The Dangers of OveremphasisBy Nathan Mates
[This is somewhat of a continuation of ideas brought up in One Church, Many Functions, and Practical Support. Parts of it were inspired by a question I received in email, asking about a "friend's church" (located south of the Equator) which was all but requiring members to 'demonstrate' a certain spiritual gift.]
God is generous with his gifts-- "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." [James 1:5] refers specifically to wisdom, but throughout the Bible, there are many other gifts that God grants to humans. From salvation and eternal life (no small thing) to prosperity (no guaranteed thing, though some try and claim it is), to wisdom, prophecy, speaking in tongues, God's got a lot of riches to pour out. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 contain small lists that are in no way complete, but are a useful starting point for a study on gifts.
However, being fallen, we cannot always accept that God's wisdom in his choosing what we get, and when we get it is the best plan for our life. Certain people can read the lists of gifts, add "all of the above," and demand that God give them that. Unfortunately, things don't work that way: "When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."" [Acts 8:18-23]
While we may not be offering large cash gifts to pastors in order to "get" spiritual gifts, as Simon was, the "gimme" attitude may still be present. People will demand miraculous powers and prophecy [1 Corinthians 12:10], but refuse to daily take up this little gift called a cross. Jesus himself said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." [Mark 8:34b]. In his discussions on gifts, Paul quite clearly says who's in charge of handing out gifts: "All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines." [1 Corinthians 12:11] Thus, whatever gift(s) one may have are not our personal choices, but God's.
Any one gift, such as speaking in tongues is not a prerequisite for any of the other gifts; it is merely one of many gifts. Thus, I believe that overemphasis on any one of the many gifts is dangerous, as it tries to make other conform to our human desires to get whatever we can, rather than trusting in God thru the Holy Spirit to give you what God sees is best.
In fact, in a healthy church, you should see all the gifts being used, in roughly equal proportions-- as many healers as those that can speak in tongues. The rest of 1 Corinthians 12 is basically a warning saying that the parts of the body (and gifts are a division of that) are all designed to work together, so you cannot prefer one gift over another. Again, it's God that causes gifts to be handed out, not humans, and we can't pick and choose gifts.
As a sidenote on a spiritual gift that many apparently saw (and still see) as good and/or essential, 1 Corinthians 14:1-19, Paul says that "speaking in tongues is nice, but it's far more *USEFUL* to have interpretation of tongues, prophecy, and instruction that can be understood." [Especially look at verses 18-19] This comes down to one quirk about speaking in tongues-- in the Bible, only in Acts 2:4-12 is speaking in tongues understandable by someone else. In 1 Corinthians 14, and in just about every time I've been near someone speaking in tongues, no other human can understand it. And so in 1 Corinthians 14:12, Paul says that tongues isn't a gift that really builds up the church, as opposed to the others which do.
The same goes for overemphasis of any other gift-- a church that is all worship and no sermon will tend not to give people the solid Biblical background they need to apply it in their lives, or evangelize to bring in new believers. Revelation and other books of the Bible show there'll be plenty of worship in Heaven-- so there's plenty of that ahead of us. However, in this life, we still must teach, educate, serve (both within church and to community/world at large), pray, and the like. Once again, all of these actions are well-represented within a healthy church.
It's probably not rocket science to guess that Satan doesn't want an effective church that can stand up to him. The easiest way to mess with that effectiveness is in the balance of gifts and activities-- overemphasize things here, water other things down there. A good thing from God can be perverted by Satan by having us lose sight of God's big picture and only focusing on smaller details. That's probably been done time and time again throughout history, as Satan feeds on our natural tendencies to hang out with others like us. It is a definite problem in the body (Church) when any one category crowds out any other function-- all functions are necessary.
If we tend to be around others like ourselves, we're naturally blindsiding ourselves to not noticing what's missing. Take a minute to reflect on the lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible, and try and name someone you know who you think has that gift. [This goes back to knowing the Christians you hang out with in all sorts of detail.] Who among your friends or acquaintances at Church can you list who's a teacher? A leader? An evangelist? A prayer warrior? A servant? Or, take the opposite direction: given a friend's name, list their gift(s). If you can identify gaps-- and remember that the list of gifts in this paragraph are somewhat abridged-- pray that God will grant visibility, new gifts or new friends to be a more effective body that works together as a whole for Jesus.
[Addendum: this is not to be legalistic about the entire process-- saying "We can't let you into our church because we've got too many people whose gifting is prayer; come back when you can lead worship" is the wrong way to go about it. Instead of denying anyone fellowship, instead pray that God will bless your Church or group with the gifts that you lack.]