HOLINESS AND SPIRITUAL GIFTS
by Donald Gee
(Written in 1932)
It is of the utmost importance concerning spiritual gifts that we should clearly grasp their relationship to the vital subject of holiness. If we fail to do this we shall flounder in ceaseless difficulties and will probably make some bad mistakes in judgement both regarding other people and ourselves.
Several questions press for an answer: questions that are not merely theoretical, but questions that force themselves upon us, sometimes rather jaggedly, from the realm of practical experience. Do Spiritual gifts help towards holiness? Do they, or do they not, demand holiness before they can be bestowed? Are they an evidence of holiness? Does the personal holiness of the individual affect their exercise? Are the gifts worth troubling about since holiness is of such supreme importance?
To avoid misunderstanding, we had better observe that by “holiness” in this study we mean Christ-likeness in character: that positive result of salvation by which the very life of Christ is being lived out again in and through the life and character of the believer. There are many outward graces that mark such character, and foremost among them we may certainly place that beautiful list of what Paul calls in Gal.5:22, 23 “the fruit of the Spirit.” The list is as follows: “Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, Temperance.” All these he attributes to the work of divine grace in the soul; they are not in the natural soil but come from God.
The Difference between “Gifts” and “Fruit”
It is necessary to clearly understand the fundamental difference between these two terms. “Fruit” is a natural outcome, by a process of steady growth, of a principle of life within. “Fruit” takes time to develop, and is brought to perfection by the assistance of much from outside, such as sunshine, rain, soil, etc. “Gifts” on the other hand, may be given by the generous action of someone without. They are usually complete as given, though their exercise by the recipient can become more perfect by use, as for instance, in the gift of a camera, or an automobile. The essentials for our present study are that “fruit” comes gradually from within: while “gifts” come immediately from without. This definition is a little crude, but is helps to clear the necessary difference between the two.
The fruit of the Spirit will thus be seen as the manifestation and outcome of the divine life put within the believer at regeneration; perhaps appearing almost instantly in some features, but more generally appearing gradually by a process of “growth in grace.” Its development will be helped by such outward means of grace as Christian fellowship and ministry, circumstances,— and above all communion with God. There is room for such “fruit” to grow throughout the whole course of a Christian’s life; and holiness when viewed from this angle should be steadily progressive.
Gifts of the Spirit, on the other hand, can be bestowed suddenly at any point in the believer’s experience. The plain inference of the New Testament is that a gift was given to some believers when they first received the Holy Spirit. Other gifts were given at different crises of the Christian pathway (e.g., 1 Tim. 4:14 — most likely at Timothy’s being set part for the work of the ministry — Acts 16:1-3). Still further gifts might be desired and prayed for at anytime (1 Cor.12:31; 14:13, 39). The bestowal of gifts of the Holy Spirit thus appears to be more or less independent of a believer’s maturity of growth in grace; except, of course, as the Lord may mark the fitness of the individual. They do not seem to spring from the life within, but are the sovereign acts of the great Giver.
The first and greatest fruit of the Spirit is love. So marvellous is this divine love manifested in and thought the life wholly yielded tot eh Spirit of Christ, that when Paul devotes a whole chapter (1 Cor.13) to its praises we feel that he is practically describing the ideal Christian.
Let us be quite clear that such love is a “fruit” rather than a “gift.” It si distinguished from spiritual gifts in 1 Cor.14:1. It is quite un-Scriptural to say, “I am seeking love, the greatest gift of all.” Many say this, but Love is not mentioned among the nine gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor.12:8-11). Instead of expecting the character of 1 Cor.13 to be dropped suddenly and completely into the heart as a finished gift from God, we should rather see that it is the fruit of the working out of a divine principle within. It is perfected by a life of close communion with the Lord, and in no other way.
Taking love as described so exquisitely in 1 Cor.13 as being not only the first fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22), but as also practically embracing all the other “fruit of two significant facts written upon the very surface of the New Testament as to the relationship between the “gifts” and the “fruit” as follows:
(a) That there are nine gifts recorded in 1 Cor 12:8-11, and nine fruits recorded in Gal. 5:22, 23.
