"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part
But when that which is perfect shall come,
then that which is in part shall be done away" (1 Corinthians 13:9,10).
Gifts of the Spirit are Supernatural in Character
All gifts of the Spirit are supernatural in character ... otherwise they would not be "of the Spirit." However, they are not limited to the supernatural. The human spirit works, too. In fact, in every spiritual manifestation through man, the human spirit must cooperate. We take for granted that the human spirit is active in the exercise of the gifts of helps, governments, teaching, giving, exhortation, mercy and the discerning of spirits. We have problems, however, in allowing a place for the human spirit when it comes to the gifts of healing, miracles, tongues and the interpretation of tongues. We seem to think that these gifts must be totally supernatural. Not so! The human spirit is a factor in these, too. The degree to which the Holy Spirit is able to inspire and control the human spirit is, to some extent, the measure of the supernatural at work.
This "mixture" of the supernatural and the natural is evident in the exercise of the gifts of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Some tongues are Spirit-inspired and Spirit-controlled. Other tongues are gibberish prompted by a sincere human spirit. This is why the gift of the discerning of spirits is necessary. When tongues are prompted by the human spirit, they are wrong only to the extent that they are purported to be totally supernatural. If there is a "sin" of the Pentecostal people, it would be that we are guilty of claiming that the partly human is totally miraculous. We need to be more honest. We need to be better taught. We need to see it and say it as it really is.
Many a believer, in his eagerness to be "used" in the exercise of spiritual gifts, speaks before he is spoken through. Some teachers have encouraged this. They say that, on the day of Pentecost, the people spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
So they tell seekers, "You make the sound, and the Spirit will form the words." As a consequence, we have the human spirit obeying these teachers ... speaking gibberish of its own making ... all in an effort to "cooperate" with the Holy Spirit.
Now, many are "turned off' when they see and hear this. And with reason! There were no "seminars" on how to speak in tongues in the New Testament. The great danger is, however, that these "turned off' people will "write off' all manifestations as "of the flesh" and cease all human effort to cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
What should be done?
Tongues speaking and tongues interpretation prompted by the human spirit can be dangerous to the degree that we "settle" for it as the norm. If we could be absolutely honest, we could eliminate much criticism. It is our "self-deception" and our "spiritual pride" that keeps us from admitting our imperfect attempts in the exercise of the gifts. It is our insistence that all manifestations are totally supernatural that is a stumbling block to onlookers, and prevents some conscientious people from making any attempt to be used. They refuse to be a part of pretense, and they let the more spiritually adventurous take over.
But it is wrong to quit trying. I see a parallel in our efforts to be Christlike. We know we can only succeed through the power of the Holy Spirit as our human spirit cooperates with Him. Now, does the fact that we are not yet like Jesus deter us from our pursuit of perfection? No, not at all! But note the reason why our shortcoming is not a stumbling block. We acknowledge that our pursuit of Christ-likeness is a pursuit. We do not claim perfection.
If our pursuit of spiritual gifts were like our pursuit of Christ-likeness, the "imperfectness" of our efforts would cease to be a stumbling block. Everyone would know that we make no claim of perfection ... only of pursuit! We would eliminate pretense, and we would inspire more believers to pursue.
Admittedly, by opening the door for "pursuers," we would be "asking for trouble." Every Tom, Dick, and Harry would be pursuing. But wouldn't that be spiritually good? As things stand now, we are afraid to speak when we see the imperfect exercise of a gift. We keep quiet and, by our silence, imply that the exercise was totally supernatural when we know in our hearts that it wasn't. By so doing, we do several things:
- We are not honest with ourselves or the public.
- We encourage self-deception on the part of the tongues speaker.
- We abandon our duty as leaders to monitor and discern.
- We discourage sincere believers from pursuing.
It would be spiritually therapeutic if we were humble enough to be honest and admit that we have not yet arrived ... that we are still pursuing. And think of what would happen if we did this and the fear of imperfection were removed. We would infuse into our churches a whole new exciting world of spiritual exploration. Sure, the devil would try to take advantage of it... just as he does with every spiritually healthy operation. But the alternative is either spiritual pride or spiritual stagnation.
I'm not for telling seekers to "make the sound" so the Spirit can give the utterance. I think the approach is to tell them not to expect perfection, and to seek the Giver more than the gift. Then we need to give them scriptural assurance to allay their fears. We need to tell them that our Heavenly Father will not give His children a scorpion when they seek a fish. Nor will He give a stone to one who is hungry for bread. We need to tell them that God is not only the Giver, but that He is also the Preventer. He will not let the devil take over a sincere seeker.
On the other hand, however, we need to tell them about the function of the human spirit in the operation of the gifts. I've seen a great many who were genuinely moved by the Spirit whose performance was far from perfect. I see no wrong in this ... as long as we don't imply that the manifestation was altogether supernatural... and as long as we don't settle for imperfection.
So, our conclusion is this:
Seek earnestly the best gifts. Strive for perfection, but don't be dismayed by imperfection. And don't stop seeking. Don't stop pursuing. Don't join those who have put a stop to all manifestations. Be honest. Admit your performance was faulty ... but don't quit, and don't settle for imperfection. Stay sensitive ... seek the Giver ... keep pursuing.
As a pursuer, you'll give your pastor a huge job of monitoring. But if you are not spiritually proud, you will accept guidance. Unfortunately, some of the most "gifted" are the most bigoted and unteachable. They won't accept help because to do so would be to admit that their exercise of the gift was less than perfect. They are hard to help. Don't be like them.
It's high time we Pentecostals face up to the fact that we've got a long way to go. But let's "stay out in front" in the pursuit of spiritual gifts. Let's be honest enough to admit we are "pursuing." And let's be determined enough to keep on pursuing. To those who criticize us, we say, "You show us how to do it perfectly, and we'll follow your lead. But inasmuch as you are not pursuing, we are not following. Goodbye ... we're on our way in pursuit of perfection!