Benjamin Quinn, assistant professor of theology and history of ideas, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Note: This article explores a touchpoint for curricular integration from the ON’s annual curricular integration workshop.
What are gifts of the Spirit? Often, student answers to this question are influenced by larger theological issues in the American church – the sacred-secular divide and an individualistic faith. A deeper and more scriptural understanding of the person and work of the Spirit is necessary to address these larger theological issues and the negative effects they have on the church’s discipleship and mission.
At least four New Testament passages – Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4 – list more than twenty gifts of the Spirit that include prophecy, mercy, healing, miracles, knowledge, and more. Two questions emerged, however, in my class on the Holy Spirit that led to lively discussion concerning the Spirit’s gifts and how they’re operative in the Christian life today. The first question concerned whether the lists in the New Testament are exhaustive? The second asked if spiritual gifts are merely “spiritual”?
Exodus 31:1-7 and 35:30-35 introduce Bezalel, a little known Old Testament character who plays a big role in the construction of the Tabernacle. Moses describes Bezalel, and his colleague Oholiab, as:
…filled with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every kind of craft to design artistic works in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut gemstones for mounting and to carve wood for work in every kind of artistic craft. He has also given [them] the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all the work of a gem cutter; a designer; an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen; and a weaver. They can do every kind of craft and design artistic designs. (Ex. 35:31-35)
What do we learn from this? First, Exodus 31 and 35 highlight the importance of doing theology across the canon (OT and NT). It is tempting, especially for a doctrine like the Holy Spirit, to silo oneself in the NT. But, reflecting on the Spirit’s activity across the entire drama of Scripture sheds fresh light on our questions about the Spirit’s gifts and operations.
These passages also alert us to the relationship between being “filled with the Spirit” (a rare occurrence in the OT where it is more common for the Spirit to be “on” rather than “in”) and “ability in every kind of craft.” There was a necessary link between the Sprit filling Bezalel and his artisan ability; a link that remains important for workers today.
In Work in the Spirit, Miraslov Volf argues that passages such as Exodus 31, 35, and 1 Chronicles 28
…provide biblical illustrations for a charismatic understanding of the basic types of human work: intellectual (e.g. teaching) or manual (e.g. crafts) work, poiesis (e.g. arts and crafts) or praxis (e.g. ruling). All human work, however complicated or simple, is made possible by the operation of the Spirit of God in the working person; and all work whose nature and results reflect the values of the new creation is accomplished under the instruction and inspiration of the Spirit of God (see Isa. 28:24-29). (114)
Volf also references Judges 3:10, 1 Samuel 16 and 23, and Proverbs 16:10.
Without the Spirit’s filling, Bezalel and Oholiab lacked the ability needed to construct the Tabernacle as God intended. The Spirit enabled the Bezalel, Oholiab, and the other skilled workers to design and build at the highest level—a level worthy of the House of the Lord.
As such, I see no reason to conclude that the Spirit has ceased gifting people as He did Bezalel and Oholiab. Certainly, the occasion for Bezalel’s gifting was a unique and important one in Israel’s history, but ours is equally significant.
We live between the advents of Christ wherein His Kingdom has been inaugurated and is now being spread by Spirit-filled image bearers around the world, until God fully consummates His Kingdom with a new heavens and earth. This Kingdom is not merely a spiritual one, nor is it limited to one time, one temple, or one people; the Kingdom is as wide as creation and bids people in every place to believe in Christ, the King. Through faith, then, we join the family of God – a royal priesthood – and are inhabited by God’s Spirit, enabled for God’s work – spiritual and physical – in every corner of creation.
What should we say, then, concerning the Spirit’s gifts for today?
I think it safe to conclude that Paul’s lists of spiritual gifts are not exhaustive. As R. Paul Stevens argues in Work Matters, “spiritual gifts are intended for all the people of God so that they can enter into God’s beautiful work of transforming creation, culture, and people” (40). Paul’s lists are important for highlighting the moral character and conduct that accompanies being filled with the Spirit. Indeed, it is this kind of character that produces the kind of workers Paul expects in Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, 1 Thessalonians 4, 2 Thessalonians 3, Titus 3, and beyond.
Finally, we should recognize the holistic nature of the Spirit’s gifting for our work today. A more complete understanding of how the gifts of the Spirit equips students for good work that resists anemic visions of the Christian life. Knowing how the Spirit works helps students know how they should work. The Spirit of God enables and empowers Christians in both spiritual and material ways. Through the Spirit, Christians may exercise divine acts of mercy, teaching, healing, etc. Likewise, through the Spirit, Christians may create amazing art, architecture, and creative design at the highest level – a level worthy of the new heavens and earth.
To this I say, build like Bezalel!
Questions for the Classroom:
- Are gifts of the Spirit merely spiritual, or do they also apply to the material?
- How might the Spirit enable Christians in manual or skilled labor?
- Do you think Paul’s lists of Spiritual Gifts are exhaustive? Why or why not?
- How can you recognize the Spirit’s gifts in various vocations represented in your church?
Recommended Student Readings:
- Miraslov Volf, Work in the Spirit; Toward a Theology of Work
- Paul Stevens, Work Matters; Lessons from Scripture
- Theology of Work Project, Theology of Work Commentary, Vol. 1; Genesis through Deuteronomy