This topic has been mulling over in my mind for a long time. Since the 'rediscovery' of charismatic gifts and the phenomenal growth of the Pentecostal church, I suppose it has been a hot topic for the church generally.
I am currently reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer, a chapter a night – a fantastic book, which I will review when I'm done – and last night I read chapter 12, 'The Love of God'. Packer makes some excellent points which happen to coincide with my own feelings on this subject, so I will quote him, and then comment.
In Romans 5.5 Paul says, 'Godâ€™s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.' Packer says:
Paul is not talking of faint and fitful impressions, but of deep and overwhelming ones.
Paul assumes that all his readers, like himself, will be living in the enjoyment of a strong and abiding sense of God's love for them.
Third, notice that the instilling of this knowledge is described as part of the regular ministry of the Spirit to those who receive him – to all , that is, who are born again, who are true believers. One could wish that this aspect of his ministry was prized more highly than it is at the present time. With a perversity as pathetic as it is impoverishing, we have become preoccupied today with the extraordinary, sporadic, non-universal ministries of the Spirit to the neglect of the ordinary, general ones. Thus, we show a great deal more interest in the gifts of healing and tongues – gifts of which, as Paul pointed out, not all Christians are meant to partake anyway (1 Cor. 12:28-30) – than in the Spirit's ordinary work of giving peace, joy, hope, and love, through the shedding abroad in our hearts of knowledge of the love of God. Yet the latter is much more important than the former.
It will be tragic if the concern for revival that is stirring at the present time in many places gets diverted into the cul-de-sac of a new Corinthianism. The best thing that Paul could desire for the Ephesians in connection with the Spirit was that he might continue towards them the Romans 5:5 ministry with ever-increasing power, leading them deeper and deeper into knowledge of the love of God in Christ.
Revival means the work of God restoring to a moribund church, in a manner out of the ordinary, those standards of Christian life and experience which the New Testament sets forth as being entirely ordinary; and a right-minded concern for revival will express itself, not in a hankering after tongues (ultimately it is of no importance whether we speak in tongues or not), but rather a longing that the Spirit may shed God's love abroad in our hearts with greater power. For it is with this (to which deep exercise of soul about sin is often preliminary) that personal revival begins, and by this that revival in the church, once begun, is sustained.
J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 133-134
I wholeheartedly agree with Packer. The Spirit's work is so much more than we might sometimes be led to believe – he gives so many gifts to each and every Christian, not least the fact that they are believers! Of course the 'sporadic gifts' are important – I have no doubt that God heals people today – but focussing too much on them leads us to forget the more important, universal gifts.
I want to sit down one day and read a proper and full exposition of the work of the Spirit – I believe Calvin in particular does this well.
Everything we do as a Christian is a gift of the Spirit! We live entirely by grace, which God gives us in the power of the Spirit. In talking so much about 'the gifts', in constantly asking the question 'what is my gift?', 'what is my ministry', we forget that all we have is a gift, and that we are given all we have in order that we might serve God and each other, and steward creation aright. If we get this sorted in our Christian lives, then we will have the right perspective on the 'sporadic gifts' as well – they are not for ourselves, but to enable our service of others, to build up the church.
Given all this, I would argue that it is not just 'conservative' Christians who 'quench the Spirit' (1 Thessalonians 5.19) by refusing to allow space for his work publicly – 'charismatic' Christians do the same by focussing too much on the particular gifts the Spirit gives, and too little on the primary, universal gifts that he gives. Both are important in the life of the church – but the universal gifts are much more so; the balance needs to be restored.
I think that the greatest miracle is not a dramatic healing but someone who dies in Christ.