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When your spiritual gift is not a gift

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Spiritual gifts can be wonderful and confusing – connecting us deeply to God and simultaneously dividing us from our brother. Whole denominations have sprung up focused on certain gifts. Churches frequently split over gifts.   The problem is not the gifts themselves, it’s just the way the…
By Seth Barnes
giving 1Spiritual gifts can be wonderful and confusing – connecting us deeply to God and simultaneously dividing us from our brother. Whole denominations have sprung up focused on certain gifts. Churches frequently split over gifts.
 
The problem is not the gifts themselves, it’s just the way their used. That’s why after the gifts are described in 1 Cor. 12, they are prioritized in the next chapter and then given “operating instructions” (doesn’t every good gift have some kind of operating instructions?) in the chapter after that.
 
God tells us that gifts are to edify ourselves and others – “to equip his people for works of service.” (Eph. 4:12) But you can take a spiritual gift and misuse it in a number of different ways. Here are three of them:
1. Elitism– A sense of superiority or elitism can come to characterize those who have discovered how wonderful those gifts are. The very same behavior that causes fights between children in the playground can afflict church members as well.
 

2. Overuse– “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” When you’re down, the gift of exhortation can be such a lift to your spirit. But if the person exhorting you doesn’t know when to stop talking, that gift ceases to be an encouragement. Similarly, the gift of teaching can bring clarity, but when overused a teaching gift can suck all the oxygen in the room.

 
3. Over-spiritualizing– Not every conflict is spiritual warfare. Yes, the devil wants to kill, steal, and destroy. But sometimes folks just lack people skills. Sometimes they make bad decisions that lead to painful consequences. You can assess the reality of a given gift by the fruit it produces. If people feel diminished by a gift, if it is bringing division, then perhaps God is not in it.
 
Because we’re all broken, our ego needs can get in the way of a gift’s expression. We need help in understanding how to use them. God rarely gives gifts to us fully formed. We know from experience that as we exercise faith and practice using a gift, we become adept at using it. My first efforts at teaching were pitiful. If God has given me a teaching gift, it has grown through use.
 
Given the mess that some spiritual gifts can create when they’re misused, it can be tempting to just shrug and remain indifferent about them. But Scripture tells us to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts.” We need to press into the mess.
 
Similarly, because some gifts can be particularly divisive when they’re misused, it can be tempting to keep them at arm’s length. But Scripture doesn’t give us that option. In fact, Paul concludes his review of how to properly use spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 14 by saying, “be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”
 
In light of such plain instruction, it’s interesting that whole denominations interpret that Scripture to say the very opposite thing. Their reading is: “You can’t prophesy or speak in tongues, because those gifts no longer work.”
 
But just because gifts are misused is no reason to prohibit their use. The answer is to follow Scripture and use the gifts God gives according to the operating instructions that go along with them.

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