Spiritual Gifts – An Orientation

Introduction: What can you say about spiritual gifts that has not already been said? My wife and I were baptized in the Spirit in 1970, some 52 years ago. It was in Seattle, Washington (USA), at the Talbots’ house prayer meeting. We are both from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA), but I was working for Boeing in Everett, Washington (USA). After realizing that a career in aviation would make for a difficult family life, I decided to move back to Pittsburgh to join Westinghouse Research. So, having moved across the country, we became involved with several prayer groups and one Christian community, the People of God in Pittsburgh. We have seen the gifts of the Spirit working at the grassroots level in a variety of different settings. We have seen lives changed, ministries empowered, vocations saved, and addictions broken. We have heard anointed teachings and witnessed “signs and wonders”. We have experienced the phenomenon known as “resting in the Spirit”, (or “being slain in the Spirit”).

With the passage of time and many years of experience now under my belt, it seems a good time to write down some of my personal observations regarding spiritual gifts and some conclusions that could be drawn. 

The Old Testament: Signs and wonders were recorded all through the Old Testament, from the deliverance of the Israelites from the hand of Pharoah (the plagues), the parting of the Red Sea, the works and words of the many prophets, including that of Elijah and Elisha. The prophecy of Joel is a “hard link” between the Old Testament and the New Testament and is quoted in the teaching of Peter at Pentecost.            

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit.                           

Joel 2:28-32 

The New Testament: Acts 2:16-19 promises signs and wonders that will affect sons and daughters, young and old. One of the differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament is shown in Acts 2:17. In the Old Testament, giftedness and power are often limited to specially anointed people, or prophets. Verse 17 says, “In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” We are all called to be gifted!

But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath…

Acts 2:16-19 (See also Joel 2:28-32)

Gifts of the Spirit Listed in the New Testament.  There does not appear to be any limit on the gifts of the Spirit, and there appears to be different types: (1Corinthians 12:4-6), different kinds of gifts, different kinds of service, and different kinds of workings; all for the common good! There are several lists and several chapters in scripture that help us to understand the nature and the operation of spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12 gives a list (utterance of wisdom or knowledge, healing, miracles, prophesy, and tongues, etc.) as well as significant instruction as to the purpose of the operation of the gifts. Chapter 14 gives us further understanding of the purposes and operation of the gifts. Nestled between these two chapters is chapter 13, which presents to us a “more excellent way”. This chapter is often recited at weddings, but for the Church, Charismatic Renewal and the Pentecostal denominations it presents profound teaching as to the real purposes of Pentecost, baptism in the Spirit, and the Charismatic Renewal, (covered later). 1Corinthians 12 is the most common reference for spiritual gifts used by the Charismatic Renewal.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 

1 Corinthians 12:7-10  

Romans 12:6-13 presents a list with some similarities (prophecy, exhortation) and some differences (showing mercy, practicing hospitality). Some of the gifts listed seem more like the fruit of a life lived in the Spirit.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow in the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. 

Romans 12:6-13  

1 Peter 4:9-11c has some similarities or overlaps the other lists: hospitality, speaking the words of God, etc., are included in the Romans 12 list, and Peter weaves in some elements of spiritual maturity: service and hospitality.                           

Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified in Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.  

1 Peter 4:9-11  

There are other singular Scripture passages which add something to our understanding of spiritual gifts.

Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.  

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22  

Likewise the Spirit helps us  in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 

Romans 8:26-27  

The Gifts of Jesus, Ephesians 4, begins by calling us to humility and patience, followed by the entreaty: “Always seek to keep the unity which the Spirit gives.” Them it provides another list of gifts, which are really gifts for maturity: gifts for discipleship.

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, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature pf the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.

