Thursday, April 23, 2009

Seek Ye Earnestly the Best Gifts? Really?

I am going to say something that might be a little controversial. I think we in the LDS Church have a complicated relationship with gifts of the spirit.
Spiritual gifts get a lot of lip service in the church. On paper, we really like them, and section 46 is prime evidence of that. What’s more, certain gifts of the spirit are very accepted among Mormons. The gifts of healing and being healed are very big. People have great faith in them, and most families have multiple stories of these gifts blessing their lives. The gift of prophesy is also very highly regarded, especially to the extent it refers to gaining a testimony of Christ and his church. Even beyond that, most people are very comfortable with the gift of prophesy as it relates to promptings and premonitions that keep us and our families safe from physical or spiritual harm, or that help us serve those around us who are in need. The gifts of wisdom, teaching, discernment, etc. - - all very well accepted.

But other spiritual gifts are viewed with some, well, hesitation. Although no one would rule them out, the gifts of ministering angles and working miracles would be exercised and talked about very rarely. Maybe I lack faith, but if my neighbor told me (s)he had seen angels, I would wonder what was really going on. And the gift of tongues? Well, unless you are talking about missionaries or general authorities being able to learn and speak a language more easily than expected, I think you should proceed with caution. Can you imagine if someone started speaking in an allegedly angelic language in sacrament meeting? Even if someone there was allegedly able to interpret? How would your Bishop respond?

This ambivalence about spiritual gifts started early in our history. As the saints started gathering to Kirtland, many experienced and exhibited some fairly extreme spiritual manifestations. Speaking in strange languages, seeing visions, acting in unusual ways supposedly under the influence of the spirit - - it was all going on in Kirtland. Joseph was not always comfortable with these demonstrations, and often tried to rein them in. In fact, a theme of the Doctrine & Covenants is how to avoid deception by false spiritual experiences and manifestations.

It seems to me, the more subtle or understated the spiritual gift, the more readily accepted it is in the Church. Remarkable and emotional displays of spiritual fervor, or claims of special spiritual endowment, while commonly accepted by some Christians as gifts of the Spirit, would cause discomfort if not downright suspicion among most members of the Church.

So, are some gifts better than others? What are the “best gifts” referred to in Section 46, and how do we earnestly seek them? And if we earnestly seek them, what should we really expect to find?


  1. Anointing with oil and blessing is not the same thing as the gift of healing but they both require the priesthood.

  2. Hmmm, Anonymous. I think I understand what you are saying, but I am not sure I agree. While it is true that anointing and blessing the sick have been clearly designated a priesthood functions for the past 70 or 80 years, it was not always the case, even in this dispensation. And I do not believe the gift of healing (as opposed to the ordinance of anointing the sick) is restricted to priesthood holders. Do you have support for that idea?

  3. Sorry I didn't get back sooner. I thought the same thing you did. I found this and I can't remember who wrote it, but I think it was from a conference.
    The gift of healing spoken of by the Apostle Paul in the first letter to the Corinthian Saints must be distinguished from the power of the Holy Priesthood. While this gift cannot be enjoyed apart from the Priesthood, it may not always be present in those who hold the Priesthood.

  4. I just discovered this blog and just wanted to make a note....on the gift of tongue, I don't think it is just referring to just knowing a language like when missionaries need it...but I think that it means that gift of language, meaning of all the people that are able to communicate well. For example we can say that Obama has a gift of tongue, whether you agree with his policies or not you know that he is well spoken and can make his point across even inspire people. I would say that he has the gift of tongues.
    Its just the ability to speak that others might understand, and the ability to interpret spiritual truths by the power of the Holy Ghost. When one is given the gift of tongues, it will always be given so that there is understanding between the speaker and the listener.
    "The gift of tongues is not something for the entertainment of members, nor is it for the purpose of creating awe or to increase faith in those who are weak. The gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues are given for the purpose of helping to build up and strengthen the kingdom of God.”
    (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966], 2: 26.)

  5. Alejandra: Thanks for the quote. That makes a lot of sense.

  6. Interpretation is critical, especially here. Paul is warning the early church not to prioritize the gifts thereby seeing some as "better".

    We are all given gifts which are for the good of all. We aren't all thinkers or doers; yet we all have a gift. We aren't to compare our gifts with one another's thereby leading to inferiority and envy. We should only compare ourselves to Christ.

    The main point however, isn't on gifts at all. Instead its all about love and charity which without any gift you posess basically is useless.

    "People don't care how much you show them until you show them how much you care" unknown author


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