(b) That the great chapter on Love (I Cor 13) is embedded between the two principal chapters dealing with Spiritual Gifts, and is an integral part of the subject.
The first fact teaches us that the gifts and the fruit are meant to balance one another: the second that they are intimately connected with one another.
Paul’s exhortation concerning “a more excellent way” in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 12 is often interpreted as though he had written: “Don’t trouble about spiritual gifts, only seek love.” This is quite wrong; he does not write: “Follow after love instead of spiritual gifts”; but “Follow after love and desire spiritual gifts.” It is quite unbalanced and un-Scriptural to ignore or neglect spiritual gifts as so many do.
A Call to Balance
When the apostle writes, “Covet earnestly the best gifts, and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way,” he is not suggesting that we neglect spiritual gifts. He is giving a call to balance, and a correction of spiritual values. The greatest thing of all is increasing likeness to Christ, and it is a huge mistake to think that “gifts” can take the place of “fruit.”
He enlarges on this in the opening verses of 1 Cor. 13 with tremendous force. He represents spiritual gifts as operating in their most brilliant capacities — and then brings the whole picture to nought with a crash! The gifts of tongues, of prophecy, of the word of knowledge, and of faith — all equally come beneath his castigating rod. The whole argument centres round those who exercised these gifts and had not love. It is an arresting passage. It must admittedly be a passage of tremendous importance to all who claim a Pentecostal experience.
Note carefully that he does not for one moment questions the genuineness of the gifts displayed (as so many hastily do today) and suggest that they were “counterfeits” and came from some demon power. They were genuine gifts of the Holy Ghost, received in the first instance directly from the Lord Himself, but now being exercised by believers who had lost their sense of true spiritual values. Some may be puzzled because their only conception of spiritual gifts is that they represent nothing but a pure working of the Holy Spirit. The whole teaching of these chapters, however, is that the use of spiritual gifts, once bestowed, is open to the will of the individual (1 Cor.14:14, 19, 28, 32). The ideal position is where there is such a conformity of the will of the believer to the will of God that all exercise of the gifts is truly “in the Spirit.” This is not always so; but it should be the aim of all who exercise Spiritual gifts.
What is the result of exercising gifts without love? It is a two-fold failure: (a) The exercise is powerless and irritating towards others; (b) the one who exercises the gift receives no benefit himself. (Note the word “nothing” in verses 1-3). Putting it in plain language, it amounts to this: (a) A Christian who exercises spiritual gifts without a life behind it that corresponds does not make a scrap of impression for good on other people, and is only a continual source of stumbling; (b) A Christian who thinks that by the abundant exercise of spiritual gifts he can make up for lack of personal holiness is miserably deceived.
Therefore he proceeds to detailed teaching on the principles that should govern their exercise, and love is the key. Chapter 14 is the practical application of chapter 13 to the proper use of spiritual gifts. Love will not be satisfied by a purely selfish enjoyment of any gift (verse 4, etc). Love will have a vehement desire to see others blessed (verse 19, etc). Love will be specially careful not to cast a stumbling-block before anyone (verse 26, etc). All this brings us back to the perfect balance between the gifts and the fruit. The Christian who has most of the fruit of the Spirit will be the Christian who will most profitably exercise the gifts of the Spirit. A spectacular display of gifts, however dazzling, will produce nothing of eternal value. It needs the vessel to be controlled by the love of God. The character of the believer exercising a spiritual gift may not affect very much its outward manifestation, but it will have a big effect upon its power for solid edification. This is of vital importance.
It is as impossible as it is un-Scriptural to conceive of any revival continuing in the power of the Holy Spirit which only welcomes Him as the inspirer of word or deed, and not of personal holiness also. To “grieve” the Spirit of God by lack of sanctification (Eph.4:30) must inevitably end in “quenching” the Spirit of God in His manifestation also (1 Thess.5:19). The divinely balanced plan revealed in the New Testament is where the Holy Spirit is alike the source both of fruit and of gift; and for both blessed phases of our redemption He is welcome and obeyed.
