Some Christians seem to think that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given only to some believers. But the whole sweep of Scripture points in the opposite direction. Today, Barry Cooper discusses how God has empowered all of His people for ministry.
You can get the impression in some Christian circles that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given only to some believers. But the whole sweep of Scripture points in the other direction.
One of the great fulfilled promises of the Old Testament is that one day, all of God’s people would receive the Holy Spirit in all His fullness.
It wasn’t always like that. Before the time of Christ, the Holy Spirit regenerated God’s people and even dwelled in and among them. However, the Spirit was not present in all His fullness in the believers who lived before Christ. When it came to spiritual gifts, only select people enjoyed the Spirit’s empowerment for ministry—usually particular leaders, and usually for a limited period of time.
But the prophecy came that at some point in the future, all Israel would share in the fullness of all that the Spirit has for God’s people:
And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28–29)
The references to male and female, old and young, slave and free, not to mention the explicit “all flesh,” draw attention to the sweeping extent of this anointing; it would be quite unlike anything Israel had seen in its history.
Well, with the birth of Christ, that prophecy begins to be fulfilled. John the Baptist heralds Christ’s arrival by announcing that Jesus will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).
And then, sure enough, on the day of Pentecost, after Jesus’ ascension, the Spirit is given in all His fullness to all the disciples. Peter, in the sermon he gives on that very day, quotes Joel chapter 2 and confirms that they are now living in the age promised by Joel in which God would pour out His Spirit in His fullness on all believers—even, much to Peter’s surprise, on gentiles as well as Jews.
We too, if we’re followers of Christ, are living in that same age, enjoying that same enormous privilege, a privilege that Old Testament believers must have yearned for.
If we’re believers, we’ve each been given the Spirit, and with Him, particular spiritual gifts. These gifts have been given not so that we can make much of ourselves but so that we would serve others with them.
Paul describes Christians communally as being like a human body, which has many different gifts or abilities: we have eyes, feet, ears, hands, noses, and so on. Clearly, the foot doesn’t get to walk off for some alone time, and it doesn’t get to demand that every part of the body should be like him and become like a foot.
Each part of the body needs to be faithfully doing what it’s been gifted to do, in the service of the whole body, so that the body of Christ can be what it’s supposed to be.
Paul said this, presumably, because then, as now, it can be tempting on the one hand to use our spiritual gifts as an opportunity to draw attention to ourselves, and on the other, to take our spiritual gifts and withdraw from other believers, thus depriving them of what is, by rights, theirs.
What are these spiritual gifts, exactly? Paul speaks in Romans 12 of the gifts of prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, and doing acts of mercy. Now clearly, we should all be doing acts of mercy, we should all be serving, and so on. But some of us are particularly gifted by the Spirit in those areas. We should recognize those gifts if they’ve been given to us, and be sure to use them. If you give me $100 and tell me to pass it on to someone else, you’d be less than impressed if I didn’t bother giving it to them, or worse, spent it on myself.
Paul speaks of spiritual gifts again in 1 Corinthians 12 and again stresses that they’re given for the good of the whole body: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.”
So those are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.