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Christ's Gifts of the Spirit

While there has been enormous debate over the issue of whether the charismatic gifts--(i.e. the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit) that we read about in the book of Acts and in 1 Corinthians 12-14--continue to function in the church today or not, there is an important aspect of these gifts that is often overlooked, namely, the significance of them being powerfully active in the life of Christ for the work of redemption prior to their being given to His people. In the same way that the ordinary gifts of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) are Christ's (John 14:27; 15:9-17; 17:13), and then are communicated to His people by virtue of their faith-union with Him (Gal. 5:22), so it is with the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. The same may be said of the two ecclesiastical offices of elder and deacon. Jesus Christ is Savior of soul and body. By virtue of His continued ministry, Jesus distributed offices for physical and spiritual ministries to His elders and deacons. Jonathan Edwards made this important observation in his sermon, "Deacons Appointed to Care for the Bodies of Men:"

The work of these different offices [that] Christ has appointed in his church respect either the souls or bodies of men. Hence,

First. So it was when there were extraordinary offices in the church of Christ, such as apostles and gifts of tongues and gifts of healing and the like. Some of these extraordinary gifts related immediately to the good of men’s souls; such was the gift of prophecy and the gift of tongues and others. Other of these gifts related more immediately to the good of men’s bodies; such were gifts of healing.

There were in those times of extraordinary officers some inspired by God with extraordinary gifts to teach and enlighten men’s minds, and to relieve and deliver men’s souls. And others who had extraordinary gifts were extraordinarily enabled to show mercy to men’s bodies and deliver them from their calamities and miseries. They labored under the same things that Christ did when he was on earth, who relieved men’s bodies under all manner of sickness and disease and wounds and torments they labored under. They were enabled to show mercy to men’s bodies by restoring the sick, curing the lame and maimed, easing men’s pains, loosing the tongue of the dumb, unstopping the ears of the deaf, opening the eyes {of the blind}, and delivering them from all manner of calamities their bodies labored under.

Second. So it is in the ordinary offices that Christ has appointed in his church, namely, these two of bishops [elders] and deacons. The former respects the souls of men, and the latter their bodies...these two are the offices that we are especially concerned to understand the nature [of], being the standing ordinary offices of Christ’s church that continue to this day and must continue to the end of the world.1

The importance of Christ first having the gifts and offices in Himself should drive us to trust the Giver of the gifts, rather than making too much of His extraordinary gifts or the officers He has given to His church. In this way we keep all things in their proper perspective. Jesus is the Prophet, Priest and King of His church. All believers are prophets, priests and kings in Him. We find the ability to function in these roles as believers by abiding in Him by faith. All of the 20 some specifically mentioned spiritual gifts in the NT can be more or less categorized as prophetic, kingly or priestly gifts. Jesus had all of them. After His ascension the Lord distributed these gifts in various degrees to all His redeemed (i.e. to all those He made prophets, priests and kings by virtue of His saving work). Our spiritual wellbeing is not dependent on the gifts of the Spirit, it is dependent on the redemption that we have in Christ--the Giver of the gifts. While I am of the opinion that the miraculous and revelatory gifts of the Spirit--which were operative in the life of the church during the apostolic period--have now ceased in their specific forms in which they first appeared,  the working of the Spirit of Christ in our lives has not disappeared. Jesus continues to equip His people, by His Spirit, for ministry in the church and the world. Vern Poythress, in his thought-provoking article "Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit Within Cessationist Theology (JETS 39/1 (1996): 71-101)," traces out this idea that all the spiritual gifts are found in Jesus, based on His saving work for us, and then given to those in union with Him:

The New Testament itself provides resources for a theology of Spiritual gifts. One key passage is found in Eph 4:7-11. Jesus Christ is head of the church and distributor of all gifts of the Spirit (verse 11). He distributes gifts from the fullness that he himself possesses, because he has triumphed (verse 8 ) and fills all things (verse 10). Acts 2:33 supplements this picture by saying that Christ “received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit” as a prelude to pouring out the Spirit on the church. From Christ’s fullness of the Spirit we receive a measure, “as Christ apportioned it” (Eph 4:7).

These reflections naturally lead to the conclusion that our ministry in the Spirit is analogous to, as well as subordinate to, the ministry of Christ. For example, Christ is the final great prophet (Acts 3:22-26). Through the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, we all become ­subordinate prophets (Acts 2:17-18). Christ is the chief shepherd (1 Pet 5:4), the ruler over the church. Through the Spirit he appoints subordinate shepherds (1 Pet 5:1-3Acts 20:28) and gives gifts of ruling and administering and caring for the flock (1 Cor 12:28Eph 4:11“pastors”). Christ came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28). He also gives gifts of service (Rom 12:7-8) and ­calls on us “to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

The work of Christ for us can be conveniently classified under the traditional triad of offices: prophet, king, and priest.1 Christ speaks to us (prophet), he rules over us (king), and he gives his life in service for us (priest). All three functions occur together in Heb 1:1-3. When we are united to Christ, we are transformed into his likeness and bear his image (2 Cor 3:18;Rom 8:29Eph 4:24). Naturally, we become prophets who speak his word to others (Col 3:16). We become kings who exercise authority in his name over the areas for which we are responsible (Eph 2:66:4). We become priests who serve one another (1 John 3:16).

The relevant Scriptural passages show that these things are true of everyone who believes in Christ. But not everyone is equally gifted in every area (Eph 4:7). Where speaking gifts are strong, people become recognized teachers (Eph 4:11). Where ruling gifts are strong, people become recognized elders or shepherds (1 Pet 5:1-4). Where serving gifts are strong, people become recognized as servers and givers of mercy. Some have suggested that we may correlate this service particularly with the ministry of deacons (which is supported by the fact that the key worddiakonia means service).

The three categories of prophetic, kingly, and priestly gifts are not rigidly separated from one another. Both in Christ’s life and in the lives of his people there are typically combinations. For example, pastoring involves both providing nourishment for sheep through the word of Christ (a prophetic function) and leading and protecting the sheep (a kingly function). The boundaries between these areas are fuzzy, but we can nevertheless recognize here distinct foci or emphases.

All the gifts mentioned in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 can be roughly classified as prophetic, kingly, or priestly. For example, gifts of wisdom and knowledge are prophetic, while gifts of administration, miraculous powers, and healing are kingly. But some gifts could easily classified in more than one way. For example, healing could be seen as priestly, since it is an exercise of mercy toward the person healed. Ultimately, prophetic, kingly, and priestly functions can be expanded into perspectives on the whole life of God’s people, so we should not be disturbed by the apparent overlap. This classification is nevertheless useful in reminding us of our relation to the work of Christ and in reminding us that no one of the lists of gifts in the New Testament is intended to be exhaustive.

1. Jonathan Edwards "Deacons Appointed to Care for the Bodies of Men," Sermons, Series II, 1739 (WJE Online Vol. 54), Ed. Jonathan Edwards Center.

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