For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
One of the areas of theology and Pneumatology that I have become interested in in the past few years has been that of the Spiritual/charismatic gifts. Most of what is said about the charismatic gifts come from Paul’s letters, particularly Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians. However, there isn’t a lot of clear outlined description of how the charismatic gifts come to manifest in people, how people put them into practice, etc. This relative ambiguity has made room for our understanding of the Spiritual gifts to really be defined by the implicit, metaphysical assumptions we make about God’s agency and how God works in and through human persons. The most popular metaphysical assumption is that the supernatural/natural divide, in which the charismatic gifts are treated as supernatural gifts that has little to do with our natural skills and capacities. This implicit metaphysical interpretation of the Spiritual gifts has lead to a lot of what I would considered “possession” charisma, in which the charismatic gifts are thought to be seen and demonstrated through events of possession in either the agent of God or those being acted upon. So, we witness in some extreme charismatic circles various sort of “possessions” events, such as being slain in the spirit, forms of babbling that are treated as if they are tongues, etc. On the other hand, a view of the world that has been largely excavated of the supernatural except as a rare instance has often lead to the minimization, if not abnegation, of the spiritual gifts. The Spiritual gifts were for an exceptional time and season, but now that we have the gift of God’s Word in the Scriptures, the charismatic gifts are largely obsolete and are commonly considered fraudulent, hysteria, etc.
However, the Scriptures do not frame reality the way we often tend to frame this supernatural/natural divide between God’s agency and “normal” human life. Rather, the language that Jesus and later Paul uses, perhaps because it is so prevalent in Israel’s Scriptures, for describing divine agency is through agricultural metaphors. A thorough analysis of the agricultural metaphors of seeds, trees, etc. is far beyond the reach of this blog post, not to mention a clear, systematic explanation for all of them is perhaps nigh impossible, but this metaphor may be more aptly consider the type of root metaphor that gives the grounds for our metaphysical understanding of the spiritual gifts. Agricultural growth requires many factors operating together, there is often one who looks after and tends the seeds, plants, etc., and the growth takes time.
What if the emergence of the charismatic gifts is something that grows with time? What if the charismatic gifts given to believers are part of God’s activity in bringing about new creation, where the emerging renewal and transformation of believers in Christ leads to the gradual and deepening emergence of new, human capacities and skills that are performed with the Spirit’s leading? What if the charismatic gifts are, to use the metaphor of senses, are the result of our sense of the Spirit and His work coming to fruition and being honed to do the work they are intended for: building up? If this is the case, while we can make a clear distinction between “regular” capacities and the charismatic capacities, we can not readily identify and comprehend them through the ways we try to break up the natural and supernatural. Instead, the chrismatic gifts are like the fruits of a tree that begin to emerge as their maturation comes, not much unlike the way “natural” skills and capacities may emerge.
The point behind this explanation: that perhaps the gifts that emerge from us are part of the ‘seed’ of our faith These things emerge from the fundamental character of our trust and devotion to the Lord. Our charismatic gifts represent the type of “tree” we are: not in the sense of being a good vs. bad tree, but in the sense that the shape of our faith in God determines the nature of the charismatic gifts the Spirit gives to us as part of the Body of Christ. This would help to bring insight to Romans 12.3-8, where people are to think of themselves based upon the way God has assigned to each person along the lines of “the measure of faith.” The content of their faith determines shape the gifts. Hence, we see the gifts emerging from the graces that differ based upon the grace give to each person.
This isn’t to suggest that the nature of our gifts are fixed and determined when we come to faith and that we can not grow and mature into newer gifts. However, if we wish to seek the other gifts, such as the gift of prophesy that Paul commends people to seek, one would do so on the basis of having a faith that grows beyond the faith that many regularly come with when they first believe. If one seeks to be a teacher, their heart for teaching done in faith will lead to the emergence of this gifts. And so on.
If this is the case, what does this lead us to? That our gifts are a reflection of the character and nature of our faith. Our faith is the seed that brings about the emergence of new, Spirit-lead capacities to bring about the blessings of life and truth to the Church and the wider world. By implication, we wouldn’t acquire the gifts simply because we wish to experience the gifts or we try to practice the gifts themselves. They are rather part of our, to use a different metaphor, faith DNA. However, this DNA can change and adapt over time, and so likewise our faith must broaden and deepen as we seek the other gifts. What is sown in the specific nature of our faith is what is reaped by the work of the Spirit in our life.
I leave this for people to discern and reflect upon accordingly. However, my own experience with the charismatic gifts seems to bear this out alongside the theological and metaphysical analysis of how we might try to understand the gifts of the Spirit against the backdrop of the prevailing agricultural metaphor.