What role do spiritual gifts play towards growing in spiritual maturity?

Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Based on this verse, some Christians suggest that belonging to a church that does not practice the spiritual gifts such as apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, pastoring/teaching, will hinder the ability of a believer to discern false doctrines and grow in spiritual maturity. Furthermore, these ‘speaking’ spiritual gifts are used as criteria to assess if a believer is spiritually mature or not.

Without getting into the discussion of cessationism vs continuationism regarding the existence of spiritual gifts in the present age, what I am interested in is to understand the connection between spiritual gifts and spiritual maturity in new testament times. How exactly does it happen? Is it a result of having a specific spiritual gift? Is it a result of a special revelatory truth? Is it a result of greater obedience to scripture due to a deeper understanding of it ? Can spiritual character be dependent on spiritual gifting?

Look forward to your thoughts! Thanks!

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Hi @lakshmi,

I appreciate this honest and interesting question.

In Matthew 10:25, Jesus gives us this principle:

It is enough for a disciple to become like his teacher and a slave like his master.

What are Christians? We are disciples of Jesus. Our goal is to become like him.

We see a similar idea in 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, where the Apostle Paul writes,

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved. Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.

Paul is imitating Christ. We are to imitate his example by imitating Christ.

And we see an illustration of what this looks like. Whatever we do — including exercising our spiritual gifts — is done for the glory of God. The fundamental principle is to honor the Lord as we serve others.

If we reverse this mentality and prioritize having great spiritual gifts, we are liable to become hypocrites. We may be impressive and well-known for our capabilities, but we will lack what matters: the intimacy with God that transforms us into whole people.

We also see this theme in John 15. Jesus talks about bearing fruit. But where does “fruit that lasts” come from? It only comes from Jesus and remaining in him. We’re told we can do nothing apart from him. And what does it look like to “remain” in his love? Jesus tells us in verse 10:

If you keep my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

The primary emphasis is on experiencing the love of the Triune God, loving this God with all of our hearts, being transformed within, and demonstrating a life of faithful obedience. It is within this context that we bear fruit through the practice of our spiritual gifts.

@lakshmi, I look forward to your thoughts in response — and anyone else’s insights! This is a huge topic and I feel that I’ve just started to engage in the discussion.

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What an interesting question, and one that I can barely answer! I’ve been thinking this over for a few days. On the one hand, the person who has grown in their spiritual gifts has likely done so out of their pursuit of God, and anytime anyone has made their relationship with God their priority, a mature spirituality must likely be the outcome.

However, at the same time, I feel that if we take this spiritual gifts = maturity ratio too literally, we could open ourselves to 3 dangers.

  1. We could end up being deceived. There are many who have flourished in the gifts that God gave them, yet they were abusing their position of trust/spiritual authority the whole time. So I think we must be careful on how we discern this.

  2. Another danger could be that we’re quick to make a judgement of someone’s spiritual maturity if they do not move in spiritual gifts particularly the speaking ones like the gift of tongues. This is also tricky, since there are many God fearing, spiritually mature cessationists who are living lives that imitate Christ as @Carson said, but they don’t believe the gift of tongues is for today.

  3. The third danger of making an assumption that spiritual gifts = spiritual maturity is that we could fall into pride at our own use of such gifts, taking a ‘I’m holier than thou’ attitude because ‘I can speak in tongues’.

Sam Storms writes a lot about spiritual gifts, particularly the speaking ones, as he came from a cessationist background until God gave him the gift of tongues and he had to alter his theology on it. In writing more generally about whether the speaking gifts are for everyone today, as Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14:5 suggests:

now I want you all to speak in tongues,

Sam Storms addresses in his book, ‘The Language of Heaven’, whether this means that some Christians are lacking in their growth/faith, and consequently, their spiritual maturity.

I find it interesting that he compares 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 which says

are all Apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Storms says:

it’s difficult, if not impossible, to escape the conclusion that Paul expects us to respond by saying no.

This kind of argument would naturally lead us to the conclusion that if someone isn’t practising one of these spiritual gifts, it is no reflection of their spiritual maturity, but rather a reflection on how God has or hasn’t apportioned a gift.

Actually, I think spiritual maturity can be discerned more by how someone uses their spiritual gifts. They may be really gifted in prophecy, but if they lack wisdom on when and how to share prophetic words with others, they may end up doing more harm than good. It is in the application of the gifts that maturity may be judged more easily than the possession of them.

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Hi @Carson and @Alison, thanks so much for your thoughtful and helpful replies. You both have raised some important points for consideration.

First, that love, an expression of spiritual maturity, must be the context in which all spiritual gifts are to be practiced. I agree with this insight, and I think it is important to keep this in mind even when trying to develop natural abilities for the purpose of Christian ministry. While I can see how pursuing spiritual/natural gifts without spiritual maturity can turn out to be harmful, I see no problem pursuing both simultaneously. However, some people make the mistake of pursuing spiritual gifts so earnestly in their own strength that they mistake their own desires and inclinations for God’s leading, resulting in neither spiritual gifting nor spiritual maturity.

