reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gifts and stuff

posted by Little Mo | Permalink |

A very challenging sermon about what grace means in practice at church today. You can listen to it here
Great stuff - the Gospel frees me to love by absolutely making sure that I don't think of myself more highly than I ought! No more building my identity on trying to be better than others!

Almost as an aside Steve raised the issue of gifts and how the Bible doesn't really seem to expect us to spend time sitting round considering, going on courses or filling in questionnaires about our spiritual gifts. Rather, it seems to create an expectation that you just do it.

Someone asked a question about that, and Andrew helpfully added that we need to be careful not to impose our society's obsession with self fulfilment onto the word. You see there is a problem of definition here:
Our definition: a gift is something that God gives me, that I am good at and which I enjoy which can, if I so choose, be used for the benefit of the church.
Paul's definition: a gift is something God gives the church that you can do for the church. (As Andrew said, you might hate it, but it could still be your gift)
This isn't simply hermeneutics 101. It actually makes a difference.
You see, of course, if you think a gift is the former, you'l have to spend lots of time self analysing to find out whether it is, indeed your gift. AND, you'll be a total nightmare to any church that can't find a place for you to do what you're good at. Meanwhile Rome burns.
If its the latter, you won't think of yourself more highly than you ought, using the church as your tool on the journey to self fulfilment, rather you will see a need that you can fulfil, have a heart filled with sincere love with those who have the need, and serve them. That's Spirit empowered worship!
The Gospel is clever you see, it actually changes us so that we form the community God wants, by forcing us not to think of ourselves and our gifts more highly than we ought. Clever, innit!

ETA: I'm actually finding the way that this disgusting present picture clashes wth my blog quite pleasing.


OpenID undercovertheologian said...

Hi Mo,
Great post!
Quick question. Do you think tongues, prophecy and miracles (for example) met a specific need in the church that people saw and then 'just did it'?

12:49 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Hi Matt,
Becuase I'm not really sure we can be too prescriptive what those gifts looked like in practice I wouldn't want to be too firm on how they worked.
But in short - yes, I think the just doing it model was definitely closer than the questionnaire and gifting course model!

1:57 AM  
OpenID undercovertheologian said...

I completely agree that passive introspection is a very bad way to tell what gifts we have since they are precisely not for you or me and will only be visible as we actively live in Christian community under Christ.
That said, can I push a bit and ask whether the view that you can't really be sure about what they looked like and how they worked undermine the sufficiency of scripture since, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Grace-gifts would be included in these wouldn't they?
From all the good stuff I know about you clearly have a high view of scripture (and feel pretty cheeky to even raise it) but I'm not sure I see how that fits here?

3:46 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Hi Matt,

No problem with the question. I guess I would use sufficiency the other way - precisely because the nature and practice of those gifts is unclear then we must not need to know that detail. Its why I don't feel able to buy into a model of church government that involves those gifts being used in very specific ways.
From all the gifts passages make clear about the priority of love, how to use whatever gifts I have is clear. I can be thoroughly equipped in that sense.

I guess its much the same as the Bible not mentioning driving. Something I do a lot of in my ministry! But I can still, I hope, be thoroughly equipped by Scripture to use it in a way that is honouring to God.

5:14 AM  
OpenID undercovertheologian said...

Ah ok, I think I see. No driving over the speed limit then?! :-)

You've got me thinking and I'm intrigued because it looks like the question of whether or not the Bible is clear on an issue seems to be something that is decided 'outside of' the Bible; that it is based on the interplay between reason, tradition and experience. It's then surprisingly open for debate (and that's probably a part of why these issues are debated as often as they are!).

For my part, I think that the passages do speak to some questions of specific practice as well as the purpose of the gifts and in a way that has practical relevance and challenge to their employment today. But (last question - promise!) how did you become convinced that the Bible did not speak to these 'charo'-questions with the level of detail that some believers say they see?


5:54 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Quite simply because I have no idea how you identify a word of knowledge as an impromptu word from the Spirit or simply, a word of knowledge - contributing something you know to a conversation. I don't think its possible to say what a prophecy is, whether tongues are foreign languages, whether doctors have gifts of healing or whether it is supernatural, and how exactly you tell if someone has the gift of apostle. If I needed to know the answers to those questions I can't help feeling God would have included them in Scripture!
Who knows, I may be wrong? It happens sometimes!

