church didn’t see the power of God, many miracles, many healings, or the hand of God very often so they came up with a theology to accommodate that lack.
But you know what? In arguing that, you have to argue from history, because you can’t find it in the Bible.
I’ve studied history too. Not only does history record declines of the power of God manifest among people, the history books also record things like the great awakening, renewals, and revivals. Those things are historically marked by an increase in power and manifest works of the Spirit like healings and deliverance. Things beyond our rational capacity to understand. That’s the legacy, by the way, of the Alliance. These are the kinds of ways that God worked through its founder A.B. Simpson.
I believe we have demythologized the Bible. I’m sure you’re aware of Bultmann, who took the miracles of the Bible and gave them natural meanings. He did a detailed thing on the parting of the Red Sea and how it really was a natural thing - really dry to begin with and not that big a deal and Israelites walked across on nearly dry ground.
I heard that he went to speak to a church one day about that very thing, and as he was discrediting this miracle there was a gal in the back saying, “praise the Lord, hallelujah!” He stopped and said, “What are you so excited about? This was a natural thing.” The lady said, “oh I don’t care about that, what’s exciting to me is that God drowned all those Egyptians when there was no water there, hallelujah!”
We have tended to take the gifts of the spirit and do the very same thing, and the very same people who were criticizing Bultmann for explaining away the miracles were doing the very same thing to the gifts of the Spirit.
Take the gift of knowledge. You might hear someone say, “Well, that’s what college professors have – I’ll never have that, I’m not smart!” You know what impresses and makes me think that there’s a God at work in his church? When people who aren’t really that smart have something to say that comes from God. We realize that had to be God cause you’re not that smart!
And the gift of wisdom has nothing to do with how wise people are - it’s a word of wisdom from people who maybe aren’t particularly wise. This theology I’m speaking of frighteningly parallels the theology of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day whose theology was this: If you don’t believe that God did miracles in the days of Moses, you’re a heretic! But when Jesus came and moved among them and did miracles then, what did they say about him? “He does that by the power of Beelzebub!” (a.k.a. Satan).
So, this was their theology: “If you don’t believe that God used to do miracles, you’re a heretic! If you believe that God still does miracles, you’re a heretic!” That tends to be current theology and that’s a scary thought. It seems that everything has to have a rational explanation.
Near the end of Acts, Paul is bitten by a viper. When he got bit by the viper, something didn’t happen that normally happens when you get bit by a viper – He didn’t die. The people are looking at him saying, “What is this, he got bit by a viper and didn’t die! He must be a god!”
Now you and I look at that and think, “Stupid people, we would never see somebody bit by a viper, not die, and assume they were a god.” We have a different world view. Here’s what we would do: “He got bit by a viper, and when you get bit by a viper you die. He didn’t die – so God used an old viper. ;-)
Then we find out it’s a young little guy. Okay it’s young, it’s not old. Well in that case, this viper probably bit a whole bunch of people before he bit Paul and he was out of venom. And then we find he’s got plenty of venom still. OK, that wasn’t it.
Well then it has to be that on his journeys Paul had been bitten before - just little tiny bites, and he had a lot of them. And just built up his immunity. I’m sure that’s what happened. Praise the Lord, God used that way to do it…Could it have been that God just healed him?!I think we would all agree that in order to do the legitimate work of the kingdom we need empowerment. We need what Luke calls, at the end of his gospel, a clothing with power from on high. Call it what you want, we need the power of the Holy Spirit or we don’t have a prayer.