I believe a church that focuses on the Holy Spirit and gifts from Him can still go way wrong, just as an individual gifted with His presence in their lives can go way wrong. (Consider King David and Psalm 51, for instance.)
In a previous post (The Problem With Tongues), I’ve already shared my opinion that one of the problems that had cropped up in the church at Corinth was that jealous, selfish-minded people were faking the Holy Spirit’s gifts in order to gain attention. I can’t and won’t say that the problem persists or is widespread to this day, because my experience with churches fastened on the Holy Spirit and His gifts is meager.
But I will say that I can’t imagine how someone reading the first epistle to Corinth (as our Bibles label it) could see a pattern there for the way God would prefer and order the gathered worship of His saints.
There, the attention given to individuals with certain gifts had created or worsened a problem of jealousy and division (evident in the early chapters), and perhaps had contributed to the demotion of the importance of their time in remembrance and proclamation at the Lord’s table (evident in chapter 11), and was contributing heavily to the chaos taking place in their gathered worship (evident in the following chapters).
I continue to propose that fakery was going on in that church, but I would be quick to point out that wasn’t the worst of their problems there.
The focus in their worship was on themselves, and not on Christ – that was the chief and root problem.
In studying the purpose and nature and personality of the Holy Spirit, one cannot escape the conclusion that He is all about glory being given to God through Christ. He doesn’t even have a name of His own, His nature is so humble. As nearly as I can tell (unlike the Father and the Son), there isn’t even a gender associated with Him, and we use the masculine one regarding because English doesn’t have a gender-neutral pronoun for people. And it just sounds disrespectful to refer to Him as “It.” (I am wholly unschooled in biblical Greek and eagerly willing to be corrected on that perception by someone who is conversant in it, however.)
The point remains that the focus of worship is not gifts or even the Spirit as giver, but on the Lord God Almighty. Jealous of each other must give way to love of each other in view of God’s jealousy regarding our hearts. Self must be dethroned so that God may be enthroned there.
It’s the selfless heart who can be trusted with great and powerful gifts from the Holy Spirit. Because it is the selfless heart who uses those gifts to the benefit of others and the glory of God, not himself or herself.
I have said before that I would be the wrong choice as a recipient of a gift of healing others. I would never rest, spending all my time at hospitals and clinics, doling out perfect health for as long as I could because I cannot bear to see others suffer. In fact, I’d start at Arkansas Children’s Hospital because seeing children suffer just kills me and I would do everything I could to put a stop to it. Would I take time to nurture the wounded souls and spirits of those around? Tell of Jesus’ love for them? Speak to them of immersing themselves in the kind of life He lived and wants to live through them?
I don’t know. I am not proud to say that. I am afraid that I would not; as an untrusting yet believing soul, I fear that would simply spend that gift as if it had a finite quantity – before it ran out. And the saddest part of this confession is that I would spend it just as surely for myself as for others … because of the relief it would give me, personally, each time I saw suffering relieved. Yet there could be no end to it.
I mean, it sounds unselfish – dashing about serving others? I assure you, it would not be.
Self, of course, is not the reason that gifts are given. Any cursory study of them quickly reveals that they are not for self but for others, and to God’s glory. That’s because they are given as a result of grace:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. ~ Romans 12:3-8
Jesus had extraordinary gifts, and Satan knew it. He tempted the Lord to use them to sustain, promote, glorify self rather than God. Jesus refused.
Paul was given extraordinary gifts (2 Corinthians 12:12), including tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18-19) and healing others (Acts 14:9, 28:8) yet prayed for relief from a thorn in his own flesh (1 Corinthians 12:1-10), but was given the answer that God’s grace was sufficient for him. It is not our gifts which are our glory, but our suffering (Romans 5:3; 8:18). It is a hard, hard lesson.
Finally, to seal the point I hope to make, there are greater gifts (1 Corinthians 12), but they are the ones which clearly benefit others and the church as a whole: apostolic leadership, prophetic proclamation, humble teaching … and then the others. All are to be used to God’s glory.
And not our own.
That’s why gifts are not commanded, but given.
That’s why they are given at God’s discretion, not ours.
That’s why they are not signs or marks of the Spirit’s presence for one’s own assurance, but for the power of turning others’ hearts to God. (2 Corinthians 5)