Some of our Protestant brethren cling to the spiritual gifts and strive to attain them as privileges of being God's children and heirs. They put before them the verse: “But earnestly desire the best gifts”, without taking into account the completion of the verse: “And yet I show you a more excellent way,” (1Cor.12: 31).
While they give great importance to the gift of Speaking in tongues, they disregard that immediately after this verse the Apostle Paul says: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (1Cor.13: 1). The Apostle is explaining how love is preferred to all the gifts.
The fruit of the Spirit is more important for your salvation than the gifts of the Spirit
St. Paul the Apostle talked about the fruit of the Spirit, saying: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal.5: 22,23). The Apostle Paul said that love, which is the first fruit of the Spirit, is greater than faith that can move mountains (1 Cor.13: 2,13). And the Lord said about love: “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt.22: 40).
When the disciples returned to the Lord Jesus joyful over gifts, He said to them: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this,
Many people lost their salvation and perished despite their possession of spiritual gifts
The gifts did not help them and did not save them. Thus the Lord says: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practise lawlessness!’ ” (Matt.7: 22,23)
Gifts are not your own merit, therefore there is no reward for them
Spiritual gifts do not give you salvation. Why then do you struggle to attain them? They tempt those who seek vainglory and vanity for themselves, but the great saints, who loved humility, always escaped from gifts.
One of the fathers said: “If God gives you a gift, ask Him to give you humility with it to protect it, or ask Him to take this gift from you.”
When the Apostle Paul received many gifts from the Lord, he said: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” (2Cor.12: 7). This great Apostle, the man of grace who was caught up to the third heaven (2Cor.12: 2), was in jeopardy from the gifts! If there was fear on the Apostle Paul from spiritual gifts, how much more should the poor youth of today fear when they pray for gifts, saying that gifts are their privilege, and their spiritual counsellors pray for them, laying their hands on them to receive gifts!
Jacob the Patriarch received spiritual gifts, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. He received the blessing of birthright, saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven on which the angels of the Lord were ascending and descending, and saw God Himself and spoke with Him. He struggled with God and with men, and prevailed (Gen.32: 28). To protect Jacob from gifts, God touched the socket of his hip so that his hip was wrenched. God gave Jacob a kind of weakness in the body to protect him from conceit due to having gifts.
What is more dangerous than gifts these days is when one person says to another: "Come, I will commend to you a gift", or "I will commend to you the experience", lays his hand on him, and prays to grant him the Holy Spirit or to grant him the fullness. Strangely enough, even women lay their hands on people to grant them the Holy Spirit because God sometimes grants a woman the gift of healing!
But to grant the Holy Spirit is the task of the clergymen, first practised by the Apostles by the lying on of hands, then by the clergymen in the Sacrament of Chrismation.
We receive the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation) after the Sacrament of Baptism. The Holy Bible mentions this Anointing in (1 John.2: 20,27) and mentions the laying on of hands by the Apostles in (Acts 8: 14-17).
The authority to grant the Holy Spirit, which was the Apostles' and then their successors', is claimed today by youth and laity who commend the Holy Spirit to others to let them be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak with tongues!
In our Orthodox theology, whoever receives a gift tries to hide it, as did Bishop St. Serapion who had the gift of healing, and many other saints.
Are gifts granted or are they requested?
God endows whatever gift He wishes to whomever He wishes in the time His Divine Wisdom defines, according to His words: “The kingdom of God does not come with observation” (Lk.17: 20). Gifts are like the wind that blows wherever it wishes, “as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Rom.12: 3). Why are gifts prayed for, then? And why the gift of Speaking in tongues in particular?
Gifts are not entrusted from one person to another but they are given by the Will of God and they are the work of His Holy Spirit.
When the gift of tongues is prayed for, it may be satisfying the pride of those who seek vainglory. It is an appealing gift for the old self. It is not appealing to the spiritual person. What is worse than this is when those who have the gift of tongues despise and look down upon those who do not have this gift and declare them to be of a low level, although the Holy Bible says that the gift of tongues is not for all (1Cor.14). Does this conceit not lead us to doubt in those who claim to have this gift?
If a person comes to you and says: "Come, I will commend to you this experience", tell him: "I do not deserve these gifts. I have not the meekness of heart that can bear them. If God wills to give me a gift, He will give me without me asking for it. Then I will ask Him to give me humility to protect me from pride. If God gives me a gift I will not speak about it and I will not declare it to people so as not to expose myself to spiritual combats above my measure."
The phrase “earnestly desire the best gifts” does not mean that we ask for gifts, but that we prepare the heart with purity and meekness to receive the gifts which are not only miraculous powers, but also include wisdom, knowledge and faith, according to the Apostle's teaching (1 Cor.12: 8,9).
If you want to ask God for a good gift, the Lord teaches us what to ask! He says in the Sermon on the Mount: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt.6: 33).
We notice that in the Lord's prayer, which He taught us and which is an exemplary prayer, we do not ask for gifts.
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