Why We (and the Holy Spirit) Give Gifts
Before we dive into what the gifts of the Holy Spirit are, I want to take some time to talk about why we are even given them. It’s going to help frame the discussion going forward into this series. After all, even in our human relationships, gifts are given for a reason. Many gifts are given to commemorate or celebrate an occasion. We give birthday gifts to celebrate the day of someone’s birth and wedding gifts to congratulate the bride and groom as they embark on their life together.
We give gifts at Christmas as we remember and celebrate God’s greatest gift to us, his son, Jesus. We give gifts on Valentine’s Day to express our love to the special people in our lives. We give gifts on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to express our gratitude for the work our parents have done in raising us and to honor the role they have played in our lives. Even the gifts we give “for no reason at all” are given to brighten someone’s day, to let them know someone is thinking about them.
Every gift we give has a reason. Some of those reasons are bigger than others, some of them are more meaningful than others, but the point is that they do exist.
The same is true when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are given them for a purpose. One of the places this reality is most clearly stated is in Ephesians 4 when Paul writes in verse twelve, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Did you catch who benefits? Not any one individual but the body of Christ. Not any specific church or even a specific denomination but the entire body of Christ. There is nothing about ethnicity, gender, or nationality mentioned. The only limitation as to who the gifts are to benefit is those who are part of the body of Christ, the worldwide, past, present, and future church.
As we dive more into the what the gifts of the Holy Spirit specifically are, there will be some gifts which are more intriguing, some that seem more exciting than others. Some of that could be the prompting of the Holy Spirit, challenging you to learn more about that particular gift and perhaps embrace it, receive it as a gift you have been given. On the other hand, it could be your own personal, selfish desire to have the fanciest, flashiest toy in the proverbial toybox. How do you know? You go back to Ephesians 4 and check your heart and motivation.
I spent about ten years attending and volunteering at a church which embraced the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. They regularly taught on and encouraged people to practice the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, believing them to be meant for the Church to regularly use today. I specifically volunteered with the youth group and had regular conversations about the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit with the teens of the church. Nearly every conversation revolved around wanting to be able to speak in tongues, or be able to interpret tongues, or wanting some other miraculous gift. I always asked why they were interested in that gift and not, say, the gift of administration or helping others. The answer I most commonly got back in return was some version, “Because it looks really cool.”
That was the problem. They wanted a particular gift because they personally would be the primary person who benefited. They would get to have a “cool experience.” They weren’t thinking about serving the Church. Most of the time, after a little bit of growing up, they would find themselves experiencing a miraculous moment of the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives which left them excited to see how God was going to use them to share His love with others through them. They just needed to get their heart and motivation in the right place.
Another thing to keep in mind when talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit is that Jesus, being part of our Triune God just as the Holy Spirit is part of the our Triune God, exemplified all of the gifts through his worlds and actions. When Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, he tells his disciples not to leave Jerusalem until “the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about” has been received (Acts 1:4). He was speaking of the Holy Spirit. He goes on to tell them “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are intricately woven together. If you know your liturgical calendar, you know we celebrate that gift Jesus spoke of on Pentecost Sunday.
Pentecost, the day in which the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples enabling them to speak in tongues and speak to peoples of many nations, reminds us still today that while Jesus has ascended into heaven, God is still very much present and working in our world because we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The last thing to keep in mind as to the why of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is that they remind us of our dependence upon one another. Romans 12:6 tells us that just as there are different gifts, each person is given gifts in accordance to the grace given to us. That’s a fancy way of saying that, because we are each created different and wired differently as people, we each will have different gifts and different ways to use the gifts we are given.
It’s so easy, isn’t it, to get into narrow definitions of just about anything and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are no exception. Just because you are given the gift of teaching doesn’t mean you need to go to school, get your teacher’s license, and settle into a classroom teaching theology (or math, or science, or reading or just about anything). Perhaps you will find your best fit as a Sunday school or Confirmation teacher, or a mentor, or leading a scouting troop as the discover and experience the world around them. If you have the gift of wisdom it doesn’t mean you will always have the right answer or that your choices are infallible nor does it mean that you should become a licensed psychologist in hopes of helping people solve all their problems. It does mean you could be the person your friends are most likely to come to for advice or when they are truly seeking to understand a situation from a different perspective.
When you consider the number of gifts, and that any given person can have one or more than one, and then add in the our different personalities, and then add in our different natural abilities, and we can’t forget the resources available to any given individual and it becomes clear to see that the possibilities for how the gifts of the Holy Spirit work in today’s world are nearly endless. And yet, without even one being expressed in some small way by a person who possesses it, the body of Christ is missing a piece of itself. Try to imagine your church without the secretary exercising the gift of administration or the church without those who are willing to apply their gift of knowledge towards exploring the deep truths of God and developing our basic creedal statements.
So as we journey into this exploration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit or, as our Recharge theme this fall states, as we journey “Into the Unknown” it will help us greatly to keep in mind the why of the gifts. They aren’t given to us randomly for no reason. They are given to us knowing how God has formed us and so that we may use them in service to the Church.
- What are some of the greatest gifts you have physically received? Why did you receive them? How did receiving them make that relationship or occasion extra special?
- Have you ever received a gift you were unsure as to what it was or what its purpose was? How did you figure it out? Did it turn out to be a fitting gift?
- How do you use your gift and talents in service to the Church?