Why Some Spiritual Gifts Attract Unstable People

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By John Piper About Spiritual Gifts
Part of the series Taste & See

The Bible is aware of “unstable” people. For example, 2 Peter 3:16 says, “There are some things [in Paul’s letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” 2 Peter 2:14 speaks of evil men who “entice unstable souls.” James 1:8 speaks of a “double minded man, unstable in all his ways.” 

None of us is perfectly stable. King David and the apostle Paul knew what it was like to be in the pit of discouragement and in the clouds of ecstasy. It is not always easy to separate the sick from the sound. Nor should we always try, since the same therapy is prescribed for both: love.

But let me try to describe what I mean by “unstable people”—and don’t fret too much if one or two of these features fit you. Here is what I mean by unstable:

  1. Unstable people tend to have excessive emotional mood swings without good reasons. They can be excessively cast down or excessively excited when there is no sufficient reason to be.
  2. That leads to the second feature: the emotions of unstable people are not adequately connected to their reasoning and perceiving faculties. In some measure this is true of all of us. But in a sound mind emotions are guided by true observations about reality and right thinking about these observations. But in the unstable person perceptions are skewed and the rudder of reason is spinning free under the boat. The ship of life is blown on the sea of emotion without the normal control provided by the rudder. Even with a good rudder you can be blown pretty badly. But when the rudder connection is broken things are much worse. The unstable boat of life is blown here and there on the sea of emotions.
  3. Therefore, the unstable are excessively insecure. Without a deep root of knowledge and trust and emotional satisfaction (!) in God’s sovereign grace, they draw an excessive amount of security from relational circumstances. Again we are all like this in some measure. “I believe, help my unbelief.” But in the unstable the problem is greater and they are therefore vulnerable to anything that even looks remotely like criticism or disapproval or rejection.
  4. One manifestation of these problems is that unstable people are often out of touch with relational dynamics. They do not realize how they are coming across. The ordinary restraints and requirements of simple social interaction are not of their framework.

Why do this kind of people feel attracted in a disproportionate degree to the extraordinary spiritual gifts like prophecy and knowledge and tongues as well as other unusual signs and miracles?

One possible answer is that these gifts are by and large above the ordinary processes of objective observation and reasoning. Therefore they provide an atmosphere that seems free of the ordinary constraints in which these people find it so hard to live. They feel that here at last they can say what comes to their mind without the constraints of reason and careful biblical interpretation and sober observation that ordinarily govern the give and take of life. These spiritual gifts seem to fit their way of life: unpredictable, unconnected to reasoning processes, free from the demands of objective observation.

But I urge you to read 1 Corinthians 14 and see whether you think Paul saw the atmosphere of spiritual gifts as an unstable one. The issue we face is how to own up to the truth of the gifts without creating a forum for instability.

Earnestly desiring all the fullness of God,

Pastor John

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