Excerpt from Streams of Living Water

We do not live our lives under our own steam”; we were nev­er cre­at­ed to do so. We were cre­at­ed to live our lives in coop­er­a­tion with anoth­er real­i­ty. The Charis­mat­ic Tra­di­tion gives spe­cial atten­tion to this oth­er real­i­ty, which is, quite sim­ply, life in and through the Spir­it of God. 

Frankly, there are no non­charis­mat­ic Chris­tians.” I under­stand what is meant by that term, and I see the his­tor­i­cal and soci­o­log­i­cal rea­sons for it, but the Chris­t­ian life is by def­i­n­i­tion a life in and through the Spirit. 

The Charis­ma­ta

Now, the charis­ma­ta are iden­ti­fi­able expres­sions of that life in spe­cif­ic forms for spe­cif­ic pur­pos­es. Every fol­low­er of Jesus is endowed by the Spir­it with one or more of these spir­i­tu­al charisms. These are not the same as nat­ur­al tal­ents, though they some­times fit togeth­er with them. 

The sign of the pres­ence of the charis­ma­ta is that the effect of one’s actions great­ly exceeds the input of the human being. In oth­er words, if we knew only what the human being put in, we could not imag­ine the out­come. The results are always incom­men­su­rate to our efforts. It is, you see, a work of the Spirit. 

We are for­tu­nate that Paul addressed in con­sid­er­able detail many prac­ti­cal mat­ters rel­a­tive to exer­cis­ing the spir­i­tu­al gifts. No bib­li­cal writer has giv­en us more. The bulk of this teach­ing is con­cen­trat­ed in three cru­cial pas­sages: Romans 12, Eph­esians 4, and espe­cial­ly 1 Corinthi­ans 12 – 14. We would do well to med­i­tate at length upon these teach­ings. In all three we find lists of gifts — lists that, while they vary some­what, all con­tain the same essen­tial fea­tures: gifts of lead­er­ship, such as apos­tle­ship, evan­ge­lism, and preaching/​teaching; ecsta­t­ic gifts, such as tongues, dis­cern­ment of spir­its, and prophe­cy; and gifts that build com­mu­ni­ty life, such as wis­dom, faith, and helps. 

A per­son with the charism of apos­tle­ship, for exam­ple, is endowed with spir­i­tu­al abil­i­ties to pio­neer in new areas, plant­i­ng church­es cross-cul­tur­al­ly. A per­son with the charism of evan­ge­lism has spe­cial spir­i­tu­al enable­ment to touch those out­side of the com­mu­ni­ty of faith with the evan­gel, the good news of the gospel. A per­son with the charism of faith has spir­i­tu­al abil­i­ties to see cre­ative, new pos­si­bil­i­ties and trust God for them. And so forth. 

We must always remem­ber this three­fold func­tion of the charisms of the Spir­it: lead­er­ship, ecsta­t­ic empow­er­ment, and com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing. Any efforts to restrict the work of the Spir­it to lead­er­ship gifts only, or ecsta­t­ic gifts only, or com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing gifts only, sim­ply miss the point. This temp­ta­tion toward restric­tion aris­es because of the vest­ed inter­ests and par­tic­u­lar his­to­ries of dif­fer­ing groups. But it is a temp­ta­tion that must be resist­ed if we are to be faith­ful to the bib­li­cal witness. 

The ecsta­t­ic gifts are most often giv­en to show us that God is present where we assume that he is not. At Pen­te­cost every­one assumed that those dis­ci­ples hud­dled togeth­er were out­laws. But by super­nat­ur­al visu­al aids and heav­en­ly sound effects God demon­strat­ed in no uncer­tain terms that he was with them (Acts 2:1 – 13). The same was true at the home of Cor­nelius. The Jew­ish Chris­tians, you under­stand, had assumed that God could not be present and active among Gen­tiles, and God had to show them oth­er­wise (Acts 10). And the con­tem­po­rary sto­ry of William Sey­mour and the folks at Azusa Street is only anoth­er verse of the same song. To reit­er­ate: the ecsta­t­ic gifts often help us see that God is present and active among peo­ples and sit­u­a­tions we have writ­ten off as hopeless. 

