The Holy Spirit equips the Body of Christ to carry out God’s mission in the world by means of spiritual gifts. Incredulous? Try to name an aspect of God’s mission that is not associated with one or more of the spiritual gifts that are listed or demonstrated throughout the New Testament.
Furthermore, Jesus did not engage his mission until after he was anointed with the Holy Spirit at the time of his water baptism. One may ask, what is the connection between Jesus’ baptism and his commencement with ministry? Simply stated, the Holy Spirit equipped Jesus to do ministry because Jesus emptied himself when he became a human being; that is, he laid aside his divine right (Phil 2:6-8). Yes, I am arguing that Jesus exercised spiritual gifts. In fact, I argue that Christ had access to all the spiritual gifts because he is the mission of God in microcosm. Certainly, the character of his ministry supports this thesis.
Furthermore, when Jesus told the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn 20:21 NIV), he expected them to exercise spiritual gifts in the same way that he did during his earthly ministry. When talking about his personal example, he gives the disciples a mindboggling vision for ministry. “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (Jn 14:12 NIV).
The “whosoever” in John 14:12 includes us. Peter made that point clear on the Day of Pentecost when he told the crowds, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39 NIV). Some argue that the “all who are far off” refers to Hellenistic Jews in the diaspora and not to those who are far off in time. However, the “for all whom the Lord our God calls” encompasses all believers.
In terms of my original point, Jesus shows a clear linkage between spiritual gifts and the mission of the church in Acts 1:4-8. He tells the disciples that they will receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon them. Afterward, they will be his witnesses in all the world. That is their mission. However, until they are empowered by the Holy Spirit, they are not ready to engage it. For that reason, he tells them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. After they have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, they will be spiritually equipped to do God’s mission in the world.
In I Corinthians 12, Paul describes how the Spirit equips individual members within the Body of Christ with spiritual gifts so that the church can fulfill its God given mission. In the same way that a human body requires many different parts to function correctly, the Body of Christ requires many different spiritual gifts to function correctly (I Cor 12:12-30). In other words, the believers were equipped by God with one or more spiritual gifts so that they could help the body function properly and complete its mission. That is why Paul affirms that every believer is given a manifestation of the Spirit (I Cor 12:7).
This functional approach to spiritual gifts shifts the emphasis away from the individual. For too long, people have talked about their gifts. Many people hold on to their gifts as if they were individual trophies. Others try to exercise them in isolation from the larger community of faith. Individualism runs deep within the western church. However, a missional approach to spiritual gifts always focuses on the church in mission.
Previously, I said that spiritual gifts are directly tied to every aspect of the church’s mission. This is especially true when we look at the fivefold ministry model that Paul offers in Ephesians 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers). In this we discern an additional relationship between gifting, calling, and equipping. First, when God calls people to certain ministry functions on behalf of the church and its mission, God gifts them for that work. Second, the church affirms when a person has a calling. Discernment of calling and affirmation of gifting should take place within the Body of Christ. That is why denominations “ordain” people. Third, the person needs to be trained to minister in accordance with his gifts and calling.
This last point is especially important. A person who discerns a gift to preach is not equipped to preach. Many who have been called to preach remember with chagrin their first sermons. Jesus trained his followers to operate in terms of their calling and gifting when they itinerated with him. People in the pews also need to be trained to identify and use their spiritual gifts. For those who are called to the fivefold ministry, seminary is the normal place where training takes place. Churches send their people to the seminary so the seminary can equip them to walk in their calling and effectively minister on behalf of the church.
One last point: love is not a spiritual gift. It is a spiritual attribute like the other fruits of the Spirit. People who walk with gifts but do not evidence the fruit of the Spirit are problematic to the mission of the church and the spiritual health of its members. Additionally, Jesus says that casting out demons is a part of the church’s mission. However, it is not listed as a gift. Some say that it is tied to the gifts of healing (inner healing). However, any believer who understands his position in Christ can do battle against Satan and cast-out demons because it is an issue of authority, not spiritual gifting (cf. Lk 10:19-20).
Do you want to discover strategies that will enable you to communicate the gospel more effectively in contexts of spiritual oppression or with individuals who are in bondage?
Dr William Payne will be teaching this summer with world renowned missiologist and spiritual warrior, Dr. Chuck Kraft at Ashland Theological Seminary in Columbus from June 5th to June 13th. Learn more about our EVG Power Encounter in Ministry and Missions class (EVG 7710 COL). Call today 866-287-6446 and ask for Miles Larson.
William P. Payne, PhD is the Harlan and Wilma Hollewell Professor of Evangelism and World Missions at Ashland Theological Seminary. He is currently on Study Leave in Medellin, Colombia.