We should call out when Christians use their gifts in twisted ways. If someone prophesied falsely, they could lead many astray. We think back to the false prophets in the Old Testament who only told kings what they were itching to hear. Someone who does not test the spirits (discernment) can read falsely into a situation. Or they may puff themselves up with pride and think they can rely on their own wisdom or gifting. And Satan feeds off of pride.
We should also call out fake healings and the use of tongues without an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14).
If we aren’t careful, though, it can seem like we’re leading a witch hunt against charismatic gifts—and not exercising enough judgment over using other gifts that less charismatic churches use all the time. Any gift should have a checks and balances system in place. In today’s article, we’ll dive into some ways gifts can be abused—ones that tend to get away with more things now.
Note: We won’t be able to cover every gift due to word count limits. Know that the principle applies across the board. Any gift can be twisted for evil purposes.
What Is the Abuse of Spiritual Gifts?
There is an old saying in Christianity that comes from the words of Joseph in Genesis 50:20. “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” The verse’s context is that Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers over his spiritual gift of prophecy. His prophecy had come true, for he ruled over his brothers as the second-in-command in Egypt.
This saying can be reworded to be “What Satan meant for evil, God meant for good.” which is true. Satan cannot create; he can only corrupt. What greater thing can Satan corrupt than the very gifts that God gives to his people?
The abuse of spiritual gifts is not always noticeable. It may take a close observation to see how abusive someone may be. They may mask their behavior by strategically hiding behind a false sense of piety and humility, disguising pride and acedia (more on that later).
How Can Christians Abuse the Gift of Hospitality?
For each of these gifts, we must first define them before we can provide how they can be abused. With that said, let’s define hospitality below.
Hospitality: As defined by Crosswalk.com, “an act that invites people into a place of belonging.”
Most often, we can think of us extending our homes to strangers as the most common conduit for hospitality. Those with this gift tend to be very welcoming to others and often open up hearts to hearing the Gospel through kindness.
At first, this doesn’t seem like a gift you can abuse. But there are several ways it can go awry.
1. Control: Those who open up their homes may want to orchestrate everything. Think of Martha yelling at Mary for not cleaning the home instead of listening to Jesus. Micromanagers allow no room for the Gospel to move. People hate being controlled and will feel it when a hospitable host tries to force every conversation or topic.
2. Guilt: A hospitable person may use their kind acts against their guests as leverage. They may quid pro quo the situation. “I gave you shelter. Now you have to listen to my Gospel presentation.”
3. Co-Dependency: Those with the gift of hospitality may crave being needed. They may be base their identity on who they host and help (rather than basing it on Christ) and will struggle to figure out who they without someone to host.
How Can Christians Abuse the Gift of Teaching?
Teachers hold the responsibility of not just teaching from the Word with the truth. They are responsible for molding the student’s character, whether they teach minors or adults.
So, what can abusing the gift of teaching look like?
1. Pride: Whether it is credentials or experience, an abusive teacher can hide behind their work and hold it over students that they know more. If certain beliefs are questioned or challenged, they may deflect by gaslighting rather than having a genuine response.
2. Unconscious bias: Christianity has a large range of denominations and traditions. Each one has plenty of biases about the other groups. A teacher must honestly and accurately describe another group’s beliefs without being one-sided and judgmental.
Take it from me (Trey), who’s an Anglican Catholic. Before I became interested in this tradition, various teachers in my church and family would teach inaccurate beliefs about Catholic Christians. When I challenged them as I moved more toward Catholic beliefs and practices, they were shocked to realize how wrong they were. If that was my experience, what is someone else’s in a classroom setting?
3. Ad Hominem: Defined as attacking one’s character, an ad hominem strategy can be the abusive teacher’s last resort. Whether it is attacking a student, group, or figure, teachers can fall for an ad hominem when they are vulnerable, which can lead to pride (as we previously discussed).
These are only a few examples of abusing the gift of teaching. As teachers of the Word, we are expected to teach accurately and truthfully, with humility and love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
How Can Christians Abuse the Gift of Exhortation?
Exhortation: Spurring one believer on to do something, often through encouragement.
