Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Gifts of Power - Faith and Healing

In order to move in acts of power the Holy Spirit has made available to the church charismata – literally, gifts of grace. Nine are recorded in 1Cor 12.7-11. In vs4-5 of the same chapter Paul emphasises the complete involvement of the Godhead, placing the Holy Spirit first in the list: There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Paul is removing any sense of superiority or inferiority that believers may feel about their gift; a point he will return to later in the chapter, (see vs15-26). The distribution of gifts is nothing less than the work of the Spirit. Charismatic theology understands these gifts to come in groups of three, the word or speaking gifts of prophecy, tongues and interpretation of tongues; the gifts of revelation, word of knowledge, word of wisdom and discerning of spirits and gifts of power, faith, healings and miracles.

It is important to see that these are not natural endowments that we are all born with. We are not talking about talents, gifts or abilities that make up who we are. We can of course argue that these too come from God. But Paul is talking about something further. This is an empowering to do things not learned through natural processes. It is Spirit empowered ability. Luke 5.17 says, “The power of the Lord was present to heal”. There was a special sense of the Spirit’s presence and the manifestation was power to heal.

These gifts are said to be manifestations of the Spirit. Someone can go unnoticed in a crowded restaurant until they get up and sing! They were there all the time but once they stood up and opened their mouth they ‘manifested’ themselves. So it is with the Spirit. He is always present but not always manifested. In order for that to happen He needs a vessel; someone available to step out in faith and operate in a gift.

Further these manifestations are said to be, ‘for the common good’. In other words the gift is for the benefit of others primarily, not the one who exercises it! This had become a problem in Corinth where gifts were like a status symbols, paraded to show the spirituality of the operator. Paul hits this hard. They are not for you, they are for others. Through them we serve others and bless others.

There has been some debate as to Paul’s meaning of the phrase ‘gifts of the Spirit’. ‘Of’ can be understood to mean origin, like Saul of Tarsus, or Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, this is where they came from. Likewise, the gifts come from the Spirit. He is the source and originator of all gifts. They are Heavenly in origin. John the Baptist declared, “A man can receive nothing unless it comes from Heaven”, John 2.27.

But there is another way to understand ‘of’. It can take on a possessive sense as in ‘belonging to’. For instance, “David called one of his men”, 2Sam 1.15; “After the death of Saul”, 2Sam1.1. Both these references have a possessive sense. The Holy Spirit is not only the originator of the gifts, they continue to belong to Him and He is free to distribute them as He sees fit. Some view this distribution happening at the new birth. Each of us receives at least one gift and we must learn contentment with what we have received. Peter Wagner tends to take this view in his book, “Your spiritual gift can help your church grow”. But there is another way of understanding this.

1Cor 11.17-34 and 1Cor 14 are specific instructions about how to order the public meetings with reference to communion and the use of gifts, specifically prophecy and tongues. The teaching on spiritual gifts in sandwiched between these two texts that deal with praxis, (what we do). So it is possible to understand Paul to be saying that in any meeting the Holy Spirit is present with all the gifts. He will manifest Himself according to the faith and expectation of those present.

Paul even advises the Corinthians which ones to desire the most – in a public meeting, 1Cor 14.1-5. For the man who has a tongue but there is no interpretation Paul challenges him to pray for it, 1Cor 14.13. This simply makes no sense if gifts are permanently distributed. Also, if people with certain gifts are absent from the meeting then there is no expectation from the congregation that God can move. People can take a passive stance and rationalise, “So and so with the gift of healing is not here today, what a shame, that’s not my gift”! However, if we see that all can move in the gifts at any meeting then we are no longer passive. Rather, we challenged to be the one the Holy Spirit uses.

When it comes to spiritual gifts I find it helpful to see three phases of development. There is the gift, the ministry and then the office or role. Take prophecy. All can prophecy, 1Cor 14.1,24. All can operate at the level of what is sometimes called ‘simple prophecy’. The focus is edification, exhortation and comfort, 1Cor 14.3. But when a person finds themselves doing this with so much regularity it becomes clear that they are developing a prophetic ministry. I have experienced this over the years, especially as I have travelled more and more. Somehow new contexts allow me the freedom to move at a higher level of prophetic ministry. When this happens with increasing regularity there is often an increase in the level of revelation that a person moves in. They are now operating in the role of a prophet.

