The subject of spiritual gifts has come up in several other papers in the past, but I need to address this subject in a little more detail, so, here we go. I remember from my past involvement in traditional religion the strange (and wrong) emphasis put on this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. And I think it best to repeat at this point some of the things I’ve said in other papers about spiritual gifts as they relate to traditional religion to sort of set the stage for what I have to say.
Spiritual gifts cannot be taught. You do not learn from men (or women) how to function in these gifts that come from the Spirit, for that very reason. They come from the Spirit. They are never a result of the whim or imagination of men. They are spiritual, which means they have their source in God and they are spiritually discerned. Yes, you can learn about them, to a degree, but certainly not to the extent that religion proposes. As a matter of fact, you will hopefully realize from this presentation that spiritual gifts are one of the ways God teaches us his character and nature (Who He is and what He does). They are God’s method of spontaneous, on the job training in the exercise and demonstration of His love.
Also, spiritual gifts are not a result of our fleshly desire to "minister to the body". It’s not our responsibility to go around trying to decide what people need and whether or not they could benefit from "our giftings", simply because we’ve worked so hard to develop them. Neither can it be "our ministry" to equip the saints for the fleshly exercise of these gifts. True spiritual gifts come as a result of our submission and subsequent obedience to God as we struggle to learn how to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And when we’re submitted to Him, He decides the when, the how and the who, in regards to the timing, the manifestation of the specific gift and the person or persons to be on the receiving end of what He has planned.
The prevailing concept in religion is that spiritual gifts can be identified through an evaluation or test and enhanced by training. Wrong! The most common result of such foolishness is that people manipulate the evaluation and it results in confirming what they think they already know, what they want to be, how they see themselves or how others see them. In this way, their so-called giftings either line up with their natural abilities or what they’ve determined to be the most prestigious or attention-getting gifts. For those in the traditional church that tend to be somewhat ambitious or competitive in nature, this is their opportunity to shine. They now have an acceptable opportunity to publicly exhibit their supposed spiritual superiority over those with less ambition. Of course, this is all done for the sake of strengthening the Body and meeting the needs of others. It’s really nothing more than the exercise of their flesh. But then again, as I’ve said before, religion is specifically calculated to appeal to the flesh and give it opportunity to manifest itself in the name of God.
Religion attempts to separate spiritual gifts into several categories. According to the religion experts, there are ministry gifts, power gifts and gifts that are reserved for the pseudo-spiritual elite, those who have the education, the training and the talent, the ones who have chosen religion as a career. Then, depending on their particular bent, different religious groups can emphasize certain gifts and ignore others. They can justify their leadership roles and manipulate those under their supposed authority. If it’s possible to read this paper void of any religious bias, you’ll see that God doesn’t make those distinctions.
In our consideration of spiritual gifts, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of course, is our expert. There are three major passages, all in Paul’s epistles (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4). And since I Corinthians was probably the first one written, we’ll start there. The following is a paraphrase of verses 1 through 13.
1. And now, brothers, let’s talk about spiritual gifts. I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings.
2. You remember that when you were still heathen, you followed after false gods that couldn’t speak and you thought nothing of it.
3. But now you have to understand that no one following the promptings of the Holy Spirit is ever going to say, Jesus is damned! And no one can really say, Jesus is Lord, except by that same Holy Spirit.
4. Now, there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit.
5. And there are different ways of serving, but it is the same Lord Who is served.
6. And God’s workings in our lives may be revealed in many different ways, but it’s still His work, regardless of how or in whom it is manifested.
7. Just remember that each manifestation of the Spirit is given for the good of all.
8. To one is given by the Spirit the ability to speak a message of wisdom, to another the ability to express profound spiritual understanding through the same Spirit.
9. To another the ability to trust God without reservation, again, given by the same Spirit, and to another the extraordinary ability to heal others, by the same Spirit.
10. To another the very real ability to overrule the laws of nature, to another the ability to clearly interpret God’s will and purpose, to another the ability to discern the difference between the true spirits that come from God and the false ones, to another the ability to speak in other languages, and to yet another the ability to interpret these languages.
11. And all of these wonderful gifts come through the revelation and inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, Who gives them to each one individually as He chooses.
12. For just as a human body is one body, but with many parts, so it is with those who are in the Body of Christ. It, too, has many parts, but is only one Body.
13. And it is only through the personal and individual ministry of the Holy Spirit to each one of us that we have all, whether Jew or Gentile, been identified with this one Body and have all been made partakers of this same Holy Spirit.
OK, let’s look at this pretty much verse by verse. I’ll try to be brief. Paul didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings with regards to spiritual gifts, so he reminds those in the church at Corinth that things are different now that they’re following the real God who speaks through the ministry of His Spirit, instead of the pagan gods they had known before. He tells them that all true spiritual gifts have the same source – the one and only Holy Spirit of God. They all serve that same God. And they all represent His working in our lives. In other words, He determines, not us, what it’s going to be, how it’s going to be carried out and who is going to be involved.
Then Paul moves on to identify the different kinds of gifts the Holy Spirit can give. There are nine listed in this passage. Let’s define them in some detail, so we can understand them (but not so we can set out to develop them on our own). We must always remember that spiritual gifts tend to be fragmentary and temporary in nature. So, just because the Holy Spirit may impart, for instance, the gift of wisdom to someone does not mean that they "have" the gift of wisdom from that point on to use as they wish or as they believe the need arises. Traditional religion, depending on their particular agendas, tend to either make these gifts out to be something they’re not or ignore them altogether.