Spiritual Gifts in Unsanctified Believers
This presents such a problem to some people that it must be dealt with thoroughly. The New Testament presents no problem in the matter at all. The confusion arises through some mistake, and we fear very un-Scriptural, ideas which have been taught.
There is first of all the error that receiving the Baptism of the Spirit makes a child of God sinlessly perfect, or something approaching thereto. The Scriptural truth is that following the Baptism of the Sprit there may be a great amount of personal sanctification still needed in the believer, and this will proceed as the child of God now goes on to “walk in the Spirit.” (Gal.3:2, 3 and 5:16-25). It is vain to think that any “crisis” or “blessing” or “experience” can take the place of a continual “walking” in the Spirit — however helpful such a crisis may often undoubtedly be.
It is impossible to go into the large question of Scriptural Holiness here; but we may point out that the New Testament names three divine agencies for the sanctification of the believer: The Blood (Heb.8:12), The Word (John 17:17), and The Spirit (1 Peter 1:2). The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is granted upon repentance and remission of sins; the prerequisite condition of a clean heart being received by faith in the precious Blood (Acts 2:38; 15:9). The purpose of the Baptism is power to witness (Acts 1:8) in the various ways granted by the Spirit.
Love Eternal — Gifts Transient
Love is eternal. Its full growth; its finest flowers, never bloom in this land of dim vision and imperfect understanding. They will only appear yonder.
Therefore the soul that is increasingly in love is already growing for eternity. To rightly appreciate love is to evidence a true sense of values that has been already adjusted to the everlasting Standard.
Viewed from this high and ultimate stand point, spiritual gifts assume their true perspective. Even the best gifts shall one day “vanish away.” In contrast with that which is eternal they are but transient after all.
Yet even this truth needs safeguarding. The contrast between love and spiritual gifts must be carefully defined. The gifts are transient, they are to “fail,” to “cease,” to “vanish away.” But not until “that which is perfect is come” (verse 10). The Greek word for “perfect,” teleois, means “ended or complete.” The vision of the apostles runs right on into the future. The coming of the “perfect” is not in time at all; it is in eternity: it is not “now,” but “then.” Until that glorious consummation is arrived at, the gifts of the Spirit will continue.
Moreover, the passage gives no justification for distinguishing between any particular gifts, and so work up an artificial inference that certain gifts will “cease” before others. They are treated as a whole; and the Scripture gives no indication that “tongues” will cease any sooner than “knowledge” will vanish away.
So long as ministry is needed on earth, spiritual gifts will be needed also. For it is the divine gift that makes the ministry and “sets” it in the church (chap 12:28). The parallel passage in Eph.4:11-16 may well supply us with the concluding illustration of the true relationship between holiness and spiritual gifts. Here these gifts may be regarded as part of the divinely appointed scaffolding erected on purpose for the ”building up” (edifying) of the body of Christ, “till we all come…unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” They are only needed “till” (note the time limit).
It is obvious that the “scaffolding” will be done away when the building is complete and eternal love is manifested for ever in the glorified church. But until that time it is the height of folly and presumption to endeavour to dispense with any part of the scaffolding. It may well be that parts of that are the very parts most needed for the divine Spirit’s finishing touches. Let us retain it all; let us jealously guard every gift of the Spirit.
He is mistaken indeed who makes more of the scaffolding than the building: but he is scarcely less mistaken who would dispense with the scaffolding before the building is completed. So, likewise, he is greatly mistaken who thinks that the possession of spiritual gifts is of more importance than increase in love and all that makes for Christian character. But he is likewise mistaken who thinks he can do without the gifts, and yet become perfect in holiness according to the mid of God.
“Follow after love — and desire spiritual gifts.”
Donald Gee (1891-1966)
Born and raised in England he became one of the first Pentecostal Pastor's in Edinburgh Scotland. A balanced Teacher of the Word of God who brought much wisdom to the Pentecostal Movement at a vital stage through his teaching and writing ministry. He travelled extensively ministering across the world and also becoming the formost historian of this Book of Acts revival in the UK.