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Warning: Beware of Spiritual Gift Abuse!, Part 2

From the series Your Divine Design

Spiritual gift abuse. You need to know what it is, you need to know how to spot it, and you need to know how to confront it. Chip wraps up this series by unpacking some specific how-tos.

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Message Transcript

Warning number five: Beware of any extreme position on spiritual gifts, i.e., they do not exist at all, to, a Spirit-filled Christian will have all the gifts. I've heard both. I've been in places where gifts don't exist. “I tell you what, you find gifts, you find disunity and division, and people are arguing about them. There aren't any gifts. All the gifts are gone after the first century.” I've heard people teach that.

And on the other hand, I've heard, “If you're Spirit-filled, I mean, if you're really Spirit-filled” – whatever Spirit-filled means. No one really knows. I think the Bible has a pretty good definition, but depending on what group, what background, that could mean you've been to Mars and back, or it could mean that you're really walking with the Lord in the Spirit. I don't know. But, “If you're Spirit-filled, you'll have all the gifts.” And then, usually, they have someone in the church who's an example of it: “Brother Bob, he's got all the gifts. Go, Bob! Go!” “I can prophesy; I can teach.” You know what I mean? He can do it all.

Any time you feel those extremes – notice what it says in 1 Corinthians 12, verse 1: “Now about spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.” You need to have an understanding.

Everyone has one primary gift. We know that He will give you ministry gifts. We understand they're for the common good. When you know those ten basic principles, it guards against this kind of thing.

Number seven – warning light: Beware of using spiritual gifts and the energy of the flesh to fulfill personal ego needs or impress other people. This is another one that I don't think you grow out of. Beware. Beware. Be on your guard. Watch over your heart with all diligence. When you have a spiritual gift, you can take a gift – it’s like a tool. God doesn't take away the tool. You can be in the flesh. God will honor His Word, and He will honor the tool, or the gift, that He's placed in your hand. But I can use my gift, and you can use your gift, not in submission to the Spirit, but in the energy of the flesh, and it produces not good things.

And, boy, I think this is one of those really gut-check times, where you have to ask, and I have to ask, Is this about me using my gift to get attention, affirmation, strokes from people? Is this about impressing people?

And let me apply this down to where we live. If you happen to have visible gifts – okay? There are some gifts that are up-front gifts. It might be teaching, might be exhortation, might be prophesy, might be leadership. But you find yourself where people are looking to you, or you are speaking, and you have a visible role. The temptation is to begin to get a little carried away with yourself, and really like the position. And what does knowledge do? It puffs up.

And pretty soon, it's like, you like being an important person in the church. You like it when the big discussions on the board come, and everyone looks to you and says, “Hey, what do you think?” Because you've got the gift of discernment. And you like to be the go-to person. And secretly, you want to be up in front of people. And you know what? The times when you're not teaching the class, you don't really feel very motivated to go to church, because you're really going because, unconsciously, it's developed, it's about you. And you've got to be on your guard.

And the opposite temptation of those with serving gifts – there are people with behind-the-scene gifts. I mean, people with serving gifts, and administrative gifts, and, by the way, if you've ever been involved in ministry, your love for these people skyrockets. People who don't know a lot, or haven't been involved in churches, they think, Yeah, do you need a point person who can teach and preach, and do you need leadership and this and that? But where the rubber meets the road, someone does set up the chairs. Someone does type the things. Someone goes out and feeds the homeless people. Someone's back, loving those kids.

And when there's a church where kids get loved, youth are really taken care of, there's an outward focus, you’re feeding the poor, I'll tell you what: That's where the rubber meets the road. And often, that's done with people with the gifts of service, exhortation, administration.

And here's what can happen, is, those people, pretty soon, become the martyrs of the church: “Brother Fred, I don't know what we'd do without you! For thirty-seven years, every chair has been set up; the bulletins are made. I don't know how you do it. Every Saturday morning, you cook that breakfast. You never make it in the prayer meeting, but you cook that breakfast for everybody.” And, “Sister So-and-so…” And I mean…

And these people get to where, you know what? Yeah, they love to serve. But they're behind the scenes. And they've learned to live on the strokes and the need to be needed. And they play this really funky thing in their mind, like, if you step back and look at their schedule, they're there Monday night, Wednesday morning, Thursday night, Friday.

The fact is, it's not that they're just such a great servant – although that's their gifts. They also don't have any boundaries. They can't say “no.” They have desperate need for affirmation because of other issues in their life.

