Increasing Our Spiritual Gifts (John Owen)

The Works of John Owen, Vol. 4: The Reason of Faith
Owen, vol. 4

God gives his people spiritual gifts so his people can bless others and bring him glory. Peter tells us to use our gifts to serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10). But the Christian might ask a question: How do we receive spiritual gifts or how do the spiritual gifts we have grow or increase? Obviously God, by his Holy Spirit, gifts his people. As far as attaining or increasing spiritual gifts, John Owen had a nice discussion about this topic in his “Discourse of Spiritual Gifts.” Here’s what he says about attaining and increasing spiritual gifts:

…In the first place is required a due preparation of soul, by humility, meekness, and teachableness. The Holy Spirit taketh no delight to impart of his especial gifts unto proud, self-conceited men, to men vainly puffed up in their own fleshly minds….

Secondly, prayer is a principal means for their attainment. This the apostle directs unto when he enjoins us earnestly to desire the best gifts; for this desire is to be acted by prayer, and no otherwise.

Thirdly, diligence in the things about which these gifts are conversant. Study and meditation on the word of God, with the due use of means for the attaining a right understanding of his mind and will therein, is that which I intend. For in this course, conscientiously attended unto, it is that, for the most part, the Holy Spirit comes in and joins his aid and assistance for furnishing of the mind with those spiritual endowments.

Fourthly, the growth, increase, and improvement of these gifts depend on their faithful use according as our duty doth require. It is trade alone that increaseth talents, and exercise in a way of duty that improveth gifts. Without this they will first wither and then perish….

Owen, Works, Vol. 4, p. 519-520.

 To summarize, we can grow in our God-given spiritual gifts by being humble, praying about them, diligently studying the Word, using them, and by cultivating our natural gifts.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015



The Local Church and Your Spiritual Gifts

ReadMarkLearnRomans

In Romans 12:3-6 the Apostle Paul talks about spiritual gifts which God gives his people, Christians who are members of the body of Christ. They are gifts of God, so we can’t brag about them as if we earned them or deserve them. And, of course, we each have different gifts, as Paul explains (12:6). These God-given spiritual gifts are for the benefit of the body. They are not meant to elevate one member over others.

The Heidelberg Catechism (Q/A 55) says that “each member should consider it his duty to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.” The Westminster Confession of Faith (ch. 26) says that we have “communion in each other’s gifts and graces.” That is, we share the spiritual gifts God has given us. We don’t keep them to ourselves since they belong to the body as gifts of God. I like how the “Read/Mark/Learn: Romans” study guide said it commenting on 12:4-8:

“…Individual Christians are parts of a greater whole, the church. Paul uses the analogy of the body… to teach humility and interdependence. Just as the body has, and needs, different members with different functions, so the church has, and needs, people with different gifts. Furthermore, these gifts do not belong solely to the individual, but rather to the whole of the church. If we understand that this is our position, we will not think to highly of ourselves. Just as we are to give ourselves fully to God (v. 1), so we are to give ourselves fully to one another.”

“Then, in verses 6-8, Paul lists examples of different kinds of gifts that God gives His people. His focus is not on the nature of the gifts that he mentions – these gifts are just examples. …Instead, his emphasis is on interdependence and our responsibility towards each other. God has given different gifts to different people; so whatever gifts we have, by grace, been given, we should use each one in a manner that is appropriate to the gift, in order to serve the rest of the ‘body.’”

Read/Mark/Learn: Romans, p. 229.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Seven Points on Spiritual Gifts (J. Bridges)

True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia God gives all his people gifts to use for the service and enrichment of others.  Peter put it this way: God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts.  Use them well to serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10 NLT).  Because the Bible talks about gifts this way, the Westminster Confession echoes this truth: “Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification” (ch. 26.2).  I appreciate how Jerry Bridges talks about this in his excellent book, True Community.  Here are Bridges’ seven points on spiritual gifts (I’ve summarized/edited the following for length):

The purpose of all spiritual gifts is to serve others and glorify God. Our gifts are not our property to use as we please; they are a trust committed to us by God to use for others and for His glory as He directs.”

Every Christian has a gift, and every gift is important.  We have already stated earlier in this chapter that God has assigned every believer a function in the body of Christ and that God has, consequently, gifted every member to fulfill that function.  To say ‘I don’t think I have a gift,’ is to say, ‘I don’t think I have a function in the body of Christ.  Such an idea flies in the face of the whole of New Testament teaching.  God has a job for every believer.  It may be seen or unseen, big or small, but each of us has a job to do.”

“Not only do we each have a gift but each one of our gifts is important.  Again, we tend to recognize the more public, noticeable gifts as important and the low-profile gifts as perhaps not so important.  The apostle Paul anticipated this tendency when he envisioned the foot saying, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ and the ear saying, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’ (1 Cor. 12:15-16).”

Gifts are sovereignly bestowed by God.  You possess the gifts you have because the sovereign God of the universe wanted you to be that way.  He ordained a plan for your life even before you were born, and He has gifted you specifically to carry out that plan.  Never disparage your gift.  If you do, you are disparaging the plan of God and perhaps complaining against Him.  Similarly, never look down on the gift of another.  If you do, you are scorning the plan of God for that person.”

