Last time I talked a bit about being chosen for community. Todd Hunter sparked some thinking in me when he said we need to re-examine the idea of spiritual gifts, especially in light of Ephesians 4. In that passage, Paul says Jesus “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” In this context, the gift given to the church is not spiritual gifts, but people. The gifts reside in people who live in and serve the community.
Unfortunately, the American Church has distorted the concept of spiritual gifts. Through our theology and programming, we train people to view spiritual gifts as commodities that they bring to community. And in this light, those who have more gifts or greater gifts or more developed gifts are more valuable than those who don’t.
And in some instances, the gifts become more valuable than the person. For example we use phrases such as “We need people with the gift of intercession” or “we recognize these people as having the gift of leadership.” This prioritizes gifts above people, both defining people by what they can do and determining their value in the community by what they do. This, in turn, de-emphasizes character and spiritual formation, oftentimes lifting up people with little Christlikeness as the leaders and models for the congregation. And in some cases, it creates spiritual pathologies of identity crisis within the congregation members.
However, I believe the biblical view is that the individual Christian is the spiritual gift. In that person dwells the Holy Spirit who graces us with manifestations (or “gracelets”) of God’s reign as he chooses. These “gracelets” are embodied in the person. They are the manifestations of the love and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit through the unique personality, experience and life of each person in community. In other words, you cannot extract spiritual gifts from a person and send them to the community. They are completely meaningless outside of the person.
This is key: the individual in whom the Spirit of God dwells IS the spiritual gift and therefore, the individual is necessary for the community above and beyond the “gracelets.”
What that means on one level is that I don’t have to leave my community to search for the person with the “anointing” or gift for prophecy or healing or whatever else I need in my life. That is downright consumerism and has no place in the Body of Christ. Leaving the community for personal reasons is in a sense rejecting God’s gift of the community members — a common travesty in the American Church. Most “gracelets” are situational anyways. In other words, they manifest themselves through the community members in the situation as the Spirit dictates.
Christ-followers in the community, then, don’t need to be taught how to develop their “spiritual gifts.” That’s a commodities-orientation that screws everything up. Rather, they need to be taught how to BE spiritual gifts. They need to be trained how to live selfless and obedient lives that are sensitive to the Spirit’s activity and desires all the time. They need to be trained to become the kind of people who are easily able to respond humbly, selflessly and obediently to the Spirit all the time. They need to be trained to live in the Spirit so they can produce the character of the Spirit (i.e. fruit of the Spirit) so their lives can bear the weight of the Spirit’s power and manifestation. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus anyways.
As disciples live in community, my brothers, sisters and I are God’s gift to each other. As disciples, we have learned how to naturally and humbly consider others better than ourselves. The Holy Spirit, who dwells in each of us, will then manifest himself, as he chooses, as the community easily loves, cares, and serves each other.
In this way, the community members — who are themselves the spiritual gifts of God to the community — “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.” Then the Body of Christ “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”