Because human talent or abilities are not sufficient to do God’s work or change the world, the Holy Spirit provides many gifts to meet the many needs, opportunities, and challenges that we face as Christians in a sin-dominated world. These gifts are manifest in a variety of ways through a variety of people. One does not go into a trance or lose control when the gifts operate. It is actually the opposite. As willing vessels we yield our body and mind to the lordship of Christ and permit the Holy Spirit to work through us as we obey in faith.
The Bible gives us several lists of gifts (Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:7–11,28–31; 13:1–3; Ephesians 4:7–12). No list is complete in itself, but each gives us samples of what the Holy Spirit has available for us, and each gift can be considered a category or class that may have a variety of expression. The gifts also involve cooperation between the believer and the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts as He determines the need, yet we are also commanded to eagerly desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:11; 14:1).
Ephesians 4:11–16 tells of the ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers, chosen by the Lord, taken captive by Him, and given by Him to the Church. These are not officers in the local church, but are ministers given to the Church as a whole and are seen operating from church to church. Their combined ministry is meant to bring believers to a maturity where all can receive gifts and contribute to the up-building of local churches in worship, spirituality, and in numbers. We can see this developing in the Book of Acts.
Everything the Bible says about spiritual gifts shows that they are all still needed today. They are part of what God has designed and appointed for the Church, just as He has set the various parts of the human body in their place to fulfill their proper function (1 Corinthians 12:18,28).
This means the gifts are intended for the entire Church Age. Not until Christ comes again and restores this earth to a perfect state will they be no longer needed. Now our knowledge is imperfect and our gifts partial. But when Jesus comes again “we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Historians tell us that spiritual gifts were important for the rapid growth of the Early Church. These gifts persisted into the third century after Christ and then gradually died out. From time to time revivals brought restoration of some of the spiritual gifts, but they were largely neglected by the Church as a whole until the Pentecostal revival at the beginning of the 20th century. This revival has been instrumental in bringing about one of the greatest advances of the gospel ever known. The gifts of the Spirit wonderfully distinguish Christianity from all other religions.
The most extensive list of gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10. Each of these nine is directed toward the needs of the local assembly, rather than toward the needs of the person the Spirit uses to minister the gift. The Greek manuscripts from which the New Testament was translated divide the gifts into three groups. First, the message of wisdom and the message of knowledge are useful in teaching and preaching. Second, faith, gifts of healings, miraculous powers, prophecy, and distinguishing between spirits are useful in ministering to the Church and to the world. Third, different kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues are useful in worship.
The Message of Wisdom
This gift is a revelation of divine counsel. It gives supernatural insight into some particular need or problem and brings practical application of God’s Word. It does not come through our meditation or preparation, but comes directly from the Holy Spirit (Luke 21:13–15). When the Holy Spirit dispenses a message of wisdom a limited but adequate portion of insight is given to meet the specific need. The gift does not raise us to a new level of wisdom, nor does it prevent our making future mistakes. It only allows us to temporarily draw on God’s unlimited storehouse for the situation at hand (Romans 11:33). It may bring guidance to the assembly of believers, as in Acts 6:2–4; 15:13–21. It may give wisdom against adversaries (Luke 21:15), as in the case of the apostles and Stephen (Acts 4:8–14,19–21; 6:9–10).
We must not depend on human wisdom for the work of God or to develop our faith (1 Corinthians 2:5). If we lack wisdom we are to ask God for it (James 1:5).
Message of Knowledge
This gift gives divine insight into the truth of the gospel and its application to Christian living. It goes beyond what our own study of the Word can bring. As Paul says, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:12). Many believe it may also include a partial revelation of God’s secret knowledge of the plans or actions of others. An example of this may be seen in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–10). However, nothing in the Bible indicates a message of knowledge is meant to reveal where to find lost articles or what disease or sin a person may be suffering from—though the Spirit can reveal these things according to His sovereign will.
