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Warning: Beware of Spiritual Gift Abuse!, Part 1

From the series Your Divine Design

Chip begins a discussion about spiritual gift abuse. What is it? How can you avoid it? And what to do if you are facing it.

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Message Transcript

If you are, indeed, the spiritual paintbrush in God's hand, by your gift, and He wants to dip it into the palette and the colors of His grace, so that your life could literally begin to make imprints of grace, and change another person's life for all eternity – something that powerful usually has a dark side.

In other words, if gifts do that much good, if they're abused, if they're misused, if they're misapplied, they can have a very, very dark side. And the title of this session is, we're going to talk about, “Beware of Spiritual Gift Abuse.”

Can anybody think of some times, in your experience, of spiritual abuse, in terms of gifts? Now, what are the warning signs?

I'd like you to open your teaching handout, if you will, and I want to go over what I think are the ten most common abuses of spiritual gifts. These certainly aren't the only ones, but I call these “the ten most common abuses of spiritual gifts.” I want you to imagine, you're driving in your spiritual car, and on the dashboard you have ten red lights. And as you're walking with God, and the Spirit of God is filling your life, and you're involved in a local church, and you're asking God to use you – that as you are going through your life, if any one of these red lights begins to flash on the dashboard of your spiritual car, you're going to say, “Wait a second. You know what? I'm not sure, but this could be a sign of spiritual gift abuse.”

Number one: Beware when spiritual gifts are used as a means of manipulation, power, or control in personal and/or church relationships. And notice, they're all going to start with “beware.” That's a warning sign. Beware when spiritual gifts are used as a means of manipulation, power, or control in personal and/or church relationships.

If you have your Bibles, open them, if you will to 1 Corinthians chapter 12, and in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 4 – it's a common thing we've talked about. In fact, keep your finger in 1 Corinthians 12. A lot of the abuses were happening in the Corinthian church, and so a lot of the corrections are going to be there. Pick it up at verse 4. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of workings, but the same God who works all of them in all men. Now, to each one, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” “For the common good.” Did you notice the repetition of the word same, same, same? There's unity.

When God is working, and the Lord Jesus is exalted, and the Spirit of God is bestowing gifts and operating in the body of Christ, it’s for the common good. It builds people up. The focus is on the Godhead, not on the gifts. The focus is on what God is doing in the group, not on people's particular passions, or bents. Personal control, manipulation, and use by gifts are always a sign that abuse is occurring.

I don't know where case study number one, that lady, was coming from, but she has no relationship with me. She has no investment in my life. And she tells me something that doesn't produce common good, but causes me to doubt the biggest decision of my life. Any time someone comes to you, or someone you know, and says, “God revealed to me that you're supposed to do this, or do that,” a big, red light ought to flash on the dashboard. I don't care who they are.

Now, it doesn't mean that God never reveals through other people, but I came to the conclusion that on a major life decision about who to marry, where to work, what job to take, what to do with one of your kids, you would just think that God might want to tell you, rather than tell someone else. Right? I mean, I've got a phone.

And that doesn't mean that God might not bring someone into your life to say, “I'm concerned about this, and here are four or five reasons why. I've watched this relationship…” That's a little different story. But this, “Thus says the Lord…” And people end up in real high power, “I'm very important,” and often this happens in the leadership of churches.

The second warning: Beware when anyone claims to have the ability to give, or bestow, any particular gift, if you follow their formula. Notice what it says in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 11. He goes on to say, “All these gifts are of the same Spirit, and He gives to each one just as He determines.” He is speaking of the spiritual gifts. He says, “God gives, or bestows, gifts,” literally, it's, “as He wills.” The Greek word is a very interesting one. It means “as He chooses, after careful deliberation.” Remember, we said, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”

If God has a plan for your life, and He's going to gift you to fulfill the plan for your life, then the gifts that He gives you are not going to be given through some other person, somewhere, sometime, some way. What have we learned? Is that when the ascended Christ – He gave gifts to men, and He chooses to give you the gifts that He wants you to have, so you can fulfill the purpose that you're called to.

