As we examine what Scripture teaches us about the Holy Spirit, we see that his work in the church is multifaceted. As is evident in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, the Spirit’s work is diverse and broad. I think Gordon Fee got it right in his summary of Paul’s understanding of the person and work of the Spirit. He writes, “In Paul, power is not to be thought of merely in terms of the miraculous, the extraordinary. . . . Paul understood the Spirit’s power in the broadest possible way.”¹
This is a perspective on the spiritual gifts that the Corinthians failed to grasp. It appears they exaggerated the importance of the gift of tongues and saw all the other gifts as secondary. For them, the gift of tongues was exciting, spectacular, the mark of true spirituality. The other gifts were good, but not truly spectacular.
So Paul sought to expand their understanding. To illustrate the diversity of the Spirit’s work, Paul gave the Corinthians two lists of gifts, neither of them exhaustive (1 Cor. 12:4–11, 27–31). In each list, Paul intentionally placed tongues last, not because tongues were the least of the gifts, but because the Corinthians exaggerated the importance of this gift. In a few brilliant chapters Paul adjusted their perspective, broadened their understanding, and taught them to perceive the breadth of the Spirit’s work.
Like the Corinthians, we are sometimes inclined to see the Holy Spirit’s work only in gifts or events that appear spectacular. Like them, we sometimes emphasize only one gift of the Spirit, or only one kind of gift. Make no mistake: I am convinced that the Holy Spirit does give spectacular gifts, including prophecy, healing, and miracles. I thank God for the spectacular, wherever and whenever it genuinely occurs. But Scripture teaches us that God is at work in countless ways, whether it appears spectacular to us or not.
So let us understand the Spirit’s work in the broadest possible way. Let us cultivate our appreciation for, and celebration of, the diverse work of the Spirit as defined in Scripture. If you understand the multifaceted work of the Holy Spirit, your eyes will be opened to discover his work. He is at work all around you. Do not confine his work to what appears to be spectacular. And do not dismiss his work because of your particular views on the spiritual gifts.
In fact, Scripture gives us two very easy ways to identify the Holy Spirit’s work in our churches. Here’s your “starter kit” for recognizing his work: study the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) and the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4–11, 27–31; Eph. 4:11–16; 1 Pet. 4:10–11). Read these lists carefully. Then look up, and look at your church. You will see the Holy Spirit at work everywhere you look. I’d recommend you teach your church to do the same.
The Spirit is at work in you, and in the lives of those you care for. It may be easy to recognize his work when you witness the spectacular (and let’s be clear: it doesn’t get any more spectacular than the miracle of regeneration²). But it requires a different kind of discernment to recognize his work in daily life. When the elderly lady serves consistently and faithfully in your church year after year; when parents endure the loss of a child and continue to trust in God; when a single man gives away his time and energy to serve in a small group; when the businessman’s portfolio takes a hit but he keeps giving joyfully and generously—there is only one explanation for these. It is the presence and the work of the Holy Spirit that brings the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit in your church. And that is truly spectacular.
This post is part of an 11-part series, The Pastor and the Trinity, excerpted from the chapter “The Pastor and the Trinity” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, ©2010. Used by permission of Crossway.
¹Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 8.
²See John Piper, Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2009).