Again, encouragement may not seem like a bad thing at first glance. These people are the types of Christians who revitalize your spirit and give you the push you need to dive into your calling—especially if you are hesitant to dive in. This gift can also call out sin and spur a believer to a better way of living. So where can this gift go wrong?
1. Not Listening to God: We may think we know what’s best for the people in our own lives. But we must wait until God tells us to spur them on—and we clearly hear him say that (gifts of discernment can come in handy, eh?). If not, we may push them to do something simply because we (not God) want that for them.
2. Plank-Eye Living: We can probably think of someone in our lives who calls out the sins of others but quickly retaliates when you call them out on their own. Those with this gift can risk being hypocritical if the user hasn’t advanced far in their sanctification process.
3. Intolerance to Meat-before-Idols Issues: Those with this gift can risk becoming Pharisees. Scripture is clear on certain sins. But gray-area situations all depend on the person and their convictions. Those with exhortation may guilt or shame someone who isn’t sinning in the first place because the exhorter dislikes that thing.
How Can Christians Abuse the Gift of Serving?
As someone (Trey) who enjoys serving in multiple ministries at their church, this can easily be abused if we are not careful in observing our surroundings. Worse than that, we may hide behind certain actions and phrases.
1. Burnout: When we think of burnout, we think of working 40+ hours a week, holding down two jobs, being a full-time student with two internships, and so on. How often do we think about burnout in ministry? It’s easy for anyone to take on too much, refusing to give up any of it. Someone might immediately jump into leading a ministry when they start attending a new church (yes, this can happen).
After the Bishop confirmed me in the Anglican Catholic Church, I wanted to jump into serving immediately. However, my priest and a dear friend encouraged me to start with one thing and rest for some time to avoid burnout and the need to perform in ministry.
2. “It’s the Lord’s work”: We can hide behind our burnout, claiming to be burning out for the Lord. There is a misconception that if our service leaves us exhausted, God is humbling or rewarding us for faithfulness. It is one thing to be exhausted while remaining faithful through trial. It is another to deliberately suffer and call it a humbling experience. That is pride.
3. Acedia: a term for slothfulness that Catholic Christians use for one of the seven deadly sins—specifically, spiritual slothfulness. I am not speaking of being lazy on the couch watching sports with a bag of ships. I am talking about spiritual slothfulness. We may neglect to spend time with God while spending all our time serving God. We become so much of a Martha in handling work and tasks before the Lord that we fail to be like Mary and sit at his feet, taking in all his wisdom and teaching.
How Can Christians Abuse the Gift of Giving?
We probably all know how to define this one. But it goes beyond money. It means time, energy, and effort. Givers will give you the shirt off their backs. They will make time for you and are very generous people.
Again, how could this gift possibly end up evil? Satan has his ways.
1. Manipulation: Like hospitality, this could end up in a quid pro quo situation. “I gave you this, so you owe me this.” People who give may lord it over the person who received it, with endless debts they cannot repay.
2. Fiscal/Time Irresponsibility: God calls us to give but doesn’t call us to give irresponsibly. This person may be unable to make time for family because he gives all of it to friends or people who need him. He may spend too much to make others feel happy and comfortable and end up financially ruined.
3. Unrealistic Expectations: Some people who give may want to see their actions reciprocated. This can burden the receiver, who may not have the same gifting. This can put tension between the two, especially if the giver is extremely generous.
What Should Christians Remember about Avoiding Spiritual Gift Abuse?
Any gift can be twisted. God gives us wonderful, good things. But if we do not place checks and balances on every gift—not just the most charismatic ones, we run the risk of spiritual gift abuse.
That doesn’t mean we should become pharisaical about this. But we should always implement caution. God is a powerful God, and Satan will seek any way to twist his power. I pray that we can operate discerning minds regarding this and not have gatekeeping for a few gifts.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ipopba
Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author 21+ books. More than 1400 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.
Trey Soto holds a B.A. in Communication Studies from Biola University and an M.A. in Communication Management from the University of Denver. He is a photographer, a writer, and a podcast host at T.V. Trey Podcast. You can see more of his work on his Wix portfolio.