A compilation of a series of posts from Spring 2012
Intro to Spiritual Gifts
What are spiritual gifts? – General
Spiritual gifts are special abilities believers have, manifestations of the Holy Spirit within us. Their purpose is to be used for the building up of the body of Christ, and each believer has at least one.
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. But to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.1 Corinthians 12:4-7
For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them accordingly…Romans 12:4-6a
There is also a certain hierarchy of spiritual gifts (see 1Corinthians 12:28-31), but all are valuable to the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:11-27).
What are spiritual gifts? – Specific
There are many spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture, some of which are widely accepted as such, and some of which do not fall on traditional lists and so are only considered to be spiritual gifts by certain denominations.
Personally, I believe that since none of the traditional spiritual gifts lists are all-inclusive (evidenced by the fact that they all differ), they are not intended to be interpreted as the only spiritual gifts – so, I believe that it is entirely valid to interpret the other alleged spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture as such. Therefore, I will list all of them (that I’m aware of) here alphabetically, along with some basic Scripture references:
Administration (1 Corinthians 12:28)Apostleship (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11)
Celibacy/Singleness (1 Corinthians 7:7)
Distinguishing of Spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10)
Evangelism (Ephesians 4:11)
Exhortation (Romans 12:8)
Faith (1 Corinthians 12:9, 13:2)
Giving (Romans 12:8)
Healing (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28)
Helps (1 Corinthians 12:28)
Hospitality (1 Peter 4:9-10)
Knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8, 13:2)
Leading (Romans 12:8)
Martyrdom (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Mercy (Romans 12:8)
Miracles (1 Corinthians 12:10, 28)
Missionary (Ephesians 3:6-7)
Pastoring (Ephesians 4:11)
Physical Protection/Warring (Book of Judges, e.g. 13:5 and 16:28, Psalm 18:34, 60:11-12)
Poverty (Voluntary) (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Prophecy (Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28, 13:2 Ephesians 4:11)
Service (1 Peter 4:11)
Teaching (Romans 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11)
Tongues - Interpreting (1 Corinthians 12:10, 28)
Tongues - Speaking (1 Corinthians 12:10, 28, 13:1, 1 Peter 4:11)
Various Crafts (1 Corinthians 12:5, Acts 9:36-39, Exodus 31:2-6)
Wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8)
Does God still give all spiritual gifts to believers today?
Some Christians believe that only the "non-miracle" spiritual gifts are still given today, so that Christians with the gifts of tongues, prophecy, healing, miracles, and wisdom are pretty much faking it or fooling themselves. There actually is a Biblical reason to believe this, which I will share here before explaining why I disagree with that interpretation.
The basis of that view is 1 Corinthians 13:8-10:
"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."
Some interpret these verses to mean that when the complete Bible emerged (the Bible being interpreted as "the perfect"), the miraculous gifts tied to sharing information from God would cease to exist.
I see a few problems with this view. First of all, teaching and exhortation involve sharing information from God, yet no groups deny these as spiritual gifts still granted today. Second, miracles and healing have nothing to do with information from God that a complete Bible could take the role of, and they're not mentioned in that verse, so the argument does not apply to these. Third, I believe "the perfect" refers to the second coming of Christ (a.k.a. the end of the Church Age), when all spiritual gifts will be eliminated since there will be no need for them (Paul sometimes uses partial lists to illustrate points, so the specific ones listed in the verses we looked at are not significant). I believe that my interpretation is supported by the fact that the entire chapter seems to be focused on one of Paul's favorite themes - the physical, temporal realm versus the eternal realm - and verse 12 specifically parallels other references to the glorified bodies we will receive after Jesus comes again.
Furthermore, a prophecy in Joel 2:28-29 reads, "It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days." Much later, in Acts 2:14-18, Peter declares the fulfillment of that prophecy - which I believe can only apply to the entire Church Age (from Pentecost to Christ's second coming). Otherwise, it would need to take place at Pentecost until the Bible was completed, then disappear, and then come back again at the end-end-end times (as in, directly around the time of the Tribulation). I don't think that's logical.
So, from my perspective, all spiritual gifts are still given today, and so I will address them all. But if you disagree, you may still find it beneficial to read my descriptions of the gifts you do agree with and just ignore the rest. :-)
What’s the point of studying this out in depth?
It is my hope that study will help you identify the spiritual gifts God has gifted you with (so you can use them for His kingdom), and those that He has gifted others with (so you can help them identify which gifts they have, and so you can witness the body of Christ in action).
How can I figure out which spiritual gifts I have?
1 – PRAY and ask God to reveal which gifts He has given you through the course of this study.
2 – ASK a trusted, mature believer who knows you well what gifts they think you might have.
3 – Take a QUIZ online designed to identify your spiritual gifts. I only recommend this in conjunction with the two items above, because such quizzes are certainly not conclusive and there is room for error. That said, they are a very useful resource in getting you thinking in the right direction, as well as bringing to your attention different ways in which the various gifts can be manifested. Here are a couple I have worked through, consider to be valid, and strongly recommend (and if you do choose to go this route, I suggest taking both quizzes):
Apostleship is identified as a spiritual gift in 1Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. The Greek word for apostle is apostolos, which literally means a messenger, or one sent on a mission. Biblical examples are Paul and Peter.
From their examples, we learn a couple of things about apostleship:- It entails your entire life being devoted to ministry – to an extent far beyond pastoring, for example.
- In line with the above item, it’s sort of a catch-all gift. It can involve serving, teaching, pastoring, exhorting, leading, evangelizing, sharing wisdom and knowledge, healing and miracles, tongues, discernment, etc. etc. etc. You’ll want to keep reading to find out more.
With this in mind, it’s understandable that this gift is somewhat rare.
Celibacy / Singleness
This spiritual gift is mentioned in a long passage on marriage in 1 Corinthians. We’ll look at just a few verses here, since we are specifically honing in on this one subtopic:
1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
2 But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.…
7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.
9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn [with lust, presumably].…
32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;
33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,
34 and his interests are divided; And the woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
So, what’s Paul saying here?
