Spiritual gifts, power, and restraint.

“What shall we say then, brothers and sisters?  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

A dimension of the life filled with Christ is that the same dialectic that played out with Jesus–in full–plays out in us–in part and collectively.  I mean the dialectic of His charismatic power and His loving restraint.  To believe in Jesus as the Son of God is to believe–with a kind of giddy gladness even–that He had (and has) the power to heal, save, calm storms, multiply loaves, etc.  But though we might be giddy and delighted about these potentialities, He in His wisdom and kindness exercises restraint, primarily concerned not with flash or gratification, with instantaneous results, even frankly with our perceived well-being and ideas of justice.  These make us demand the exercise of these powers, demands which He must have perfect compassion for, when we cry for dying children, when we ask for renewed hope and opportunity, when we ache for equity.  Couldn’t God swoop His magisterial hand and clear away sin and abuse and violence, and banish pain and hardship?  Wouldn’t that be what a loving God would do?

But pictures of the meaning of His restraint remind us that what God is primarily concerned with is His ultimate project of redemption, which paradoxically relies on His great power but demonstrated in the most mundane and un-flashy of ways.  Jairus daughter is allowed to die as Jesus is slowed by a roadside bother.  Lazarus too, by His delay.  Wine, loaves, and fishes are transmogrified from nothingness– a few times; but meanwhile, many go hungry and listless.  Despite his public campaign, He asks again and again for His best prospective publicists to keep quiet about the mystery.  And of course, all this not to mention the greatest act of restraint, obedience unto death, not only the not-calling forth of angel armies against the centurions, but the ultimate submission to the very sharp edge of human limitation, death itself.  All of these, and many more, examples of Jesus’ restraint demonstrates that both the exercise of His power and the non-exercise of His power are purposeful.

And the driving purpose is the ultimate redemption of the human beings He loves so fully.  Jairus and Martha’s belief.  The crowd’s right recognition of God and goodness.  A salvation by faith and not coercion or manipulation.  These are the fruits of Jesus’ restraint, and they involve how fully He loves us because they are about us developing farther from the distorted, expectant, often petulant, sometimes faithless flesh-creatures we become towards the patient, loving, afflicted but joyful creation that we were made to be.

This power and restraint dialectic exists in the body of believers too.  It’s part of the gospel, I believe– maybe part 5 or 7, but part of it nonetheless.  Creation, sin, Israel, cross and Easter, Pentecost, and then the church being everything the church is called to be.  But as part of the same unfolding story, we are caught up in the same dialectic in our practice of Christian life together.  If our community of brethren does not welcome the exercise of charismata, of words of instruction and wisdom, of songs and tongues, of service and worship, from the diverse corners of His body, and we are caught up in personality cults and territorial disputes, then we have failed to see Christ’s plan of His power endowed to all His people, the authority granted by the Father to the Son through the Spirit unto we His children.  But at the same time, if we who’ve been given those gifts do not act with loving restraint for the prime directive of loving His bride, serving His mission, and manifesting His project, we are in error.

The question for us who have been undeservedly saved is, now that I have been granted these freedoms and gifts, am I cultivating them and exercising them with faith in their tremendous power?  And then, at the very same time, am I restraining them and attending to their appropriate exercise so that the point is not those gifts or my role, but the point is the good of God’s people?

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