A gift is a wonderful thing. Ideally, it is something we don’t have, could really use, and didn’t cost us any money, labor, or time to obtain. A gift is truly a free act of grace with no strings attached. In the Bible are several lists (Paul loved lists) which reveal some of the many and diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit given to those following Jesus.
For this article, we won’t delve into the meaning, purpose, and operation of each gift. That would be a much longer article. We will instead focus on the variety of the gifts and one simple phrase – “as He wills.”
Before we go too far, it is incumbent to recognize the divide between good-hearted believers when it comes to these gifts. The basic contention some hold is that the Holy Spirit has ceased giving certain gifts and others hold that everything in the lists is still offered “as He wills.” The theological labels for these views are cessationism and continuationism. To be frank, I’m of the continuationism view, although I do not separate myself from those who hold the other view. Whether you hold that the Spirit grants some or all, the basic tenet remains – the Holy Spirit gives gifts as He wills.
Paul’s grand exposition on the gifts of the Spirit is found in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14. (Also see Romans 12:6-13 and Ephesians 4:11-13) The major issue Paul is addressing with the Corinthians was their propensity to elevate some of the gifts over others. Paul’s concern was to allow the diversity of gifts within the unity of fellowship. The verses in Romans mentioned above have a similar context. Paul summarizes his point before unpacking it, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:11, NASB95)
There are four essential “gift lists.” What could be called the manifestation gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:7-10. The operational gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:28. The equipping gifts of Ephesians 4:11-13. And the motivational gifts of Romans 12:6-8. Consider these to be like an artist’s pallet, the basic colors, hues, and tones which are mixed in infinite variety and diversity. Some of these are lifelong gifts, some only operate for a season of life, others are only given as needed for a specific time and purpose. But they are all given as He wills.
That “squishiness” makes us uncomfortable. We like concrete expectations. That a McDonald’s Big Mac will be the same whether it’s purchased in Bangor Maine or Needles California (and anywhere in-between). We’d much prefer that given certain inputs on our part that the Holy Spirit would always respond the same way, with the same gifts and results. But the Spirit does not work that way.
In the same way, neither does a title confer gifts. For instance, not all pastors are the same, there is a wide variety of gifting. Some are more teacher like, some more compassionate, some more extrovert loving to visit with folks, some more serving oriented. Basically, the Holy Spirit doesn’t care about our labels and is much more interested in the mix of colors He has gifted each individual. That was also Paul’s point. There are a variety of gifts that, when they come together, create a wonderful picture, and fulfill a powerful purpose.
There are, of course, some warnings to heed. The Spirit gives gifts, but they can be unduly elevated, refused, or abused. Whenever we make one gift or some group of gifts more important, desired, or necessary, we fail to recognize how God is using others to also serve His Kingdom purposes. Likewise, when we refuse or deny His gifts, we ultimately devalue ourselves and others. And all the gifts are open for abuse, to be used in ways never intended or desired by God. Possibly even to excuse sin or to rob the wealth and dignity of others. Neither do any of the giftings prove our status, acceptance, anointing, or approval with God. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to meet His purposes, not ours, as He wills.
Our often-repeated phrase is the bottom line – the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given as He wills. Our part is the receive them, recognize them in others, and employ them according to God’s direction and will. Exalting the giver and not the gift or ourselves. Doing so with humility instead of pride or jealousy. In short, receiving and employing the gifts of the Holy Spirit as He wills