A dear friend sent me this Bible recently. Acts 11:18 (NLT) says “When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, ‘We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.'” She said that she had never thought of repentance as being a privilege, and then she asked the most interesting question, “Does privilege equate to blessing in the biblical sense?” Is this just semantics or is there substance here also?
I immediately realized I needed to do some research on this. First I went to my Hebrew/Greek Bible (NASB) to look up the verse to find the root word used in the verse for privilege. Guess what? There was nothing there. The NASB translation reads, “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'” Next I went to my NIV Study Bible and it reads, “When they heard this, they had no objections and praised God, saying ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Still nothing about privilege. I looked up the verse in the New English Translation, the Common English Bible, the American Standard Version, the King James and New King James as well as the Passion Translation and could not find the word privilege in any of those. The closest one was the Passion translation that refers to the “gift of repentance”. Are those two words, gift and privilege synonymous? And are either of those words synonymous with blessing? A gift is something someone gives you without you doing anything to earn it, like the gift of grace. One definition of blessing is something beneficial for which one is grateful and brings well-being. And then, the word privilege is defined as something regarded as a special honor.
Is every gift a blessing? Is every blessing a privilege? Is every privilege a gift? I hope that you readers will weigh in on this discussion and let me know what you think. Here’s what I believe to be true. Gifts can indeed be blessings. Isaiah 11:1-2 tell us of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit–Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. Then in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 there are nine gifts of the Holy Spirit listed, not to be confused with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous power, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues. Just for clarification, the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self control. Interestingly I came across one commentator who described the gifts and the fruit like this: The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the cake and the fruit of the Holy Spirit is the icing on the cake. The fruit of the spirit result from living in accord with the Holy Spirit. However, we will discuss the fruit of the Spirit at another time. Definitely all these gifts listed in both the Old Testament and the New Testament are truly blessings. However, a gift is not always a blessing, as not all gifts are good gifts. We don’t always want what others give us. Have you ever received something that you really didn’t want or that was given out of anger or spite?
Privilege as defined by the Oxford Dictionaries expands our original definition found above to include “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” Next question, is every privilege a blessing? I think not. It depends upon who is conferring the privilege and/or how it was conferred. If God is conferring privilege upon you, then privilege is a blessing. However, if the world is bestowing privilege upon you, that may not be a blessing at all.
Blessings are far more than just privilege. The Lord blesses everyone he chooses, in whatever way he chooses. There is no regard to rank and privilege when it comes to blessings. One commentator said that privilege, in today’s society. has come to mean something negative. Privilege is for the few, the lucky, the rich, the famous, but not for the masses. Therefore, privilege often inspires envy, jealousy and resentfulness. None of which could anyone mistake for a blessing.
So my hypothesis is this, blessings can be privileges and/or gifts and are always positive. On the other hand, gifts can be positive or negative but are not always blessings. And finally, privilege can be a blessing or a gift if it brings a positive result. However, privilege can have negative connotations as well. Therefore, the three words, while having much in the way of crossover and similar definitions are not always synonymous. One must examine the gift and the giver, the blessing and the one conferring the blessing, and the privilege as well as the provider of that privilege to determine the context.
One final thought, “Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 (NIV). I think this applies to all blessings and positive privileges also as they are bestowed by the Father on an undeserving world. Praise God that he loves and blesses us so completely.