Stirring Up the Gifts of the Holy Spirit Part I
By Sr. Nancy Kellar S.C.
"Stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid on you" (2 Tm 1:6). I would like to write about stirring up the charismatic gifts taking that verse from Timothy to the next line, verse 7: "The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of love, power and self-control."
A. Love Motivates the Gifts
"Seek eagerly after love. Fraternal charity rooted in the love of God is the most perfect way" (1 Cor 14:1; 13:1). I think we have often heard that line as a put-down to the gifts. We have taken 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 on the gifts and 1 Corinthians 13 on love and taught on them separately as if chapter 13 somehow made the gifts a second rate alternative to love. I think we need to take love and the gifts together.
To seek the most perfect way—love—is to highlight what ignites desire for the gifts. Lack of desire stifles the gifts. The more we fall in love with Jesus, the more we desire to let Him use us, whatever the cost, to bring others to know Him. The more we desire to be used, the more we recognize our need to be empowered with His gifts for ministry.
The more we love our family and recognize their need to know Jesus the more we desire to be equipped with gifts of the Spirit to do this. Unless we know our need, we will not desire and unless we desire we will not ask and unless we ask we will not receive! Four times in chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses a Greek word, zelonte, with regard to the spiritual gifts. It suggests a passionate desire and an active seeking of gifts. It implies that the gifts do not come simply automatically, but must be yearned for and prayed for. Love has got to be the motive for "seeking the higher gifts" (1 Cor 12:31), those that build up the Church. Without this unselfishness, the gifts get side-tracked by self-interest, self-glorification and lose their power to build up the body of Christ.
B. Gifts Express Love
The gifts are the means the Spirit gives us to express the love of Christ in concrete and practical ways. Jesus said, "Do you love me, feed my lambs" (Jn 21:15). Love is not a charismatic gift, not the greatest charismatic gift. "Charism" is never used in the New Testament to describe love. Paul does not put love into a list of charisms. Love is a fruit of the Spirit, one of the essential gifts of grace with Faith and Hope that everyone can receive. The charismatic gifts are given some to one, some to another for the work of service. I have heard it said, "We don’t need the charisms because we have the highest charism, love." My response to that is: a man lost in the desert dying from hunger and thirst will not be served if we simply say we love him. We need to make it concrete—to feed him. The gifts equip us to give the Bread of Life to the hungry and the Life-Giving Water of the Spirit to the thirsty.
C. Love Releases and Purifies the Gifts
Love is a key part of the way God intends the charismatic gifts to be released and pruned in us—our love for and unity with one another. As we reflect on John 15 we see that if the branches are not in unity with one another, they cannot bear fruit. The same is true for the gifts of the Spirit used in our prayer groups, communities, sharing groups. Unreconciled relationships stifle the free exercise of the gifts. Where there is disunity, there is sin and the wages of sin is death. On the other hand, the deeper more committed relationships that come with sharing our lives give people a sense of belonging and that courage to take the risk of making a mistake, without which the gifts go unused. "The fruitful ones He trims clean to increase their yield" (Jn 15:2). The spiritual gifts need to be submitted to and discerned in the community. We, and the people we lead, are ready to use a gift when we are ready to have it discerned by the community. Greater unity releases the power of the Spirit; disunity and isolation stifle the gifts of the Spirit.
D. The Gifts are Stifled by Not Seeing the Working Together of the Variety of Gifts
Wherever Paul teaches on the gifts of the Spirit, he uses the analogy of the body. The gifts work together. The mouth can’t say to the feet, "I don’t need you" (1 Cor 12:21). Perhaps the gifts of the mouth have or will diminish because we have not taken as much care with the gifts of the hands—hospitality and administration. The gifts are stifled if some glance longingly and with dissatisfaction, coveting the gifts of others while not using their own. On the other hand, the gifts are stifled if people are arrogant about their gifts, not recognizing their need of others.
E. Charismatic Gifts are Stifled by Limiting Them to Special People
It is not uncommon to find an attitude of "non-participation" among people in the Charismatic Renewal today. An attitude that says, "Gifts are just for special people and I’ll just sit back and get ‘blessed’ by other people using them." The spiritual gifts are not intended to be for a few people, but for everyone in the Body of Christ. "To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7). When we have received the Spirit the question is not, "Do I have the gifts?" The questions are, "What gifts have I been given?", "How does the Lord want me to exercise the charisms He has given me?" We will be most blessed by the gifts we allow the Lord to use us for.
We need to be free of false humility that stifles the gifts. We need to recognize that the charismatic gifts are gifts from God, not of human origin but the fruit of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—fruit that we don’t deserve and didn’t earn—that are free, absolutely free gifts from God. "He singled out the weak to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:27). We need to let this recognition overcome a false humility that says we are too sinful, too unworthy or ignorant to be used by God. They are gifts of God’s love—gifts of the God who says, "Would a father give his son a snake when he asked for a fish?" (Lk 11:11).
F. Love Authenticates the Gifts
Love not only motivates, releases and purifies the spiritual gifts, love also authenticates them. Paul challenges (1 Cor 14:37) the Corinthians’ claim to be "spiritual" because they have these gifts... not as long as there is jealousy and strife among them. The truly spiritual person is the person of love. Without love he tells them they are "noisy gongs and clanging cymbals." Even more strongly the apostle Matthew challenges all with spiritual gifts to know that without love they are nothing! In Matthew 7, he speaks about love, about avoiding judgment, about treating others as we would have them treat us and about bearing good fruit. Then as a challenge to every charismatic, he quotes Jesus saying to us, "When that day comes, many will plead with me, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? Have we not exorcised demons by its power? Did we not do many miracles in Your name as well?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Out of My sight, you evildoers!’ " (Mt 7:22-23).
We need to stir up the charismatic gifts with an ongoing expectancy, and we also need to pray for a fresh outpouring of love. In part II, I will continue with "power and self-control" as they relate to stirring up and persevering in the use of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit.
PART II TO FOLLOW IN MAY/JUNE 2012 FLAME Reprinted with Permission from ICCRS Newsletter January February 1998