Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

What spiritual gifts are not:-

  1. They're not natural gifts - talents inherent from birth. They're received at regeneration.
  2. The spiritual gifts are not the same as the "gift of the Spirit". In Acts 2:38, Peter says his hearers will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, they'll receive the Holy Spirit.
  3. They're not the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is what a believer is by way of character. Gifts have to do with what a believer does in service. The connection between the gifts and the fruit is that we exercise the gifts with the help of the fruit. In 1 Cor inthians13, we're told that love is the medium in which we exercise the gifts.
  4. They're not the Christian duties like encouraging one another, prayer, attending meetings. Each of these things have to be done by everyone - its not a matter of having the concerned gift. However all don't have all the gifts.
  5. Spiritual gifts are not indicators of spirituality, as the Corinthians indicate. However, spirituality helps us to use our gifts properly.

What spiritual gifts are:-

A spiritual gift is an ability given by the Holy Spirit to be exercised in the church for the edification of others. In Ephesians 4, the ultimate objective for these gifts is mentioned as everyone becoming like Christ.

Features of spiritual gifts:

  • Spiritual gifts are given to all (1 Peter 4:10).
  • He gives accordinging to His will (1 Corinthians 12:11), just like the parts of the body.
  • All the persons in the Trinity are involved in this work. 
    • In 1 Corinthians 12: the Holy Spirit is mentioned. 
    • In Ephesians 4:8, the Lord Jesus is the giver. 
    • In Romans 12:3 we're told the giver is God "Theos" (the Father).
  • There are 3 lists of spiritual gifts: 
    • Romans 12 mentions 7
    • 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 mentions 9
    • Ephesians 4:11 mentions the gifted men, 4.

The List in 1 Corinthians 12

These gifts were temporary – for apostolic times. More on this after the list. 

  1. Word of wisdom: This is not the wisdom that we have now, which everyone has to some extent. It is having insight into the ways and purposes of God - which today needs to be found from scripture.
  2. Word of knowledge: Again, this is not the same as the knowledge today that all of us have to some extent. This is a special ability to understand things that are hidden, like Ananias and Sapphira's lies (Acts 5).
  3. Faith: Various types of faith include:- 
    1. Saving faith - Romans 3:24, 5:1
    2. The living faith - "the just shall live by faith"
    3. Faith by which we do miraculous things - this is what is referred to here in v9, for the operation of other spiritual gifts.
  4. Healing: Various types of healing:-
    1. There is natural healing - the body's inherent capacity.
    2. There is medical healing - by doctors.
    3. There's healing by prayer - we pray for healing, and God heals according to the His will/glory. This happens even today.
    4. The one here, the gift of healing a special ability to heal others. In Acts 3, Peter and John did not require the beggar to have faith, they did not pray - the healing was effected simply by the ability that was vested in them. Also note Paul's fantastic gift of healing in Acts 19:11-12. Those who claim to have this gift should be able to replicate what Paul and Peter did.
  5. Miracles: These refer to all miracles other than healing - casting out demons, etc.
  6. Prophecy: receiving God's word directly from him and bringing it to man. Today scripture is our guide.
  7. Discerning of spirits: If someone gets up and speaks, the person having this gift will know whether what he says is right or wrong. Today the yardstick is scripture.
  8. Tongues: It does not refer to angelic language - it is the ability to speak some human language that we've not learned naturally.
  9. Interpretation of tongues: When people exercise the gifts of tongues in a setting where many ethnic groups are present, interpretation would be needed.

How do we know that these gifts are temporary? 

These 9 items can be divided in 3 parts

  1. The first 2:
  2. The middle 5:
  3. The last 2:

We recognize these parts by the Greek word "Heteros" (another of another kind) demarcating them (rendered "another" in English) and the Greek word "allos" (another of the same type - also rendered "another"  in English) separating those within the same category. In Chap 13:8, these gifts are said to cease - 3 are mentioned (prophecy, knowledge and tongues), one from each of the above 3 categories. All these gifts were necessary in the foundational time when the canon of scripture was not yet complete.

Prophecy and knowledge will cease(Greek: katargeo, in v8 and also in v10 of 1 Co 13). The Greek passive voice indicates that some agent will render them redundant. What could this agent be? Verse 10 says that "when that which is perfect (complete) will come, that which is in part will be done away with". So, what is this perfect thing that would displace prophecy and knowledge? Could it be:-

  1. The Lord Jesus, when He comes again?
  2. The eternal age?
  3. The complete Bible?

The perfect entity is a "thing", not a person. So #1 is ruled out. The wording of verse 9 and 10 indicates that the "that which is in part" has to be of the same category as "that which is perfect". This rules against #2 and in favor of #3 since scripture is the same as prophecy and knowledge. The eternal age is perfect/complete, but prophecy is not part of that age.

