In this essay we will conclude our study of the Holy Spirit and his gifts. First, we discussed the so-called equipping gifts in Eph. 4:11: apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding, and teaching. Then we began to look at the gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12. In our last essay we studied the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, and healings.
Today we begin with the gift of miracles. The gift of miracles is given on special occasions to meet special needs, according to the good judgment of God. A powerful biblical example is the Exodus, when God miraculously delivered Israel out of Egypt by his mighty hand. Another is the ministry of Jesus, when many miracles of various kinds took place.
God occasionally intervenes miraculously in the affairs of the Church today. But he does not do it as often as some Christians want to believe (see our earlier essay on miracles). Jesus himself made a profound statement in respect to miracles when he said: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Lk. 16:31).
We discussed the gift of prophecy in the last essay. Therefore we will skip over it here.
Next comes the gift of discernment (NRSV: discernment of spirits). According to Kinghorn, this gift “is the ability to distinguish between spirits, whether they are divine, human, or demonic.” That is a solid biblical definition. And unfortunately, this gift is much needed in our culture today. There are many people, including some in the church, who are dabbling in the occult. Others claim to commune with the dead as a scam in order to make money. Still others are under the power of Satan and act on his behalf (Lk. 4:6; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:3-4; 2 Thess. 2:9).
In 1 Tim. 4:1 Paul declares, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later (or last) times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” And in Eph. 6:12 he writes, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of the present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
And then there are those who actually are oppressed or possessed by demons. The best biblical examples of this are seen in the ministry of Jesus. A number of occasions are reported when he cast out demons from people. Once again I would say that this is not as common as some think. Indeed I would agree with Kinghorn that even among unbelievers it is rare. That is why the gift of discernment is needed.
I remember well an incident in my own ministry that illustrates this. I was ministering with others in Costa Rica. At the end of a church service, a man asked to be delivered from a demon. We had only his word that a demon was in him. The Holy Spirit gives the gift of discernment for just such times as this. We began to pray for the man, and I knew rather quickly in my spirit that we were not dealing with demon possession. We were dealing with a human spirit. Others continued to pray for him for a while, but it came to nothing. I do not claim to have the gift of discernment; but I believe God gave me the gift for that situation.
The next two gifts are the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues. According to 1 Cor. 12:30, the gift of tongues is given to some but not all Christians.
According to Kinghorn, there are four kinds of speaking in tongues. The first is “speaking in a language unknown to the speaker, but known to those who speak that language.” The speaking in tongues that took place in Acts 2:1-11 illustrates this gift.
The second kind of speaking in tongues is “speaking in a language known only in heaven, and unknown on earth unless God gives a gift of interpretation.” This gift primarily is for private use (1 Cor. 14:4). If it is exercised in public, there must be an interpretation, or it is out of order (1 Cor. 14:5). Many interpreters believe that this is the speaking in tongues that Paul spoke about in 1 Cor. 12-14. In other words there are two gifts of speaking in tongues, the Acts 2 type, and the 1 Cor. 14 type.
Other interpreters believe that there is only one biblical gift of tongues; namely, a gift that enables one to speak a real language of the earth. And of course if anyone who speaks the language is present, it will be understood, as in Acts 2.
The third kind of speaking in tongues listed by Kinghorn is “speaking under demonic influence,” which is practiced by witch doctors and pagan priests.
And the fourth is “speaking in nonrational ecstatic verbiage that is a psychological and human response to a religious emotion.” “Tongues of this sort are closely akin to the shouting which occurred in some of the nineteenth-century camp meetings.” “Such verbal responses appear most often when they are encouraged, when they are expected, and when they give one status in a group.” Other similar examples from Church history are the quaking of the Quakers and the shaking of the Shakers.
Now then, we find in 1 Cor. 12 that the gift of tongues of the unknown variety has one purpose that takes three forms. The three forms are prayer (v.19); praise (v.15); and thanksgiving (v.16). Actually, all of these are forms of prayer, and all are directed toward God. And thus when an interpretation of a tongue is given publicly, it should consist of some form of prayer, praise, or thanksgiving. Otherwise it is not an interpretation in the New Testament sense.
There is no indication in the Bible that this type of gift of tongues ever is directed towards the congregation in the sense of its being a message from God to the congregation. The gifts of prophecy and teaching are provided for communication to the congregation. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:2, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God.” Therefore we ought to ponder carefully the caution Paul gives us in 1 Cor. 14. The gift of tongues basically is out of place in public worship, though not forbidden if interpreted.
The gift of helps (NRSV, “forms of assistance”; NIV, “those able to help others”) in 1 Cor. 12:28, if not the same as the gift of serving on the list from Romans 12:7, is at least closely related to it. The gifts of helps and service enable the recipients to meet the needs of others in marvelous ways. Most of us tend to be interested in the more powerful or glamorous gifts; but it is beautiful to watch the gift of serving in operation. My wife has that gift, and it is amazing to me, the way she sees needs that I overlook and immediately moves to meet the need she sees.
The gifts of administration (NRSV “forms of leadership”) in Cor. 12:28 and the gift of leadership in Rom. 12:8 also are very closely related. Both of them involve the idea of leadership in matters of organization, government, and meeting community needs.
The gift of exhortation or encouragement “equips one for a ministry of calling forth the best that is in others.” “The function of this spiritual gift is to lift up, encourage, strengthen, and admonish another to become his best self in Christ.”
The gift of giving “empowers one in a special way to understand the material needs of others, and then to meet those needs generously.” I am sure all of you have heard of the occasional, wealthy Christian who becomes extremely generous. Stanley Tam is an example of a businessman who gives the profit from his factory in Dayton, Ohio, to the work of God in the world. And there was a rich Christian in Texas who eventually gave away 90% of his income.
The gift of compassion (NRSV: “doing acts of mercy”) “transcends both natural human sympathy and normal Christian caring. It equips one to sense in others such emotions as joy, happiness, pain and despair,” and then to provide a supportive ministry.
In conclusion, we must never forget one thing. Paul certainly believed that spiritual gifts have a significant place. But he insisted that love is more important than any thing else. Right in the middle of his discussion of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 13), Paul reminds us at length that love is more important than the spiritual gifts. It is more important even than faith. And it is more important than hope. Without love, the rest will be of no value to us or to anyone else.