The first gift in this list is the word of wisdom. Here, "wisdom" is sophia, commonly translated "prudence". This is a word that has specific meaning, namely, the knowledge of how to regulate one’s relationship with God. In other words, wisdom is the ability to understand how to correctly relate to God according to His will and purpose. So, then, a word of wisdom is revelation from the Spirit that brings understanding regarding the divine will and purpose. This insight into the mind and heart of God reveals His plans and intentions. (Acts 27:21-25)
The next is the word of knowledge. The word translated "knowledge" is gnosis and is a word used to designate partial or fragmentary knowledge as opposed to epignosis, used to indicate full or complete knowledge. This is a revelation gift as well and gives one the ability to understand either divine or human intention in a particular circumstance. It is also a good example of demonic activity in some segments of traditional religion where the word of knowledge is presented by the spiritually ignorant as full and detailed information about individuals in areas of their lives that have nothing whatsoever to do with God’s intentions towards them. Of course, the purpose of counterfeit gifts is to deceive. Peter experienced both a word of knowledge and discerning of spirits in the episode with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. When you read these verses, you’ll see that the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter only partial knowledge of what Ananias and Sapphira were up to. This then prompted Peter to ask them questions to get to the full truth.
Then comes the gift of faith. This is the ability to trust God in the absence of human doubt, fear, unbelief or reasoning. When you read the scriptures, you find great examples of this in the lives of those who experienced extraordinary things with God. Abraham is one that immediately comes to mind (Romans 4:17-21). I’ve mentioned Hebrews 11 several times in the past. It’s probably the most concentrated passage in scripture that illustrates this point. By the way, I purposely use Old Testament characters here to remind you that these same spiritual gifts we’re talking about in the New Testament existed then and were in operation through the same Spirit. This is an illustration of the fact that the eternal, invisible God didn’t change from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and that He hasn’t changed from New Testament times to today.
The fourth is the gifts of healing. This is straightforward in meaning and needs no explanation as far as the gift is concerned. However, the counterfeit in traditional religion needs to be exposed for what it is, a fraud. Over the years I attended countless so-called healing services and never witnessed one legitimate healing. I’ve had people tell me they were healed, but then days, weeks or months later, they still had the same problem. I listened to the outrageous claims made by those who were purported to have the gift of healing, but never once saw them heal anyone. I saw seriously ill people leave meetings disappointed and people turned away because the "healers" prayed only for those who were willing to give an offering first (and the ones who did give weren’t healed either).
So, let’s put this gift in context, expose the charlatans and move on. (And if I sound angry here, I am. What religious manipulators do in the name of God is criminal. People get disappointed and angry with God, not because of what God does, but because of what men do in the name of God.) God can and does heal, at His discretion, in His timing, those He chooses. And He uses the gifts of healing sometimes to accomplish this. What he doesn’t do is give certain men or women the permanent ability to heal whomever they choose, whenever they choose. You don’t find it in scripture, either by example or by teaching and you’ll never see it in reality, except as it is demonically inspired in counterfeit form. There were times Paul sought healing for others to no avail. Then there were times when the gifts of healing were evident in his life to fulfill a specific purpose (Acts 28:8-10). Again, it’s important to remember, in religion men are in control, and God appears to be in subjection to them to do their bidding. But in spiritual reality, God is in control, and men are in subjection to Him and serve Him.
The claims of some in traditional religion that God wants to heal everyone are false and misleading. It has never been God’s purpose to heal everyone who is sick. He, in fact, has always used sickness to humble us and strip us of our strength and anything else that makes us self-sufficient and unwilling to seek Him. The insistence of those who want to believe that God wants everyone healthy and wealthy in this life only shows how far they are from understanding His will and purpose. The claims of Christian fakirs aside, Christ did not die on the cross so we could be healthy and wealthy; He did it so we could be delivered from our sin.
Next is the gift of miracles. Here, "miracles" is dunamis, and is used to illustrate the ability to demonstrate the power of God over the laws of nature. For most circumstances in this world there is an expected cause and result due to the natural laws that God put into operation to govern it. This gift of the Spirit allows one to intervene or contradict the natural laws that normally affect us all. I used Acts 28 above to illustrate the gifts of healing. In the same chapter (Acts 28:1-6) Paul gained favor with the superstitious inhabitants of the Island of Mileta when he was bitten by a poisonous snake but suffered no harm from it. It was this same gift of the Spirit that enabled Jesus to turn water into wine, calm the storm and walk on water.
The sixth gift is prophecy. We’ve discussed propheteia in other papers and will see it again, both in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 in this one. Prophecy is not predicting future events. It’s not reading people’s thoughts or giving intimate details of their lives. Those are all demonic counterfeits used to deceive those in traditional religion that choose to believe that anything supernatural must be God. The true prophetic in every instance is the revelation of the mind and heart of God and always has to do with His desire to communicate some aspect of His will and purpose. False prophecy in all its varied forms may be the most fraudulent and misleading of all the counterfeit gifts (and if it is, tongues may be a close second). There are many examples of the genuine gift in scripture. Look at Acts 20:28-31 for an example of a prophetic word. Here, God uses Paul to warn the elders at Ephesus to watch for those who would surely come to deceive and destroy the church through false doctrine.
The discerning of spirits is next on the list. The word translated "discerning" is diakrisis and means, "to distinguish one from another". This gift is the temporary ability to see into the spirit realm to see and understand what is coming out of this real, but invisible, domain. It can be those who serve only the purposes of God, or it can be the enemies of God. And here it might be good to point out that the sovereign God of the universe is the One Who decides whether or not to allow us to recognize what’s going on around us in the spirit realm. Sometimes it is His intention that we suffer at the hands of evil as part of His plan to perfect us (even Jesus suffered at the hands of evil). But He promises not to test us in ways that are beyond our ability to endure (I Corinthians 10:13). Then sometimes it is His intention to protect us from evil. Either way, it’s His choice, not ours. Look at Acts 13:6-12 for an example of this gift.