Conclusion: Prophecy and knowledge ceased when the Bible was completed. But was the Bible recognized as such when it was completed?

What about tongues? 1 Corinthians 13:8 says they will cease (Greek: Pauo). The Greek middle deponent voice implies that tongues will cease by itself. Well, when and why? The logical reason for something to cease by itself is that its purpose is accomplished. This brings us to the purpose of tongues:-

Tongues are a sign for unbelievers, not for believers (1 Corinthians 14:22). Also note that in God's scheme of things, it is the Jews (not the Gentiles) who require a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22). So tongues are a sign for unbelieving Jews. The question arises: sign of what?

In the context of Jewish apostasy, Isaiah says:

"For with stammering lips and another tongue will he [God] speak to this people." - Isaiah 28:11

Paul quotes this verse in 1 Corinthians 14:21. Thus, tongues are a sign that God is doing something new as part of His judgment on the Jewish nation. What's the new thing God was doing? The church! Up till then, in order to relate to God, you had to become a Jew. Now that was to be changed. We can learn this from Acts 10 and 11. Although Peter and others were believers, they thought that Christ's church was meant for Jews alone. God told Peter to go and preach the gospel to Cornelius (who became the first known "western" Christian). This offended the Jewish believers in Jerusalem:

 "And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them." Acts 11:2,3

Peter then narrates all that has happened, culminating in "the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning (in which tongues was the prominent feature)". The implication was clear to the Jewish believers: They concluded:-

"Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." - Acts 11:18

Putting all this together, tongues are a sign to unbelievers, unbelieving Jews in particular, that God has (temporarily) set aside Israel, and His chosen people on earth will now not be Israel, but the church, a totally new entity that consists of Jews and, surprise, Gentiles!

By the end of the first century, more than 50% of believers were Gentiles. The message was clearly sent across, and thus tongues became redundant, and ceased by themselves when it became clear that to join the church, you don't need to become a Jew.

A couple of other clarifications concerning tongues:

  1. Tongues mean languages spoken by people (for instance John 5:2, Acts 21:40), not angelic language that sounds like gibberish to all humans. When Paul says "tongues of angels" in 1 Corinthians 13:2, he doesn't mean that the gift of tongues involves angelic language, but rather: even if I could speak angelic, and not have love, it's of no use.
  2. Paul says that a person who speaks in tongues edifies himself (1 Corinthians 14:4). This does not mean that another purpose of tongues is  self-edification - a purpose that continues till today. Rather, the entire context implies that Paul's message is: "If you speak in foreign languages without translation, you're only edifying yourself, so please don't."

All these "sign" gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 were to to confirm the word (Mark 16:17-20). In Hebrews 2:3,4 we're told that God bore witness to the great salvation which was spoken (that is, the NT revelation/word of God) with signs and wonders, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus the signs were to attest the credibility of the word of God. Just as a document is attested only once, the word of God does not need continued authentication. Those who insist on tongues and healing today don't have the courage to drink poison, which the Lord Jesus mentioned in the same breath, and are thus being inconsistent.

The List in Romans 12

We can divide these into two categories: speech and action.

  1. Prophecy - speech
  2. Ministry - deed
  3. Teaching - speech
  4. Exhortation - speech
  5. Giving - deed
  6. Ruling - deed
  7. Showing mercy - deed

Any authoritative speech can be classified as prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 12, prophecy was temporary because the others were. Here all the rest are permanent, suggesting that prophecy also is permanent. This prophecy is speaking the word of God to people.

Finding and using spiritual gifts

  • Be conscious of what's given to you. The following can be used to check whether we have a particular gift:
    • Faculty - the ability that God has given us. Look and see what ability God has given you.
    • Fervor - an interest in exercising the gift is necessary, and God will give it.
    • Fruit - are others being benefited by your exercise of the gift?
  • Be careful once you know what's given - to exercise it for others' benefit. We shouldn't be hiding our talents albeit carefully, like the person in the parable (Matthew 25:14-30).
  • Be connected - exercise the gifts with Gods power. Do it as of the ability that God gives (1 Peter 4). God does not allow strange fire.
  • Be committed - a surrendered life is necessary for fruitful ministry. All lists of gifts in the epistles are preceded by calls for commitment (Romans 12:1 - offer your bodies as living sacrifices, Ephesians 4:1 - walk worthy of your calling, 1 Corinthians 10,11: - Limits in Christian liberty).