Every time the doors are open, they are there. And, often, it's not because they love God so much, and are using their gifts. They're satisfying ego needs, because it's a lot easier than facing the hard stuff at home, and dealing with the marriage, and being a parent who's not a coward, and stepping up and doing what they're supposed to do in some very clear areas that God's called them to. Because it's a lot better to be the miracle worker of the church. Every church has these.

We had one lady, I said, “You know what? I can't – you're here more than any staff member.” And she was. And did she make stuff happen? It’s an integrity check if you're the pastor, because you're thinking, Man, some of these people get so much done. To send them home to get their priorities right is kind of tough. But it's the right thing to do.

And I think we all struggle with that. Any time you have to do something, and you find yourself – ego needs, then I think that's a warning light, and you need to say, “Wait a second, here.”

Notice what it says in 1 Corinthians 13. Sandwiched between chapter 12, “This is how to use the gifts.” And then, chapter 14, “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts.” 12 says, don't be ignorant about them. 14 says, really desire and focus. Right in between is 1 Corinthians 13, and it says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels” – there's the spiritual gift – “but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophesy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so that I can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all my possessions to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames” – literally, be a martyr – “but have not love, I gain nothing.” “I have nothing.” “I gain nothing.”

If I have this gift of tongues, if I have this gift of prophesy, if I have this gift of faith, if I have this gift of martyrdom and be willing, but you can do – what's that passage say? You can do all those things, and I can do all those things, not about love, which is – what? Focusing on other people, giving other people what they need the most, when they deserve it the least, as your gift to God. I can do my gifts that way, or it can really be a subtle way to set Chip Ingram up, to get Chip Ingram the strokes, and the ego needs, and the unresolved issues in his life taken care of. And so, it's a warning light. Be on your guard. Beware.

Number eight: Beware of confusing spiritual gifts with spiritual fruit as the evidence of spiritual growth and maturity. In some circles, the development and impact in the use of your gifts becomes a test for spiritual maturity. But gifts, remember, are a means, not an end. In other words, when you have these gifts, when God is using you, God's using you, God's using you – “My lands, God's using you!” – that's wonderful; that's great. God is using you. In some circles, what that becomes – that's the goal: God using you. God using you.

I've got news for you: That is not the goal. Gifts are – what? They're a paintbrush. They're a means. The goal is that you are becoming more and more like Christ. Spiritual fruit is about spiritual maturity, Christlikeness. Spiritual gifts are about the means God uses in your life to help others become more like Christ.

Let's look at a couple passages. Ephesians 4:13: “…until we all reach to the unity and the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The goal is maturity.

Or notice Galatians 5:22 and 23: “But the fruit of the Spirit” – in other words, what is it that God's after? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

In fact, Jesus – John 15. You might just jot it, John 15:8. “By this is my Father glorified, that you have many gifts and are very impressive.” Oh, I think I misquoted that. “By this is my Father glorified” – what? – “that you bear much fruit.” Well, what is “fruit”? “Fruit” is always twofold.

Number one, it's the life of Christ reproduced in your life. The goal of gifts is not that, “You're great. You're used. It's developed. We're impressed.” The goal of the gifts is that, because of how you are living, you are becoming more and more like Jesus, and God is using you for the right reason, in the right ways, with the right motives, to exercise His supernatural ability, in the sphere He's called you to, as an intricate, interdependent part of the body. And as you do that, with an attitude of love and dependency, there are people whose lives, little by little by little, become more and more like Jesus.

And they rub up next to you, and they start loving their mate in a different way. And they rub up next to you, and, pretty soon, they rearrange their priorities, and how they spend their money, because of your gift of exhortation and leadership. And because they rub up next to you, they begin to say “no” to certain things.

And they realize that, You know something? I need to deal with some issues in my home. And I need to have a plan for my kids. And I need to deal with some of the wounds of my past. And because of times of sharing their heart, and your wisdom and discernment and exhortation, pretty soon, they become more and more and more whole.

And then, a different person shows up to the singles group. A different person shows up to work. A different person shows up. See, it's fruit. Any time there's an emphasis on the gifts, as an end in themselves, a little, red, warning light should go off.

Warning number nine: Beware that apparent manifestations of the Spirit can be counterfeited by human schemes, and demonic forces. Beware. This is a big one. This happens not only overseas, but this happens here.