* So, although we have seen above that marriage is good, but singleness is better, here’s the clincher – if you can handle it. People who skip marrying run the risk of struggling with lust and falling into sexual immorality.
* In this, staying single is not for everyone. It is something that God has gifted a select few with – the spiritual gift of being able to handle being single and to resist sexual temptation.
One more note on this – singleness can be a temporary gift. That is, it can be part of God’s plan for your life for you to remain purposefully and willingly single for a while (and during that time, he will gift you with the strength to handle it), and then to marry later on. (I speak from experience here.)
Distinguishing of Spirits (a.k.a. “Discernment”)
Depending on your background, you may view this gift as ridiculous, rare, and strange, or as a crucial and primary part of church function, important on a daily basis. I will try to convey information about it in a neutral manner based solely on the Bible.
Distinguishing of spirits is identified as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 12:10.
The first thing we need to determine is what constitutes a “spirit.” It is the Greek word pneuma, meaning wind, breath, or spirit (the Hebrew equivalent used in the Old Testament likewise has these multiple meanings), and except for 4 out of 384 occurrences of “spirit(s)” in the New Testament, pneuma is used exclusively.
It can be a demonic spirit (as in Luke 6:18 and Revelation16:14), a person’s spirit (as in Mathew 5:3 and Luke 1:47), an angel (as in Hebrews 1:14), a spirit of a prophet (as in 1 Corinthians 14:32 and Revelation22:6), the seven Spirits of God (as in Revelation 3:1), the Holy Spirit (as in 1 Peter 1:12), and an external addition that makes a personal act a certain way, including spiritual gifts and emotional state (as in Romans 8:15 and 2Corinthians 4:12)
Now, what does “distinguishing” mean? This is the Greek word diakrisis, meaning the act of judgement. It is translated as discern, distinguishing, and passing judgment, and its root, diakrino, is translated a large number of ways. The central idea of all these translations is to examine with a critical eye and make determinations about it.
One important place where diakrisis is used is Hebrews 5:14: “But solid food [deeper spiritual teachings] is for the [spiritually] mature, who because of practice have had their sense trained to discern good and evil.”
I believe this is appropriate context for the distinguishing of spirits – determining between good and evil.
Going Deeper - Specifics
John elaborates in 1 John 4:1-6 (read, don’t skim – this is critical!):
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;
3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now is already in the world.
4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as the world, and the world listens to them.
6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
From this passage, we glean a number of important points about the distinguishing of spirits:
* Some demons will masquerade as angels or the Holy Spirit (v1) – so just because somebody claims to be doing something under God’s direction, don’t believe it without applying some critical thought.
* Spirits that deny Jesus Christ’s physical life on this earth are demons (v2) – there are some cults that believe this, so this is easy enough – stay away from them.
* Spirits that deny Jesus are the spirit of antichrist (v3). Obviously anyone who denies that Jesus is God is not working for God. But I personally believe this verse has a broader application. Even a believer can fall into sin and give into the self-serving messages that demons try to convince all of us to believe. So, if a believer is acting in a way that temporarily denies Jesus’s lordship over their life – that is, that serves themselves rather than serving Christ – it is a spirit of antichrist (by the way, that term is actually never used in the Bible as a name for “The Antichrist” in the End Times – it simply means opposition to Christ, literally anti-Christ). So, even in a believer, something they’re doing or pushing (even in the ministry) that is intended to bring glory to them rather than glory to God is a spirit of antichrist. Remember, spirit does not exclusively mean demon – it can be “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (v6).
* We don’t have to be afraid of these spirits (v4) – we just need to watch out for them – stay vigilant!
* Another easy way to determine if a spirit is from God or from Satan is to examine what has influenced the action and what this action is speaking to (v5-6). For example, without naming names, I have seen books by “Christian” authors on how to get rich and how life is all about you. This is not serving Christ – this is pandering to worldly desires.
Boiling It Back Down
So, what does all of that information boil down to? The distinguishing of spirits is the act of and ability to determine whether a person, action, or movement is being influenced by God or by Satan and his kingdom (the world).
This is another one of those spiritual gifts that I believe we all have a certain degree of (evidenced by the fact that we are instructed to in 1 John 4:1-6 and it is explained that we build up the ability in Hebrews 5:14), but some are clearly given a far heightened degree of it when God gives them this spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:10).
Also note that, as we previously discussed, it seems (both Biblically and from many believers’ personal experiences) that God grants people a temporary dose of a spiritual gift at certain times. I can personally attest that, while this is certainly not one of my primary spiritual gifts, God has given me this heightened ability in certain circumstances, during which I have been able to simply “sense” that some things were being influenced by demonic activity and that some people were acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The former is quite scary, I readily admit, but both are very helpful.
Evangelism (and Missionary and Martyrdom)
Evangelism is identified as a spiritual gift in Ephesians4:11.
Here’s a case where the Greek gets a little fun. Evangelist is the word euagelistes, but its root is euaggelion. Euaggelion is generally translated “gospel,” but it literally means “good news.” Now, euagelistes doesn’t translate at all well into English, so we sort of describe it as “spreader of the gospel.” But if you want to translate it as literally as possible, evangelist means “gospel-er” or “good news-er.” Do you see the difference here – how spreading the gospel is not just something an evangelist does, but an actual part of who they are?
This latter point is emphasized in Acts 21:8:
And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.
He is “Philip-the-evangelist”, not “Philip…who evangelizes”.
This is a critical point to grasp, because we are all commanded to share the gospel with others (for example, Mark 16:15). But, it comes more naturally to some then to others – to these people, the gospel just exudes out of them, it’s like they can’t stop themselves from proclaiming Christ’s love. And they’re also quite successful in bringing others to Christ.
Being a missionary is another one of those alleged gifts that some people believe is a distinct gift, and others believe is just an extension of evangelism. Let’s look at Ephesians 3:4-8 for clarity on this issue:
4 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,
5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise of Christ Jesus through the gospel,
7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.
8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,
Now, some people would look at the word “gift” in verse seven and think that’s proof that missionary work is a spiritual gift. The flaw with this, however, is that it’s a totally different Greek word than the one also translated gift in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 (dorea versus charisma).
