Sunday, July 29, 2007

Gifts of the Spirit: Faith, Hope, and Love

My pastor once said that Pentecost is the longest season of the church year because we live even now in the days of history that are celebrated by the season of Pentecost, and that all the days of history since the first Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection have been part of the great unfolding of Pentecost throughout the world.

Yes, my pastor in a liturgical church said this. Some of my Pentecostal (denomination) friends are sure we short-change the gifts of the Spirit because we do not speak in tongues. I have written before about the greatest gifts of the spirit: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest mission of the Spirit: going into the world proclaiming Christ. I have even written about how some people have faked having gifts of the Spirit -- especially tongues and translations. (As explained before, this is not a comment on whether such gifts continue; only a comment on the sad state of self-deceit in places where there is much performance-pressure to have one particular gift.)

But self-deceit goes much deeper than babbling in tongues in order to satisfy performance pressure. It comes close to home even for Christians who do not attend churches where spirituality is measured by private prayer languages. Sure, the lesser gifts of the Spirit such as tongues and translations can be faked easily. But what happens when the same spirit of self-deceit turns to the greater gifts? What happens when people fake faith, hope, and love?

The gifts of the Spirit are not self-generated; they are gifts coming from outside, coming from the Spirit of God, not from the will of man. So as soon as we try to manufacture from inside us faith, or hope, or love, we have made a counterfeit. And few attest their own faith, hope, and love so stridently as those who seem to be trying to convince themselves. Someone who is deeply faithful does not spend much time worrying whether she is deeply faithful; she has other things on her mind. Someone who is deeply hopeful does not spend much time trying to remind himself that nothing can keep a good man down and things will get better: he knows that God's goodness does not promise that, so his hope does not depend on circumstance. Being perky can be a tiresome and shallow substitute for having something to be glad about. Those who are loving focus more attention on their beloved than on themselves. Someone who is constantly self-monitoring to see how faith, hope, and love are growing are almost sure to disrupt their growth by constantly turning inwards, away from the source of these gifts.

The way faith grows is by looking at the cross of Christ where we see that God is faithful, where we see God with us. The way hope grows is by looking at Christ's empty tomb and hearing Christ's promise that he will also raise us up from our own tombs at the last day. Hope grows also by hearing Christ speak those words of forgiveness, knowing there is healing and restoration for our souls. The way love grows is by looking at him who loves us and treasuring these things in our hearts.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

When you speak of the gifts of the Spirit coming from the outside, and of the danger of turning inwards, I realize you mean coming not from ourselves, and the danger is turning toward ourselves.

But you make it sound (to me, anyway) as though the Holy Spirit were outside of us.

Because He is inside us, the gifts can be said to come from inside us, even though He is their sole origin; and turning inwards can refer to the necessity of turning to Him who dwells there.


Weekend Fisher said...

That's true. And if I were speaking to an all-Orthodox audience, I doubt it would cross my mind to put it quite the way I did. The Orthodox just don't have the (largely U.S.A.) theology of trying to climb up by your own bootstraps that often gets mistaken for faith ...

Take care & God bless