Hijacking Spiritual Gifts

Paul says the following to the Roman church(es):

“I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you, among you—each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine” (1:11-12).

I found two things striking here.  First, Paul wants to give to them “some spiritual gift” for their blessing

Second, Paul further clarifies that exercising his giftedness involves a serious mutuality, not a top-down dynamic.  His rhetoric situates him as a sibling of the Roman Christians, not a parent or patron.

Spiritual gift talk among evangelicals has been hijacked by the Disney ideology—what’s important is that my giftedness be put to use, that I find fulfillment by exercising my gift, that I actualize my spiritual potential.  If the community is an obstacle to personal fulfillment, I’ll go elsewhere.

I remember taking a “spiritual gift test” when I was in college.  It was fascinating in the same way that personality tests were fascinating.  It told me more about myself and only fostered my already exalted self-image.  It did little to foster service to others.  Wow, I have the gift of helps!  Cool!

Personal fulfillment is not the issue for Paul.  And he isn’t very specific about what sort of gift he’ll impart to them.  I don’t know if we can push the text that far, but it seems that Paul is open to having his contribution to the community shaped by their needs.

The contingent thing is Paul’s giftedness—he doesn’t specify.  The non-negotiables are that they be blessed and that he be an equal with them by receiving blessing and refreshment from them.

Our thinking about spiritual gifts is in serious need of transformation.

8 thoughts on “Hijacking Spiritual Gifts

  1. Craig Benno

    Amen Tim.

    I also struggled with this area of self interest…though to some degree having a sober reflection of your gifting is needed – after all there were times when Paul did stand on his gift of Apostle and Timothy was encouraged to walk in his ministry according to the prophecies he had received

    However I believe that self interest dies when we consider the gifts as being for others…eg if I pray for someone and they are healed – it is that person who receives the gift of healing. They same goes with the gift of prophecy, generosity, writing / preaching etc.

    Finally what ever we do, I believe we must do it in a way of love – which builds each other up in hope and increases faith.

  2. S Wu

    Thank you, Tim, for this. I have long been thinking along those lines. But you have articulated it much better than I can.

    I work in the Aid and Development sector. The mutuality and non-top-down approach of Paul is very relevant to us.

  3. timgombis

    I hear you, Craig. Self-knowledge is essential, but Paul is strategic in posturing himself as being gifted for the sake of others. And he skillfully situates himself alongside of others, so even his apostleship is from God as his readers’ calling is from God. His rhetoric of humility is masterful.

    S Wu, that’s huge for ministry, too. In our urban church, we talked a lot about not establishing patron-client ministry relationships, but establishing relationships of mutuality. It’s lazy to just give handouts. It doesn’t confer dignity at all on others.

  4. Craig Benno

    Great summary -” His rhetoric of humility is masterful.”

    Your comment to S Wu reminds me of the hierarchy we often see in churches in talking about how long we have been saved – or the circumstances surrounding our coming to accept Christ. For some reason we tend to glorify the more radical conversion experiences as being more deeply spiritual then someone who has a more quiet conversion experience.

    A number of years ago an Orthodox lecturer caught my imagination in telling us that foundational to Greek Orthodox is that all are made in the image of God and therefore should be treated with the dignity and respect that deserves.

  5. S Wu

    Well said, Craig. Thank you Tim and Craig for your great thoughts.

    We are part of an urban Christian community. We endeavour to have mutual relationships. We try to have those at the margins of the society to participate in everything, including leadership roles. It has been a life-transforming experience for us all.

    One thing I struggle in my work in a Christian Aid and Development organisation (in Australia) is that the voice of the poor is not heard (not enough anyway). For example, when it comes to finding a speaker to speak on poverty and social justice issues, the tendency is to choose high profile (charismatic) speakers who themselves have not experienced much poverty (by the world’s standard). The result is that the voice of the poor is missing.

    This is where I find Bruce Longenecker’s recent book (Remember the Poor) helpful. He argues at the end of the book that most likely Paul chose to become (relatively) poor – ie. moving down one or two levels in the economic scale.

    I think that says heaps about the apostle, and i think that helps us to read Romans. (That’s my humble opinion anyway – from someone without a PhD.)

  6. Jason Myers

    Isn’t the spiritual gift encouragement in that section? Paul seems to clarify his statement in vs.11 by particularizing his statement in vs.12. The giftedness of both Paul and the community at Rome seems to be the ability to mutually encourage one another. From ch12-15 this would be important. Rather than seeking their own interests, they should seek to encourage one another. Paul seems to be offering himself as a model for the use of their gifts.

    1. timgombis

      It seems that the encouragement is the result for Paul and the Romans of their use of gifts to bless each other. So, I’m not sure that the specific spiritual gift of encouragement is in view here.

      Having said that, I’ve grown less certain how “exercising spiritual gifts” would actually work. I’m not so sure that it was meant to be such a conscious thing, as in, “well, here I go, about to exercise my gift of encouragement — hey, nice job with the music today!”

      I’ve wondered if, when giving the “inventories” of gifts in Rom. 12 & 1 Cor. 12, Paul just means to say, here are a ton of ways y’all could bless each other, so do stuff like this in your communities.

      That way, the focus is on blessing one another in community and not on trying to figure out what sort of “gift set” is particular to me.

      I’m in process on this one…

  7. Jason Myers

    I’m with ya on that one. Whatever “spiritual gifts” are, they are def focused on community building and blessing. It’s slightly twisted that we’ve made them about us. so that we say how are YOU using your spiritual gifts. As if the utility of our gifts was the primary focus.

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