However, we also must remember what we’ve discussed a few times before – that a spiritual gift is simply some special ability God has given you to advance His kingdom. Does missionary work fit this description? …Yes.
But that still doesn’t tell us if it’s an individual gift or simply an extension of evangelism. Personally, I don’t think it matters – as long as we recognize that missionaries receive special empowerment and a special calling from God to go and preach His word in foreign lands.
Martyrdom is another case where its status as a spiritual gift is subject to debate, but it seems a little more clear-cut to me than missionary work. Let’s look at where it’s found in 1 Corinthians 13 (I’ll type all the other spiritual gifts listed in bold, and underline the part on martyrdom):
1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Do you see why martyrdom is considered by some to be a spiritual gift? Literally every other item on the list is specifically recognized as a spiritual gift, so the seemingly logical conclusion is that martyrdom is also a spiritual gift. Let’s look at one more verse to help us with this debate:
1 Corinthians 10:13No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.
From this verse, we see that if God calls us to do something we cannot resist (such as denying Christ while being tortured), He will give spiritual strength so that we can resist. That is, He will give us a special spiritual power to do something to bring Him glory.
From these two pieces of evidence, it seems to me that martyrdom is a spiritual gift. Aside from its official classification, however, we have to encouragement of knowing that if there comes a time in our life when we are faced with death for our faith, Christ will give us the strength to not deny Him.
Exhortation is identified as a spiritual gift in Romans 12:8:or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Exhort is the Greek word parakaleo, and exhortation is paraklesis (derived from the same root). Exhort (parakaleo) means to call to, call for, exhort, or encourage. It is translated a vast array of ways in the New Testament, including appeal, beg, beseech, entreat, implore, plead, urge, conciliate (win over), and comfort. Exhortation (paraklesis) means a calling to one’s aid, encouragement, and comfort. It is translated as comfort, consolation, encouragement, exhortation, appeal, and urge.
As you can tell from the formal definitions, exhortation takes a variety of forms. I personally found five different forms in the New Testament:
* A gentle urging to general good behavior. Consider 1 Corinthians 4:16, “I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.”
* A strong command to perform a specific action. Consider 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12, “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.”
* Giving Biblical advice – ways to apply it to one’s life (distinct from teaching – exhortation being more along the lines of general Biblical advice, from what I can tell). Consider 1 Timothy 4:13, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”
* Sharing hopeful messages of redemption from Scripture (to believers or unbelievers). Consider Acts13:15-44 and Luke 3:18, “So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.”
* General encouragement, not necessarily with a specific focus on the Bible. Consider Colossians 4:8, “For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage (parakaleo) your hearts” and 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage (parakaleo) one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”
One passage I found that sums up the multi-faceted nature of exhortation quite well is 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12: “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
So now let’s tackle the tricky task of figuring out who fits this far-reaching mold, eh? :-)
Based on both experience and our newly-learned definitions and Scripture messages for exhortation, I would classify a person with the gift of exhortation as the perfect “good friend.”
Do you know any believers who just always seem to have a timely word of gentle advice, are willing to say something you don’t want to hear if it’s for your own good, and are super good at listening to you and encouraging you – way more so than most people? I would wager that this person has the spiritual gift of exhortation.
As a (albeit-important) side-note, notice that exhortation seems to be incorporated into other spiritual gifts, including teaching (1Timothy 4:13) and prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:3).
I’d like to take a moment to make a final note on the how of exhortation. You’ll note in our base verse for today that it reads, “…he who exhorts, in his exhortation…” Remember back from our Greek definitions that exhort (parakaleo) has a variety of meanings, some of them quite stern, whereas exhortation (paraklesis) emphasizes the encouragement aspect.
Therefore, I think there is a very important point in this verse that can’t quite be conveyed when it is translated: “…he who performs the various acts involved in exhorting someone, let him do it with the mindset of encouraging and building him up – let him do it gently.”
This is echoed in 2 Timothy 4:2, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
Faith is identified as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians12:9
The word used for faith here is pistis, meaning faith, faithfulness, pledge, or proof. It is the only word used for faith in the New Testament. It is derived from the root word peitho, meaning to persuade or have confidence.
We’ve talked about what, precisely, faith is before, but I will only provide a brief review of those concepts here, as I wish to focus on faith in the capacity of a spiritual gift, rather than just in general.
We discussed in that post how faith is not synonymous with belief; rather, faith = belief + action. Faith is a state of believing in something so strongly – being so utterly convinced of its reality – that you cannot help but live it out…it is so deeply ingrained in you that it seems illogical to you to act any other way.
With this understanding, however, we are left with more confusion when trying to figure out what faith means in terms of being a spiritual gift. I mean, all Christians have faith (Hebrews11:6), right? Right. Romans 12:3 teaches us that “…God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” There is the clincher – Christians have different levels of faith.
So, it is clear now that the spiritual gift of faith is just having more than most…but that’s still obnoxiously vague. 1 Corinthians 13:2 – written in the same passage as our base verse – holds the key to boiling this down more: “And if I have a gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” This is a reference back to what Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “…for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible for you.’”