Beware. Any time something is supernatural – “That's amazing!” “I was at this meeting! You can't believe it! I checked, they didn't have an earphone! And he didn't know this, and he didn't know that, and this person they never met, and then they said that, and this lady said, ‘Well, that's really true! And I can't believe it! How could you know that?’ Chip, you can't believe it! This was an amazing meeting! And da-da-da.”

Okay. You went to an amazing meeting. God may be choosing to do miraculous things. There may be manifestations of the Spirit of God in doing things that are very unusual, and we go, “Wow! Wow! Wow!” Or it could be that something supernatural, or perceived as supernatural, is happening, and there's a group of people that are being deceived. Don't necessarily assume, because there are “manifestations of the Spirit,” or apparent miracles, or even real miracles, as far as you can tell, that it is always, necessarily a work of God.

Listen to the very words of Jesus. If you have your Bible, turn to Matthew chapter 7. Matthew chapter 7 – this is toward the end of His greatest sermon, and He gives this warning. Verse 22: “Many of you will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord.’”

Now, notice the gifts: “Did we not prophesy in Your name?” There's a spiritual gift. “And in Your name drive out demons?” You probably have some gifts going there. “And perform many miracles?” And He goes, “Yeah.” “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers.’ Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house upon the rock.”

And I just would say, just because something is supernatural, or perceived as supernatural – we're told to – what? Test the spirits. Examine the fruit. Examine the character. Examine the lifestyle. Examine what the group, what the person, what happens afterwards. Examine – okay –there are these manifestations. It sure was exciting. It's sure perceived, by me, that it was supernatural. I think God is really in this. Okay. Now, is it biblical? Are the goals biblical? Do the people have character?

And if so, you say, “Wow, I think I just got in on a manifestation of God working in a supernatural way that is highly unusual. And thank You, Lord.”

But if you find out that a great percentage of the income is going to the leader, if you find out that there is immorality behind the scenes, if you find out that people are being manipulated, and the orphanage that they're supporting actually is pictures that are shot in Southern California, right across the border, then what you say to yourself, You know what? I don't understand how those things happened in that room, and they sure seem supernatural, but this is not a ministry from God.

And by the way, it's not new. The apostle Paul – 2 Corinthians – you might jot this down – 11, and verses 13 through 15 – in his day. He said, “Everything that appears supernatural, don't buy into thinking it's necessarily from God.” He talks about false prophets in 2 Corinthians 11. He says, “For such men are false prophets, deceitful workers masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. Is it not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness, their end will be what their actions deserve?” And what's he's saying is, there are some times where, guess what. Supernatural, apparent manifestations need to be tested. What does 1 John say? “Test the spirits.” Examine them. Is it true, is it not?

The final warning here is, beware of viewing the discovery, development, and deployment of your spiritual gift as either an optional exercise, or interesting but not serious responsibility. Now, I've given you two passages: Ephesians 4:7, and 2 Corinthians 5:9 and 10.

See, here is my observation in the body of Christ, by and large, and my confession is, for many years, even as a pastor: Oh, spiritual gifts – that's really cool. I guess there's this long, long salad bar of maybe twenty-five or thirty-some spiritual gifts. And you know something? I'm eating a good meal, meat and potatoes. I want to be a disciple. I want to grow. I want to love my wife, want to be a good dad. And I'll find my place in the church. And there's a salad bar. It's mostly desserts. Little bit of salad. You can live without salad. And you can live without desserts. They’ve got the salad and the dessert bar, and if I have a little extra time, someday, some way, I think I'll go to the spiritual dessert bar, or the salad bar, and say, “Maybe I'll have this. Well that's kind of interesting. I don't know, Bob's got that one. I think he's a cool guy. And maybe it's this one, and I don't know.” And maybe I get it on my plate, and I say, “Well, it’s probably one of these five, or six, or seven, or eight, or nine, or ten, or eleven,” depending on who I'm talking to and how I feel on that day. And then, just set them on the table. And that's the attitude towards spiritual gifts.

In Ephesians 4:7 to 10 is a very interesting passage about the work of Christ. And it talks about Him dying, going to the lower parts of the earth, and proclaiming victory over sin, victory over Satan, and victory over death. And the evidence of that victory proclaimed is, “…and He gave gifts to men.”

The spoils, the evidence – it's that picture of a general who wins a great army, and there's all this plunder. And he brings – you know, the enemy, often, in ancient days, they would come in chains, often either stripped to the waist, or naked. And they would parade them back through the home town, and the general, the victor general, usually on a white horse, would come, and behind them would be all the spoils: the camels, and the donkeys, and the jewelry, and the gold, and the silver.

