Sunday, January 9, 2011

Grace and Spiritual Gifts

One of the things we discover about ourselves through our encounter with God’s grace and through our discovery that we are children of God is that God has gifted each of us in a unique and intentional way. I have called this “the bestowal of spiritual gifts” in the “Making Disciples” Chart. I view the purpose of these gifts as equipping and enabling us as children of God to serve God, the church, and the world. As part of the family of God, each of us is a child of God who has been specially endowed and equipped to serve within the family or, as Paul designates it, within “the body of Christ.”

We use a number of terms to describe this endowment—gift, talent, function, and calling among others; but we do face some confusion about this giftedness because the Scriptures contain several strains in its focus on God’s investment in us and our endowment with gifts and abilities. Beyond that, we also face questions about whether these are (1) special gifts given after our “conversion” and incorporation into the family of God, (2) are innate gifts with which we were endowed at birth, or (3) are abilities developed along the way through training and experience.

I place spiritual gifts within the scope of God’s initiative of grace focused on both the family of faith and the individual child of God who is part of that family. As we individually discover that each of us is a child of God, we discover both our uniqueness and our connectedness. The uniqueness is the recognition that we are individuals distinctly created by God, not copies stamped out of some master mold. While it is true that we have some genetic heritage from our parents, we still are unique individuals—even if we have an identical twin. God makes us special, and in our uniqueness are imprinted clues to God’s purposes and intentions for us.

I think we can make a Scriptural case for at least three aspects of spiritual gifts. The first is the innate abilities with which we are endowed at birth. This is a unique endowment drawn from the mystery of our conception, our genes, and our birth. God makes us special, and in our specialness is a stewardship that we owe to God to be all that we were made to be.

The second is what I would call “Kingdom assets.” I have drawn this category from the teachings of Jesus, where the king, the landowner, or the master makes some special investment in those under his authority. These “investments” are to be used and multiplied for the benefit of the king. Neglect, misuse, and the selfish waste of these gifts are the dangers associated with our accountability.

The third aspect draws from Paul’s focus on the distinct role or functions of the parts of the body. Though the parts may all come from the same stem cells, they each have distinct roles and functions that work together when the body flourishes. When the parts fail to fulfill their functions or fight against each other, the body is diseased and dysfunctional.

In our discovery that each of us is a child of God, we discover that God has given, invested, and entrusted something unique and special in each of us. The family has no other member exactly like me. The body has no other part just like me. God has graciously gifted me with the opportunity to be a unique child in God’s family, but the family and God’s purposes will suffer if I fail to respond to God’s grace—which is where we are heading as we move to column 4 in the “Making Disciples” Chart.

Allen Pote penned these lyrics, which I think underscores today’s post: “Many gifts, one Spirit; many songs, one voice; many reasons, one promise; many questions, one choice. . . . Take our many ways of working, blend the colors of each soul into the beauty of a rainbow. Give us life, Lord; make us whole.”

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