There are at least two more issues that need to be discussed as I conclude my thoughts on being led by the Spirit. The first issue is the nature of living in Spirit-led community. The second issue is the nature of spiritual gifts. On the first point, it is fundamental to our faith to recognize that, though our faith is personal (i.e. taking each of us seriously as unique persons in relationship with a personal God), our faith is not individualistic. Reformed Christians believe and teach that God has a covenant with his people, best expressed in the biblical statement, “They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Jeremiah 32:38 NIV). This covenant forms the reality in which we exist. This covenant includes commands, promises, stipulations, vows, love, mercy, and grace. We do everything that we do from our location within God’s covenant people.
And so we exist in this community, and the other members of this community are also persons in whom the Spirit is dwelling. They too have the privilege of being led by the Spirit in the way described in previous posts. They sense the Spirit guiding them through their thoughts, feelings, intuitions, and other personal characteristics. Problems arise when two or more Spirit-led persons seem to crash into one another through disagreement and difference of opinion. How do we sort out the mess of being seemingly out of step with other persons in whom the Spirit dwells? “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33a).
Several things might be said, but it is important to remember a few key ideas about the Christian life. First, the Christian life is a humble life. We accept that we are finite persons who can get things wrong. Every time that we disagree with a sister or brother is an opportunity from the Lord to personally disclose ourselves to that person and to be honest before the Lord about our own finiteness and frailty. Second, the Christian life is a submissive life. Our first submission is to our God. But we also submit to other persons within the church. In a Presbyterian congregation, this is beautifully demonstrated when elders vote on a matter and those who voted in the minority agree to abide by the decision of the whole. Third, the Christian life is a teachable life. Teachable persons know they need to learn, and they accept that others will be placed by the Spirit in their path to provide them these learning moments. Fourth, the Christian life is a loving life. We never go wrong when we try to love and serve others across our disagreements.
As for the matter of spiritual gifts, it is enough for the time being to say that our spiritual endowments operate in ways consistent with the leadership of the Spirit as described in the last post. God can extend his grace in remarkable and extraordinary ways. Yet more often than not, I think there are thin boundaries between natural talent, personal development, and spiritual endowment. For example, Paul mentions the word of wisdom as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 14:7). It is possible that the Lord will give members of his body a sudden bolt of wisdom. We may with a flash know what word to speak to the person before us, and know in a manner resembling the conversational intimacy of with relationships. But we may also know the wise thing to say to a person, and know this based on years of experience and reflection. I once was meeting with a seminary professor. He listened to me share about some things in my life. And then he spoke a few sentences to me which were perfectly suited to the situation I was facing. They felt like a revelation to me. But I know that he said this “word of wisdom” because he had years ago set out on the path to acquire wisdom and had honed his thinking and pastoral sensitivity after much practice. And yet there is no doubt in my mind that what he shared came from the leadership of the Spirit. I know this, not because he received a word in some dramatic moment, but because of the way his words seemed crafted to speak to my heart in that precise situation.
Craftsmanship may be an excellent way to think of the gifts of the Spirit. Think about Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Spiritual gifts exist for the building up of the body, and each bearer of a gift is, therefore, a builder. Just as Bezalel was empowered by the Spirit to craft the tabernacle, so Christians are empowered by the Spirit (through ordinary and extraordinary means) to build the community of God’s people. And when the church is built up in faithfulness to God, we know that the Spirit is leading.