And so, when someone comes up and basically says, “Hey, I have the power to distribute the gifts,” he's taking the role of the Holy Spirit, or she's taking the role of the Holy Spirit. Beware whenever anyone claims to have the ability to give, or bestow, any particular gift if you follow their formula. Often, they're using the power of suggestion, manipulation, peer pressure.

By the way, when I went in the back room – this is case study number two – almost everyone “who goes in the back room” does experience something. I'm not sure how much of God. But I can tell you what they do, and it's mind control manipulation. They tell you this, this, this, this, this. And you've got a whole room full of people. And guess what, if you're one of the persons who doesn't do what they say, guess who feels like they're out of step with God. You. And so, what it is, it's a huge peer pressure, manipulation-type thing. And they can get you to do certain things different places.

Now, this is the wacko element of the body of Christ. Most churches aren't like this, at all.

I can't tell you how many Christians, and even pastors, and people that are running around, that feel like second-class citizens, that went in the back room somewhere, that heard someone guarantee they could have this gift, or that gift.

And if you don't get it, guess who has the problem. No one ever says, “Hey, Pastor, I think you had an off day. You're only ninety-four percent on giving this gift away.” It’s always the person: “You don't have enough faith. There must be sin in your life.” And this whole manipulative…

But you know what? You've got to know the truth. And the truth is, people don't bestow gifts, God does.

The third warning: Beware when any particular gift is made universal evidence of spirituality, salvation, or other spiritual blessing. Skip down to verses 29 and 30, chapter 12. By the way, as I read this, too – in English we can't quite do it. But he's going to ask questions. But, grammatically, you can ask a question, and you can use just one little word that automatically tells you that it's a rhetorical question, and the answer is “no.” And that's this case. So, these are not just questions, “Are all apostles?” It's “Are all apostles?” Emphatically, “No.” Okay?

So, notice what it says – verse 29: “Are all apostles?” No. “Are all prophets?” No. “Are all teachers?” No. “Do all work miracles?” No. “Do all have gifts of healing?” No. “Do all speak in tongues?” No. “Do all interpret?” And he's making the point, in 1 Corinthians 12:29 and 30, that no one has all the gifts.

Now, this is where I'm going to – this is gentle, but let me say this, because I've been through – both my parents came to Christ through the Charismatic Movement, all right? My personal experience – I've been in very, very Word-centered ministries, but I've had the privilege of traveling all around the world, and just teamed up with Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters. And I'm going to tell you, about ninety percent is very balanced, great teaching.

But there is some teaching, in pockets – especially, I guess, what I'd call some “older school” Pentecostalism or Charismatic groups – that will teach that if you don't speak in tongues, you are not saved, or you don't have salvation. Others will teach, if you don't speak in tongues, you don't have the Holy Spirit. Somehow, you have part of Christ, and the only way you know for sure if you have the Holy Spirit is if you speak in another language.

And here's my point: Study the gifts carefully. Tongues are a – what? We looked at it. It is an ability to speak in another language for the glory of God, for the common good, in a language you haven't learned. Now, what you'll find is, people will go to the book of Acts and say, “Well, look what happened in the early Church.” I would suggest, that is descriptive, not prescriptive.

Yes, that is what happened, and can God give an unknown language to evidence the working? He did. When the Jews came to Christ – unknown language. When the Samaritans, half-breeds, came to Christ – unknown language. When the Gentiles came to Christ – unknown language. But Paul would say it's an outward evidence assigned for unbelievers.

And all I'm saying is, your view on the gift of tongues should have nothing to do with sanctification, or your walk in holiness. Okay, it’s a spiritual gift. But it is not a spiritual gift that needs to be tied with evidence of salvation, or evidence of your spiritual state. There are people – and I've been down this road. There are people that feel like, I don't have all of God, because I don't have this gift. And by the way, in some groups, it's tongues. In other groups, it's other gifts.