My point is simple. The gifts belong to the Spirit and He distributes them to whoever He wills. But Paul says we can desire them. He will not give them to those who do not want them. God works with the responsive. Those who are hungry are the ones who are filled, Matt 5.6. So cultivate a hunger for the gifts of power. They often make a way for gospel to be received and lead people to praise and worship God for His greatness.

Remember, even though we are looking at these gifts individually, they often function together in tandem or clusters; tongues with interpretation, prophecy with words of knowledge or wisdom, discerning of spirits with healings are some typical examples. Let’s begin with the gift of faith. This is not the same as saving faith that Paul speaks of in Eph 2.8. This is how we get saved, through faith. Nor is it the same as growing in faith. This is part of our daily walk with God where we learn to trust Him more and more. Abraham experienced this when God told Him to offer up Isaac. He had walked with God for a long time by now. He reasoned in His heart that God could raise him from the dead and would in order to fulfil His own promise, Heb 11.17-19. This is the maturing of faith.

But the gift of faith is different. It is the ability given by the Holy Spirit to certain believers to discern the will of God and to act on God’s promises with extraordinary confidence that it will happen. In other words they have a ‘know-so’ that what is asked for will come to pass, even before it has happened. Like Heb 11.1 says: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen".

Jesus speaks of this in Mark 11.20-26. As they pass a fig tree that Jesus cursed the previous day Peter is astonished to see the tree is withered from the roots. Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach them, “Have faith in God”, or more accurately, “Have the faith of God”. (The Greek scholar A T Robertson says, “in Mark 11:22… we rightly translate ‘have faith in God’, though the genitive [the Greek case] does not mean ‘in’, but only the God kind of faith.” A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 500).

Some argue that because God is the object of our faith. How then can we argue He has faith? True, we put faith in God. But we also express our faith through words, words of power that release acts of power; words that come from a place of conviction in our heart. What we say expresses our faith. In this sense we can have the faith of God, for this is exactly how He operates. When He speaks He does not doubt in His heart that what He says won’t happen. Rather, He is supremely confident that what He says will happen. It is how He created the world!

Jesus tells us we too can have that kind of faith. Notice also that in the Mark passage there is a place to ‘pray’ and then a place to ‘say’, Mk 11.23-24. It is in the place of prayer that we discern the will of God. It is here that wait on Him until we get a conviction. But having gained a conviction there is no need to keep praying. Now we move into the next phase. We say. We speak out what we believe in our heart. This is what releases acts of power.

Peter is an example of this in Acts 9.40. Tabitha had died. Peter was called. He knelt and prayed. Luke doesn’t record the content of his prayer, but my sense is that he simply asked God if it was her time to go. Most of the other believers did not believe it was her time. They grieved. Peter prayed and got a conviction. Then he looked at the body and said, “Tabitha get up”. Astonishingly she opened her eyes and sat up. First he had to pray then he had to say. Notice the outcome, “This became known all over Joppa and many people believed in the Lord”, Acts 9.42. This one act of power brought many to faith in Jesus. Awesome!

For those moving in this gift they need to be careful that they act on their faith. They must own their decisions without making others feel guilty for not seeing what they see. Those who ask you questions and want to plan do not necessarily lack faith. Don’t see questions as a threat. See them as an opportunity to clarify what you believe God has said. Finally always listen to the wise counsel of Spirit-filled believers. Those with the gift of faith often push out ahead of others. But the line between presumption and faith is thin. Older leaders can often help you discern the difference.

The second gift of power mentioned is gifts of healings. Both gift and healing are in the plural in the Greek. Clearly there are many ways and means of bringing about healing through the Spirit. Healing is built into creation. Whenever we cut ourselves our bodies automatically begin to mend. When we are sick, we see a doctor. We don’t want to stay unwell. But this gift is not rooted in nature or medicine. It is a spiritual endowment that releases the power of God against sickness. It is the varied abilities that the Holy Spirit gives to certain believers to cure illnesses and restore people to wholeness. Sickness has many causes some physical, some spiritual and some emotional. This is why there are plural, gifts of healings.

Jesus commanded His disciples to preach the gospel of the Kingdom and then, “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those that have leprosy, drive out demons”, Matt 10.7-8. All of these can be seen as forms of healing. They all require a different approach. The important thing to understand is that He has given the church authority over sickness and spiritual gifts of healings are often the way we are to deal with it. This gift of power was constantly used by Jesus and something He wanted His disciples to understand and use. It was part of His message which was communicated through words, works and wonders. It needs to be part of ours too.