Faith as a gift is not saving faith. It is a miraculous faith that meets unusual opportunities, as did the heroes of Hebrews 11 and as Elijah did when he confronted the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:33–40). It can also include the ability to communicate or build faith in others, as Paul did when the ship was about to be wrecked at the Island of Malta (Acts 27:25). This he often did (2 Corinthians 3:4–6).
Gifts of Healing
In the Book of Acts miraculous healings caused many to turn to the Lord for salvation. Both “gifts” and “healings” are plural in the Greek (the original language in which the New Testament was written), thus there is not one “gift” of healing but many to meet all kinds of sickness and disease. The gift of healing is not for the one who ministers the gift. It is for the sick person—the one who receives the gift. When Peter said to the lame man “what I have I give you” (Acts 3:6), he meant the Spirit was giving him a specific gift of healing to give the lame man. The Spirit did not give Peter a reservoir of healing gifts in himself. He had to look to the Lord and receive from the Spirit a new gift for each sick person who was healed. Peter recognized also that God is the Healer and He alone must receive the glory (Acts 3:12–16; Exodus 15:26). The Spirit will also encourage an atmosphere of faith, love and acceptance that will help the sick person to receive.
These deeds of mighty supernatural power produce results that glorify God and defeat Satan. Miracles are distinguished from healings in that miracles include a demonstration of God’s power in an unusual measure beyond the physical body. This can include spiritual deliverance from demonic forces, physical deliverance of God’s people in ominous life-threatening situations (Acts 12:6-19), a positive change of favor in the midst of difficult circumstances, and timely provisions for human need (Matthew 14:13-21).
To prophesy means to speak for God. The gift has a threefold purpose: “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3–4). This “edifies the church” (Acts 15:32). In Acts, those regularly used in this gift were called prophets. However, the Holy Spirit can use any believer. Every manifestation of this gift must be weighed by other members of the congregation to see whether it is in line with Scripture and to determine what God wants us to do concerning the prophetic message (1 Corinthians 14:29).
Distinguishing Between Spirits
Gifts of distinguishing between spirits may be given in a variety of ways. Sometimes it may be used to “judge” or “weigh” prophecies. Sometimes it may be the means of protecting us from satanic deceptions. John warns us not to believe every spirit, but to test them “to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Some manifestations come from the human spirit, some from demon spirits. The Holy Spirit can show us the difference. This does not mean one can go around announcing what spirit is in each person. The Holy Spirit gives the gift on specific occasions when it is needed.
Tongues and Interpretation
Tongues are Spirit-directed languages from heaven. They are unknown, even to the one who speaks them. When people speak in tongues the Holy Spirit anoints them and they are spiritually edified (strengthened and built up) through union with God. This edification happens without one ever knowing what is said. Such edification is experienced individually by the one who prays in tongues.
The Holy Spirit edifies the church body of believers much differently. For the entire group of believers to be edified, tongues must be followed with an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:4). The interpretation of tongues is given in the language of the congregation. It encourages the people and moves them to praise and worship the Lord. The interpretation is not necessarily word for word. Rather it expresses what the Spirit is saying in a way that is clear and understood by all. This is necessary in any translation. For example, Psalm 23:1 is only four words in Hebrew, but it consists of nine words in English in the King James Version and eleven words in the New International Version.
Some say the gift of tongues is not important for it is mentioned last. However, the order in the various lists is not always the same. All the gifts are important.
The apostle Paul did not neglect tongues for he said, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Corinthians 14:18). In the same chapter he also said, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” (14:39). Paul asked only that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” in the worship service (14:40).
The whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation emphasizes that God is a speaking God. Perhaps that is one reason why Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 to 14 gives so much attention to tongues, interpretation, and prophecy, with special emphasis on the importance and value of prophecy to edify the believers and touch the hearts of unbelievers. That is what happened when Peter stood up to speak on the Day of Pentecost. He spoke as he was inspired by the Spirit. Peter didn’t prepare or develop the message beforehand. The Holy Spirit spoke through him as a gift of prophecy. As a result 3,000 were saved and added to the Church.