And so, any time anyone says there's some universal gift that's assigned that really makes you – salvation, or a spiritual blessing, always have that red light go off and say, Well, wait a second. That's, by the way, what the guy was telling us in the back room, is that if we wanted certain things, and if we wanted to know for sure whether we were a Christian, we would have this experience. It’s spiritual gift abuse.

God gives the gifts, and God can give the gift of speaking in another language that you haven't learned. But the purpose is not for some guy to get in front of a group and manipulate people in a back room.

Spiritual abuse number four: Beware when the focus of a church service ministry or religious event is on spiritual gifts and their manifestation, rather than on the giver of the gifts, and His agenda for the Church. This is where you hear about “the miracle service,” as advertised.

When the focus gets on, “Come see the show. Here's what you can get,” beware. “Miracle service! This is what's going to happen at this service: So-and-so's going to happen.” And this is where they're lining the parking lot – and I've been in places where they charge ten or fifteen dollars for parking.

And by the way, this is not someone throwing stones out there, somewhere. I've been to all this stuff, okay? These are the kinds of places where 20/20 and 48 Hours are doing research, and finding out that the people were walking in, but – “You must be very tired. We'll give you a wheelchair while you wait.” And it's amazing. They didn't come in a wheelchair; they got a wheelchair when they got there. And then, they get up out of the wheelchair, and wow, look what happened.

These are the kinds of places where the guy has the little earpiece, and they interview and screen the people, and people that have clearly non-psychosomatic illnesses, “You get over there. You get over here.” People that have lower back pain, and, “Down deep, I think my gall bladder stones –” Of course they don't have an MRI, and they don't know.

But I'll tell you what, you can get people in a frenzy to believe just about anything. When the focus is on the show, when the focus is on the miracles, when the focus is on the person, when the focus is on what you can get, get, get, you know what? Just read the gospels and ask yourself, Is this how Jesus did ministry?

In fact, look at Ephesians chapter 4, verses 11 and 12. It's very, very clear. Just flip back a couple books, right? He gave gifts. Why did He give spiritual gifts? Did He give spiritual gifts so people could make a lot of money, put on a show, tell people how awesome, miraculous and wonderful their deal is? He gave some as apostles. He gave some as prophets. He gave some as evangelists. He gave some as pastors and teachers. Why? For the work of service to build up the body for the work of service. Spiritually-gifted people are to equip us, regular believers and saints, so that we can do the work of service until every single Christian grows up into maturity, to all the measure of the fullness of Christ.

The goal and the role of gifting men and women is to help other believers mature in Christ. And so, any time the focus is off the giver of the gifts, and onto the show, any time it's about showmanship, instead of Christlikeness, you better have that flashing, red light and say, You know something? It may be electric in the air, and people may make all kinds of claims, but it doesn't pass the test of New Testament, biblical Christianity.

Warning number five: Beware of comparing your gifts with anyone else’s. It always leads to carnality. Do not compare your gifts. And even as I say that, I'd like to say that I never do. See, I'm there. But you will, because you're human, right? See, remember case study number four? The young gal, she looked at other people's gifts, thought the visible ones were rewards. And a lot of the reason she had abused her gift by neglect is that she made her whole orientation about gifts, comparing herself with what other people did have, and she doesn’t have.

I'm going to read a passage that's a little extended, but it's so important, I think it's worth reading. And have you noticed that we're still in 1 Corinthians 12? Will you go back a couple books?

Some of you may be thinking, I think this Corinthian church had some struggles with gifts. Because all the directives about how to do it right are in 1 Corinthians 12, and part of 13 and 14.