Jesus tells them this right after the disciples were unable to cast out a demon because of the “littleness of their faith.” Now, did they lack faith in Jesus? No. But, they lacked faith that his power would truly extend through them. Therefore, based on both this Scriptural example and personal experience, I contend that the spiritual gift of faith is a spiritual ability to accept God’s promises to us as true and not shy away from experiencing/exhibiting them ourselves on a regular basis. Think about it – do you believe that Jesus could command a mountain to move? I’ll bet you do. But do you honestly believe that if you invoked His name and you told the mountain to move, that it would? That’s where it gets tricky. ;-)
Faith is actually one of my spiritual gifts. I’d like to share a few ways that this gift has played out in my life – not for the sake of bragging or anything like that, but rather to provide a few examples. These are listed in no particular order:
* It is because of my gift of faith that I have been to accept the principle that “God can talk,” as I like to put it. The kind of conversational prayer found in Acts 10:19-20 is very real – hearing God speak is not something reserved for Saints-with-a-capital-s or only super-elite apostles or anything like that; it is open to all of us. I mean, people sometimes try to explain away John 10:4 and 27 (“…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice”) as figurative, but when one considers the abundant examples of God literally speaking to people throughout the entire Bible, that interpretation loses its weight. Yet, most “evangelical” Christians in the American church don’t know this kind of intimacy because, frankly, it is scary to ask God to literally speak to you for the first time – because it’s scary to think that if you don’t hear anything, does that reflect something about you? So, after that mini-tangent, back to my main point – if you don’t yet know this particular kind of intimacy with God, here’s a solution – ask Him for the faith to ask to hear His voice! :-)
* At the end of my freshman semester, I was contemplating writing letters to give to each of my professors sharing the gospel with them, including one in particular who had openly mocked Christianity throughout the semester and I feared would knock points off my grade if I ticked him off by giving him such a letter. Then, God spoke to me in a dream telling me to do so. What I could have done was refuse to believe that God really does speak to everyday Christians in dreams and just explain it away as eating weird food that night or something, but because of the faith God has gifted me with, I obeyed the dream and wrote the letters. That specific teacher ended up writing back to me, saying that it touched him deeply and he was definitely going to think about the issue further.
* God promised me a few years ago that His mission for me is to spend my life writing for Him. Now, I’m one of those people who like to psychotically plan every last little detail out – so, given my nature, it would be extremely beneficial to know if that means, for example, writing Christian novels as my career, working outside of ministry as an advertising copywriter but doing it to His glory, or holding some completely unrelated job and doing some sort of writing on the side. But, He has not chosen to reveal these specifics to me – so as such, I am forced to live in a state of complete dependence on Him – I can’t plan college more than one semester in advance, I don’t have the security of knowing exactly how I’ll spend my post-college life, etc. In this, the faith He has given me ensures that I walk with Him every step of the way, more fixated on what He wants me to do right now rather than planning for a far-off future. His gift to me of faith is also growing my faith even more. :-)
Bear in mind too that, as we have discussed before, sometimes God gives people concentrations of a spiritual gift on a very temporary basis to accomplish some particular task. Therefore, it is possible to have a super-charged dose of faith at one particular time in your life.
How does the gift of faith edify the entire body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)? A person with the gift of faith can serve as a great example to other believers, because it will provide them with a living picture of God’s fulfilled promises and what walking with God looks like in action. In this, it can prompt other believers to grow in their faith.
Giving (and Poverty (Voluntary))
Giving is identified as a spiritual gift in Romans 12:8: “…(let) he who gives, with liberality.”
The Greek word used here for “gives” is metadidomi, which means to give, to share, to share a part of. This Greek word is used only four other times in the Bible, rendered differently in English.
“And he would answer and say to them, ‘Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likeweise.’” (Luke 3:11)
“Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28).
“For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established.” (Romans 1:11) (With the word’s definition here, it seems to me the meaning of the verse is that Paul wants to share one of his spiritual gifts with the new Roman church – that is, use it to help them establish their congregation.)
“Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8) (Again, here it seems to me the meaning is to share their time and effort with the Thessalonian church.)
We can see, then, that the spiritual gift of giving entails being compelled to share your resources, time, energy, and effort with others.
Let’s also take a brief look into the word “liberality.” This Greek word is haplotes, meaning “singleness.” It is used eight times in the Bible, and it is difficult to translate into English and retain the word’s meaning, so it is rendered as “liberality,” “simplicity,” and “sincerity.”
The only other time it is used in the context of giving to others is 2 Corinthians 9:13 “Because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all.”
If you look at the other instances (2 Corinthians 8:2, 9:11, 11:3, Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22), an interesting point becomes clear – singleness means single-mindedness, like the undivided heart that David talked about in his Psalms. The essence here, then, is focusing only on God.
So, let’s expound upon Romans 12:8 “…(let) he who gives with liberality.” Inserting what we have learned, we get, “Let he who is gifted with a special desire to give his/her resources, time, energy, and effort to help others, do so single-mindedly, not getting distracted by a desire for credit (Matthew 6:3-4) or by selfishness to hoard those blessings for him/herself.”
Voluntary poverty is one of the not-always-accepted-as-such spiritual gifts, likely because it is very closely tied to the gift of giving. However, I believe they are different degrees of the same spiritual gift, so need to be addressed with some distinction – but I’m getting ahead of myself. :-)
We pulled this spiritual gift from 1 Corinthians 13:3 “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor…”
The word for “give” used here is psomizo, which actually means “to feed with morsels.” It is impossible to translate this word directly into English, so its meaning is split up “give…to feed.” It is used only one other time in Scripture, Romans 12:20.
However, feeding is not the focus of our study. Instead, I think it best to focus on, “And if I give all my possessions…” This is a much farther extent than we saw with metadidomi, sharing. This is the ultimate extreme to go to, such as the widow did in Mark 12:41-44.
Putting These Together
Giving is a very tricky spiritual gift to nail down because it seems to have three distinct levels. (1) We are all called to be charitable to others and particularly other believers (Luke 3:11, among many, many other passages). (2) Some are gifted spiritually to have a special desire/willingness to do this (Romans12:8). (3) Some have an uber-gift of giving that gives them a strong desire/willingness to use everything they have for others’ benefit.
In 1 Peter 4:9-10, we read: “Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
Now, the issue we must decide is: Are these two sentences one thought (that is, is Peter using the spiritual gift of hospitality as an example to instruct his readers to use their spiritual gifts for each other’s benefit), or are they two separate instructions (that is, is hospitality just an extension of the discussion of showing love that immediately precedes it, and the commission to use spiritual gifts another, separate, extension)? Well, let us consider that a spiritual gift, in the most basic of terms, is some special ability that God gives His followers in order for them to be better able to support other Christians and to bring more people into salvation through faith in Him. Are some people better at being hospitable than others? Yes. Does it seem perfectly reasonable that God may enable a person to be particularly hospitable? Yes. Therefore, I believe it is appropriate to accept hospitality as a spiritual gift, while also keeping in mind that it is something we are all expected to strive for (as is the case with many spiritual gifts – we are all commanded to share the gospel, for example, but those with the gift of evangelism are simply better at it).
