Gifts for Community

Let's reflect on the fact that all people come from different parts of the world, speak different languages, nevertheless all of us are a part of the unified Body of Christ. We become a Community of believers, united by our common faith in Jesus and by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Build Community

a) Gift of Tongues

One powerful gift of the Holy Spirit which promotes the building of community is the gift of tongues. We are told that the Apostles and those gathered in the upper room at Pentecost "...began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech..." (Acts 2:4), and as a consequence were accused by some of drinking too much new wine, to which St. Peter replied, "these men are not drunk as you imagine" (Acts 2:15). In fact they had experienced the gift of glossolalia, in which they praised and worshiped the Lord in the language of the Holy Spirit, commonly referred to as "the gift of tongues".

In our present day and age we have become familiar with the manifestation of this gift at charismatic prayer groups and events. No matter how many people from mixed nationalities may be gathered together with no ability to communicate because of their different languages, when they begin to praise the Lord in tongues they have but one common language of prayer which is known to Almighty God.

b) Gift of Prophecy

Another gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of prophecy. Often times in these gatherings a person will speak out a word from the Lord and will give that message in an unknown tongue. Because the people in the assembly cannot understand what has been spoken, the Lord will prompt either the same person or more likely a different person to speak out the interpretation of the message in the common language of the community. In fact it may be that the complete message will be finally interpreted by two or three different people each adding a part of the prophecy as the Holy Spirit prompts them. Very often the message begins with the words "My people", as the Lord wants us to listen not only individually but together, so as to appropriate His word in order that we might be formed into a single people. St. Paul is very specific about this gift in his letter to the church in Corinth, stating that the one who exercises this gift does so for the benefit of the whole community (cf. 1 Cor 14:4).

c) Gift of Healing

The other major gift that we find expressed within the community is the gift of healing. We can only speculate on the effect that the healing of Peter's mother-in-law had on the community gathered at his house (cf. Mk 1:29-31). Or again, the effect on the people when Jesus healed the leper (cf. Mk 1:40-45), and later when He healed the paralytic man let down through the roof by his friends (Mk 2:1-12).

The level of faith in these communities was immediately elevated, and we are told that "Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived" (Mk 1:45). I recall an occasion when I was present at a prayer meeting in a small town, a place where everybody knew one another. A man from the town hobbled in with a badly inflamed foot, so affected by a large bunion that he could not even wear a shoe. As we were praying for the various needs of the people, this man received a miraculous healing. He began to leap and jump around excitedly, showing everybody his foot now perfectly normal. There was no sign of the bunion which had been there moments before, but only three small white marks remained on his foot in its place. His friends and the other townsfolk present were astounded, and all began to praise and give thanks to the Lord for what He had done amongst them. It was a wonderful example of how the gift of healing is really a gift for the whole community, because it breaks down any barriers that separate us, and unites us as one body focused on the presence and power of Jesus.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Must Operate in Unity

St. Paul makes it very clear in his letter to the Corinthians that without unity the gifts will not function properly. He uses the analogy of the human body "As it is, the parts are many but the body is one. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you', nor can the head say to the feet, ‘I do not need you'" (1 Cor 12: 20-21). Just as the individual parts of a human body form a single entity, so also does Jesus give unity to all the members of His own Body and form them into one single entity which is the Church. It is very clear that when a group of believers are united and exercise the gifts of the Spirit within that community, the Lord will send blessings in abundance. Where disunity creeps in for any reason-especially where there are struggles for power amongst leaders-the community will fragment. It does not matter how well endowed that community might be with the gifts of the Spirit, it will inevitably disintegrate through lack of unity.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Must Operate in Love

Chapter 13 of St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians is very short-only 13 verses long. However, he packs into those few verses a powerful teaching on the gift of love. Literally he says that without love being present when the gifts are exercised, then irrespective of how important those gifts might be in themselves, they will do you and the community no good whatsoever. I have always felt that when Jesus made the statement "I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!" (Mt 7:23); it is really a terrifying thought that these words are directed towards those who use the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but do so without love towards brothers and sisters in the community. St. John tells us that "God is Love" (1 Jn 4:16), and clearly when love is excluded from any exercise of ministry, then also the Lord is excluded. Love and unity authenticate the gifts, and St. Paul was well aware of this when he wrote: "If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing" (1 Cor13:1).

"Love is always patient and kind" (1 Cor13:4)

Every person, especially brothers and sisters in community, should always be treated in a gentle and caring manner with due respect for their feelings and dignity. When ministering with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the words of Jesus to His disciples should be remembered: "Treat others as you would like them to treat you" (Lk 6:31).

The gift of love is given in order to be implemented in action. It echoes the final summation by St. Paul on this matter: "In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13).