|The Holy Spirit and the seven-fold gifts. Image from curtisgraphics.com|
This morning I drove Dean to the airport, waved goodbye to the house-guests we had for a few days, and sat down to read 1 Corinthians 12. It is about the gifts the Spirit of God gives to the people of God. As I am currently considering the next steps in my vocation, this sentence seemed especially significant: "Each person is given something to do that shows who God is" (1 Cor 12, The Message). As I pondered this, I read the rest of the chapter and realised that the spiritual gifts all show some aspect of God's character. Perhaps this has always been obvious to everyone else, but it was a bit of a paradigm shift for me. So often I think about spiritual gifts as those activities which build up and encourage the church, and God knows we need building up and encouraging on a regular basis. However, to see the gifts as directly linked to God, communicating something of God to us, puts a slightly different emphasis on things.
So we are given wise counsel because it is an expression of God's wisdom. We receive clear understanding or knowledge because God is the God who knows all of creation intimately. We have the gift of faith or simple trust because God is faithful and trustworthy. We are given gifts of healing because God is a Healer. We receive the ability to do miraculous acts because God is far beyond human and natural law. We are given gifts of prophecy and proclamation because God is a self-revealing God; he loves to communicate. We receive discernment because God himself discerns our innermost motives and thoughts. We have gifts of tongues because God not only desires to speak to everyone in their own language, but he also desires that we learn his language. We receive the ability to interpret tongues because God brings order out of confusion or chaos (see Genesis 1).
In the same way, God gives the church apostles (sent ones) because he sent himself into the world. God gives the church prophets because he is always proclaiming his love in words and in actions. God sends the church evangelists because Jesus is the gospel, the Good News, incarnate. God gives the church teachers because he is the divine teacher, instructing all of creation how to reflect the glory of God. God gives the church pastors because he is the Good Shepherd. God sends the church helpers because he is our helper and comforter and advocate. Every gift from God is rooted in divine character. All the gifts are for the building up of the church because God is committed to building his church.
Being part of a charismatic tradition means that we place a certain emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit. May we never forget that a gift is given in order to make the giver more present to the recipient. A genuine gift is a reflection of the giver's desire to give the ultimate gift: themselves. God gives himself to the world; this is what is at the core of the generous display of gifts at work in the church, gifts from the Spirit of God.
Postscript: It is interesting to note that the Catholic tradition references Isaiah 11 to list seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge (right judgment), courage (fortitude), counsel, piety (reverence), and wonder and awe in the presence of the Lord.