So, with all that established, what precisely is hospitality? Well, the Greek word is philoxenia, which literally means “love of strangers.” Philoxenia and its variant philoxenos are only translated as hospitable and hospitality, and are found a grand total of six times in the New Testament:
* In 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8, it is listed as one of the character traits a person with the gift of pastoring (read: leader in the church, not just the head preacher) must exhibit.
* In 1 Timothy 5:10, it is listed as a character trait that a widow must have exhibited in order to receive free charity from the church.
* In Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:2, it is listed as a primary expression of God’s love flowing through you.
Now let’s look at a few examples of how this looks in our world today (just a brief list):
* A person who, when they see someone new attending church for the first time, makes a point to welcome them and invites them out to lunch or over for dinner.
* A person who is willing to take in travelling Christians who can’t afford a hotel, or welcomes overflow house guests from other members of the congregation to stay in their own home.
* A person who is just generally friendly to everyone, even random strangers they run into at the grocery store.
Knowledge is identified as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 12:8.
The Greek word for knowledge in our base verse is gnosis, meaning a knowing or knowledge. Compare this to the other words used for knowledge in the New Testament:
Sunoida – to share the knowledge ofOida – to have seen or perceived, hence to know
Epignosis – recognition, knowledge
Do you notice a pattern here? All the other words translated as knowledge involve in their very definitions learning the knowledge or arriving at it through observation – yet gnosis seems like you just…know.
This is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
In this verse, knowledge is a very supernatural thing, lumped in with others supernatural elements.
I believe that the gift of knowledge can be manifested in two ways:
Firstly, we see that it means simply understanding deep spiritual issues that are confusing to a lot of people (1 Corinthians 13:2, 1Corinthians 8:7, Colossians 2:2-3)
Secondly, based solely on personal experience, I’ve known believers who know things about people and situations that they simply had no way of knowing – and I believe it falls into this category, as well. (In Scriptural examples of this, it usually occurs simultaneously with prophecy).
Leading (and Administration)
Romans 12:8 tells us, “or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness,” and administration is identified as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 12:28.
The Greek word for lead is proistemi, meaning to put before or have charge over, and the word for administrations is kubernesis, meaning steering, guiding, government, administration. Unfortunately, these specific words are not used anywhere else in the New Testament, so I am not able to provide more specific definitions. The sense I get from the definitions, however (in this case, an educated guess), is that leading has to do more with leading on a personal level (like being a spiritual leader to someone – guiding them in their walk, being an encouragement, serving as an example), whereas administration is more like leading in the context of being in charge of some sort of ministry (organizing functions, delegating tasks to others, etc.). Sorry I can’t be certain. :-)
Although the gifts of leadership and administration are probably most easily recognizable in highly visible positions like a pastor, I believe that based on their simple definitions, they could take a variety of forms. For example, do you know a Christian who is a good mentor, or a believer who’s good at getting people and things organized for church events (for example)? These people may have the gifts of leading and administration, respectively.
Romans 12:8 reads, “or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Mercy is the Greek word eleos, simply meaning mercy, pity, and compassion. With the sole exceptions of references to the Old Testament in Hebrews9:5 and 10:28, eleos and its verb form eleeo are used exclusively to mean mercy in the New Testament. In context, it involves extending forgiveness and aid to others.
What does this look like in human form? It seems evident that it’s a person who has a particular, supernatural inclination to forgive people and do things for them when they absolutely do not deserve it.
Finally, what does the instruction in our base verse, “…he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” mean? From personal experience, I can attest that sometimes when you feel the Spirit prompting you to do something, you kind of begrudge it at the time because you don’t want to do it even though you know deep down it’s another, highly beneficial step toward making you more Christ-like. I believe this is what’s going on here – Paul is instructing those with the spiritual gift of mercy (that is, the special commission and prompting by the Spirit to extend this mercy to others) that even when they don’t feel like it, when they feel that prompting, they should obey with cheerfulness – it is their task for the edification of the body (1Corinthians 12:7).
Miracles (and Healing)
As we’ll see shortly, the gift of healing is a part of the gift of miracles – that is, you can have the gift of healing but not be gifted to do other miracles, or you can be gifted in doing all miracles (this is confirmed later in 1 Corinthians 12:28, in which healing is put lower on the gifts hierarchy than miracles). Therefore, we will address them together. You may also wish to read the above section on faith because I personally believe you would have to have the gift of faith in order to be willing to actually lay hands on someone to heal them or order a storm to stop, etc.
Let’s get the basics of the Greek down first. The word used for miracle in our base verse is dunamis, which means a (supernatural/miraculous) power, might, strength, and ability (it is translated in those four ways, as well). It is used exclusively to mean miracle in the New Testament in all but two verses, Acts 4:16 and 22.
Healing in this case is the word iama, meaning simply healing. It and its variations are used frequently in the New Testament, and are only translated as healing(s). Another word carrying the same meaning, therapeuo (and its variations), is also sometimes used, and unfortunately, I was not able to figure out any difference between the words with my still-limited knowledge of Koine Greek.
Now, let’s look at a few examples of miracles from the New Testament (this list is in no particular order and not intended to be all-inclusive – neither in content nor in Scripture references…this is just a very brief overview):
*Walking on water (Matthew 14:22-36)
* Multiplying food (Matthew 15:32-39)
* Calming storms (Mark 4:35-41)
* Raising the dead (John 11)
* Foreknowing/Directing the location of fish (John 21:1-11)* Calling down curses with immediate effect (Acts 5:1-16)
Now, are these miraculous powers really limited to Jesus Himself, or does He sometimes extend His power to believers? Let’s look at a few verses on this topic:
(Jesus speaking to His disciples) “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leapers, cast out demons; freely our received, freely give.”(Matthew 10:8)
“And the seventy (disciples) returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’ And He said to them, ‘…Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you.’”(Luke 10:17-19)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.”(John 14:12)
Now, some people who have the gift of healing or miracles may be able to do this kind of stuff all the time. However, as mentioned before, I also wholly believe (and have witnessed) that God may occasionally give an individual one of these gifts only for a very short time to use in one specific circumstance.
