“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130)
The short answer to the question in the title is, Yes, of course, if you aspire to make a contribution that at one time could only be expressed in a church setting among a gathering of believers.
“When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor 14:26). As some of you already know because you’ve tried it, not all forms of ministry translate well (if at all) to a virtual environment.
But if 1 Cor 12-14 means anything, it means that “each of you” can and therefore should contribute if you are led by the Spirit.
You wouldn’t want it any other way. I know God doesn’t. “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). That applies to the “word of instruction” or “revelation” or testimony of something God is doing in your life as well; that’s some of the “fruit” he wants you to produce.
Having said that, though, I don’t want to intimidate anyone into not putting their toe in the water because they don’t want to “quench” or “grieve” the Spirit with a mixed or imperfectly conceived effort.
Think about Peter for a moment. He has the dubious distinction of having his biggest mistakes as well as his triumphs bronzed like baby shoes in Scripture. He walked on water and started to sink. He denied the Lord. Paul roughed him up when he saw that Peter was capitulating to Judaizers (Gal 2:11-19).
But his confession of Jesus Christ as Messiah stands as one of the highlights of his life as a disciple. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven,” Jesus said (Mt 16:17). When the time came, this kind of thing would be revealed by the Counselor, the Holy Spirit. Spirit-led, in other words.
But when Peter then remonstrated with Jesus for all the talk about suffering and rejection, Kapow! “You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Mt 16:23).
In other words this was flesh and blood talking, not “my Father in heaven.” I don’t know of any reason to believe Peter was more susceptible to pride than any one of us, but I’m sure he was no less. Was he gun-shy after that?
I would be. And so might you. And to that I say, There’s a church in Rome named after a Galilean fisherman. The man who walked on water and sank. The man who denied Jesus. The leading apostle who, for a moment, bent like a reed before the wind of false teaching among the Galatians. Redemption didn’t stop after you were baptized.
OK, but when you say “led by the Spirit,” do you mean something “just comes to you,” like an airdrop from heaven? Or are you writing and teaching from experience?
Yes. I’m not playing coy. It’s a both/and process, not one or the other. As I’ve written previously, the two definitions of “led by the Spirit” merge for one purpose: maturing in Christ, acquiring a mindset governed by the Spirit rather than the flesh.
But what about Paul and company stopped in their tracks by the Spirit? “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:7).
Still applies, because it takes a mature man or woman to both recognize and heed this type of guidance. Because it’s unusual, you have to be sure it’s not something in the moussaka or the wine that’s giving you this feeling. This was an important course change, because the vision of the man from Macedonia follows immediately after (“Come over”). Many lives were at stake.
Typically, when I wake up in the morning it’s not long before the Lord begins to speak to me about what to write today. It’s always been this way when I’ve taught or blogged regularly. It doesn’t make me more “spiritual” because it happens this way. This is a gift in operation.
But I’m not a blank sheet waiting to be written on. I’m not looking out the window for packages of wisdom and revelation to be dropped on my porch. My mind is not emptied in preparation for being filled. (Although there seems to be a difference of opinion on the “empty mind” question among my friends. No matter.)
Here’s what happens: “The unfolding of your words gives light” (Ps 119:130). As I’ve written previously, it’s like entering a familiar room that’s dark. You have a sense, a memory, of what’s in there. And then you turn on the light and see it all clearly. The contents haven’t changed, but your ability to see them has been enhanced.
I’ll give you an example from this morning. Recently I’ve read on some Christian news sites about a “name minister” that has been disgraced, made some sort of a ministry comeback and then withdrew into the background a second time.
By all accounts, even from people who don’t like him now, he had a very effective (and financially prosperous) teaching ministry. He is gifted. I have no reason to think it isn’t a genuine gift.
At this point, brows are knitting all over the place. Look, the man has been exposed as living a lavish lifestyle, attracting old followers back to himself and then hanging them out to dry.
Agreed. But what you don’t understand is how a gift works—and for whom it works, aside from the teacher’s book sales, prestige and popularity.
First of all a gift is a gift. Gifts aren’t rewards for moral excellence, and they don’t stop being gifts if they are misused. If my father gave me $5000 and I spent it on foolish toys and bad investments, it doesn’t change its character as a gift. My father might regret it, but it was a gift, it is a gift and will always be a gift. Selah.
Second, and this is very important, the gift is to build up the body of Christ. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7) describes the individual gifts of the Spirit that are distributed church-wide as the Spirit wills.
The ministry gifts (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher) exist and are given “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph 4:12).
These are the proverbial gifts that keep on giving. They were given to build up the body of Christ, an ongoing purpose for which the gift can still be used—indeed, should be used, because that was the purpose of giving the gift in the first place.
I have written previously, and everyone knows, that while the fruit of the Spirit should be hand-in-glove with the gifts of the Spirit, that doesn’t always happen. 1 Cor 13 and 14 are evidence that it wasn’t happening in Corinth. But this spiritually gifted church (1 Cor 1:5) remained gifted. At the end of 1 Cor 14, Paul told these people he had described as “still worldly” in 1 Cor 3:1 that, their mistakes notwithstanding, they should still use and desire the gifts.
It was obvious to me from reading the news accounts that this teacher has lost his moral compass. Even though he is a gifted teacher, he has become the proverbial fool: “Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool” (Pr 26:9). When you can’t even feel a thorn piercing your flesh you are too numb to hear or feel anything. The Bible from which you draw your wisdom is accusing you right and left. And you can’t see it.
Being gifted doesn’t earn you a pass if you’re morally compromised. Samson was a deliverer, a great deliverer, before his downfall because of his moral failures. This teacher in the news is still a gifted teacher, but the day of reckoning is coming for his corruption.
But in the meantime, even when the fruit of your life is turning rancid, your gift may still be producing fruit in hundreds, thousands, even millions of lives. This is a revelation I received this morning–and it came as a warning.
Before this morning’s revelation, I already knew about the distinction between fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. I knew about the problems in Corinth. I had even witnessed firsthand the kind of corruption that, paradoxically, can run alongside powerful, gifted ministry.
All these things were already in the room, so to speak. And then the light came on through the “unfolding of your words.” And I saw something new.