The Apostle Paul outlined the various spiritual gifts, like charity, teaching, miracles, helps, faith, tongues, prophecy and knowledge, service, leadership, giving, evangelism, pastor, hospitality and celebacy.
Ever notice that nobody ever argues that if you don’t have the gift of leadership, you probably aren’t saved? Or if you don’t have the gift of hospitality, you’ve never undergone the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
But some Christians believe that if they don’t speak or pray in tongues or can interpret tongues or prophesy over someone or something, then they do not have the Holy Spirit.
Paul specifically addresses three particular gifts — and these three only — this way:
“. . .whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” (1st Corinthians 13:8)
But believers will practically come to blows over the gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge and interpretation and their relevance to the Church today. I find it interesting that the giftings claimed by so many believers are the spectacular ones, like tongues.
Why tongues and not service? Or prophecy. Why prophecy and not charity? Or the ubiquitous ‘word of knowledge’ TV preachers often claim during their broadcasts. Why knowledge and not helps?
Paul goes on to explain these gifts in their proper context:
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part. . . .”
As one of the principle teachers of the early Church Paul was given Divine revelation together with the gift of prophecy to establish his credentials and his authority to teach. The Apostles established their credentials and authority by virtue of their gifts of knowledge and miracles.
There is a story in the Book of Acts that illustrates what I mean.
Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the LORD Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. . . .And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?”
The evil spirit then attacked all seven of them, who fled the house naked and bleeding . .
“And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the Name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” (Acts19:13,15,17)
The Apostles were given gifts useful to their specific mission, which was to plant the seeds of the early Church and establish its basic doctrine to equip it for its own mission of bringing others to Christ.
The ‘vagabond Jews’ attempted to usurp spiritual gifts to magnify their own reputations, to glorify themselves. The use of the spiritual gifts imparted by the Holy Spirit cannot help but glorify the Name of Jesus. Unless they are used to bring attention to the recipient.
Returning to the context of the gifts, the Apostles knew, in part, because they had been instructed by the Lord. They prophesied, in part, because prophecy literally means to speak the Word of God under Divine inspiration — and not necessarily about the future.
“But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (1st Corinithians 13:10)
Once again, I call your attention to the particular gifts that are the ones that cause all the controversy. Prophecy, tongues, knowledge, miracles, etc.
Then, there are the gifts that nobody wants to fight over; helps, hospitality, service. . . doesn’t that speak to you on some subliminal level?
“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1st Corinthians 14:33)
Why are tongues and knowledge and miracles and prophecy so important to this generation? Paul says of tongues:
“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” (1st Corinthians 14:23)
That seems blindingly self-evident to me. Unbelievers see some guy on TV speaking in tongues and they think he’s nuts and switch the channel. New believers try to speak in tongues and can’t and wonder what is wrong with them?
It seems counterproductive to insist that gifts that scare off unbelievers and discourage new believers are a necessary part of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Paul says when that which is perfect is come in that which is in part shall be done away. What is ‘perfect’ in this world? Does the Bible give any hints?
“For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
The word rendered ‘quick’ in Hebrews 4:12 is translated from the Greek word ‘zao’ which means ‘alive’. The Word of God is alive, which is why it is able to speak to all generations with equal clarity.
What is the purpose for the Bible?
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17 )
Are tongues and miracles and knowledge and prophecy for today? I am not one to limit God, so I am not going to say that they are not. I don’t live in China or Russia or North Korea where there is no access to God’s Word.
I will say I tried to pray in tongues. I couldn’t. And when I’ve heard people speak in tongues in church, I’ve been unimpressed — I’ve yet to hear anybody do more than repeat a relative handful of unintelligible word-like sounds.
I’ve met many a discouraged Christian who tried to experience the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and failing in that effort, despaired of their salvation. And I’ve heard many an unbeliever scoff at Christianity after watching some miracle-working TV preacher.
I don’t know if my experience is unique, but that is what my experience has been, and to pretend otherwise is dishonest.
To summarize our discussion on this topic, I believe that all the spiritual gifts are still in operation today but that some are more often claimed than are actually given.
I believe that the Bible teaches that certain of those gifts are conditional — when that which is perfect (the Bible) is come, that which was in part was done away.
But I also know that some of us have that which is perfect (the Bible) and some of us (like North Korean Christians) do not. Who am I to limit God?
I believe that the Scriptures teach that all spiritual gifts are for the glorification of God, and not for the glorification of the recipient of that particular gift.
That’s what I believe. But I am just a man with a Bible — I’m not a prophet and I’m not infallible. I could be wrong — that’s why we have discussion forums. To discuss such things and thereby increase our understanding.
“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. . . . Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 15:4-5b)
Note: This Letter did start a good discussion in forums when it was originally published. Be sure to give them a read.