Then comes the gift of different kinds of tongues, literally the ability to speak languages that have not been previously learned by the one speaking them. This is genos, translated "kinds", or in other translations "diversities", used with the plural glossai, translated "tongues", but more appropriately for our understanding, "languages". This is a reference to what Jesus spoke of in Mark 16:17, the subsequent events described at Pentecost with the Jews in Acts 2:4, continued in Acts 10:46 with Gentiles, again in Acts 19:6 with the disciples of John the Baptist and then found in the instructions of Paul in I Corinthians 12-14. These appear to be either known languages that had not been learned by those who spoke them or ecstatic utterance, both in demonstration of the reality of the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) and the power of God (Acts 2:7, 8).
Since the word "tongues" has appeared, the can of worms (or the barrel of monkeys, depending on your view) has been opened. So let’s see if we can sort them out. In the past, traditional religion, depending on their agenda (they call it a statement of faith) has tried to deny tongues, ignore them, tolerate them, or over-emphasize them. Scholars have tried to categorize them, explain them or explain them away. But I have to tell you, there’s nothing like an open, honest and (I hope) unbiased examination of the subject to clear the misconceptions and gain even further understanding of the invisible God. This is going to take some time, but it will be worth it. So, get comfortable.
Let’s start with Jesus’ statement as recorded in Mark 16:15-18. This is Mark’s version of what religion commonly calls the Great Commission (actually, this is the Pentecostal Great Commission, the mainline, evangelical version is found in Matthew 28:19-20). It is both prophetic in the true sense and predictive. Here, Jesus has appeared to the eleven for the last time. He reproves them for their lack of faith and hardness of heart and then tells them they will take the good news of God’s plan of redemption to the world (which they did, look at Colossians 1:5, 6). He then says that those who accept this message, cling to it and identify themselves with it would be delivered (this is where you find the word "baptized", which doesn’t mean participate in a ritual and "get wet", it means to make a real identification by changing from one thing into another). Then Jesus continues, saying those who don’t accept it would be condemned.
Then He says there will be certain signs that will distinguish those who accept the message. The second sign He mentions is that they will speak in "new tongues". This is kainos, a word that is used to describe something that is qualitatively new, as opposed to numerically new (neos), and the plural glossai, mentioned above. Jesus is talking about new languages in the context of them being "different" from those normally spoken. And, unlike traditional religion, neither Jesus nor Paul attempts any distinction between the language of men or ecstatic utterance. Both are unknown or "new" to the one speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
And while I’m here, I may as well deal with the rest of Jesus’ statement. He mentions casting out demons, handling snakes, drinking poison and laying hands on the sick so they can recover. I hope the context here is obvious, but to most, I know it’s not. It’s not up to us to decide when to cast out demons, speak in different languages, handle snakes, drink poison, or lay hands on the sick. That’s what people do in religion to try to prove their spirituality; but, it’s not true spirituality, it’s religious self-righteousness. Those who really cling to this message of truth come to understand that God is in charge, and they’re submitted to Him. So, none of these things are determined by man, only by the Holy Spirit.
The key to understanding this is found in the phrase "in My name" found in verse 17. As I’ve said several times before, this is an idiom or word picture that literally means "as a representation of all that I am." And make no mistake about it; Jesus never did anything because He wanted to, because He decided it on His own or because someone else wanted Him to or expected Him to. He was totally submitted to the Father, to the Father’s plan and to the moment-by-moment leadership of the Holy Spirit. And everything Jesus describes in verses 17 and 18 must be understood in that context. Those things will only happen in the lives of those who are submitted to God and following the Spirit like He was. And then, it will be up to God whether they happen or not.
In Acts 28:1-6 Paul didn’t think, "I know how I can impress these stupid barbarians, so they’ll think I’m really something and treat me nice. I’ll do some snake handling and if that doesn’t do the trick, maybe I’ll have them bring me some poison to drink. That always works." Paul didn’t plan what happened; God through the Holy Spirit, in order to benefit both Paul and the inhabitants of Mileta, orchestrated it. Normally, the snakebite would have killed him, as it would any man. Paul would have died had he not experienced the gift of miracles. He was allowed to demonstrate the power of God by intervening in the laws of nature.
When you continue in Acts 28:7-10, you see the Holy Spirit again work in Paul through the gifts of healing, which put Paul and his party in favor with the people so that they were treated kindly and given everything they needed to continue their journey on to Rome. But, then again, we also know there were times when Paul sought God’s healing for himself or others and it didn’t happen. Again, true spiritual gifts are temporary and under the control of divine discretion.
In His instructions to the disciples in Mark 16, Jesus is not telling them to do these things whenever the notion strikes. He’s not unwittingly establishing traditional, institutional religion. He’s saying that these things will happen in the course of believer’s lives as they follow Him. He’s simply describing the result of the operation of the gifts and ministry of the Holy Spirit in those who are submitted to Him. And speaking in different languages is one of these gifts.
Now, to kind of speed this up let me give you a lot of information in a few short paragraphs. As already stated, there is no distinction made between known or unknown tongues (known languages or ecstatic utterances), in scripture; that distinction was made by King James translators who added "unknown" to the text and is unnecessary religious confusion (and if you don’t think the King James translators had a religious agenda, think again). Therefore, speaking in tongues is only possible as a gift of the Spirit, under His direction (Acts 2:4, 10:44-46, 19:6, I Corinthians 12:4, 11, 14:2). The one who speaks is not speaking to men, but to God (I Corinthians 14:2, 28). The benefit may be more to the one speaking than the one hearing (I Corinthians 14:4, 16), but there are exceptions to that (Acts 2:8, 11). The words spoken may be obscure to both the one speaking and the one hearing (I Corinthians 14:6-11); again, you have the exception above (and just let me slip this in right here, exceptions exist to illustrate the sovereignty of God and to mess up men’s theology). So, if necessary, to balance this there should be interpretation (I Corinthians 12:10, 30, 14:5, 27-28). Tongues may come in the form of prayer, song, praise or thanksgiving (Acts 10:46, I Corinthians 14:14-17). The unrestrained use of tongues in the church would make it appear to be an assembly of crazy people to outsiders (I Corinthians 14:23); so it should be limited and controlled (I Corinthians 14:27).
