How could it be that God appeared to be using him so marvelously and yet he was so thoroughly evil so long?
…Because we confuse spiritual gifts with spirituality.
There are about twenty specific local churches mentioned by name in the New Testament. Out of these twenty most would agree that the single weakest church was the Corinthian church. Paul wrote many epistles to churches describing in detail their strengths and weaknesses. Acts reveals to us the inner workings of some of the early churches. John in Revelation painstakingly and clearly diagnoses the strengths and weaknesses of seven churches. Yet it remains the dubious distinction of the Corinthian church to bear the brunt of being labeled as the most carnal church described in the Scriptures. The Corinthian church could be called many things but spiritual was not one of them.
With that in mind, I would call you to notice a fascinating statement Paul makes to this church about this church. In the early stages of the first epistle we find Paul paying this carnal church some tremendous compliments. In the midst of these introductory compliments we find the following commendation: ye come behind in no gift. (I Corinthians 1:7) Paul says here, in essence, that the church at Corinth had just as many spiritual gifts as any other church. He said this while knowing full well the carnal nature of much of their religious activity.
Later, in I Corinthians, Paul devotes a considerable amount of attention to the misapplication of the Corinthian church’s spiritual gifts. If I may say so, the Corinthian church had a veritable plethora of spiritual gifts in action with a veritable paucity of spirituality.
What is the lesson here for us? It is indeed possible to be exercising God given spiritual gifts in His service without even having much spirituality while doing so.
We all know this is not only possible, but all too often probably the case. That special number that just blessed your heart with thoughts of heaven? The spiritual gift may well have been exercised while pride of performance occupied chief place in the soloist’s heart. That soul winner in your church who repeatedly wins large numbers of souls to Christ? It might be that gifts which in secular society would lead to many sales are being used in God’s service but with just as little real spirituality behind them as is evident in a used car salesman. That woman in the church you always ask to host the missionary because she does an absolutely stunning job? Perhaps the gift of hospitality is mingled with Martha’s resentment and wrong priorities. The revival meeting that resulted in flooded altars and weeping reconciliations? Perhaps the evangelist in question, while exercising his spiritual gifts well, has been nursing a root of bitterness and resentment against a previous pastor for a minute love offering.
The result intended here is not that you become suspicious of everybody in your life whom God is using to edify you. The result intended is that we better understand the clear distinction between spiritual gifts and spirituality. One does not necessarily always accompany the other. They should, and there is no acceptable excuse why they do not, but we must often admit such is the case.
Scripture teaches us that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (Romans 11:29) God no more takes back a preacher’s speaking ability when he backslides than He does take back his salvation. They are both spiritual gifts and as such are permanent. The spiritual gift, however, can certainly be exercised in the absence of a true heart for God. This is demonstrated by the Corinthian church, Scriptural examples such as Samson, historical testimony, and our own sorely purchased experience.
Forgive this next illustration but I have on occasion watched Jay Leno’s ability to move a crowd to laughter so effortlessly. He has an undeniable gift. The rare politician who actually speaks from his heart and soul instead of reading from a teleprompter often rises to great heights. The passion and effectiveness of such men’s gifts has led me to wonder whether God created them to pastor some church and they never answered the call. They were gifted by God, but certainly are not using those gifts to spiritual ends, or with a heart tender toward God.
Such is the case with men who appear to be accomplishing great things for God while all the while becoming evil in the midst of the congregation. They practiced their spiritual gifts effectively without the spirituality that ought to accompany such exercise.