This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the day when the church celebrates its birthday. Take a look in Acts 2.1-13. Pentecost (which just means ‘fiftieth’, that is, the fiftieth day after Easter) is the feast at which the Holy Spirit fell on the believers gathered together for what was a long-honoured Jewish festival, the Feast of Weeks. That festival gathered Jewish people from all over the known world to celebrate God’s gift of the Law. All came together in Jerusalem, including Jews who had come to faith in Jesus. So when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers in tongues of fire, and they spoke in languages unknown to them (but known to festival-goers from other lands), people took notice.
What was the purpose of the ‘flashiness’ of the gift of the Spirit? It was to make the other people take notice. God could have sent the promised Holy Spirit very quietly, perhaps ensuring each believer got a letter in the mail stating that he or she “could already be a winner”, such as the Publishers Clearing House does. However, God wanted people to notice the coming of the Spirit, so he sent tongues of fire and made each follower of Christ gathered there speak in tongues – in this case, languages known to other people gathered around to watch the spectacle.
The Spirit came noticeably, with power, for the purpose of witness. This is no less true today for believers who speak in tongues: it’s not a gift given for the purpose of spiritual pride, but for witness – for evangelism. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians (who were totally messed up when it came to spiritual gifts), he told them, “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14.22a, NIV).
As the church grew and developed, there were other gifts that God gave alongside the gift of tongues, all for the purpose of empowering the church to be all it can be in the Lord. Yet so many churches do not take advantage of the power that is at hand. That doesn’t mean that every believer has to speak in tongues anymore than it means that every believer needs to have any other spiritual gift. There are many gifts, given by God’s grace (see Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4), but there is not one gift that each Christ-follower needs. Each Christ-follower is, however, encouraged to discover what his or her gifts are, and use them – that’s the Spirit’s power at work in the life of the church, day by day, week by week, generation after generation.
Do you know your spiritual gifts? Have other believers affirmed those gifts in you? Are you using those gifts to serve the Lord and build up the church? The great news is that if you are serving the way God wired you up to serve, you won’t find it a chore, but a joy.
Eric Liddle, the great missionary athlete, once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” When you know and use your spiritual gifts, you will feel God’s pleasure, because you will be serving according to the purpose for which he made you. And in that there is much power for you, and most importantly, for the church.
Not a bad birthday present God gave you, eh?