Peter’s twofold summary of the twenty various gifts of the Spirit is comprehensive but not detailed; he lists the gifts of speaking and of helping others (1 Pet 4:11). Paul’s lists unpack these two, noting ten gifts of speaking and ten for helping others (Eph 4:11; Rom 12:6–8; 1 Cor 12:8–10, 28). Of course, all of the speaking gifts are supposed to be edifying, which means helpful to others. So even the speaking gifts help others. And many of the serving gifts require speaking, whether we offer an encouraging word, speak up in roles of leadership and administration, or cry out to God in faith for healing or other miracles.
Neglecting Spiritual Gifts
Paul forbids quenching the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19). Experience shows two ways that can happen: (1) actively discouraging any exercise of the charismata, or (2) neglecting or half-heartedly engaging with the charismata.
Discouraging any Exercise of the Charismata
First, the corporate body can discourage their use, whether by active or passive means. For a considerable part of church history, the majority of Christianity was too suspicious of the so-called revelatory gifts to allow them much exercise. So the church failed to experience the full benefit of a word of wisdom or knowledge, distinguishing between spirits, and especially tongues and interpretation.
Even in our own times, a considerable number of our fellow Evangelicals adopt the form of “cessationism” that insists that these revelatory gifts ceased operating somewhere around the end of the apostolic age. Even in charismatic and Pentecostal churches, a general suspicion that these gifts are too easy to abuse can lead to their neglect. But the proper response to that isn’t to forbid them, but to police them.
Passivity about the Charismata
Sometimes the neglect is more passive than active.
Corprate Neglect of the Charismata
Churches that actually believe in the gifts of the Spirit as a formal doctrine may fail to teach on the gifts of the Spirit. Perhaps an individual here and there in such a congregation will consciously function with the gift of serving or helping others, or even in giving and interpreting a message in tongues. But the broad membership of a congregation where the gifts are neglected in the pulpit will ignore the gifts of the Spirit in the pews and in general society.
Individual Neglect of the Charismata
Second, individual believers can neglect the gifts. Paul told Timothy, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you” (1 Tim 4:14). Although this likely speaks of something that we would today call ordination, the principle should apply to any gift the Holy Spirit gives you.
Way of Neglect
How can we neglect a gift of the Spirit? Several potential patterns of neglect come to mind.
- You could occasionally use the gifts you have, and only in a half-hearted manner, and eventually cease using it altogether. For example, rather than speaking “as though God himself were speaking through you” (1 Pet 4:11), you could begin to rely only on human effort.
- You could lapse into mere professionalism as a teacher and preacher.
- You could depend upon your own experience and knowledge rather than offering a genuine word of wisdom or knowledge.
- You could rely on a critical spirit rather than the discerning power of the Holy Spirit himself when assessing other’s words and deeds.
- You could even become practiced in delivering something that sounds like a message in tongues or a prophecy, but is only your own habitual free-vocalizing instead of tongues or something coming from your own heart rather than from the heavenly throne room.
- If you have one of the other gifts, you could just weary in well-doing, rather than doing it “with all the strength and energy that God supplies” (1 Pet 4:11).
- You could become lazy and quit serving and helping, you could become harsh rather than merciful and encouraging, and stingy rather than generous in giving. You could opt out of roles of leadership and administration, justifying yourself with the excuse, “I think we should give someone else a chance.”
- You could even allow your faith to wane so that God could no longer use you to stir up the faith of others or to pray for healings and miracles that others need.
Coveting & Exercising Spiritual Gifts
- For neglect attributed to any idea that the gifts have ceased, the solution is to “earnestly desire the most helpful gifts” once you’ve learned that they do indeed continue (1 Cor 12:31).
- For neglect rooted in apathy, the remedy is to “practice these things, immerse yourself in them” (1 Tim 4:14–15).
I hope this teaching will stir up what lies dormant, neglected, or even devalued for the sake of the church’s edification. A church that has these twenty gifts operating in its various members will thrive under the pastoral care of the Holy Spirit himself. As God himself speaks through you (1 Pet 4:11), as the God of all comfort consoles through your words and deeds, as the Lord of the church leads through your pastoral and administrative gifts, as the Great Physician offers healing through your hands, Christ is present among us.
And this brings us back to the Christ-glorifying church, edifying purpose of these gifts. All of this should be done to glorify Jesus Christ, to edify the church, and to bear witness to the lost.