About 35 years ago, after finding my faith in God again, I read something from Seventh-day Adventist Church co-founder Ellen White’s book, “The Spirit of Prophecy.“ The quote said: “The 12th and 13th chapters of 1st Corinthians should be committed to memory, written in the mind and heart.”1 Although I knew that 1 Corinthians 13 was the “love” chapter, I did not know much about its much longer sibling preceding it.
As I began to slowly commit the lessons to “mind and heart,” a precious theology of the relationship between the gifts of the Spirit (as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12) and the fruit of the Spirit (as described in 1 Corinthians 13) began to emerge. This article briefly explores the Adventist fundamental doctrinal belief number 17, which deals with Spiritual Gifts and Ministries. It will first outline the relationship between the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit, give a brief overview of the biblical foundation of the doctrinal belief, and then provide further resources that will help put the teaching into practice.
Gifts and Fruit: How Do They Relate?
Scripture teaches us that the fruit of the Spirit, the “more excellent way” that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12:31, instills our actions with high value before God (1 Cor. 13:1-3). After all, Jesus told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). Those workers who have exhibited various gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy and miracles, without “knowing” Him are labeled as “evildoers” (Matt. 7:22, 23). Ellen White herself states that “the object of the Christian life is fruit-bearing,”2 thus underlining the foundational importance of being rather than doing.
In our hyperkinetic world, we have the privilege every day, like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus, which was “better” than Martha’s desire to be hospitable (Luke 10:42), which had led her to become critical of her sister. In Buddhist countries such as Thailand I often told church members that unless we take time to deepen our spiritual lives and become like a “monk,” the stresses of everyday life will turn us into “monkeys.”
Biblical Foundation of Spiritual Gifts
There are several key biblical texts that provide foundational understanding of the fundamental belief on spiritual gifts. First of all, it tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:11 that the Holy Spirit determines which gift(s) are given to each of the members. In practical terms, it can be said that every member of the church has at least one gift, but nobody has all the gifts. Paul uses the interdependence of the body to stress both the diversity and the unity that must exist if the organism is to function well. The biblical teaching of spiritual gifts avoids the twin extremes of expecting everybody to do the same thing (as, for example, to go out and give Bible studies) or that only a few are called upon to do the work of the church.
There are 20 specific gifts mentioned in Scripture, with some of the gifts mentioned more than once. Romans 12:6-8 lists the seven gifts of prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy. In addition to these seven gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 and 12:28-30 add the 11 gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues, apostle, helper, and administration. Finally, Ephesians 4:11 adds the two gifts of evangelist and pastor. While some commentators would limit the list to those that are specifically mentioned in these texts, others have postulated that more gifts were demonstrated in the New Testament church, such as hospitality, intercession, and mission, and that these should also be included.
The gifts given to an individual are not static but, as in the case of Paul, can be given by the Spirit as the need for healing (Acts 14:9, 10) or prophecy (Acts 27:23-25) arises. I feel it would be in harmony with Scripture that if an individual or group of believers is lacking a certain gift, they could pray that the Lord would either give the gift to those present or send a person who had that specific gift, in order to minister more effectively. Gifts need to be cherished and developed. Paul urged Timothy to “fan into flame” the gift that had been given to him through the laying on of hands (2 Tim. 1:6, NIV).
Spirituals Gifts: Practical Applications
As far as resources go, Peter Wagner’s easy-to-read and very popular Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow is still a classic in the field.3 Although there are a number of spiritual gifts tests that can be taken and graded online, many of them favor a charismatic theology, biased toward certain gifts, such as healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy and do not provide much of a background on how the gifts should be understood or used within the local church or ministry context. A very excellent and well-documented approach to the whole area of spiritual gifts, called Connections, was produced by Seventh-day Adventist pastors and leaders and can be accessed via the Internet.4
Several years ago I wanted to start the dishwasher but discovered we had run out of dishwashing soap. Thinking that all soap was the same, I put some laundry detergent in the dispenser and went merrily on my way. When I returned a short time later I discovered the dishwasher had been turned into a bubble maker and the kitchen floor was receiving the offering of suds!
The doctrine of spiritual gifts teaches the importance of putting people in the right place in the church. At times, a very successful deacon has been made a head elder and difficulties have arisen. Like the detergent in my trusted dishwasher, the member is not “bad” but has been placed in the wrong responsibility. After encouraging us to memorize 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, Ellen White suggested that “Through His servant Paul, the Lord has placed before us these subjects for our consideration, and those who have the privilege of being brought together in church capacity will be united, understandingly and intelligently.”5 A biblical understanding of spiritual gifts will unite us both in understanding and creativity as we reflect more the servant spirit of Jesus and fulfill God’s mission for His church.
1Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, ed. F. D. Nichol (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1965), vol. 6, p. 1090.
2Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1941), p. 67.
3C. Peter Wagner, Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1979).
4Go to www.creativeministry.org/article.php?id=985 to get more information about the project and ways to obtain the material.
5White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, pp. 1090, 1091.
A pastor and teacher, James Park ministered in the Los Angeles area for 25 years before accepting a call to teach at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines. He is currently chairing the Applied Theology Department and focuses his ministry and research upon discipleship and mission.
This article originally appeared in Adventist World in the 2010 issue.