Yet even with this appearance of madness, or in the case of the church at Corinth, impropriety, the proper use of the gift of tongues is a legitimate evidence of God’s power to unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:22). The manifestation of this phenomenon can be either through the languages of men, spoken by those who had not previously learned them, or by the language of angels, spoken by those who could not have learned them (I Corinthians 13:1). Even though there seemed to be problems in the church at Corinth regarding the use of tongues, Paul confirms the validity of the practice (I Corinthians 13:1, 14:18). Paul not only had experienced the gift of tongues, he also had first-hand experience with the gift of interpretation. When he was taken up into the third heaven, he both heard and understood the language (utterances) of angels (II Corinthians 12:2-4).
Again, the statement of Jesus in Mark 16:17, the events recorded in Acts 2, 10 and 19 and what is described in I Corinthians 12-14 by Paul are not different categories of tongues. And unless you have a hidden agenda, attempting to categorize tongues into one compartment of foreign languages and another of ecstatic utterance, is unnecessary. And those who struggle to make that distinction are really wasting their time. In similarity to what Paul says in I Corinthians 14, the following is what we see in Acts 2. Here, speaking in tongues is also an endowment of the Spirit (Acts 2:4). It had at least some appearance of ecstatic utterance due to the supposed drunken state of those speaking (Acts 2:13), to the point that Peter thought it necessary to explain (Acts 2:14-16). The emphasis appears to be on foreign languages (Acts 2:6, 8), but should not be limited to that, as we will see a little further down the line.
In Acts 10:44-46 we see Peter preaching the good news to the Gentiles and suddenly, unexpectedly the Holy Spirit falls on them and to the amazement of the Jews who had accompanied Peter, these Gentiles begin to speak in tongues. Depending on the translation and what liberty the translators took to define these tongues, you find both foreign languages and ecstatic utterance referenced here. Then Peter in Acts 11:15-17, when called on the carpet by the Jewish contingent in Jerusalem to explain his actions, says that when he was in Caesarea talking to the Gentiles, "the Holy Spirit fell on them just like He did on us at the beginning" (verse 15) and, "God gave them the same gift in equal measure as He gave to us" (verse 17). Now, depending on whom you choose to believe, it would seem that Peter is saying that the events at Pentecost did not simply involve the disciples speaking in foreign languages, but ecstatic utterance, as well.
And in fact, those who propose the idea that only foreign languages were heard at Pentecost may be somewhat shortsighted. When you read the account in Acts 2 (without taking any liberty to define the language as foreign), it says they all spoke "other tongues" (verse 4). This is heteros, and means "another". I’m sorry, heterosdoesn’t mean "foreign". It is used to designate the fact that the Holy Spirit was directing them to speak in a manner in which they were not accustomed, in this case, a language other than Hebrew. This presents another dilemma. Since those Jews weren’t speaking Hebrew, then how did all the Jews who were present in that crowd hear about the miracles of God in their own language? That’s what it says in verses 9 and 11! So, to assume that were speaking in foreign languages doesn’t even begin to explain what happened.
Let me try to sort this out for you. In the account given by Luke in Acts 2 he tells us in verse 6 that when the multitude in Jerusalem heard the commotion caused by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples (the sound of a violent wind from heaven in verse 2, and everyone beginning to speak in "other" tongues in verse 4), they all rushed together to see what was going on. Now, this was a large group of religious people, both Jews and proselytes from all over the known world. Verse 41tells us that 3,000 of them believed that day and surely there were many more than that present. But try to get the picture. Here are thousands of people in the midst of what had to be a very noisy mass of confusion.
Does the text explain how all the different people groups were separated, quieted and led into their own little Sunday School rooms so one of the disciples could come and speak to them in their native tongue? Of course not! This was not a typical, traditional evangelistic crusade, where everything was carefully planned and carried out by the numbers in an orderly, dignified manner by religion experts. They weren’t separated and they didn’t get quiet until the disciples all stopped speaking in other tongues. And then Peter quieted the crowd and began to explain what was happening (verse 14).
So by now I hope you’re beginning to see the picture. The miracle of Pentecost goes way beyond what most in religion assume took place there. The disciples were standing together in a small, single group (verses 1, 14), not spread out amongst the crowd. They were all speaking in other tongues at the same time (verse 4), not politely taking turns and making sure to not go past their allotted time. And yet in the midst of all this noise, confusion and astonishment, each one in this tumultuous, mixed crowd of thousands heard them speak of the great miracles of God (verse 11). This does not tell me that the miracle of Pentecost was that the disciples spoke in foreign languages and those present were somehow able to understand them amid the confusion. No, what this tells me is that the miracle of Pentecost was that the disciples all spoke in some spiritual language and everyone in the huge, frenzied and disorderly crowd, including the Jews, was introduced to the Father and His Son when the Holy Spirit caused each one of them to hear the message in their own native language!!!