Build­ing in Love 

First Corinthi­ans con­tains the most exten­sive teach­ing we have in the Bible on spir­i­tu­al gifts. At its cen­ter is the famous love chap­ter,” which should give us some inkling of how cen­tral divine love is to any effec­tive func­tion­ing of spir­i­tu­al gifts. The sec­tion that pre­cedes 1 Corinthi­ans 13 may be less­er known, but it is inti­mate­ly tied to it and con­tains great prac­ti­cal wis­dom. I would like to focus on this pas­sage as a sum­ma­tion of the essen­tial prin­ci­ples we need for the exer­cis­ing of spir­i­tu­al gifts in such a way that they build rather than destroy com­mu­ni­ty life. 54

Tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty is the first prin­ci­ple. Indeed,” says Paul, the body does not con­sist of one mem­ber but of many. If the foot would say, Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body” (1 Cor. 12:14 – 16). This is a pas­sage for all who feel that they have noth­ing to offer the com­mu­ni­ty. The charism of helps may have small effect when com­pared to the charism of prophe­cy, but it is absolute­ly essen­tial for life togeth­er. Every charism is need­ed, no mat­ter how insignif­i­cant it may seem to us. 

Accept­ing lim­i­ta­tion is the sec­ond prin­ci­ple. If the whole body were an eye,” writes Paul, where would the hear­ing be? If the whole body were hear­ing, where would the sense of smell be? … there are many mem­bers, yet one body” (1 Cor. 12:17 – 20). This is a pas­sage for all who feel that they have every­thing to offer the com­mu­ni­ty. No sin­gle indi­vid­ual con­tains all the charisms of the Spir­it. We are lim­it­ed in the good we can accom­plish by our­selves. This is a divine­ly imposed lim­i­ta­tion in order to defeat our egoism. 

Esteem­ing oth­ers is the third prin­ci­ple. The eye can­not say to the hand,” says Paul, “’I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.’ On the con­trary, the mem­bers of the body that seem to be weak­er are indis­pens­able, and those mem­bers of the body that we think less hon­or­able we clothe with greater hon­or, and our less respectable mem­bers are treat­ed with greater respect; where­as our more respectable mem­bers do not need this” (1 Cor. 12:21 – 24a). This is a pas­sage for all who feel that they can live inde­pen­dent of the com­mu­ni­ty. Any prop­er exer­cise of the charisms of the Spir­it is a joint effort. God has arranged the func­tion­ing of the gifts in this way so that we will always be depen­dent upon one anoth­er and always esteem each other. 

Main­tain­ing uni­ty with­in diver­si­ty is the fourth prin­ci­ple. God has so arranged the body,” teach­es Paul, giv­ing the greater hon­or to the infe­ri­or mem­ber, that there may be no dis­sen­sion with­in the body, but the mem­bers may have the same care for one anoth­er. If one mem­ber suf­fers, all suf­fer togeth­er with it; if one mem­ber is hon­ored, all rejoice togeth­er with it” (1 Cor. 12:24b-26). This is a pas­sage for all who bring divi­sion to the com­mu­ni­ty, either delib­er­ate­ly or inad­ver­tent­ly. While we are all dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and exer­cise dif­fer­ing gifts, we still func­tion as a whole. We are insep­a­ra­bly linked togeth­er, suf­fer­ing togeth­er and rejoic­ing together. 

What a won­der­ful descrip­tion of our life togeth­er! Spir­i­tu­al gifts are giv­en to build us up as a com­mu­ni­ty of faith. But of course this way of liv­ing and relat­ing can be done only through an all-encom­pass­ing super­nat­ur­al love, which is pre­cise­ly why Paul sets agape at the cen­ter of his teach­ing on the charisms of the Spir­it. Love, you see, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love nev­er ends” (1 Cor. 13:7 – 8a).

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Excerpt­ed from Streams of Liv­ing Water by Richard J. Fos­ter, pub­lished by Harper­One. Copy­right Richard J. Fos­ter. Used with permission.

Originally published October 1998

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