One of the problems that needs to be addressed before we get too deep into our look at Spiritual Gifts, is the issue of what makes a spiritual gift a “gift” rather than a talent, calling, or position. How do we differentiate between them?
First Corinthians 12:28 says, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.” Notice the word “appointed.” In Greek, it is tithēmi and means “to put in place”. Jesus used it in John 15:16 when referring to his disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” The first three gifts Paul talks about here – apostles, prophets and teachers – are, according to Paul, by appointment. These first three appointments were instrumental in building up the church and establishing it in the early years. Jesus himself appointed those we know as apostles. He blessed them and sent them out to establish his church. But were these appointments spiritual gifts as well?
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.”
Paul makes it clear right from the start - whether gift, ministry, or activity – all come from God and He works His will through them all. So why did Paul make a distinction between apostles, prophets and teachers? Are these three positions, or spiritual gifts? If they are positions, how did we come to recognize them as gifts? Can they be both?
Ephesians 4:11 says, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” Here Paul seems to add evangelists and pastors to the list. “Teachers” are those who have the ability to interpret God’s Word and speak forth on it. This is something both evangelists, and pastors do as well. So Paul is not necessarily adding another group to the list, he is just broadening the scope of what teaching can look like and from whom.
The word "pastor" comes from the Greek word poimēn and it means "to shepherd or manage". It is a position, not a spiritual gift. While pastors do preach from the Word they require other spiritual gifts in order to interpret the Word. The actual meaning behind the word “evangelist” is anyone who brings a message of “good news”. For the Christian, that message is that there is forgiveness of sins and salvation in Jesus Christ. So the “position” of evangelist is something all Christians are to be actively engaged in. An evangelist, therefore, is not just a celebrity preacher you see on T.V. who draws huge crowds to hear them speak. An evangelist is anyone who shares the “good news” about Jesus with someone else. Something all Christians are called to do (Matthew 28:18-20). But it is one thing to “share” what you know and quite another to interpret the Scriptures.
James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
In other words, those who teach from the Word of God, must know it and not take it out of context, keeping the full counsel of God close to their hearts as they seek to rightly interpret it. Why? Because those who teach from the Word of God are responsible for the growth and edification of the church body and for ensuring no false doctrine is taught. Ultimately, they will be held accountable by God for what they taught others from His Word. Those who teach from God’s Word do have a “gift” for being able to make things clear to others. But a “teacher” is not a spiritual gift. Rather, the gifts a teacher possesses in order to teach - prophecy, exhortation, wisdom, discernment and knowledge (to name a few) make up the “gift of teaching” in order for teachers to carry out their role.
Previously, we talked about the gift of prophecy. There is a difference between the gift of prophecy and a prophet. One exhorts, edifies and comforts (1 Cor. 14:3), while the other receives direct revelation from the Lord, as relates to the spiritual condition of God’s people or future events. Usually, these prophets herald warnings from God of coming judgment, with promises of blessings if people repent and turn back to Him. So a “prophet” is not a spiritual gift, but the gift of prophecy is.
As for the role of apostle, this too is not a spiritual gift. An apostle was someone who had seen Jesus and was an eye-witness to his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). There are some who believe that anyone who plants a church is an apostle. This would be inaccurate, as an apostle (by Peter’s own definition) is someone who has seen the Lord, talked to him and was a witness to his resurrection. Since those who go out to establish new churches have never seen the Lord, nor eye-witnesses to his resurrection, they are not apostles. They may say they have a “gift” of apostleship to be able to establish a church, but the gifts necessary to establish a church would be the gifts of administration, faith, discernment and wisdom for example. An apostle is not a spiritual gift. It is a position in the early church that was held only by those who had seen and talked to Jesus. Those who call themselves apostles today are using the word falsely, for there is no such position in the church today.
Paul stresses the importance of edification in the church and the purpose behind Spiritual Gifts. With the gift of prophecy we use it to edify the church and likewise, all gifts should be used to edify the church. Paul even says in relation to the gift of tongues, “If I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?” (1 Cor. 14:6). In other words, if the gift you have is not being used to edify the church – what is the point of having it?
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