There is a segment of traditional religion today that wants to believe that speaking in tongues is a spiritual panacea, the cure-all for anything and everything that ails you. To them, ecstatic utterance is the proof of salvation (it isn’t), evidence of the ministry of the Holy Spirit (not necessarily), a sign of the presence of God (nope) and a gimmick to coerce God into doing what they want Him to do, when they want Him to do it (pure deception). In most cases, the continued and constant use of ecstatic utterance is, at best, an exercise of the flesh by those who possess little or no understanding of the true will and purposes of God. The people I know that run in this circle don’t appear to speak in tongues at the direction of the Holy Spirit. They do it whenever they want to or whenever someone tells them to. The worst-case scenario is that it gives entrance to demonic activity and deception, as does any continual exercise of the flesh. Look at the problems evident in the church at Corinth and the fact that it was clear as well that they were abusing the gifts. I rest my case.
On the other hand, those who understand God’s purpose and are learning by their experiences with Him how He accomplishes that purpose, grow to prefer present reality and strive to attain some semblance of understanding. They don’t continually give in to the flesh to exercise something they themselves view as a token of their spirituality (and again, if they’re doing it on their own, it’s not spirituality anyway, it’s self-righteousness and God hates it). Instead, true believers submit themselves to God and wait on Him. And in reference to spiritual gifts, they follow Paul’s advice to desire those gifts that will bring understanding and edify others (I Corinthians 14:1-4,12,15,19).
Which brings me to the last thing I want to talk about concerning the subject of tongues. It seems that nothing has changed from Paul’s day up to the present time. With their pagan backgrounds, the Corinthians were inclined to view speaking in tongues as the spiritual gift par excellence. Which is why, in their flesh, they abused it. Have you ever wondered why Paul didn’t have to correct them because they were abusing the gift of giving or the gift of mercy? The same is true in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles today. Speaking in tongues is the answer for everything, the cure for anything. They continually put it on display like a badge of honor. But, while Paul obviously accepts the validity of spiritual languages, he also restrains himself from making any judgments regarding their prolific use in Corinth. Instead, he wisely instructs the church to subject their exercise of this gift to order, limitation and testing (I Corinthians 14: 26-28).
He was also careful to point out in detail that prophecy was much more valuable for the edification of the body and rather to be desired (I Corinthians 14:1-5). But even before that, to even further emphasize his point, he lets these immature and ambitious believers know that there is something more important than spiritual gifts. Sandwiched in the middle of his discussion of spiritual gifts he urges them (in I Corinthians 13) to put their immaturity and anything else that would hinder the spiritual progress of themselves or others aside and embrace the concept of God’s love. And since that will be the subject of my next paper, I’ll not say anymore about it just now.
So, can there be a conclusion to all of this? Well, others may struggle with this, but here’s my conclusion. Speaking in tongues, whether languages of men or angels in its manifestation, is in reality, the language of the Spirit. It comes from Him at His discretion. Never at any time in scripture are we given permission to choose the where, the when or the how. This is spiritual, not fleshly. And the difference between the two is clearly illustrated for us. In Acts 2, it was spiritual. And because it genuinely came from the source of the Spirit, it quickly assumed fruitful forms of genuine spiritual activity. Peter preached the good news. The church in Jerusalem was born. The ministry of the Holy Spirit was beginning to flow freely to the edification of those who believed. It was an initial experience in the supernatural power of God that introduced them to the ministry of the Spirit and the purposes of the invisible God.
But in Corinth some years later, we see abuse, confusion and more problems than actual fruit as these believers gave in to their pagan past and the dominance of their flesh. Here Paul had to intervene and impose limits.
This is the plan. Relax. Let God do what God wants to do. Submit to Him. Trust in Him. Learn to follow Him. If He brings it, great! If He doesn’t, then that’s great, too! And know that whatever He decides to do, it’s in our best interest as long as we’re committed to Him (Romans 8:28).
The ninth and last gift listed in this passage is the ability to interpret these languages. Again, we’ll not make any distinction between the languages of men or the language of angels. The point is that here Paul reminds us all that the Holy Spirit Himself imposes limits on spiritual language by imparting the gift of interpretation so those present can all benefit from the experience (I Corinthians 12:7).
And I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention this, all the spiritual gifts are feigned in both traditional religion and by those struggling to walk in truth. Even the most committed and submitted of us give in to our flesh from time to time. The difference is that those who are submitted to God will sometimes recognize their failure, turn to God in repentance and experience the instruction, discipline and testing of God as He puts us through the cleansing processes of His redemptive plan. But those who have embraced religion are unrestrained (scripture calls them lawless). They know nothing of submission, are spiritually blind and simply continue to do the things that religion has taught them to do, falling prey to their own flesh, ritualistic traditions and demonic counterfeits. And so they continue on with their fellows, down the broad road that leads to destruction.
Taken in chronological order, the Book of Romans was written next. The list of spiritual gifts is found in chapter 12. And, as with the list found in I Corinthians 12, I think it best to paraphrase the passage to set the context. The following is Romans 12:1-8. There are 7 spiritual gifts mentioned in this list.
1. And so I’m begging you, brothers, after you have considered how God has taken such pity on us to bring us into His redemptive plan, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, set apart and in step with what pleases Him; which, under the circumstances, is the only intelligent thing you could do.
2. Don’t be like the world, but instead be transformed by allowing God to give you a new way of thinking; so you can be living proof of what is profitable, pleasing to God and so there will be nothing lacking in His will for you.
3. And because of what I’m getting ready to say, I have permission to tell every one of you to be careful and not think that you’re something special. But instead, be realistic and define yourself in terms of what God is doing in your life.
4. Because it takes many different parts to make up one body, and all those parts can’t have the same function.
5. And in this same way, we are all members of one body in Christ, and so we’re mutually dependent on one another.
6. And we receive gifts that are not all the same, they’re different according to how God decides to give His grace to us: if it’s prophecy, tell others the truths God has revealed;
7. If it’s serving, do the practical things that need to be done; if it’s teaching, make sure the teaching is useful to others in their pursuit of God;
8. If it’s exhortation, be sure that the message is one of encouragement and comfort and the counsel is Godly and sound; if it’s giving, make sure that it’s done quietly, generously and with no strings attached; if it’s ruling, lead by example, being careful not to harm those who follow; and if it’s mercy, be ready to share in the misery of others without reservation.