He goes on to say – 1 Corinthians 12, beginning at verse 11, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit. And he gives them” – the Spirit – “gifts to each one.” How? “Just as He determines. The body is a unit.” He's going to make a metaphor. “Though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body” – given the human body – we have a hand. We have a head. We have eyes. We have ears. We have feet. “And so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given one Spirit to drink. Now the body is made up of not one part, but many.”

And then, here's where He goes through the analogy: “If the foot should say, 'Because I'm not a hand, I don't belong to the body,' would it not for that reason cease to be any part of the body?” I mean, less? No. “And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I don't belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body,” would it? Well, no. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? And if the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.” Don't compare your gift to someone else's.

Don't get thinking – and by the way, it's human nature. Certain churches, and certain backgrounds, will gravitate to honor certain gifts more than other gifts. I was in one parachurch organization that, I'll tell you what, if you had the gift of exhortation, man, you were a winner. If you had the gift of service, it was kind of like “Well, someone does need to pick up the chairs, and that would be nice.” If you had the gift of teaching or leadership, actually, it was threatening to the group, because they had a real cookie-cutter formula about how they were going to raise up leaders. What they wanted was facilitators to lead these small groups. And anyone that wanted – “Hey, why are we doing it this way?” “Hey, rebellious Ingram, would you just shut up, and sit over there, and lead your group?”

I had some pretty strong leadership gift, and I was saying, “Hey, basically, this seems kind of dumb. If you want to get this job done, we ought to go this way.” And I was dealing with the pride issues in my life. Now, I had a lot of pride issues in my life so it wasn't wasted.

But I've been in other churches where it's this visible gift. And if you can ever get up in front of the stage, and, so, boy, the little kids, by the time they're seven, eight, nine, ten – or if a kid in junior high or high school has any speaking ability, “He's been called of God!” and they put him out in front of the group, and the poor kids don't know what they're saying.

It all goes back to comparing our gifts, rather than realizing, God has got a perfect plan. And you know something? I don't know that I want to say to my eye, or to my ear, or to my knee that one's more important. They're all important; they're all interdependent.

And I just want to say, I think you'll wrestle with this. There's a passage that's been helpful, 2 Corinthians 10:12 – you might jot that in the corner of your notes – where the apostle Paul will say, “When we compare ourselves with ourselves, and measure ourselves by ourselves, we are without understanding.” And I just want to say, for your encouragement, I think you'll struggle with this your whole life, because I do believe that all of us are desperately insecure, even as believers. I know we're going to grow, but we're desperately insecure.

Moody Bible Institute, one of my sons went there. They have this big conference they've had since the days of D. L. Moody. And you go into this historic church, and it's all wooden, and it's round, and there are thousands of people.

And I got to be one of the speakers. And first night, Joe Stowell speaks, and man, that was good. And then, the next night, Tony Evans, and then Howard Hendricks. “And coming up next –” And it was like…and I'm sitting there, going, This is ridiculous, Ingram. Why are you so unbelievably intimidated? Why are you having these thoughts in your mind? And I just had to go off in a corner and say, “Oh, God, God, what these people think – everything in my flesh wants to compare myself, and every time I do, on my really normal days, I feel like a weenie. And there are these great speakers. And then, on my not-so-normal days, and I get full of myself, and I'm thinking, Well, I think I could hit the ball like that speaker. Maybe if I could go after him, it would be okay.

And then, finally, you just get to the point where you go, “Oh, God, woe is me.

And if You don't speak, I don't have anything to bring. And what I understand is, You've gifted each of these people, and You have a plan in this week, and You want to help the thousands of people in this room, and the tens of thousands listening. And I want to be a part of what You're doing.”

And I had to get before God and literally just cleanse my heart, and just beg Him to help me see, “I'm desperate for You. Will You help me?” And all I want to say is, I don't think anyone gets to the point where you mature your way through that. I think that will be something we'll live with the rest of our days.

But don't compare yourself with other people. Don't compare your gift with other people. God made you unique.