Spiritual Gifts and Fruit
Many men and women of God in Old Testament times were spiritually empowered to do what God required of them. Miracles and divine powers often authenticated them as God’s prophets and brought them before kings so they could deliver God’s message. Moses performed miracles in the court of Pharaoh. Deborah a prophetess ruled Israel. They were spiritually gifted to carry out these roles.
Most of the prophets were required to prophesy harsh judgements against evil leaders who rebelled against God. In the face of angry words and looks the young prophet Jeremiah was assigned to condemn kings of his own nation as well as the kings of enemy nations. He was empowered to go boldly before them and prophesy their demise. Elijah dramatically called down fire from heaven. Both Elijah and Elisha restored life to dead children and Daniel had the ability to interpret prophetic dreams. These are only a few example of how God’s people were equipped with spiritual gifts to do what was required of them.
When Jesus Christ performed miracles and healed the sick he attracted attention and thousands heard his message (Acts 2:22). His ability to perform such signs and wonders come from his Father. He said, “I can of mine own self do nothing:” (John 5:19, 30). He was also able to impart those gifts to his disciples, “And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” (Matthew 10:1).
Their spiritual gifts enabled them to preach God’s message, “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” (verses 7-8). Many were empowered, “After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come… …And heal the sick that are therein,” (Luke 10:1-9). Just before he died Christ implied that believers in ages to come would also receive power to witness for him, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NKJV see also Luke 24:49). The phrase ‘to the end of earth’ can refer to either place, or time (Strongs 2078) which implies that spiritual gifts should be found among God’s people today.
Spiritual Gifts Today
The book of Acts confirms that spiritual gifts were widespread in the early church, "Now, Lord… …and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, "by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus." And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29-31 NKJV).
Paul specifically mentioned the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy and languages (I Corinthians 12:1-10). Through these gifts members of the early church were able to preach about the Kingdom of God and to serve their congregation, “…forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” (I Corinthians 14:12).
Not everyone had the same gift - some were able to preach, others to serve, heal, teach, or administer. There were different gifts of the same Spirit that enabled everyone in the congregation to be involved, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all… …that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.” (I Corinthians 12:7 and 25 NKJV). The Greek word translated in the AV as ‘every man’ means everyone including men and woman (Strongs 1538) and is translated as ‘each one’ or ‘each’ in a number of versions i.e. NKJV, ASV Darby, Young’s Literal and RSV. Christ encouraged each them, men and women to use their gifts to do great works, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do;” (John 14:12).
Spiritual gifts are necessary for congregations within the Body of Christ to function successfully. If they continue to do the work of God then spiritual gifts in one form or another should be present according to the needs of the congregation and what God wants to achieve through them. Paul indicated that the gifts are mainly functional and only temporary in nature. They would be present as long as the need existed, “…whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (I Corinthians 13:8-10).
Just because we do not see many miracles performed in the Church today does not mean we lack faith as some would like us to believe. It simply means that God chooses not to manifest certain gifts among the brethren at this particular time. Everything is done according to His will and what He wants to achieve.
At the end of this age the two witnesses who will be sent by God will have the spiritual power to do what is required of them (Revelation 11:3-6). They will prophesy, smite the earth with plagues and devour their enemies with fire when the need arises.
No Greater Gift
No matter how spectacular, or miraculous, some of these gifts may be, not one of them can compare with the greatest spiritual gift of all - the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a very personal gift received by individuals upon repentance and baptism, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NKJV).
The Holy Spirit is the very essence, mind and power of God. It can be likened to a spiritual equivalent of the DNA that reproduces the characteristics of God’s divine nature in those who receive it. Both Father and son have the same divine nature, “…he that hath seen me (Christ) hath seen the Father;” (John 14:9). When the characteristics of that nature develop to maturity the recipient is perfected in their image, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:13). It has been God’s plan from the beginning to create man in that image (Genesis 1:26). And it is through the gift of His Spirit that man is able to develop the nature of God in preparation for eternal life (II Corinthians 1:21-22, 5:5 and Ephesians 1:13).
Those who receive God’s Spirit are His offspring, “And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (II Corinthians 6:18). And fellow-heirs with Christ, “… if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint–heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:17).
The Holy Spirit enables man to understand spiritual concepts, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (I Corinthians 2:9-12).
The Holy Spirit is God’s personal guarantee of eternal life, “…ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession,” (Ephesians 1:13-14). There can be no greater spiritual gift than the one that prepares man for eternal life as children and heirs of God.