See Teaching (they’re very distinct, but I found it beneficial to compare them side by side).
War is not listed as a spiritual gift in any New Testament lists, but it seems to be identified as such in the Old Testament (we’ll get to that in a minute). Remember, we’ve discussed a few times before how such lists are in no way intended to be all-inclusive, so it is very logical to assume that there may be some spiritual gifts not included on the lists. Let’s consider the following Scriptures:
[Speaking of Samson, a mighty warrior for Israel] “For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazarite to God form the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”Judges 13:5
[Another Samson example] "Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”Judges 16:28
[Written by King David, another mighty warrior for Israel]He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
[Another example written by David]O give us help against the adversary, For deliverance by man is in vain. Through God we shall do valiantly, And it is He who will tread down our adversaries.
From these verses (and there are many, many more examples throughout the Old Testament), it is apparent that military leaders are specifically given their abilities by God. Keep in mind that this is not just the physical ability to fight – it also included a mind for combat – true leadership involving strategy, not just bodybuilding.
But…is this still a gift God doles out today? That answer depends on how you interpret the following verse:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”John 18:36
Some people take this as a command for constant pacifism. Others take it as an admonition against holy war. Others think it applies only specifically to the context in which it was spoken (Jesus being on trial before his crucifixion).
My personal opinion is that war/physical protection can still fall under the heading of spiritual gift (for example, security directors at large churches), but also under the principal of common grace in that it is also an ability God chooses to give to believers and unbelievers alike. Throughout the Old Testament, it is clear that God directs who is in power, and military victories are directly tied to this. The overall message I think we are supposed to glean from such passages is that all of our abilities are from God.
Although it is rarely seen in the modern American church, prophecy is a fairly well-known gift because of its prevalence in the Old Testament (both in its stories and comprising entire books), and because it is mentioned on all three of the traditional spiritual gift lists (Romans 12, 1Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4).
Prophecy is the Greek word propheteia, and it and its grammatical variations are the only words used to describe prophecy in the New Testament. The word literally means to foretell or to tell forth. It entails speaking for God, whether or not this entails future events.
From the Old Testament, we see that prophecy entailed getting a specific message from God to deliver to a large group of people or occasionally an individual (usually an influential one). These messages focused on future events, promises of blessings versus warnings of punishment, and revealing mysteries about God.
In the New Testament, there are certainly examples of people prophesying (e.g. Luke 1:67, John 11:51, and Acts 19:6), but the primary focus on this matter is to be constantly on the watch for false prophets (1 John 4:1, Matthew 7:15, Romans 16:17-18).
Service (and Helps)
Let’s look at the Scripture where the gift of service is mentioned:
Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 4:11
Helps is identified as a gift in 1 Corinthians 12:28.
Service is the Greek word diakoneo, meaning to minister to, care, serve, and wait on. It carries the specific connotation of a lowly servant, as Jesus described Himself at the last supper (remember, he humbles himself so low as to wash their feet there):
And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But no so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”Luke 22:25-27
And as He gives instructions to His disciples a short while before the Last Supper:
He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.John 12:26
The gift of helps, by contrast, is the Greek word antilempsis, meaning a laying hold of or help; its root means to take instead of or to take hold of. In other words, it seems to carry the connotation of taking somebody else’s burden so they don’t have to do it.
Now, these gifts seem very closely related, but because the Bible uses totally unrelated words to describe them, we know they are somehow distinct. Because I am not some sort of Greek scholar and my resources are not providing any extra details on this subject, the following is my interpretation, an educated guess. I think the difference between service and helps is: service involves acts of humility, doing the dirty work, serving a large group of people; helps involves helping specific people in impactful ways by taking specific burdens off of them and performing them yourself.
Now, as for a real-world example of these gifts in action, I would point you to the deacons and deaconesses in the church – the people who are generally in charge of cleaning, setting up chairs, handing out flyers, doing yard work, etc. (I would align this most closely with service). We see this in the Bible in Acts 6:2-6:
2 And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables […not desirable to take time away from preaching and teaching to spend our time feeding the widows, but that work also needs to be done].
3 But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
5 And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, and man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit [the first martyr], and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.
One final note on this subject – it is clear that we are all called to a certain degree of service (see above verses from Luke and John). However, as we have discussed before, sometimes a spiritual gift is a heightened ability and desire to perform whatever task, and I believe that is definitely the case here – confirmed in 1 Peter 4:11 by the addition of “as by the strength which God provides.”
Teaching and Pastoring
Here we’re looking at two gifts that are often confused with each other, teaching and pastoring. Let’s start with our base verse:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.
The fact that God had Paul write this verse as “…and some as pastors and teachers” rather than “and some as pastors, and some as teachers” tells me that these two gifts are closely related. However, because they are listed separately, and because they are two distinct words in the original Greek, they’re also clearly separate. Let’s look into those differences a bit.
It’s All Greek to Me – Getting the Basics Down
First up, pastoring. Ephesians 4:11 is actually the only place in the entire Bible where the word pastors (or pastor, pastoring, etc.) appears. The Greek word is poimen, which literally means shepherd (and poimen is most often rendered as shepherd in translations). A couple of relevant verses where this word is used:
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”(John 21:16)
[Paul speaking to church leaders at Ephesus:] “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
Switching gears to teaching really quickly before we look at pastoring in more depth… The spiritual gift of teaching is listed as such in three places: Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:7, and 1 Corinthians12:28. All three verses use variations of the same word, didaskalos, which at its root has the meaning of teaching, instruction, and doctrine. The vast majority of the times you see the words teacher, teaching, etc. in the New Testament, it is a grammatical variation of this word (the most prevalent exceptions are when referring to Pharisees as “teachers of the Law”).
That’s Enough Linguistics – How Does It Affect Us?
All pastors are teachers (that is, are supposed to be – see 1 Timothy 3:2), but all teachers are not pastors.
Teaching is a fairly common gift. Parents reading Bible stories to their children, small group Bible study leaders (myself included), Christian writers, Sunday school teachers, even that friend of yours who always wants to share something they just discovered in the Bible – all of these entail the gift of teaching (to varying degrees, of course) And that’s just from my personal experience. The Bible backs up the fact that the gift of teaching is common, too. Consider in Titus 2:3-5 when Paul instructs the older women to teach (a variation of didaskalos, again) the younger women how to live godly lifestyles.