And he would take that, and give it to his officers, take that and give it to the people. And then, he would take and give gifts to all the people of the city. And it was the evidence that, “They were the bad guys, and we are the good guys. They were stronger than us, or they thought they were, and we won the battle. And this gift that you have is a reminder that we are winners.”

And every time you say to yourself, I'm going to discover my spiritual gift, you're saying, I'm going to value the sacrifice and the victory of Christ, and remind myself that I am a victor today, present-tense, over sin and its power, over death, and over the enemy's power.

And when I develop my gift, I'm saying, God, thank You for this gift that You gave me. It is a stewardship. And I'm going to develop it, I'm going to deploy it, and it's not optional, and it's not semi-serious, and not to do someday, some way. It's not a salad bar. It belongs on a plate with the meat, and the potatoes, and the diet of my life. I am going to seriously discover who You made me to be. Because You died and rose from the dead, and Your victory – You decided the way to earmark that for me was my spiritual gift. It is not an optional, little, interesting thing to do. It's important.

That's the positive reason. The negative reason is in 2 Corinthians 5, verses 9 and 10. And the apostle Paul says, “So we make it our goal to please Him” – Christ – “whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we all must appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ” – the Bema Seat – “that each one may receive what is due him for things done in the body, whether good or bad.”

And the Bema Seat, or the Judgment Seat of Christ, is not about a person’s judgment of heaven or hell. That's accomplished at the cross. The moment I receive Jesus as my Savior, my sins are forgiven; my sins are judged. I now get the imputed righteousness of Christ. I have a brand-new relationship with Him. And then, I live out, as a steward, out of gratitude, all that He's done for me, as a believer then I will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ for my works done as a believer. And I will either have rewards, or loss, either gold, silver, previous stones, or wood, hay, stubble – 1 Corinthians 3.

And I'm going to stand. He's going to say, “Ingram, what did you do with the time, the money, the spiritual gifts, and the opportunity I gave you? You were My workmanship. I created you in Christ Jesus for good works that I preordained before the foundations of the Earth, and to do those good works, I put you in this family, I gave you these spiritual gifts, I gave you this opportunity, this much time, this much money, and I want to know, what did you do with the investment in you?”

And I don't know about you, that's sobering. On a good day it scares me to death. I want to do – what? I want to be a good steward. No, I want to be a great steward. I want to discover my gift. I want to develop my gifts. Remember, gifts are like muscles. You may have it, but what are you doing? Exercise is how you develop it. Learning. Training. Education. Exercise. Rubbing up against people that have your gift. Getting around people that have the opposite set of gifts so they help mature you, and round you out in good areas.

Those are ten warnings that, for me, I want to keep on the spiritual dashboard of the spiritual car that I'm driving, so that when one of those lights goes off, I'm going to at least stop the car, look under the hood, and say Hey, I'm not sure what's going on here, but it may be spiritual gift abuse.

Because one of the reasons people don't teach on spiritual gifts is, it can cause a lot of division. And there are so many extremes. As a pastor, you think, I don't want to teach on this, because you know, in the group – you know the minute you start teaching on it, there are people over here, there are people over here, and people back there that have had a bad experience. But I think, because of that, we've neglected one of the greatest teachings in the Church, and we're going to be stewards, called to account.

Now, what's your action plan? Okay? We have spent some great time together. And if it's a sober – what's your action plan? Is this going to be where, Okay, we've gone through the session. Wow. I now understand a little bit more about spiritual gifts. I've thought about it, and…What's going to take you from where you are right here, to – if you haven't discovered it, you discovered it. If you pretty well discovered it, you start developing. If you're starting to develop it, you really deploy it. If you've already discovered it, developed it, how are you going to deploy it to the max in the body of Christ?

Can I give you a very quick action plan that I think summarizes: this is how to go about it? Number one – get your pen out; you'll need it. Because I want you to fill these in. Your spiritual gift action plan.

One – write the word: commit to discover, develop, and deploy your spiritual gift in the local body. And when I say “commit,” what I mean is, “God, before You” – this is lordship. I want you to bow your head, and just like – remember the day, some of you that got married, or some of you that signed on and made a commitment, tell God, “Lord, I'm afraid. I don't know. I'm not sure. But I'm telling You, if You'll show me my gift, so help me, I'll do whatever it takes to learn it.” Make a commitment. And then, I'll talk to you about what that commitment's going to look like.

