Differing beliefs can divide people, including Christians. We disagree on how and when the Second Coming will happen (even though Jesus said no one will know when that will happen!). We disagree on other less important issues too. One of them concerns spiritual gifts, particularly healing, miracles, and speaking in tongues. Sad but true, those on each end of the spectrum can become insistent and vocal about their stance.
It seems strange that we can be different from one another on many other issues and still be united in Christ and worship together, yet these issues have split churches. I’m not certain I have any special insight on this, but I do know one thing: such polarity is not from God.
As for the spiritual gifts argument, we do agree that these gifts are from the Holy Spirit. The Bible is clear on that in several passages, including this one:
“It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:3–4)
Nevertheless, the church in Corinth had problems with these gifts. They had them, but fought about who had the ‘greatest’ gifts. Right away, that reveals pride. I know from Scripture and from personal experience that pride has a way of blinding my eyes so I cannot see where I’ve gone wrong. Pride convinces me that I cannot make mistakes. This is folly. In that early church it was also folly and needed some strong admonition. Paul wrote at least two letters to them to correct their errors. In regard to the gifts, he said . . .
“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 12:29–13:13)
Some think that “we know in part . . . but when the perfect comes” refers to the completed Bible. Yet how did Paul even know that part of the future? And if “knowing in part” equals a body of believers without a New Testament yet living for Christ as they did, how can we who have the entire Bible claim to be “perfect” when we fight over what that Bible says and means?
Others insist that these verses mean prophetic gifts and tongues will pass away, but it does not say when, only that sometime in the future, perfect will come and partially perfect will pass away. Using this passage to argue it has already happened seems to miss the point. Paul is telling the Christians at Corinth (and us today) to drop pride and stop thinking some gifts make you a better Christian than others. Those gifts are from God, not the recipient. The bottom line: all should be excelling in love for one another!
Regardless of my understanding of these matters, I realize that arguing about them is folly. I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum and thought at the time that those at the other end were fakes and deceivers. Now I realize that this is also foolish because this is not a soapbox issue. To make it one is not God’s idea. He unifies us in Christ. It is the liar called Satan who divides.
The devil’s tool is pride. If he can get me to assume I am correct and everyone else does not know what they are talking about causes serious rifts. Pride cuts apart the Body of Christ. It separates me from trusting in the Holy Spirit to give me gifts that I seriously need, such as the most important gift: the loving patience of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus, You are not at all concerned about our differences. You are far more interested in uniting us through love, joy, peace and the other character qualities of Your Spirit. Sometimes we are right, sometimes we are wrong, but that never interferes with Your love for us. May it be true also of our love for each other.