Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Are You Sure You Understand Spiritual Gifts?

From my perspective there are two major mistakes Christians make when reading Scripture. The first is taking scriptures out of their context. Someone once said that taking a text out of context can be used as a pretext for anything. Consider these three Scriptures: “Judas went out and hanged himself”; “Go and do thou likewise”; “What thou doeth do quickly.” Do you see the problem or did you already follow these instructions? Another example is when well-meaning people quote Philippians 4:13 as support for their belief that they can accomplish anything they want, even to the winning of sporting events. If they had only read it in context, Philippians 4:10-13, they would see that they have misunderstood the passage.

The second major mistake is totally relying on English translations. This can sometimes be ameliorated by reading several different translations but what if most of them make the same mistake? Too often different Greek words are translated by the same English word thereby obscuring their meaning. My favorite passage to demonstrate this is John 21:15-17. In this passage, according to most translations, Jesus asks Peter the same question three times—do you love Me—and Peter give the same response three times—I love You. Yet the third time it says Peter was grieved by the third question. Why? One would have to assume that Peter is grieved at being asked the same question all three times. But making that assumption would be in error. There are two different Greek words involved that are both translated as “love” in most translations. Jesus begins with a stronger word for love and Peter responds with a weaker word. Although these may not fully express all the nuances of the two words I will use the words “love” and “like.”

Jesus: Peter, do you love me?
Peter: You know that I like You.
Jesus: Peter, do you love me?
Peter: You know that I like You.
Jesus: Peter, do you like me?
Peter was grieved that the third time He asked, “Do you like Me?”
Peter: Lord, You know that I like You.
See the difference?

Now in applying this to spiritual gifts, too many Christians find various lists of gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28; Ephesians 4:11; and 1 Peter 4:10-11) and proceed to compile them into one aggregate list. This violates both principles mentioned above: the lists are ripped out of their contexts and no consideration is given to the fact that several different Greek words (Strong’s numbers 5486, 4152, 1325, 1390, etc.) are used in these passages but are all translated the same as “give” or “gift.” Therefore, I believe that each passage should be studied individually to determine how they should apply to our lives, not lumped into one big list. After all, we are talking about four different epistles, written to four different groups of Christians, addressing four different sets of issues.

I want to focus especially on Ephesians 4. I will do that in my next post called What Is APEST?

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