The gift of the Spirit

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Most of us have had it drilled into us that there is in fact one fruit of the Spirit rather than fruits of the Spirit.  In other words, we bear fruit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc. This means that there isn’t a pick and mix approach to things. I can’t claim to be fruitful because I’m loving but take a pass on gentleness. Indeed, is it really possible to say that I am peaceful if I’m not gentle and patient? Can I be loving without being kind and good? These different characteristics are related and offer different perspectives on the same thing, Holy Spirit fruitfulness.

I want to suggest here that we might also do well to think similarly about gifts. There is a slight difference here in that Paul talks about different gifts that are apportioned out to the church as and when they are needed. I may not be allowed to choose between joyfulness and self control but I may have the gift of prophecy and not the gift of tongues. Indeed, I may be gifted in a particular area for a limited time because there is a specific need for that gift in the church context where I find myself.

So, there are differences between the gifts and the fruit. However, there are some similarities and links.  Just as fruitfulness is a result of God’s divine, gracious work, so too are the gifts a result of his grace. Yet, just as fruit also needs to be cultivated and worked on, so too our gifts.  Both are worked out corporately. I don’t receive my gift individually so that I can enjoy it on my own for myself. Indeed, we would do better to insist that the gift is given through us to the church.  Similarly, when you read the description of Holy Spirit fruit, it only makes sense to talk about these characteristics in the context of church body life. Crucially I would suggest that the two are united by purpose. We are gifted to glorify the Lord; we are fruitful to glorify him. Indeed, causally we might say that we receive gifts in order to bear fruit so that we might glorify God.

And with that in mind, I think it might be helpful to think in terms of gift singular from time to time. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, Paul says:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Here we are reminded that there is a unity behind the diversity and that unity is found in the one Spirit. This was crucial for the Corinthian Church. Indeed, Paul’s purpose here is not so much to give an exposition on what every gift is, how to get it and how to use it, rather it is to remind a church that has fallen into tribalism that diversity of backgrounds, gifting and connections must not be allowed to cause schism in the body.  We may be many but we are one because we are all in the Lord.[1]

Furthermore, by thinking in terms of the Gift of the Spirit rather than the gifts of the Spirit, our gaze is drawn to the right place.  We have just been through Christmas and some of you will have showered loved ones with presents. If you are young and in love, then it was probably your spouse or your fiancé that got showered with a ton of expensive presents, if you ar ea little older then perhaps it was the kids. Each gift was chosen, wrapped and presented with great love and care. Yes, you wanted them to like, be interested in and enjoy each present in turn. However, more than that you wanted them to grasp that all of these gifts were tokens of your love for them.

So too with the Holy Spirit, of course the church is meant to unwrap, enjoy and treasure each of those gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 (and more if this list isn’t exhaustive) but we are not meant to stay stuck on the gifts. We aren’t meant to spend our time getting jealous because we don’t have this or that gift, or more often than not that it hasn’t been recognised in us by others. We certainly are not meant to be getting into crazy debates about them. Rather, we are meant to be drawn back to the giver. We are meant to learn to enjoy him. Drawn into his presence, growing closer to God is exactly where we will also learn to be fruitful,

[1] Which is not to say that we cannot learn lots about some of the different gifts from 1 Corinthians 12-14 it’s just that first of all the lists are not exhaustive and secondly, the primary teaching purpose of the passage is not to focus on those questions.

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