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Spiritual Gifts

What Matters Most?

Which is most important to you:

  1. the spiritual gift

  2. your stance on the gift

  3. the Giver of the gift

Some people in the body of Christ are in love with their spiritual gifts.

Having and using a gift is what is most important to them. You can tell if this is the case if they see themselves only in terms of a gift or if all they talk about is healing or tongues or prophecy, etc.

Some people in the body of Christ are in love with their stance on all spiritual gifts or on some gift in particular. Being right about the gifts or a particular gift or being able to convince others to view and/or use the gifts like they see them is what is most important to them. You can tell if this is the case if they love to argue about the gifts and is willing to hurt someone else or offend someone else for their viewpoint to be seen.

“‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

We are not called to love the gifts God manifests through us nor are we called to love our ideas and opinions about the gifts. We are called to love God…who is the Giver of the spiritual gifts.

I start out this way because I believe that in the past 2000 years satan has divided various Christian groups – often over little things.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

Jesus warned us about satan: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” (John 10:10a) but about Himself He says this in contrast: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (10:10b)

So, whenever we study a topic like spiritual gifts that has so often been used as a wedge between Christians and Christian groups, we must be wise. We must resolve ahead of time that our purpose for addressing these things is for the life of Christ to flow through us. We will know if we are successful at this if when we are done we have closer fellowship with one another.

What Is The Source of Spiritual Gifts?

Having said that, where do these gifts come from?

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

Paul always says what he says how he says it for a purpose. What does he communicate here more than anything? That God is the Source. The variety, the effects and what happens through the spiritual gifts are all determined by Him.

If we remember this we will never fall to pride about “our” gift(s). It’s about God – not us. It’s about Him building His Kingdom.

What Are The Miraculous Spiritual Gifts?

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

These can be broken generally into three categories:

1) the revelation gifts where the Holy Spirit reveals something: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, prophecy and discerning of spirits;

2) the power gifts where the Holy Spirit does something: faith, gifts of healing, and working of miracles; and

3) the inspirational gifts where the Holy Spirit says something: prophecy, different kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues.

There are other lists of spiritual gifts such as the manifestation (or action) gifts found in Romans 12 (prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy) and the office gifts found in Ephesians 4:

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13)

For this study we are focusing on the miraculous spiritual gifts.

Why Do We Have Spiritual Gifts?

Why does God give us spiritual gifts?

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7 – NASB)

It’s good to look at some of these words.

The Greek word translated here as “manifestation” is “phanerosis”. It literally means an “expression” or “exhibition”. So, this too should protect us from pride knowing that whatever spiritual gift we have is there so that someone other than ourselves might see the Spirit expressed or exhibited through us.

Again, it’s about God – not us. It’s about Him building His Kingdom.

The Greek word translated here as “common good” is “sumphero”. It’s an interesting word because it means “for everyone to be better” but it also means “to bring together and to strengthen” and “to bear together”.

So, in one word we get the reality that God has given us whatever manifestations of the Spirit that we have for the purpose of unity – to use them together, to bring us together and to benefit us as a group.

Isn't it interesting, then, to observe that satan has divided the Body of Christ on this whole issue of spiritual gifts?

Again in 1 Corinthians 14:26 Paul reaffirms the purpose of the spiritual gifts:

“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”

The word “edification” has to do with building something – the body of Christ.

Are The Spiritual Gifts For Today?

One of the ways satan has divided the body of Christ over the years is to draw us into separate camps. Even today the church is divided into two camps over what are considered to be charismatic spiritual gifts:

  1. Cessationists – they believe that the miraculous spiritual gifts ceased with the death of the last apostle and that the Bible has replaced the need for the miraculous.

  2. Charismatics – they believe that the miraculous spiritual gifts never were intended to cease until Jesus returns.

In both camps there are people who practice extreme versions of these doctrines. In the “Cessationist” camp are some who refuse to pray for people to be even generically healed.

Sometimes in this camp there is a tendency to almost worship the Bible and/or their viewpoints on doctrines and to mock those who claim to have fresh spiritual revelation or experiences with God. This makes it easy for “Charismatics” to discount even valid “Cessationist” spiritual beliefs and practices.

In the “Charismatic” camp there are people that some refer to as being “charismaniacs”. Sometimes they tend to discount the word of God in favor of a spiritual experience often linked to the manifestation of a spiritual gift. This makes it easy for “Cessationists” to discount even valid “Charismatic” spiritual experiences.

In the end, the Bride of Christ suffers.

I believe the Bible is complete and crucial AND that miraculous spiritual gifts are valid for today but I do not consider myself to be neither a charismatic nor a cessationist. In fact, I resist any notion that I belong to any subset of the body of Christ. I am a Christian. Further, I am a Christian who is learning and still being restored to the image and likeness of Christ (Colossians 3:10).

