The Tyranny of Gifts

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Gen. 3:9-12 π 1 Cor. 12:7-11 π Heb. 4:1-3 π Heb. 4:10

The human race has a great heritage in its first father, Adam. When Adam was first confronted with his sin, he set the standard for passing the buck which has been passed down through generations and is still quite visible today, as is eminently apparent in our current presidency and throughout our entire society.

"Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, 'Where are you?'

So he said, 'I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.'

And He said, 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?'

Then the man said, 'The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.'" ( Gen. 3:9-12; top )

The first episode of blame shifting - and it was just as ugly then as it is now. But notice who Adam is really blaming - God. "You gave me the woman, God. You said it wasn't good that I was alone. It wasn't even my idea. I was even asleep when You made her. It's Your fault I sinned because You gave me the woman who gave me the fruit that I ate." The sin is found, however, in his last two words - "I ate" - not in "You gave." But it is important to notice his effort to shift the blame onto God for when we understand what we have done with the charismatic gifts, we will see that we are really doing the same thing.

The charismatic gifts are those which are the rather obvious gifts. Paul wrote, "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." ( 1 Cor. 12:7-11; top )

God is not particularly impressed by your gifts. He gave them to you. Why would He be impressed with something He gave to you? If a millionaire gives you a gold watch worth a tiny fraction of the one he wears, is he going to be impressed with your watch? Not likely. So too God, who is wealthy in grace and wisdom beyond compare is not particularly impressed with the fact that you can speak a word of wisdom or knowledge or that you might participate in a healing or even a resurrection of the dead. These are not particularly impressive to God.

But they are particularly impressive to us. Why? Because we normally cannot do them. And since a power greater than ourselves has done something extraordinary, we naturally assume that we ourselves have become extraordinary. How absurd! And deep inside ourselves we know it's absurd! And we very carefully refuse to even allow ourselves to take any credit, but our fallen human nature is sneaking around in the back of our mind, saying in a quiet Don Knotts kind of voice, "You are pretty special, aren't you?" How nauseating! One of the worst mistakes that we can make after being used by God in some miracle is to begin to think that, now, finally, our ways are like His ways. We have arrived. And again, even as we reject it consciously, the flesh keeps that putrid filth floating around just out of sight.

But we have allowed our use of the gifts of the Spirit to even take us one step further in a more subtle vein of deception. We have come to identify our worth and value in direct measure with our gifts. So much so that not even God can touch our gifts because we will even assert our gifts in God's face by saying, "You gave me this gift. You made me an apostle or prophet or pastor or whatever. And therefore, I am now pursuing this ministry because You gave me this gift. Why are You not showing up to validate the gift You have given me?" It is precisely the same blame shifting which Adam did in the garden.

In fact, it's a way in which we try to manipulate and even bully God. "God, You gave me this gift, therefore I pursued this ministry. That must have been Your will for my life. Now why is everything in shambles? Your name is on the line here." No, it is our reputation that is on the line - we have simply dragged God's name into it trying to make ourselves look good. For this there is no excuse; there can only be confession and repentance.

Our mistake is in thinking that, because we have a gift, we also have a ministry. Nowhere in Scripture can this notion be found. We have made ministry the purpose of life when, in God's economy, ministry is simply a result, a by-product. The purpose of our life is that we know God. Any ministry which occurs is the result of our relationship with Him. If there is no personal, intimate relationship, there can be no ministry. Where there is a personal, intimate relationship, there is no need to focus on ministry because it will just be a natural outflow of our life with God. True ministry just happens - it cannot be forced into existence.

Our deepest problem is that we don't believe. We don't trust God to care for the sheep through us. We don't believe that He will lead us moment by moment in the care and tending of the sheep - whether those sheep be an assembly, those we personally disciple or our wives and children. Or we mistakenly believe that He has committed their care and feeding into our hands and then left us to do our best. So we have made up all sorts of methods and schemes by which we do what God wants done or at least so that we can follow our own understanding of what we think God wants done (even instituting "kingdom rules" or bring in "spiritual fathers" or "personal pastors" etc.) But the end of it is that we get frustrated because we can't motivate people to do the things we think they should do. We can't even keep ourselves motivated to do the things we've bought into - why should we hope to believe that we can motivate someone to do something that God isn't motivating them to do?

Somehow we have come to believe that God gives us a gift and then expects us to play with it like a toy. It's much like an athlete running down the field, shouting, "Look at me run, God. I've caught the ball and I'm running as hard as I can. I'm gonna make a touchdown for sure. Ain't I doing great, God?!?" And God is standing a short distance away, with His hand covering His face as He quietly says, "Son, the game is tennis. Hit the ball back to Me." He does not put a gift into our hands and then expect us to run, unsupervised, with it. The gifts of the Spirit are to be operated in the Spirit, that is, in direct obedience to His guidance.

"Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest... For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His." ( Heb. 4:1-3 , 10; top )

There is nothing that we can do for God except obey Him. Any action we concoct from our own understanding or our own emotions or our own imagination is not an act of God; it is an act of our soul. It will not - and indeed cannot - bring the life of God into the people around us. It will only minister the death that is in our soul as a result of Adam's sin. The only hope we have of administering God's life is to allow His Spirit to have free reign in our lives. This is not good news to the soul which loves to have control, to be respected and held in high regard, to be ostentatious. But it is the only way in which God will move among His people.

We have a choice. We can continue to play "church" and administer death so that our souls are satisfied and puffed up. Or we can allow the Spirit of Christ to build His ekklesia by fulfilling our purpose by simply knowing God and allowing His life to flow out of us in ministry to those around us. But we cannot do both.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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