In the last essay I introduced the subject of the gifts of the Spirit; and we looked at nine biblical general principles regarding them. In this essay I want to turn to an analysis of the individual spiritual gifts as seen in the four passages that list gifts (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; 1 Cor, 12:28; and Eph. 4:11). There are twenty gifts mentioned in the four passages (Kinghorn, p. 38).
In this and the following next essays we will take up the meaning of the 20 gifts. We will begin with the gifts listed in Eph. 4:11, because they serve the purpose of equipping the church for its larger ministry to the world. Paul says: “and his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).
Taking the gift of apostleship first, according to Kinghorn apostleship refers to a special ability to introduce the gospel to another culture or race, and then to nurture the converts in Christian discipleship. That is too narrow a definition in my opinion.
In the New Testament the apostles did not limit their work to cross-cultural activity. Indeed during the first expansion of the Church beyond Jerusalem, which began with the persecution that martyred Stephen, the apostles chose not to leave Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).
The term “apostle” literally means “one sent with a commission.” A secular parallel would be the ambassadors that nations send to other nations. They are a kind of apostle, sent with a commission to represent their country. Christian apostles are sent with a commission to represent Christ to the world.
But first-century Christian apostles had a couple of characteristics that were not common to all Christians. For example, 1 Cor. 9:1-2 indicates that the apostles saw the resurrected Jesus. And perhaps even more significant, we see the apostles in the New Testament exercising authority over all the churches. Not everyone would agree that these characteristics are required for apostleship. But if they are, and I believe they are, one easily could argue that the office of apostle no longer exists.
We turn next to the gift of prophecy. Notice, that prophecy is the only gift mentioned on all four lists. The Gift of Prophecy is inspired speaking on behalf of God. And it can be either spontaneous or prepared. As Kinghorn says, prophecy “may include a review of the past and a word about the future; but prophecy fundamentally means light for the present.” This was true of biblical prophets. They were extraordinarily inspired when they spoke for God. And that is why their writings became part of the Bible. Those who have the gift of prophecy today are not inspired in the same extraordinary way that the biblical prophets were. Therefore their words do not carry the same authority.
Some define prophecy simply as preaching. While preaching can be a legitimate form of prophecy, it is certain that not all preaching is prophecy. Indeed most preaching would not qualify as prophecy.
Still others today (some Pentecostals and Charismatics) define prophecy as a person standing in the Christian assembly and speaking a spontaneous word from God, meaning that God actually is speaking the words to the people. If that were true, their prophecies would be on the level of the biblical prophecy. Unfortunately, that idea is more pagan than Christian.
The gift of evangelism refers to the positive presentation of the message of salvation in Christ. This gift endows the recipients with an unusual capacity to lead others into a saving relationship with the Lord.
Back in the late 1970s, a man in his thirties came to Asbury University, where I was teaching, believing that God had called him to get a degree from both the college and the seminary. I’ll call him “Rick.” Unfortunately, Rick had an extremely difficult time with academics, though he seemed intelligent enough to me. I never did understand why he struggled so with his studies. At any rate, he didn’t stay in college, let alone go on to seminary.
But Rick had the gift of evangelism! That man regularly led people to Christ. He would talk to anyone and everyone about Jesus; and they wouldn’t resent it. He was one of the greatest one-on-one evangelists I have ever seen.
The gift of shepherding (NRSV: Pastors) has to do with nurturing and guiding other Christians. No one should attempt to pastor a church without this gift (1 Peter 5:2-3). Indeed, I believe it is this gift that is at the heart of a divine call to be a pastor.
However, the gift of shepherding is not imited to ordained clergypersons, or even to pastors of churches. Many Christians have this gift, and they can help young Christians, especially new Christians, by exercising this gift.
When my wife and I first made a full commitment to Christ back in 1963, a woman in our church helped us tremendously to grow by exercising this gift. She asked us if she could come to our house every Thursday night to study the Bible and pray with us. We agreed, and she nurtured us in the faith during those critical first months of complete commitment.
A few months later, she encouraged me to teach an adult Sunday School class. That was my first experience with the teaching ministry, and I loved it. That is an illustration of the gift of shepherding in operation.
The gift of teaching “equips one to impart the truth to others in a relevant way so that the gospel can be understood and applied to life,” says Kinghorn. That seems to be a solid definition to me.
Those are the “equipping” gifts of Eph. 4:11. They are gifts given to equip the church for service in the world. The remaining gifts are more oriented towards service and edification apartfrom the specific function of equipping other saints for service.
For these other gifts we turn to the two passages in 1 Cor. 12, verse 4-11 and 28-31. The gift of a word (or utterance) of wisdom is a divine illumination, a perceptive insight, into an immediate situation that enables a problem to be solved or progress to be made. In other words, God gives to a Christian “wisdom” in that situation that the Christian would not otherwise have had. And others will recognize the wisdom. A biblical example is the wisdom expressed by Stephen in Acts 6. As Stephen was ministering in power in Jerusalem, certain people from the synagogue of the Freedmen challenged him. But acts 6:10 says, “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.”
The gift of a word of knowledge is different from the gift of wisdom. It is a divinely inspired knowledge of specific information of which the recipient had no previous knowledge. This gift was demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus when he was with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. You will recall that he was gifted with considerable information about her personal life. He knew that she had five husbands, and that the man she was living with was not her husband.
Another biblical example was the apostle Peter, when he made his famous confession of Christ at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus said to Peter on that occasion, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 16:17).
Next is the gift of faith. Kinghorn defines this gift as one “given to some Christians as a special ability to see the adequacy of God and to tap it for particular situations.” That is a fine definition. This gift of faith is not the faith that saves and sanctifies us. Rather it is an enablement to believe for something that God will do, even though the person has no idea how God will do it.
An outstanding example of a person with this gift was George Mueller. George Mueller was a Christian who exercised this gift for years. God led him into a ministry with orphans. He had no money, but he believed for it from day to day. Eventually he had, I believe, seven orphanages. He never asked anyone for money. He simply prayed, and God provided.
Gifts of healing enable the one gifted to function as an instrument of God’s healing grace in the lives of others. Notice the plural “gifts.” The plural may indicate either of two things. One, it may mean that various people are given a gift for healing various diseases. That is, one Christian might be gifted to heal people with diabetes. And another Christian might be gifted to heal people with heart disease. Or two, it might mean that certain individuals are gifted to heal a number of different diseases. At any rate, God heals sick spirits, sick relationships, sick emotions, and sick bodies. And many times he does it through gifts of healing given to praying Christians.
Physical healing seems to get the most attention among Christians, though I personally doubt that it is at the top of God’s priority list. At any rate, divine physical healing is accomplished in four ways. One, sometimes God heals instantly and directly by means of a miracle. Two, sometimes God heals gradually through natural processes. Three, in our culture God frequently heals by means of a combination of medical science and natural processes. And four, God heals most frequently by means of the resurrection.
Physical illness must be understood in the context of God’s circumstantial, or permissive, will. He does not intend or cause it; but he does permit it. A direct instantaneous healing, therefore, requires God to choose to act miraculously in that particular situation to produce a new situation that somehow better reflects his will at a level beyond the individual involved. This takes us into the next gift, miracles, with which we will deal in the next essay.