The “Cessationist” doctrine that I have been exposed to seems to draw heavily from one passage:

“Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

The truth is that in this passage God tells us that at the time of the writing, some time in the future charismatic gifts such as tongues and prophesy will cease. The question is: “when?”

In verse 10 we have the key “when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”

My understanding is that those in the “Cessationist” camp believe that the Bible is “the perfect” and that since “the perfect” has come, the partial…..the “inferior” manifestations of the Spirit are no longer needed and, therefore, have been “done away” with (literally, have been “rendered useless”.) Certainly, “useless” is how they are often viewed in churches that take this position.

A close look at the language in 1 Corinthians 13:10 will help us put this in perspective.

“but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”

The Greek word translated as “perfect” is “teleios”. It means “completeness” and comes from the word “telos” which means “a set out definite point or goal; the conclusion of an act or state”.

Most of the times “telos” and “teleios” are used in the Bible they are used to communicate something about either the end of the world (when Jesus returns) or the perfection of a person or plan. This means that it points to the realization of a goal or the full attainment of everything God planned for something or someone.

The Bible, while being sufficient for us as the written word of God, teaches that what is written in its pages is not everything that happened.

“This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” (John 21:24-25)

I believe it is clear that the “teleios” spoken of here in 1 Corinthians is not the arrival of the Bible; rather, it has to do with that time when God has decided that all His plans for us and the earth have been realized. Since, then, “teleios” has not been achieved and Jesus has not arrived, “the partial” has not yet been done away with.

This means that the charismatic gifts, the “portion or allotment” (the literal translation of “the partial”) that are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13 are still needed and in operation (where they are allowed.) In other words, since Jesus has not yet returned, the Lord considers that prophecy, tongues, knowledge, etc. are still important for the strengthening of the body of Christ.

In addition to what we’ve just seen in the Bible there is other evidence that the charismatic spiritual gifts were in operation among people far and beyond the apostles and a few others. They were widely distributed across the church and still are.

Prophecy was in operation in the church in Rome (Romans 12:6), in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:10), in Ephesus (Ephesians 4:11), in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:20) and in Antioch (Acts 13:1). A number of people who were not apostles manifested these gifts: the prophet Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10-11), Silas and Judas – both prophets (Acts 15:32), the four virgin daughters of Phillip who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9) and Ananias ((Acts 9:10-19). Miracles were occurring in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:10) and in the churches of Galatia (Galatians 3:5). Tongues were practiced in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-3), by Gentile believers in Caesarea (Acts 10:44-48), at Samaria (Acts 8:14-25) and in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12-14).

So, we can see that the manifestation of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit was not limited to apostles and a handful of individuals. The picture that emerges when one reads Acts and the epistles is that it was commonplace for Christians to manifest whatever gifts God has sown into them. The same is possible among our brethren today.

How Are We to Approach Spiritual Gifts?

God commands us to hunger for spiritual gifts.

“…earnestly desire the greater gifts.” (1 Corinthians 12:31)

“Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1)

“Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy,” (1 Corinthians 14:39a)

The Greek word translated as “desire earnestly” literally means to “eagerly crave, covet, lust after”. Based on the verses above, it is good to not only desire spiritual gifts in general but to strongly desire specific giftings.

As we discussed earlier, many in the body of Christ reject the notion that there are those in the church today that would prophesy in the biblical sense, raise the dead and practice other miraculous gifts. I find it interesting that when Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 14:39 he mentions prophesy – one of those very gifts.

What About Tongues?

The gift of tongues is one of the most controversial today of all the spiritual gifts and I suspect it was pretty controversial in the first century as well. One reason it is hard to handle for some is the attitude of others who speak in tongues. (Remember what we saw earlier about spiritual pride.)

The fact remains, though, that the Spirit prompted Paul to write this:

“do not forbid to speak in tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39b)

I always think it is important when we read the Word to note what it does not say. It does not say that we are to “not forbid others to speak in tongues at this time” or to “not forbid others to speak in tongues until the Bible is written” or “not forbid others to speak in tongues if you do not have the gift or if tongues makes you uncomfortable”.

We must not add or take away from the Word of God and it simply says, “do not forbid to speak in tongues.”

So, let’s be obedient to God and never forbid people to speak in tongues. It is clear that God has not ceased blessing some with the gift of tongues. I would like to do a brief study of the different forms of that gift but first I would like to address how it is to be utilized.

Simply put, we are to administer tongues the same way we are to utilize all the other gifts like mercy, hospitality, prophecy, etc., i.e. in an orderly fashion. In fact that is the very next verse:

“Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40)

The Greek word for “decently” means “in an honest fashion” and “in order” means “in a regular arrangement or in a dignified manner”.