In light of everything that’s already been said about spiritual gifts, and because of the way I’ve defined the words in the paraphrase, this passage is self-explanatory so far as what the different gifts are in this list. However, I do want to point out something in verse 6 that is important in our understanding of what spiritual gifts are and what God’s motivation is in giving them to us. In verse 6 above Paul basically says that "gifts" (charisma) are determined by God’s "grace" (charis). In other words, charisma only comes from the source of charis; literally gifts are an extension of God’s grace and share the same characteristics with His grace.
So, what am I trying to say here? In spite of what some overly emotional types might say about God, the Sovereign of the Universe is a holy, righteous, just and omnipotent God. And He managed to do OK long before we ever came on the scene and I suspect He’s still doing OK (Isaiah 40:12-18), even with us here doing our best to mess things up. He doesn’t need us. I say that to illustrate the reality of God’s grace. His grace is defined by what He does that benefits us, but has no benefit or advantage whatsoever for Him.
And so it is with many of the gifts He gives us (remember what I said awhile back about exceptions and God’s sovereignty). They come from His grace and share the same characteristics. The result is that He gives us gifts to afford us the opportunity to be partakers of His grace. We then have the privilege of giving them to others to benefit them, but with little or no practical benefit or advantage to us (except the knowledge that we’ve been obedient and the assurance that He trusts us enough to let us be a part of what He’s doing). He gives us the chance to be like Him. Actually, as far as God’s character and nature is concerned, and with reference to those who are diligently striving to follow Him, He requires that we be like Him. Spiritual gifts are given to us at the discretion of the Holy Spirit to give away to those in need so they can experience the grace of God through us. Spiritual gifts are His way of allowing us to be partners with Him in carrying out His plan and purpose.
This should be a sobering and humbling realization for every one of us. And it should make us determined to watch ourselves and not give in to the temptation of striking out on our own to do our own religious, self-righteous thing. This is the reason why I include this paper on spiritual gifts in the series on Grace and Faith. God’s children are brought into His plan of grace to participate in it and be a part of what God is continually doing on the earth. All the glory goes to Him.
There is something else in this passage that bears examination, then we’ll move on. In verse 6 above in the paraphrase you see, "they’re different according to how God decides to give His grace to us." In the original text the verb "give" is an aorist participle. The aorist participle in Greek is used when there is no definite time in view. It refers to simple action, as opposed to the continuous action of the present participle, and does not indicate the time of the action, only the reality of the event described. In this verse Paul is illustrating the discretion of God in the timing of spiritual gifts. He gives them, but only when He chooses, to whom He chooses.
Now we come to the last list of gifts found in Ephesians 4. In some segments of traditional religion this list is known as the "Five-fold Ministry", so-called because it is reserved for the professionals (don’t try this at home, kids). These are generally understood to be reserved for the religious elite, the specially educated and trained, and the salaried, career positions. As in most everything else in traditional, institutional, denominational religion the understanding is lacking or absent.
These gifts are definitely different than the others, though not in the way that religion sees them. They seem to be ongoing in nature, but not permanent or exclusive. There is obviously some maturity required as evidenced by Paul’s exhortation towards an orderly life of humility, selflessness, patience and forbearance and a determination to guard the unity and peace that is produced in the assembly by the Holy Spirit, found in the beginning of this chapter (Ephesians 4:1-6). Then there is the statement in verse 7 that tells us that all believers are expected to participate in these gifts in whatever way God decides. "Yet God’s undeserved favor was given to each one of us individually, but in different ways depending on what Christ decides to give."
Now there’s one more thing before we get to the actual list. In verse 8 Paul says that Christ has bestowed "gifts" on men. Here the word gift is not charisma as in the previous two passages. Here the word is doma, a word that is properly translated "gift", but a word that emphasizes the character of the gift rather than its beneficent nature. In other words, these gifts are men. Good men? Probably. Sincere men? More than likely. Perfect men? Absolutely not, forget about it! Do you put these men up on a pedestal? Do you allow yourself to have unrealistic expectations? If you do, you’ll be disappointed. I can almost guarantee it.
In fact, it is entirely possible that God will allow you to be severely disappointed even in true spiritual leadership from time to time to give you the opportunity to hone your skills in the areas of forgiveness and anything else He may determine to be areas of weakness in your character. It’s easier to forgive someone we consider to be less mature; we tend to make allowances for their immaturity. But when they’re supposed to be more mature than we are, it’s harder to make those allowances. We have to fight the urge to criticize and get others involved in our hurt or confusion. Make no mistake about this, God knows how to test us; He’s the expert.
Oh, by the way, when I say "men", I’m using it in a general sense. Women can and should be involved in these gifts as well. Remember verse 7? God’s grace is given to every one of us. You cannot exclude women from the function of the church any more than you can exclude them from the purposes of God and from His redemptive plan.
So here’s the list found in verse 11. I’m giving you a paraphrase of Ephesians 4:11-14 so you can understand the purpose of these gifts.
11. Now, there are several different gifts; He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some evangelists and some elders and teachers.
12. And His intention is to use them to fully equip those who commit themselves to occupy their place in the community for the purpose of promoting spiritual growth in the body of Christ.
13. Persevering until we all gain unity in the exercise of our faith, come to a full and accurate knowledge of the Son of God and attain maturity that is nothing less than the example Christ has set for us.
