1 Corinthians 12:4-7
“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. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (I Corinthians 12:4-7)
First in our considerations for today, note that both natural ability and spiritual ability are gifts from God. We must use both natural and supernatural gifts for His glory, not our own. To use either natural or spiritual gifts for our own glory is sin. We are responsible to use all that we are to glorify Him. The second thing to note is that the Bible doesn’t explain the relationship between natural and spiritual giftedness.
There are those that people might be successful at without Spirit-enabling if they had great natural ability in the following list of church activities: singing, ushering, preaching, teaching, counselling, leading a group, hospitality, and managing finances. Even witnessing can be faked if the person has enough personal charisma; but we’re talking here of those who truly lead people to Christ. If my opinion is anywhere near correct, the conclusion is scary!
Most of the work of the church could be carried on by gifted people without the Spirit of God doing anything. Some people refer to ministry as either “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit.” A difference does exist between the two, but the difference may not be between spiritual gifts and natural abilities. The difference is between depending on self or depending on the Spirit. Evidence of a supernatural touch is one indication that a ministry is accomplished in the Spirit. For example, Paul wasn’t a world-class public speaker – he agreed with the Corinthians in that judgment (1 Cor. 2:1). But when he taught the Bible, lives were transformed. Whether the Spirit merely lifts a natural ability to a higher power we may not know; but if it’s a Spirit-gift, there will be the Spirit’s miracle touch.
Though the word “manifestation” in our verse for today means “visible evidence” and that is the ultimate proof, we need to exercise two cautions .
- some may have “visible evidence” resulting from strong natural ability, not really the work of the Spirit. For example, the magicians in Pharaoh’s court managed to duplicate some of the signs Moses performed (Exodus 7:11), but they certainly did not do them through the power of the Spirit.
- a person may have been given a gift and still experience a lack of evidence because of adverse circumstances. For example, Ezekiel was God’s own prophet, but the people were rebels and wouldn’t listen (Ezekiel 3).
Paul was no doubt the greatest of evangelists, but in Lystra they stoned him out of town (Acts 14). In general, however, if no evidence shows the Spirit at work, if the ministry makes no spiritual impact, we need to ask if the ministry is God’s.
When I fail to see evidence in my own ministry, I ask myself the following diagnostic questions:
- Am I harboring unconfessed sin? When I’ve preached my heart out and lives aren’t changed, I first examine myself to see if something in me blocked the flow of the Spirit. Do I have some unconfessed sin, a wrong motivation (wanting “success” for human praise), unbelief (not trusting God to do what only He can do), or lack of prayer preparation? I don’t immediately conclude that I don’t have the gift or that He hasn’t called me after all.
- Do l need to be persistent? When I felt called to do missionary work, I kept asking God for the gift of evangelism. People came to Christ through my ministry only sporadically, and I longed for the ability to consistently win people to Christ.
The principle is to keep asking until you see one of two things: “visible evidence” of the gift you long for, or the assurance that God doesn’t intend that gift for you. Stop asking only when God shows you that the gift is not for you.
- Am I in the right place? In Japan, we discovered that we were ministering in a very unresponsive area. We asked God if there should be a change of location to a place or people who would respond. This is what Paul did more than once (See Acts 13:46 for example).
- Is God vindicating himself? Perhaps, on the other hand, God intends a gifted person to stand firm when there is no “fruit” or outward result, as His vindication among an unresponsive people (as in Ezekiel’s case).
You can see from the above examples that a legitimate gift may be without “visible evidence” in some situations. But in general, we distinguish between natural ability and supernatural ability by the outcome of the ministry. The most exciting thing about the gifts of the Spirit is that He has given some ability to serve God to every Christian. Where are you currently serving? Is there visible evidence of the Spirit at work? How might the four diagnostic questions provide direction for the next phase of your ministry?