“Every gift is given by God’s grace.  None of us deserves the gift he or she has been given.  All gifts are given by God’s undeserved favor to us through Christ (Rom 12:6, 1 Pet. 4:10).  The highly gifted person should not think he is so gifted because of his hard work or his faithfulness in previous service to God.

“All gifts must be developed and exercised.  Even though gifts are given by God’s grace, it is our responsibility to develop and exercise them.  Paul exhorted Timothy to rekindle or ‘fan into flame the gift of God,’ and elsewhere Paul told him, ‘Do not neglect your gift’ (2 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:14).  The effective use of our gifts does not occur without diligent effort on our part.”

The effective use of every gift is dependent on faith in Christ.  Although gifts are sovereignly bestowed and their effective exercise involves hard work and diligent effort, it is also true that no gift is exercised apart from faith in Christ.  The necessity of conscious dependence on Christ for His enabling power is a fundamental fact for every aspect of the Christian life, whether in spiritual growth in our own lives or in serves within the body.”

Only love will give true value to our gifts.  In any discussion of spiritual gifts we should give careful attention to the fact that the classic Scripture passage on Christian love, 1 Corinthians 13, is set right in the middle of the Bible’s most extensive treatment on spiritual gifts.  If we have not love, it all amounts to nothing.”

These seven points are very helpful biblical notes on spiritual gifts.  In fact, it is one of the best treatments on spiritual gifts that I’ve read.  I very much recommend this chapter to those who want a solid treatment of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ.  Furthermore, I recommend this entire book!  It’s an outstanding resource on the fellowship of the saints: True Community by Jerry Bridges.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Sam Storms on Spiritual (Charismatic) Gifts

The Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Gifts by Dr. Sam Storms, http://www ... I’ve not read many books about spiritual gifts from a charismatic perspective.  Therefore, I recently worked through Sam Storm’s book, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, to learn more about charismatic theology/practice.  As a Reformed Christian, I’m not charismatic, but I do want a proper understanding of this movement.  Below is a brief review of this book.

There are ten chapters in this book: 1) When Power Comes to Church (an introduction), 2) Right? Wrong? (10 myths about charismatic/spiritual gifts), 3) Words of Wisdom and Knowledge (prophecy and utterances), 4) Faith and Healing, 5) It’s a Miracle (miracles in the church), 6) Prophecy and Distinguishing of Spirits, 7) Who Said God Said? (knowing the Bible in order to test prophesies), 8) What is the Gift of Tongues, 9) Tongues and Interpretation, 10) Letting Your Gift Find You.  There’s also an appendix on how to pray for healing and one on “when a gifted person falls.”

Storms does give several charismatic stories in attempt to prove his points.  One worth mentioning is his account of a prophet telling a friend that God was going to send a comet to prove that the church should have a 21 day period of prayer and fasting.  The comet came.  This man also said God spoke to him in a dream telling him about a drought and famine, and the next summer was dry (see chapter five).  There are other similar stories of dreams, healings, and revelations.

This book was a reminder to me of why I am not a charismatic. The way Storms explains the passages of Scripture in view (such as 1 Cor. 12) were unconvincing, subjective at times, based on probables at other times, lacking in OT references, and without solid exegetical or theological support.  I was also troubled by Storms’ logic based on experience and emotional appeal (I’m thinking of the logical fallacy of “playing to the gallery”).

Here are some phrases I found unsettling:

“To reject spiritual [charismatic –spl] gifts, to turn from this immediate and gracious divine enabling, is, in a sense, to turn from God. …In denying them, we deny Him” (p. 13).

“If you are not earnestly desiring to prophesy, if you are not praying for an opportunity and occasion to speak prophetically into the lives of the church and other believers, you are disobeying God!” (p. 111).

“It is a sin to despise [charismatic – spl] prophecy” (p. 141).

I also disagree with Storms’ discussion of faith.  He says there are three different kinds of faith: conversion faith (the faith through which we’re justified), continuing faith (the daily faith we have), and charismatic faith, which “appears to be spontaneous and functions as the divinely enabled condition on which the more overtly supernatural activities of God are suspended” (p. 60).  Storms says charismatic faith is not given to every Christian, and it is a special faith that enables a believer to trust God to bring about a sort of blessing not promised in Scripture (p. 61).  Storm then goes on to talk about five levels of faith for healing.  To divide and dissect faith in this way is unhealthy at best.  Here Storms is at odds with the historic confessional understanding of faith: there are not “faiths” that we have as Christians, but “true faith” in Christ alone for justification by grace alone.  I’m not saying that Storms is denying justification by faith alone, but his discussion of faith is not in line with the Reformation; one should remember this when reading Storms’ other works.

I don’t recommend this book, obviously.  I realize that Reformed theology doesn’t have all the answers to Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor. 12, but its answers are better and more biblical than that of charismatic theology.  This book has reminded me of this fact!  As Richard Gaffin and others have said, Scripture is sufficient for us today; we no longer need prophets and revelations.

Sam Storms, The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2012).

shane lems
hammond, wi