14. So we will no longer be tossed here and there by every new false teaching and thrown into confusion at every new false doctrine that comes along, preyed upon by cunning and unscrupulous men who intentionally invent error to deceive us.
There are several things that need to be clarified regarding this list of gifts. In general, the Book of Ephesians has much to say about the function and purpose of the true church. And Paul makes it clear that the Lord’s intention is that these gifts be used to promote spiritual growth in the Body (verse 12). In reality, all of these gifts are focused on the same thing, to help people understand the will and purpose of God so they can get in on it (verse 13). Their resulting maturity in Christ will then give them the ability to resist men’s religious seductions (verse 14).
Let’s look at the different gifts listed. The first gift on this list is apostles. This is the Greek apostolos, meaning "one sent forth". The idea is that apostles are sent from God as His special messengers. In this sense, Jesus was an apostle (Hebrews 3:1), as was Paul (I Corinthians 9:1). The twelve disciples called by Jesus (Luke 6:13), Barnabas (Acts 14:4), Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), Silas and Timothy (I Thessalonians 2:6) and two unnamed brethren (II Corinthians 8:23) were all called apostles. All for the same reason, they were given a message from the heart of God and sent by Him to deliver it. In scripture, the apostle comes out of the presence of God with an understanding of the heart and mind of God and a message burning in his gut that is specifically designed by God to contradict the world’s religious philosophies and reveal to them His will and purpose.
This, of course exposes the false apostles in traditional religion today. In religion an apostle is self-appointed, usually someone who has worked long and hard to establish "his ministry" and has managed to gain influence over several congregations. But it has nothing to do with his message. I have yet to see a self-proclaimed apostle in traditional religion that understands the will and purpose of God. These guys aren’t leading people out of deception; they’re leading them into it.
In fact, while I’m at it, let me try to clear up a misunderstanding advanced by religion. Anytime you see people who promote themselves as apostles or prophets, or allow others to do it, steer clear. God is responsible for the appointment of these giftings, not man. And they’re not permanent appointments. It is an assumption, and a wrong one, to think that these gifts are offices or permanent positions held for life. Religion likes to make a distinction between the office of a prophet, for instance, and the gift of prophecy. No such distinction exists.
In Ephesians 4:7 mentioned above the verb "given" in the original text is in the aorist tense, indicating simple, undefined action. As I’ve already said in reference to Romans 12:6, the aorist tense has no significance as to time; it refers only to the reality of a thing. In other words, God’s grace with reference to these particular gifts is still determined by God, not men, in both timing and duration. There is no indication whatsoever that His gifts are permanent and to be viewed as lifelong endowments.
Next on this list is the gift of prophets (prophetes). Gifts related to prophecy are found on all three lists and in my mind they’re the most important of the gifts. The reason is that prophecy is the gift that has to do with the revelation of the mind and heart of God as it relates to His will and purpose. Paul put a premium on prophecy in I Corinthians 14:1-5.
And in I Corinthians 14:3 he tells us why the gift of prophecy is so important, when he describes its function using these three words, edification, exhortation and comfort. I want to look at these words because they further expose the counterfeit prophecy in religion. "Edification" is the word oikodome, a word used to describe something in the process of being built. Here, it is used figuratively to illustrate spiritual growth. The gift of prophecy helps people understand what God is trying to reveal to them about His will and purpose. The word translated "exhortation" isparaklesis, a word used to illustrate the act of encouraging others to pursue Godliness. Then "comfort" is paramuthia, taken from para, meaning near, and muthos, speech.
And when you consider all three of these words you have a pretty good overview of the function of prophecy. God uses the prophetic gift at His discretion to help believers understand Him more completely, which advances them in their spiritual maturity. He further uses prophecy to encourage them to accept what He has revealed and own it for themselves. Remember, when God reveals something of Himself, it is with the expectation that we accept it and make it a reality in our own lives. That’s what makes us partakers of His character and nature and that is what changes us. Then He uses prophecy to come near to those who are pursuing Him and trying to be like Him and comforts and calms them in the midst of their struggle to persevere.
There is nothing in scripture to indicate that the gift of prophecy is a permanent possession or position, either in the Old Testament or the New. There is nothing in scripture that indicates the function of prophecy is to predict the future; nor is it to reveal intimate details of a person’s life. Instead, the gift of prophecy is to help believers understand the will and purpose of God so they can be delivered. The gift of prophecy encourages believers to pursue the Godliness that God is revealing to them. Then it comforts them as they face the obstacles and endure the hardships that He requires.
The third gift on this list is evangelists. Here the word euaggelistes is generally understood to mean "one who declares the good news". Of course, in so-called evangelistic Christianity today this is a misconception, since that particular segment of traditional religion doesn’t understand what the good news is. To them Jesus is the Son of God (true), He died on the cross for our sin (also true), so all you have to do is say you believe that and you’re saved (not true) and when you die, you’ll go to heaven, because the doctrine of eternal security guarantees it (also not true).
In the Baptist churches I was involved with, the evangelist was the guy who traveled from church to church holding special meetings because he was particularly persuasive in getting people to say they believed it (in most evangelistic circles it’s called "making a profession of faith"). Another point of view peculiar to at least some evangelicals is the evangelist who brings revival to town in his briefcase. These guys are called evangelists because they’re thought to have some talent when it comes to getting people excited about their religion. But in my experience, when the meetings are over, everyone lets out a quiet sigh of relief and goes back to their same old routine. It’s hard to wake up something that’s already dead.
Yet another view in traditional religion is that missionaries who go to foreign countries to establish churches are the true evangelists. This could be true, if they knew what the good news is that they’re supposed to declare. But sadly, the missionary programs in traditional religion are designed to export traditional religion. Convincing someone to make a profession of faith in Africa, South America or anywhere else in the world is not what true evangelists do. If you think all you have to do is make a profession of faith, then support the programs of some religious institution, then you’ll one day find yourself on the wrong side of Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 13:23-30.
