Love and the Gifts of the Spirit (Unfettered Spirit)

Much grief has come to the church because of immature understandings of the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. Churches have tried to set people free to use their gifts only to see them used in an unloving, even destructive, manner. Pride, a critical spirit, even misplaced enthusiasm can undo even the most selfless acts.These problems could be avoided if love of neighbor was the primary motivating force in these acts of service. The discovery and use of these gifts is wonderful, but without love they divide rather
than unite the body of Christ.

Paul’s inclusion of an expanded treatment of the place of love in the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 13) is compelling evidence that from the beginning of church history immaturity and selfishness could lead to abuse of spiritual power. A “charismatic” church can easily become home to coercive and destructive activities. In Corinth the unity of the body was threatened by those who would elevate the gift of tongues to preeminence in the community. The contemporary church faces a similar problem. In seeking to give attention to the role of the Spirit in the church, some enthusiastic partisans of the Spirit’s work have given tongues a preeminence not warranted by scripture or Christian experience. The determining factor in the value of any spiritual gift is its usefulness in contributing to the welfare of the community, whether Christian or not.

It is for this reason that Paul contended that the gifts that should have preeminence are those gifts that build or edify the body. Therefore, a tongue without interpretation doesn’t achieve this purpose and should be used in private. Amos Yong bemoans the tendency among Pentecostals to emphasize power rather than love. However, he writes:
The evidence of the Spirit is not just glossolalic utterance but the fruits of the Spirit, especially love, and their concrete manifestation in benevolent actions. Pentecostal missions involve the expectation that divine supernatural power will appear, although for some this is palpably felt not only in miraculous healings but in the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of those practically naked, caring for the orphaned, and the ministering to the abandoned, oppressed, or marginalized of the world. [AmosYong, Spirit of Love54.)
Paul had to offer a word of correction to the Corinthian church because of its unhealthy attitudes toward spiritual gifts had led to dissension and even division. This divisiveness made the church unattractive to those outside the Christian community seeking a place that offered a healing and supportive home, where lives might be changed through an encounter with the living God, the God known in the person of Jesus.

Spiritual gifts don’t have the same eternal value as divine love. Our use of these gifts is not the ultimate barometer of spiritual health. Love will persevere and it’s as expressions of love that gifts endure. We may see the things of God dimly at this time, as if through a distorted mirror, but there will come a time of completeness when we will see God face to face (1 Cor. 13:12-13). As we use these gifts God gives us in an attitude of love and undergird the ministries that emerge from these gifts by giving attention to spiritual disciplines, the world will be able to look at our assemblies and say: “Surely, God is in this place” (1 Cor. 14:25).

Excerpt from Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening (Energion, 2013), pp. 90-91.  Unfettered Spirit was named a Top Ten Book for 2014 by the Academy of Parish Clergy.


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