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Purpose: It's Confusing

Purpose is a very confusing thing. We throw around the word like it’s simple—like everyone understands it—but similar to political words like “change” and marketing words like “believe,” the object of the word is lost in the sentiments. Purpose must be accompanied by direction. It must be directed at not just something, but someone—God. And this is precisely where the use of spiritual gifts becomes skewed.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11–16 ESV).

There is a reason why people dislike the notion that God can lead someone directly (speaking to them) and the idea that God has called people to very particular tasks, using gifts that He chose to give them: it’s something that not only can’t be controlled but can get out of control. We’ve all heard the idea that if the murderer says “God told me to do it,” than the logic behind God still speaking is fraught with problems. This leads to the conclusion that God stopped speaking after the canonized Bible came to be.

Yet, there are major issues with this logic: If God stopped speaking, why did Jesus spend so long telling us how to receive the Holy Spirit, interpret His work in the world, and use spiritual gifts to do things like healing? And, if God stopped using spiritual gifts, why is so much of the New Testament full of stories of God doing miraculous things among men and women who are empowered by Him? Are those merely for the history books? And if God stopped speaking after the canon came to be, then history tells us that for Protestants (all non-Catholic and non-Orthodox Christians), then God spoke right up to the time of Martin Luther, but he and those working with him were the last ones: because Martin Luther removed the Apocrypha. And if spiritual gifts and the workings of the “spirits” had stopped by the time of Martin Luther, than apparently he was crazy and really shouldn’t have been deciding our canon anyways, because he certainly believed that Satan was after him and that the Spirit led him and empowered him to do things that are nothing short of miracles. And for Catholics and Orthodox Christians, that means that God didn’t stop speaking until around the fourth century AD, and according to some canon historians, the sixth century AD.

So on the grounds of logic alone, the Spirit is still working, God is still speaking, and spiritual gifts and offices are still functioning. If that’s the case, then the way we use spiritual gifts is actually the problem. They need purpose; a purpose that must be directed towards God and His work.

Paul, in Ephesians, articulates the purpose of spiritual offices clearly: “to equip the saints [being the “holy ones” or believers] for the work of ministry, for the building of the body [being the believers as one group, together] of Christ” (Eph 4:12). It’s all about helping other believers.

And spiritual gifts, throughout 1 Corinthians 12–13 are cast in light of “love”—the true purpose of all things that are God’s.

In the next few posts, we will explore what people who hold spiritual offices are meant to do with them, and make this purpose more concrete. We will also examine what happens when spiritual offices aren’t present.

Are those with spiritual offices in your community serving this way and for this purpose? If not, in what ways can you humbly present this idea to them? 

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Want to read the entire series? Here is a round-up:

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Confusing as it may seem, but one has an open mind and the willingness to understand the real purpose of life, it would be easier to accept it all. - Mallory Fleming

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The Infinite God is everywhere, are you looking? I am dedicated to finding God in all aspects of life – the Bible, the news, and the arts. Because I find that the most fulfilling journey of all is searching for heaven here on earth.