Second, considering not everyone is given the same spiritual gifts but everyone is expected to spiritually mature, a specific group of spiritual gifts can in no way be the means to spiritual maturity. And if we equate spiritual gifting with spiritual maturity, we may open ourselves to deception about our spiritual maturity and fall prey to pride and judgementalism. This pattern of thinking is what we seem to be warned against in 1 Cor. 8:2 or 1 Cor. 3:18.

So, going back to Eph. 4: 11-16, what do these verses really mean when they talk about spiritual maturity? First of all, I think it would be a misuse of this scripture to say that individuals who are spiritual gifted are also spiritually mature. The Corinthian church is a good example of those who were spiritually gifted and yet spiritually immature. According to 1 Cor. 1: 5-7, the Corinthians were given spiritual gifts when they received the gospel and yet in 1 Cor. 3: 1-3, Paul addresses them as infants in Christ because of disunity or lack of love. So according to Paul, love is the measure of spiritual maturity and spiritual gifting does not equal spiritual maturity. Not surprisingly, Paul exhorts that the speaking gifts be practiced in love in Eph. 4: 15.

There seems to be a relationship though in Paul’s mind between spiritual gifts and spiritual maturity in Eph. 4. Below is how I understand these verses –

  • Paul must not be referring to individual spiritual maturity but to corporate spiritual maturity with the use of spiritual gifts . In v. 16, Paul emphasizes that each part needs to be working properly to make the body grow and build itself in love. When everyone is serving one other, a variety of needs get met causing love in the body of Christ to grow bringing about spiritual maturity.
  • Spiritual maturity of the body of Christ needs more than ‘speaking’ spiritual gifts. In Eph. 4: 7-8, Paul says God gave a gift by the Spirit to each one and Paul’s mention of the five spiritual gifts in v. 11 seem only to be a sample of all gifts given. It is true that if someone truly speaks a word from God, people would be edified spiritually (1 Cor. 14:24). However, those gifted spiritually to lead a church are dependent on the rest of the church practicing their individual gifts to grow in love as well. There are a variety of gifts, activities and services that are empowered by the Spirit in everyone for the common good (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Those with true speaking gifts are stewards of the mysteries of God and are required to be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).
  • A spiritually mature body of Christ can protect its members from being tossed by every wind of doctrine . Are speaking gifts necessary to be able to recognize if a doctrine is false? A special word from God may be helpful but I don’t think it is necessary as we ultimately rely on scripture to assess the speaking gifts. From Heb. 5:14, we see that the way to grow in maturity, to develop discernment to distinguish good from evil is by practice, doing what we are supposed to do with faith and patience (Heb. 6:12). For example, the Hebrews were exhorted to leave the shadows of Christ in the Levitical priesthood and move on to maturity through faith in Christ (Heb 6: 1-2, Heb. 7:11). The word for maturity in both these verses is “teliosis”, which means completion/perfection. It seems to be the same “perfection” that Paul talks about at the second coming of Christ when full knowledge of Christ makes unity of faith possible (Eph. 4:13, 1 Cor. 13:10).

I asked this question to help someone who is worried about deficits in spiritual growth in a church that doesn’t actively pursue spiritual gifts. After studying this issue, it is very clear that being conformed to God’s image and bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is most important and is true spiritual maturity. God’s decision on whom to give a spiritual gift will not depend on the church a person attends but on the plans that God foreordained for a person. People can be swayed by winds of doctrine in both cessationist and continuationist churches and what will protect us from deception is mainly spiritual maturity and wisdom from the Word.

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Wow, there’s so much wisdom as to what everyine has said here.

I really agree with this as I think as believers, we forget that spiritual gifts are nonetheless, gifts from God and not out of our own doings. Though one could mature their spiritual giftings, it is good to remember that these are gifts that cannot be redeemed outside of God’s control.
There are also no spiritual giftings that are “better” or “more necessary” than others, though unfortunately, certain giftings seem to be more sort after within the church due to how holy it makes one seem. It would be good to remember that God might be using someone through a gifting that we cannot humanly understand, as I do believe that our giftings do correspond with our God given personalities and strengths. In which I really agree with Lakshmi :smiley:

Spiritual giftings do not equate to our spiritual maturity and works. Overall, perhaps it would be of priority to focus on developing our relationship with God and as a result, our spiritual giftings will naturally follow out of love. This really ties in to the topic on developing a wellness plan with the right motivations for growth as Christians.

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I agree with @kiko that there is so much wisdom being shared by all in their replies. It is so refreshing after hearing from the extremes so much of my life.

I’d like to take a different approach to answering this question.

First, for some context, I’ve come to understand the different lists of spiritual gifts as Paul describing different functional “categories” having a different purpose in the body of Christ and the shared mission of brining Glory to God’s name.

In Romans 12:6-8 Paul lists what can be called Motivational Gifts . The idea being that we each have a basic wiring the reflects God’s image in the world and influences why we do what we do. It is something innate within us. Understanding our gifting and the unique way we reflect the image of God is very helpful in growing in maturity. It’s also very important that we are given the freedom to express our gifting so that we can grow in love and dependence on God.