10:47 AM  
OpenID undercovertheologian said...

Thanks Mo.

That's a really good point - how do we know something we experience corresponds with an experience of phenomena the Bible describes?

In a meeting I had a set of thoughts pop into my mind, and thinking it could be from God I shared it with the person I thought it was for. They then told me that I had described a dream they had had the night before (which they hadn't told anyone) and also interpreted the meaning of it such that were very encouraged that God had spoken to them in a dream and brought me to confirm what they had seen and help them understand it. It was particularly pertinent to what was going on in their life.

Now what do I do with that experience? Is it legitimate to search the Scriptures to test my experience? I think I must! Is it okay to then see that God does that kind of dream thing in the OT and NT where the word prophecy is attached to it and say, in faith, because it looks like the same thing it might be the same thing? True enough, my depravity means that my ability to discern the activity of God is deeply imperfect though it is also true that I am being made alive in Christ.

I think too I'd want to be careful not to separate out 'natural' and 'supernatural' categories as if the same Spirit wasn't at work just as much in administration as healing.

Although we can be wrong about it (very wrong), it seems like a good deal of the time we know it when we see it. Perhaps that's why the NT writers didn't describe it in more detail because, although the use of gifts should be orderly, they were also to function with remarkable variety (just look at how dreams pop up in Scripture) and tying it down might confuse us the other way by ruling out what we should rule in (i.e. it's only a tongues if...). I've got Pauls, "by the same Spirit", "by the same Spirit", "by the same Spirit" echoing in my head - incredible variety but the same Spirit at work in all.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Hi Matt - I may be displaying my ignorance here - but where in the NT is a dream described as a prophecy.

I think its pretty clear that OT and NT prophecy are entirely different so don't go for that definition. And so it goes on.

I think in answer to your question, I think "it is okay" to do what you have done. But I don't think it is necessary - so if the Bible does in fact teach that is the definition of NT prophecy, I have to use it in that way all the time, and be eager for it, saying it is nearly the most useful of the gifts.

I don't think that's particularly helpful unless you can really prove that the gift is as you say it is. And that doesn't even begin on words of knowledge, healing, and apostle.

Gordon Fee (and AoG) commentator is very interesting on 1 Corinthians 12. He says, as you say, that the point is variety, not an identifiable list of gifts. His view is that not only can we not tell what Paul means by the different gifts, but that Paul probably didn't know! The infinite variety of giftings, rather than how particular gifts work is the very point he is making!

12:33 AM  
Blogger Matt Finn said...

Yep, bit sloppy of me there :-)
I was taking Joel as quoted in Acts when Peter preaches - "Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy."

This seems to be an example of the type of "prophetic activity" associated with the Spirit being poured out. Don't know if that really clinches it for you?

I think Peter's inspired usage of this passage implies the continuity of whom is empowering this stuff - the Spirit - but agree there are big differences between OT and NT prophets and prophesy.

(Interestingly of all the gospel writers only Matthew highlights the parts dreams play - they get mentioned 6 times. I wonder why just Matthew? Luke in Luke-Acts seems to prefer the word 'vision' to describe what I'm guessing is the same kind of thing but when awake - 16 times.)

Just a thought on the other bit but it seems a bit odd for Paul to tell them to eagerly desire something if he didn't even know what it was! Seems a bit mean really! I do agree with Fee and Carson (Showing the Spirit) that the point is variety not definition - especially since no explanation of them is given there. Seems right that if the Corinthians were so focussed on tongues and where a divided bunch to stress that it's the same Spirit that brings incredible variety to the body under Christ as head. Still, it seems that would lose a lot of it's power if they hadn't a clue what Paul meant by any of the words.

As you say, so it goes on! That said, I'm really appreciating the interaction!


10:53 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

I'm appreciating it too mate.

Just to clarify - I'm quite sure THEY knew what Paul was talking about. I'm just saying that WE don't know.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Phiippa said...

the picture is pretty bad/amusing/brilliant. on a par with those old school clip art stick men.

3:20 AM  

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