Paul valued this gift highly and wished that everyone to could practice it.

“I wish you all spoke with tongues, (1 Corinthians 14:5a)

It is evident that not all Christians have the gift of mercy or giving or administrations or healings. In a similar way, not all Christians receive the gift of tongues, despite the claims of some who seem to judge other Christians by whether or not they manifest this one spiritual gift. This, to me, is no less damaging than the idea that one is out of order or in error if he or she speaks in tongues today.

Some Specifics Regarding Tongues

There are three ways that the gift of tongues manifests:

  1. A private prayer language

  2. The ability to speak in or to be heard in tongues unknown to the speaker

  3. A message in tongues for a gathering of Christians

A private “prayer language”

Many believe that this is a gift that is given to use when mere words cannot express what is happening in us. They point to this verse and believe that the “groanings” are the sounds one makes when one prays in the Spirit.

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

Paul goes on to say to the Corinthians that praying in tongues is not a logical thing in which one can reason out one’s prayer. I believe it is a matter of one’s human spirit communing with the Holy Spirit in prayer and, therefore, it goes beyond our ability to apply logic to it. He also points out that praying in tongues is not sufficient – that we must also pray with our understanding or minds

“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:14-15)

When Paul discusses this in 1 Corinthians 14 he is making a distinction between private prayer tongues and a corporate issue of tongues:

“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:4)

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:13 – NIV)

It is my belief that even when praying privately in tongues, the one praying is actually uttering words in languages unknown to him or her. There are incidents reported in which one is overheard praying in a tongue unknown to him and the one overhearing asserts that the prayer was in his own native tongue, Mandarin Chinese, a strange Mayan dialect, etc.

In my experience it is very common for this to be such a private and intimate experience that no one but God ever hears the one praying in tongues. I am often suspicious when a person is very overt in how he or she prays in the Spirit because it can be done in such a prideful way. The exception would be churches in which public praying in tongues is part of the corporate worship, for example, many Assemblies of God churches.

Unknown Tongues

Some Christians believe that this was prophesied of by Isaiah:

“Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, ‘This is the resting place, let the weary rest’; and, ‘This is the place of repose’-- but they would not listen.” (Isaiah 28:11-12)

This has to do with one being able to speak a language unknown to the hearer. The original incidence of this was in Acts chapter 2 when the first infilling of the Holy Spirit occurs.

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.’” (Acts 2:4-11)

It is evident that these people were speaking in known languages but unknown to them.

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues (other languages) and magnify God.” (Acts 10:44-46a)

Corporate Tongues

This is a message from God to a group of assembled Christians. God has required that this should be done sparingly, with only a few receiving the message and speaking it in tongues. His reason: that visitors would not think we are crazy.

“Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (1 Corinthians 14:23)

In addition, God has required that when this happens there must be an interpretation or it is to be ignored publicly (but the one receiving the message should still pursue it with the Lord personally.)

“If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28)

God values this gift to the assembled body of Christ. That’s why He encourages us through Paul to pray that we would be the one who interprets tongues.

“…let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” (1 Corinthians 14:13)

In Conclusion

Spiritual gifts exist to strengthen the body of Christ and to further the Kingdom of God. They are given by God the Holy Spirit and their use is initiated by the Father through the prompting of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Satan is relentless in his efforts to destroy the works of God. This is why he seeks to divide the body whenever possible and he has often successfully done so using the spiritual gifts (intended by God to unite and strengthen us) to, instead, fracture the Kingdom. A quick glance at the state of the body of Christ will reveal that this is regrettably true as it exists in its current state divided into countless denominations and congregations that barely function in peace, much less in unity.

Among the gifts are some that are so unearthly that they really catch the attention of believers and non-believers alike. The God-given supernatural gift of tongues in its various forms is one of those.

The purposes of the three manifestations of this gift can be summed up simply in this way:

1. A sign to unbelievers as in Acts 2 and in corporate worship which is designed for the growth of the body of Christ but may contain non-believers as well.

“Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that do not believe...” (1 Corinthians 14:22)

2. A corporate message in tongues given to grow, edify and strengthen the Body of Christ.

3. A private prayer language designed by God to edify the one praying.

It seems to me that just in how these three manifestations of one gift function the ways God interacts with people are summed up. They address unbelievers (to draw them into relationship with Him), gatherings of believers (to unite, guide and strengthen them) and individual believers (to enhance His personal relationship with them through intimate and private communication.)

I suggest you study the verses presented here and others that pertain to the spiritual gifts and seek the Lord for His thoughts on how you should function in the body of Christ. His stance on this has not changed:

“Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts…” (1 Corinthians 14:1a)

Pastor Mike McInerney

Mike McInerney Ministries, Inc,

Decatur, TX

© January 21, 2006

(For use with permission)

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