Then in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Paul lists what he calls manifestations of the Spirit (vs 7) or the Manifestation gifts . These gifts serve to edify the body of Christ and convict the world of sin. Learning to express the gifts in love are the true mark of spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity, however, is not necessarily linked with how well an individual expresses their gifts. The expression is something from God and ultimately, He is the one that gets the Glory for the sign, prophecy, tongues, or whatever His sovereign will desires.

Finally in Ephesians 4:11-14 we have what I like to call the Administrative gifts . I’ve also heard them individually referred to as the office of the prophet, or apostle, or teacher, etc. or summed up as A.P.E.S.T. These five administrative gifts are individuals given to the church “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry” (vs 12) in order to build up the body of Christ. All the while growing in the knowledge of God and His Son, Jesus. These functional roles can be filled by anyone that God has called and ordained for that job and serve the corporate needs of the church in promoting unity and maturity, all the time seeking to multiply God’s image on the Earth.

Now tying these all together, it is my understanding that an individual can have the motivational gift of mercy, can be used by God to speak words of prophecy, and function in the role of teacher or apostle or whatever office the Lord desires. Spiritual maturity in each area is important because it is easy to become puffed up in a gifting that gets more attention than another. That maturity is derived from developing deeper levels of dependence on God while at the same time, experiencing greater boldness to speak His kingdom and greater humility to give Him all the glory. Seeing the spiritual gifts in this sort of model has helped me understand where greater dependence is needed and helps me examine myself in order to repent of pride and self reliance and while also helping to identify unique opportunities to manifest God’s glory.

The connection between gifting and maturity is confounding at times too. Because God’s gifts and calling are without repentance Romans 11:29 meaning that their expression is not necessarily dependent on the individual’s own spiritual maturity. It’s easy to think of gifted individuals whose ministry and success went further than their character was able to bear. Yet in God’s economy He still leverages the weaknesses of man to glorify His name.

Like your friend @lakshmi I’ve been there and it’s easy to compare ourselves with others and measure our maturity against their perceived level of maturity. My reading this morning took me to 2 Timothy 3:1-9 where Paul seems to illustrate what can happen when we measure ourselves against the perceived maturity of others.

This is true and echoed so well by both @Carson & @alison. I would add that increased boldness with humility and greater dependence on God are additional marks of spiritual maturity. Even though they may harder to measure in terms of what we can see in a person’s external life. But I think more boldness is one thing Paul is encouraging Timothy to do with his gifting in 2 Timothy 1:6

In any case I hope this is helpful to you and the community, and welcome any feedback or insights you may have. I thank you for asking this question. I find myself, as one motivated by a teaching gift, asking if I am living in dependence of the one who has given the gift and examining my own heart before Him. Even when we do it well may our sincere response be Luke 17:10

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Thanks @chris for the way you have categorised the different types of gifts. I find it very helpful as I consider them personally. Also, I think it’s highlighted an incredibly important point that spiritual gifts are equally valid across all the categories of Motivational, Manifestational, and Administrative purposes. It can be tempting to focus on just one when considering our walks with God - at least in my experience some types of gifts can be focussed on in the church more than others, which may differ across denominations. This is why I appreciate this community that brings so many different church backgrounds and perspectives together in order to maintain balance in our understanding of scripture.

I’m also challenged by your reference to 2 Tim 1:6

Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands.

I sometimes think I have not kept ablaze certain gifts that God gave me, possibly because of the busyness of life, or because my theology had been challenged on some of them and I’m not sure how to handle them.

I appreciate the encouragement for pursing what God has given each of us, and look forward to learning more about spiritual gifts.

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Hello @chris,

Thank you so much for your well thought out response. Appreciate the time you have taken to explain the relationship between maturity and gifts by sharing both from your own experience and scripture. I think your words above sum it up very well and helpful! In those words, I see how humility would manifest in the body of Christ, dependence on God for expressing our own gifts and dependence on others in areas we lack.

Well said! I think this clearly shows that spiritual gifting doesn’t mean spiritual maturity. God seems to spiritually enable a person not because a person is somehow more qualified but to meet the needs at hand and bring Himself glory.

I can see how boldness would come if we were fully dependent on God. However can an absence of boldness mean a lack of dependence on God? At each stage of spiritual growth, we can be at our maximum maturity but yet it may not be enough to meet the demand in our imperfect world, which can lead to a certain level of anxiety. Depending on our anxiety masking skills, we will show different levels of boldness though we are walking in the direction God has called us. So, I think boldness is dependent on more than spiritual maturity at a point in time, such as skill/gifting and bent of personality.

I think sometimes many sincere believers are set aside and not given much of a listening ear on biblical truths they have to share because they have lacked boldness. Such a person may need encouragement from others to feel welcome and accepted to practice their gifting instead of being shamed for where they are in their growth. I bring up this issue because I have seen how sincere believers have felt unloved in churches. I appreciated the value you placed in balancing boldness and humility in assessing spiritual maturity.

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