Second, pray seriously, seeking divine guidance. Don't you think God wants to show you? Didn't Jesus say, “Ask, seek, knock”? Doesn't He want to open and – this isn't like, Okay, let's try and make it as hard as possible. Let's move this gift around. The Lord loves you! He died; He gave you a gift. Pray. But if you pray one day, and then you pray next month, you must not really want it. Put it on your list. Write it on a card. “Lord, I'm asking today. You said ‘seek,’ I'm seeking. You said ‘ask,’ I'm asking. You said ‘knock,’ I'm knocking. Will You show me? Make it real.

And you can just do it like this, gradually; you can have it just – bang! I don't care. But I am going to seek Your face. I made a commitment. So, I'm going to pray, every day, that You help me discover, deploy, and develop my gift.”

Third is, study the gift passages in God's Word. And the corresponding handouts, I think, will help you. This isn't just some mystical thing. Get your nose in the Word. I wonder, I’m not sure that Ingram guy, on this one gift. Get out a commentary. Dig in and say, “What are these gifts? How do they really work?” It's not what I think. It's not what your pastor thinks. I hope we can help you, but you get your nose in the Scripture and say, “I want to discover what Your Word says about gifts. I've narrowed it down to here.” And as you get into the Scriptures, God's going to reveal it to you.

Number four, get quality counsel. Quality counsel. Find people who really know you, people who are spiritually mature, and people who will tell you the truth. And, by the way, that's a rare combination. Really. Find people who really know you, love you enough to hurt your feelings: “Look, no. You do not have the gift of mercy, okay?” “What do you mean I don't have the gift of mercy?” “Trust me on this. You don't have the gift of mercy.” They know you, they’re mature, and they'll tell you the truth.

Number five, test the waters. And I just put for six or eight weeks. Maybe it's better for three or four months.

Man, you've got to jump. And just go to some ministry in your local church that you think you might be gifted for, and just say, “I'd like to sign up for three months.” And write it out. At the end of three months I'm done. I'll re-negotiate and re-sign-up – so you don't get on, “Yes, I'd like to discover the gift of teaching the third-grade class,” and eleven years later someone comes back and says, “So, you think you got it, or not?” Right? We all been there?

And then we have a little meeting to say, “Is it a fit, or not a fit?” And if it's not, you step back, and you know what? No guilt, no manipulation – “Well, who's going to teach the third graders if you leave?” And the answer is, “Someone with the gift of teaching. I don't have it.” Okay? Test the waters.

Number six: Examine the fulfillment factor. This is not the easy factor. When you're in your gifts – remember the old Chariots of Fire movie? Remember the guy who was really fast, and he ended up being a missionary? And I love that line in the movie – you know, bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum – if you haven't seen that movie, go rent it – bum-bum-bum-bum-bum. And he goes, “I feel God's pleasure when I run.” What do you do in the body of Christ where you feel God's pleasure? Not just it's fun, but you feel God's pleasure?

As intimidated as I was at that conference at Moody, when I got to talk about the character of God, in my gifts, to a group of people – and actually, the fact that it went out on the airwaves, and went around the world made it more intimidating on the one hand. But for me, and my gifts, it was like, There's more skin in the game, man. I feel God's pleasure. Ask me, do I want to proclaim God's truth about walking with God, and repenting, and being God's church to ten people, ten thousand, or ten million? Ten million. It's just who God made me to be. I want His Word to get to so many people in relevant ways, where their lives change. It doesn't mean it's easy – I was scared to death. But there's a fulfillment factor.

And the final one here is, recognize God's evident blessing. When you are in your gifts, it doesn't mean that things are going to change overnight. But God will use your life. People will come up and say things to you like, “Wow, I can't believe what's happening to my son. I mean, it was kind of a so-so youth group, and I don't know what it is about you, but just – your interaction. He wants to come, but not for the youth pastor, just to get to talk to you.” “I can't figure out what's happening around here, but we didn't used to care about people. But I was one of those people on the sidelines, and your invitation, and when you put your arm around me, and when you believed in me when no one else would…” You're going to see God use your life.

You are His workmanship. You are special. He has created you in Christ Jesus. He has wonderful works for you to walk in. And those works are going to be highly determined by the supernatural endowments given to you by Jesus, activated by the Holy Spirit, in alignment with God's Word, so that the glory of God and the preeminence of Christ is exalted. And when that happens, it's a beautiful thing. Not only for the Church, but for a watching world that really wonders whether all that we're up to makes sense.