Years ago my brother Andy told me how he met the Lord. His ninth grade locker partner Kevin was the school drug dealer. Then Kevin had a bad trip on LSD.
The bad trip triggered flashbacks and bad dreams. The whole experience scared Kevin, so he asked my brother about God (our dad was a pastor).
Andy repeated stuff he had learned in Sunday school and from a youth conference he had just attended. Kevin listened, gave his life to the Lord, and his life changed. Kevin asked more questions. When Andy didn’t have answers, he asked our dad and then explained the answers to Kevin, and Kevin grew even more.
Andy was surprised. Up until this event, the lessons he had learned were academic or impersonal. He knew the “right answers” (God loves you) but he didn’t know God.
As he “taught” the right answers, something stirred and changed in his friend Kevin; but Andy himself was not yet changed. Only later did Andy fully give his life to the Lord.
When Andy reflected back on the experience, he said, “I had a ‘gift’ of teaching before I ever had the fruit of such teaching. I wonder if this isn’t true for many leaders.”
He added, “Maybe leaders shouldn’t believe their own press clippings.”
And I think that’s right
Scripture speaks of “gifts” of the spirit and “fruit” of the spirit. Nowhere does scripture say they both will be given in the same measure at the same time. At any given moment we may be acting in our gifting without having much fruit of the Spirit (or we may have more character while not be walking fully in our gifting).
When the disciples return from a successful mission trip, they are excited about all the cool things they did. Jesus tells them not to rejoice in their gifting but in their relationship with God (Luke 10:20). It’s possible to rejoice in the gifts and not in God.
Scripture says that many will prophesy, cast out evil spirits, and do great works, and yet Jesus will say of them, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:22-23). Yikes! That’s scary.
My father used to say the he could teach about holiness better than my mom could, but that my mom lived holiness better than he did. And her way was more desirable.
So what if we’re leaders, pastors, teachers…
Let’s not believe our own press clippings. We’ve heard of spiritually gifted men or women who crash and burn in scandals. It’s so easy to think we are spiritually mature when our gifts bear fruit.
But the fruit of our gifts is not the same as fruit of the Spirit.
It feels great when our teachings are applauded or when our books become best sellers. It may even feel like it affirms something inside of us. It does. It affirms we are gifted. It doesn’t affirm spiritual maturity.
When leaders receive accolades for their gifting, those very honors can hinder humility. And we need humility. I wonder if God didn’t design it this way. My father was able to be humble when he saw my mother’s truer holiness, and my mother was able to be humble when she saw my father’s gifting.
Paul urges the Corinthians to earnestly desire the higher gifts (1 Cor. 12:31), and then he says, “But I will show you an even better way” (same verse). And that “better way” involves character growth, a fruit of the spirit; love.
Gifting is not what makes us great; it is growing in the character of Christ. Our gifting is meant to help others, “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7), not for our personal glory.
So where does that leave us?
We come to this question: Where do we get our personal value? If we get it from God’s love and care for us, we grow in the fruit of the Spirit: we grow in love (after all, God loved us before we deserved it), we grow in joy (God continues to love us when we fail), and we grow in peace (God always provides what we need when we need it).
But when we get our affirmation from our gifts, they will inevitably fail us. Our next book may flop; our next sermon may put people to sleep.
Or our next blog article may be a dud.
What are we to do?
Let’s not stop offering our gifting. The world needs teaching, preaching, and care for the poor. But let’s also admit that our gifting can make us seem more mature than we are.
Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India, caring for orphans, writing devotionals, and inspiring millions. She knew the danger of confusing gifting with character. Her constant prayer was,
“Lord, make me what I seem.”
What do you think?
- How have you seen yourself valuing gifts of the Spirit more than fruit of the Spirit?
- What can we do to increase personal longing for the fruit of the Spirit?