(Also note that teaching can be teaching Scripture and/or teaching Scriptural principles.)
Pastoring, by contrast, has a whole set of other duties in addition to teaching – including, in the modern world, offering counseling, welcoming members of “the flock” into your home all the time, and organizing and leading various events and ministries within that specific congregation. No wonder a lot of pastors suffer from burnout and fall!
It is also for this that there are a ton of specific qualifications laid out for a pastor [read: church leader – see note below] in 1 Timothy 3, including having been a believer for a long time, having a good reputation, and having good control of your own family. All these demonstrate that you do have what it takes to handle the immense pressure of pastoring. Recall Acts 20:28 – it is a dangerous world, and Satan and his demons will specifically target church leaders, because if they can knock down the leader, the sheep will scatter (Matthew26:31). Before a person becomes a pastor, it is imperative – utterly critical – that they are sure they are strong enough the handle the spiritual battle before taking responsibility for that many people. However, teachers also have a far greater - and more dangerous - responsibility, as well (James 3:1).
(Note that pastors in the American sense of the word are only a part of the Biblical description of a person with the gift of pastoring – the latter includes church elders, leaders of specific ministries [e.g. women’s ministry, children’s ministry], and in some cases, small group leaders [if the environment is one of fellowship and accountability, with the actual Bible study only being a part of each meeting].)
Rapid-Fire Closing Thoughts
1 – If there’s someone in your life who has pastored (shepherded) you and really made an impact on your life, take the time to thank them – it’s a rough job that entails a lot more than just writing sermons.
2 – Remember that there are a lot of teachers out there. Be on the lookout for them! I imagine there are a lot of believers you know who are “en cognito” because it’s daunting to express to others that you have the gift of teaching when you’re young, or a new believer, or female, or a number of other things (I speak from experience). So like I said, be on the lookout – they have a lot of Biblical knowledge to share with you.
3 – Don’t forget the very basic point of today’s study – all pastors are teachers, but not all teachers are pastors.
Tongues (Interpretation and Speaking)
Strap yourself in…this is a long study on a controversial gift. :-)
Our reference verse for this gift is 1 Corinthians 12:10 “and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, and to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues."
The word used here for tongues is glossa, meaning tongue in both the literal/physical sense and in the sense of language. It is always rendered as either tongue or tongues in the NASB, and is the only word used in the New Testament meaning tongue. (A few other Greek words are rendered as language, however.)
Yet we also see from this verse that there are “various kinds of tongues.” (Note that various is not in the original Greek; it was added in an attempt to clarify understanding ... so, a strictly literal translation would read “kinds of tongues.”) There are generally recognized to be two categories of tongues in Scripture (a viewpoint I agree with): foreign languages, and the language of God, both granted to you through spiritual means. We’ll examine both below.
Foreign Languages as Tongues
We find a wonderful example of the Holy Spirit giving the early believers the ability to speak in tongues in this capacity in Acts chapter 2. Here’s a bit of the story:
1 And when the day of Pentecost had come, they [those who believed in Jesus] were all together in one place…
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance
6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language.
7 And they were amazed and marveled, saying, “Why, are not all those who are speaking Galileans?
8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?
9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretans and Arabs – we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the might deeds of God”…
37 “Now when they heard this [the gospel message], they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized, and there were added that day [to the number of those who believed in Jesus] about three thousand souls.”
So, we see here that tongues can mean a special spiritual endowment to speak a foreign language in order to communicate the gospel to others. In this instance, the disciples could have preached in Greek and nearly everyone would have understood them (it was the lingua franca of the world at that time), but the tongues ensured that people actually listened to them – I mean, if you were in some foreign country and suddenly heard someone giving a big speech in your own language, wouldn’t you stop and listen for a few minutes to see what it was about?
A modern extension of this would be missions work. I’ve read all sorts of accounts by missionaries saying that people really respond to the gospel when they hear it in their own language or dialect, particularly in Africa and South America where people speak both a local language and the official language of the nation or region. I imagine this is a place where God gives missionaries the ability to speak in tongues.
“Heaven Speak” – the Language of God and the Angels – as Tongues
Tongues in this context of a sort of mystical language used in heaven is identified in 1 Peter 4:11: “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God…” and 1 Corinthians 14:2 “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.”
1 Corinthians 14 is the definitive chapter on what tongues in this context is, what its purpose is, and how to use it effectively and not abuse it. I am posting the entire chapter here, and I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety because there is so much to glean from it. I’m going to interweave my commentary with the passage, my words appearing in italics.
1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophecy.
2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.
3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.
4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.
There is a certain hierarchy of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8), and tongues falls below prophecy. The reason for this is that, unless there is an interpretation (which Paul will address soon), tongues only affects you and your worship and communication with God – and remember, the primary purpose of spiritual gifts is for the edification of the entire body (1 Corinthians 12:7).
5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.
6 But now brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?
7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?
8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning.
11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be to the one who speaks a barbarian and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.
12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
This is a continuation of the point in verses 1-4. Speaking in tongues without an interpretation is pointless and will just weird people out (v11). However, even tongues that you only use privately do have value to you (v 5). Additionally, when tongues are interpreted, they can have great benefit to the church. One time when I was attending a small, extremely spirit-filled congregation, as the guitarist finished up the last song he started quietly speaking in a beautiful language. The pastor stood up and interpreted – it was a message of blessing from God, applauding the congregation for laying down their lives for Him and encouraging them to continue to do so. In this instance, tongues were used for the benefit of the body because there was an interpretation – that is, we could understand what was said. Sometimes the speaker is also the interpreter, and other times, they are two people.
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
15 What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also.
I know a woman who sometimes prays and sings praises in tongues, and other times, she does so in English. When she is doing this in tongues, it is a really cool spiritual connection for her, but if she didn’t pray and praise in English sometimes, she’d have no idea what she was saying, which would hinder her walk in another way.