The fourth is elders (poimen, meaning shepherd and used figuratively to describe a spiritual leader). I know. The King James Bible and many subsequent translations use the word "pastor". But, it’s not there. I’m not going to take the time to discuss this again. If you’re reading these papers in the proper order, like I asked you to, then you’ve already read "Leadership in the Early Church". If you haven’t read it, then you’ll have to go back to it to see what I’m talking about. In this list of gifts, Paul is not describing the professional God guy who uses his talents to build and operate a religious institution. He’s describing a man who is willing to put his true spiritual maturity on display and lead those who are less mature than he is into a fuller understanding and level of experience in the purposes of God.
Then the last gift listed is that of teachers (didaskalos). This word comes from the verb didasko, to teach, which has inherent in its meaning the understanding that this teaching must cause those who are taught to have an increased understanding which leads them towards the experience of what is taught. When taken in the context of what Paul says about the purpose of these gifts (Ephesians 4:12-14), this teaching leads those who are taught to experience the reality of God in their lives, so they are able to reject the shallow, superficial religious concepts that are being directed at them from all sides.
In fact, as I stated earlier, Paul says that the purpose of all 5 of these gifts are to bring a greater understanding of the will and purpose of God to the church, so people can experience Him, learn the difference between religion and reality, embrace the reality and reject the religion. What that tells me is that there are no true apostles, prophets, evangelists, elders or teachers in traditional religious institutions. Why? If you don’t understand this yet, let me say it again. Religion and spiritual reality in God are opposites. They cannot coexist. One is diametrically opposed to the other. Religion does not understand the will and purposes of God. Religion exists to promote what men want the will and purposes of God to be. Religion is man-made. Man is at the center; he is in control. In spiritual reality God is at the center; He is in control. In religion men grudgingly subject themselves to what men have decided. In spiritual reality we willingly submit to what God requires. And the really sad thing is that most professing Christians are under so much deception that they will read what I just said and will not be able to tell one from the other!
Now let me wrap this up by making just a few general statements about spiritual gifts. First of all, it’s not necessary to identify or announce the manifestation of spiritual gifts. I remember when I was involved in traditional religion people always liked to get everyone’s attention and announce them. "The Lord has just given me a word of knowledge." They may as well have said, "Hey, look at me, I’m soooooo spiritual." In our house churches we sometimes recognize the gifts in operation (some are more obvious than others), sometimes we don’t recognize them until after the fact and sometimes we don’t recognize them at all. But we never announce them. The goal is to try to understand what God is doing and be obedient to Him, not bring attention to us.
Also, I’ve mentioned several times already that gifts vary according to God’s discretion. The tendency in religion is to find one or two that you like and stick with those. That’s fleshly and false. God wants us to experience a variety of gifts, because He uses them to stretch us beyond our natural abilities and comfort levels. It’s one of the ways He matures us. If you’re submitted to God, but have trouble showing mercy, guess what, He’s going to try to lead you into situations where you have the opportunity to show mercy. If you’re in love with your stuff (like the rich, young ruler), then He’s going to try to get you to give, so you can overcome that spiritual flaw.
So, how do you recognize when God is imparting a spiritual gift to you? It’s not always easy. But, I’ll try to give you a couple of tips. If it involves revelation you can usually identify it by the fact that you weren’t sitting there trying to think of something spiritual to say. It just comes to you all of a sudden in that silent, indistinguishable voice I talked about in the paper on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And it is usually fragmentary. The Spirit will give you part of it, then it’s up to you to draw from your memory what He’s already taught you to fill in the blanks. But, here you have to be careful, because if you’re not, your flesh will take it and run with it. Sometimes, the Spirit will reveal part of it to someone else and they contribute to it as well.
If the gift involves supernatural intervention, you may not have time to react much one way or another. You may find yourself caught up in a situation where you recognize God is working and you realize that you’re not in control, He is. Or, He’s revealed to you ahead of time what He’s going to do and you have to fight your natural tendencies to avoid it, because you’re afraid it won’t work or that, somehow, you’re going to fail.
When the gift has anything to do with meeting the needs of others, one of the more obvious things that happen is that you recognize the need and you’re uncomfortable with the thought of getting involved in it. You find yourself trying to find reasons why you shouldn’t, even to the point of discussing it with others hoping to get their support for your avoidance (or, may I suggest, your disobedience). The fact that you recognized it and were uncomfortable with it tells you that God is trying to stretch you, but your flesh doesn’t want to be stretched.
Recognizing what the Holy Spirit is leading us to do isn’t easy. And we’ll all make mistakes. But it’s better to make a mistake because you’re trying very hard to follow the leadership of the Spirit, than it is to make a mistake because you’re trying to avoid Him. In terms of spiritual maturity and advancement in it, enthusiasm and determination beats laziness and disobedience every time!
The last thing I want to mention is the fact that spiritual gifts are always temporary. When you look at scripture, you cannot make the assumption, for instance, that an evangelist was always an evangelist. You cannot find anyone who had the permanent gift of healing. Spiritual gifts are imparted to believers at the discretion of the Holy Spirit and are temporary because God wants to continually reinforce our dependence on Him. If they were permanent, we wouldn’t need Him.
Always remember, God’s plan of redemption involves a personal relationship of intimacy with Him. He wants us to know Him and He wants to change us. But those who strive for self-sufficiency, whether in their own strength or religion, will never know Him. And only those who are truly submitted to Him readily acknowledge their dependence.
"Those who truly understand what it is to be completely dependent on God and desperate for Him (the poor in spirit) are fortunate, because they will enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven in its fullness." (Matthew 5:3)