Fruit of the Spirit
The godly characteristics that develop in man as a consequence of receiving God’s Spirit are known as the ‘fruit of the Spirit’. They do not appear immediately in their mature form. There is a process that transforms the human mind (Romans 12:2) through practical application of God’s laws. Those laws are an expression of the very divine nature that is received through the Holy Spirit. Applying the law activates the Spirit to produce its fruit. Over time the maturing of the fruit transforms human nature to divine nature. This process is administered by Christ, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Joel predicted that God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:17-18). Peter confirmed Christ now dispenses the Holy Spirit from God’s throne as promised (Acts 2:32-33).
It was the Spirit of the Father dwelling in Christ that did the works, he could of himself do nothing, “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me:” (John 14:10-11 see also John 5:19 and 30). Similarly if Christ does not dwell in us through his Spirit then we can do nothing, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Romans 8:9). It is Christ in us who transforms our minds - it is not something we can do on our own without him. This is an incredibly important concept to understand, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20).
This concept is symbolised by the bread and wine taken when celebrating the last supper, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me… …he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” (John 6:56-58). Many in Christ’s day did not understand, “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (verse 60). And sadly they turned away and walked no more with him, “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” (verse 66).
Understanding the value of the gift and what it produces should fill us with great joy and love toward God as well as giving peace of mind about the future. That love and peace of mind are two of the very characteristics that develop as a result of having God’s Spirit, “…the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness ,goodness, faith, meekness, temperance:” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Love is the Greatest Fruit of All
The one fruit that stands out above all others is love. That is because it embraces the whole character of God,“…God is love” (I John 4:8). As we are transformed by His Spirit our love for God should increase and come before anything else - that is the first great commandment, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38). Through obedience we produce the fruit of the Spirit and glorify God in what we become, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” (John 15:8-10, see also verse 12). Through obedience we live the way of love, “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” (I John 4:16). The law expresses God’s love and is therefore inseparable from it.
As our love for God increases through obedience - love toward others should also increase. This sort of love is not an impulsive expression of emotion, or feelings of infatuation. It involves a deep respect and concern for others that comes from the very core of our being. It should motivate us to treat others gently, with the same patience and goodnessthat God has toward us. This fulfils the second great commandment, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39).
Together these two great commandments summarise the ten commandments of God’s universal law which in summary define how we are to love God and our neighbours, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (verse 40).
Our love of the brethren is extremely important, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (I John 3:16 see also John 15:13-14). Lacking this sort of love is a serious matter, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” (I John 3:14). It is serious because we are not glorifying God when we lack love for our brethren. We cannot enter God’s Kingdom if we do not have His divine nature abiding in us. That divine nature is expressed by love. Love is the law - we are commanded to love.
Putting Spiritual Gifts into Perspective
One of the problems that existed in the Corinthian congregation that Paul had to correct was a pre-occupation some had with the gift of tongues. Paul pointed out that the most desirable spiritual gifts are those that edify the congregation (I Corinthians 14:3 and 31). And he considered tongues to be the least of the gifts because its use did not serve that purpose unless an interpreter was present. God has involved everyone in the body through spiritual gifts to ensure the harmonious operation of the congregation. But not everyone can be apostles, prophets or teachers, nor is everyone able to perform miracles, or heal (I Corinthians 12:4-6 and 28-31).
There is nothing wrong in desiring spiritual gifts, but developing the fruit of God’s Spirit, especially love, should take precedence. With a foundation of love the spiritual tools that God has given us can be used in the right attitude, “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (I Corinthians 12:31 to 13:2 NKJV).
Using Spiritual Gifts
Paul also said that we should not think too highly of ourselves because of the gifts we had been given (Romans 12:3-8). While some gifts may make us look important within the congregation, it must be remembered that they are essentially functional and when those needs are no longer required those gifts become superfluous. He encourages us to use those gifts for their intended purpose, continually emphasising that they are to be applied with the love that is developed as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Verses 9-10).
If we truly love our brethren then unity and peace should prevail in the body of Christ, “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Paul explained that the purpose of Spiritual gifts was to perfect the saints and edify the body, not for gaining a following which many do through private interpretations of prophecy, or doctrine, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Spiritual gifts are to be used for edifying the saints and the effectual working of the body from a basis of love, not for men to gain pre-eminence as so many strive to do, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3). And, “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.”(Galatians 5:26).
We have been called into the body of Christ and given the Holy Spirit to create us in the image of God with His divine nature. We have also been placed within the body, or congregation of saints and provided with various spiritual gifts to enable the congregation to function in harmony and to help one another reach a common objective. We accomplish that objective as the fruit of the spirit develop towards maturity and we strive to reach the fullness of the stature of Christ. That is done by living God’s law and using our spiritual gifts in an attitude of love that esteems others better than ourselves. The reward for this is eternal life.