16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?
17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.
18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all.
19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Just because tongues are, frankly, cool, doesn’t mean they should replace teaching – that is an abuse. Babbling on is an abuse. We need to be careful that in all contexts, not just the issue of tongues, we do not get so wrapped up in emotional spiritual experiences that we neglect the intellectual side of the faith (and vice versa).
20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes but in your thinking be mature.
21 In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord.
22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.
23 If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?
24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, his is called to account by all;
25 the secrets of the heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
If an unbeliever comes to a group of believers and is met with an interpreted tongue (i.e., one that ends up saying something prophetic), it will bring him to God. But if he comes and finds us babbling meaninglessly like a bunch of idiots, he’s just going to think that Christians are crazy. So, we need to be mature in how we handle tongues and not get all caught up in it.
26 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.
27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and let one interpret;
28 but if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church; and let him speak to himself and to God.
29 And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.
30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent.
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;
32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets;
33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
Tongues is a very good gift, and has a definite role in the church – BUT, it must be handled with order. It needs to be interpreted, and it should not monopolize the entire service/meeting/etc.
34 Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law says.
35 And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
These two verses get twisted a lot. We don’t have room to get into too many of the specifics here, but what you do need to know is that (1) extra-Biblical history shows that the women in Corinth, many of them having roots in the cult of Delphi, were used to babbling loudly in their pagan worship – and they likely brought this practice with them when they came to Christ, and (2) the Greek word for speak is in verses 34-35 is laleo which means specifically speaking without understanding – that is, this was not being interpreted (and is used elsewhere in the Bible referring to speaking in tongues w/out it being interpreted). So Paul’s point here is not that women are somehow banned from speaking or speaking in tongues in church, but that, since the women of Corinth apparently were particularly guilty of carrying on without interpretation, they needed to cut it out, and, as the husband is the head of his wife, the husbands needed to step in and get their wives to cut it out. He is not giving women a different commandment regarding tongues, he is just emphasizing it since they were causing a specific problem.
36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.
38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.
40 But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner.
Paul sums up this long passage by pointing out that yes, he knows what he’s talking about, so the Corinthians need to follow his instructions. He also emphasizes that tongues is an important spiritual gift that should not be neglected, but it desperately needs to be handled in an orderly manner and interpreted.
Summing It All Up
So, we have learned that tongues can take the form of either foreign languages or heavenly languages.
And what’s the point of tongues?
* It’s a way of witnessing more effectively (Acts 2)* It’s a specific sign to unbelievers, and a way of conveying prophetic words and blessings (1 Corinthians 14)
* It’s a display of God’s power (Mark 16:17-18)
This one is a bit hard to describe or categorize right off the bat…let’s look at a few examples from Scripture before I launch into a jumbled speech. ;-)
Acts chapter 9:
36 Now in Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did.
37 And it came about at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room.
38 And since Lydda was near Jopaa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, entreating him, “Do not delay to come to us.”
39 And Peter arose and went with them. And when he had come, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them.
Exodus chapter 31:
1 Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, [regarding creating God’s tabernacle – His temporary temple]
2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.
3 And I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship,
4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze,
5 and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship.
6 And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you.
From these two passages, and particularly from the second one, it is abundantly clear that in some cases, God gives His followers certain physical, tactile skills – even trades, related to their jobs – that He intends them to use specifically for His glory. This definitely falls into our definition of spiritual gifts. (Now, while I 100% believe that all talents are given to us by God, I personally think that only those talents used somehow to specifically and directly bring glory to God and be involved in ministry work should be classified as out-and-out spiritual gifts.)
Now, there are probably a million examples of this spiritual gift at work, because God can use any ability to advance His kingdom! Consider 1 Corinthians 12:5, “And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.” I’m going to list just a few here:
* A musician who serves on the worship team at church, or writes and/or performs Christian songs.
* A writer or artist who produces books, paintings, poems, sculptures, articles, photographs that glorify God and/or share Christian messages.
* A skilled cook who donates their food to bake sales for the church, to a local homeless shelter, or to some other sort of food-providing ministry.
* A scientist who uses their knowledge to argue for Intelligent Design.
* A mechanic helps single women and widows in his church with oil changes for their cars for free.
* A tech guru who sets up a website for the church.
Wisdom is identified as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians12:8.
The Greek word used here for wisdom is sophia, meaning both skill and wisdom. This is contrasted against the only other word used for wise/wisdom in the New Testament, phronimos, which means a practical, shrewd, applicable-in-the-world wisdom. Sophia is sometimes (but not exclusively) used in a spiritual sense:
And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?” (Matthew 13:54)
(Regarding Christians being put on trial for the gospel’s sake) … for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.(Luke 21:15)
But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of the task.(Acts 6:3)
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will [different word used for knowledge than is used in the context of spiritual gifts] in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…(Colossians 1:9)
So, from all of this, we can see that the spiritual gift of wisdom is a different kind of wisdom that comes directly from God and is applicable in spiritual matters…but that’s still not abundantly clear. Let’s go deeper.
Wisdom – More Specific Definition
God actually provides us a case study in wisdom in the person of King Solomon. Now, assuming that everything in the Old Testament and New Testament is identical is a dangerous assumption, especially considering that they were written in two different languages and thus inconsistent translation is totally unavoidable…however, in this case, we know that they are the same thing.
“The Queen of the South shall rise up with this generation at the judgment and shall condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom (sophia) of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”(Matthew 12:42; almost identical in Luke 11:31)
So, Solomon’s wisdom is indeed sophia. Now consider 1 Kings 4:29, “Now God gave Solomon wisdom (sophia in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore.” Therefore, we have pinned down that Solomon’s wisdom is the spiritual gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8.
Now, in order to obtain a definition, what did Solomon ask God for when he asked for wisdom?
7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.
8 Your servant is in the midst of Your people which you have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted.
9 So give your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
10 It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing.
11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked for riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice,
12 behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you…”(1 Kings 3:7-12)
Wisdom, related to the gift of discernment/distinguishing of spirits, means having a supernatural ability to know the right, godly course of action in given situations and communicate this effectively to others.