I Corinthians 12 contains this teaching that poses some big questions for me, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the one Spirit distributes them. To one there is given through the Spirit… faith, to another…” (12:4, 9a) Faith here appears in the middle of a list with other gifts. But the passage essentially says “the Holy Spirit distributes more faith to some people than to others.”
Since faith connects us directly with God’s salvation the consequences of this gift appear weightier than some other gifts. Consider these verses:
- For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:10)
- For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith. (Ephesians 2:8)
- But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:39)
If the Holy Spirit gives more faith to some people than others, is he giving them unfair access to salvation? I don’t believe so. Remember that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to Christians. My understanding of the concept of Spiritual gifts is that these are additional gifts God gives people who are already Christians. The Holy Spirit does not hold sway over the lives of those who reject his influence. So we should not equate the gift of faith with the gift of salvation.
Having said that the entire reading of Ephesians 2:8-9 provides a curious perspective when read in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 12. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Salvation is a gift of grace that we accept by faith. However, I’d be very cautious about equating these two verses.
Although these verses both contain the words “faith” and “gift” their context is very different. In Ephesians 2:8 “gift” expands the description of “grace”. While in 1 Corinthians 12:4 “gift” has a meaning closer to “blessing” and describes virtues including teaching and wisdom.
I think it would be equally unsettling to me if the Holy Spirit gave some people a gift of extra faith to help them get through times of difficulty while others were deprived of the gift and had to journey through their darkness with less blessing. I doubt that’s the purpose of this gift.
A key interpretive verse for me when considering Spiritual Gifts is 1 Peter 4:10 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others.” This leads me to ask, “How can my gift of faith benefit others?” We usually think of faith as a relationship between God and ourselves. How do we include others in this relationship?
In Sunday’s sermon I suggested that we can exercise this gift by speaking “words of faith” to those who need them. (This may overlap with the gift of encouragement.) Those who have received the Holy Spirit’s gift of extra faith can share with others how their faith has benefited them. They can testify to God’s faithfulness.
Even more important than just sharing our faith stories with others our “word of faith” can point others toward God. On a basic level faith involves trusting God to work despite evidence to the contrary. Speaking faith to others involves reminding them how God sees them. More than that it requires that we see others as God sees them and treat them accordingly. We need to remind them how God sees their circumstances. We need to remind people that God is always bigger than whatever situation we find ourselves in, or whatever feelings we experience. A word of faith reminds others that our limitations are not God’s limits.
Perhaps Ephesians 4:29 particularly applies to those with the Gift of Faith. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Those with the Gift of Faith may be characterised as people who build others up in a manner that addresses their needs. These people take the time to consider others needs and then speak uplifting words into their lives.
When we point people toward God in this way they benefit from our gift of faith. This is my best understanding of this spiritual gift.
- Have you ever considered that some people in the church may receive an extra serving of faith from God?
- Is this idea reassuring or disturbing for you?
- How have you benefited from the faith of others?