Ephesians 4:11-13

Eternal Perspective: The Purpose of Pentecost

A more excellent way. Paul ends the first part of his instruction with 1 Corinthians12:31, “I will show you a more excellent way.” He then explains in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 the way of faith, hope and love.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 

1 Corinthians 13   

“But the greatest of these is love.” He explains how the gifts will pass away, but love is eternal.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 

1 Corinthians 13:8-10

He is encouraging us to keep the gifts in an eternal perspective. The gifts encourage and support love, but love endures forever

The purpose of Pentecost was Christian Community

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayer. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common;they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceed] to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47  

The church was born, and close knitted (koinonia) relationships followed. The Father wants a family and the gifts serve this purpose: conversion, discipleship, and maturity. 

A new way of living is a result of baptism in the Spirit.

God is Mainly Interested in Our Soul (Spirit)

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28  

The gifts are not primarily to allow us to live free of pain. In the Lord’s prayer, only one phrase is dedicated to physical needs: “…give us this day our daily bread.”

“Not that I Seek the Gift, But the Fruit” 

Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.

Even in referring to and appreciating financial support, Paul emphasizes the fruit. Character matters; maturity matters; and they are both results of this new life in the Spirit.

Philippians 4:17   

“Earnestly Desire the Higher Gifts, but Make Love Your Aim.”

Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.

1 Corinthians 14:1 (See also 1 Corinthians12:31 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets,but test everything; hold fast to what is good;abstain from every form of evil.

1Thessalonians 5:19:21

Call the Elders

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.

James 5:14  

Some Gifts Are Higher than Others

Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

1 Corinthians 14:5  

While ranking prophecy as a higher gift, Paul also says, “I want you all to speak in tongues.” So the gift of tongues is an important gift, too. He also says: 

And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?

1 Corinthians 14:8  

Paul, one of the most important teachers in human history spoke in tongues…often … “more than you all.” The gift of tongues is an important prayer gift in worship and in intercession. 

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. And God, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:26-28   

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive.What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving…

1 Corinthians 14: 14-16a 

Do Not Quench the Spirit

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies,but test everything; hold fast to what is good…

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21  

Do not tire of the prophetic gifts; do not despise prophesies. They are sometimes meant for one, a few, or several persons. If I say, “That doesn’t apply to me!”, I need to be postured to appreciate it even if it is for someone else. 

The Sign

One of my favorite Scripture passage describes what I’ll call, “The Gentile’s first Pentecost.” 

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. 

Acts 10:44-46 

Suddenly, the small gift of tongues had “street cred” as the Jews were surprised to see that the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on Gentiles! Inspired worship and the gift of tongues were recognizable gifts of the Spirit. This was truly an historic event in the history of the church and the world would never be the same!

Learning the Gifts

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.

1 Corinthians 14:31 

The spiritual gifts are given, but there is often a process of learning to use the gifts: when, where, and how. I was sitting in a deliverance class being taught by Derek Prince. A woman began to speak in tongues. He corrected her saying, “Madam, the Holy Spirit does not interrupt himself!” She got the gift right but the “when” part wrong. My first prophecy was simply, “My people, I love you.” In time I learned to hear and recognize the Lord’s voice…the when, where, and how to deliver the Lord’s word.

Conclusion

  1. All are gifted.
    • In the last days, I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams,   and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28)
    • To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12: 7a)
    • When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26b)
    • Inspiration about healing has been given to all of mankind: doctor, counselors, etc. 
  2. The purpose of Pentecost is community.
    • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)
  3. One primary purpose of the gifts is to support and build up the body of Christ.
    • To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7b)
    • So with yourselves: since you are striving after spiritual gifts, seek to excel in them for building up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12)
  4. One primary purpose of gifts is to support the Gospel.
    • And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation… And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues… (Mark 16: 15, 17)
  5. The “good old days” are here if we have a loving way of life! 
    • But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31)
  6. There are higher gifts.
    • Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts and especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)
  7. We cannot avoid all pain and death by spiritual gifts.
    • No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. (1 Timothy 5:23)
  8. Parents should expect spiritual gifts in raising their children. This is supported by the fact that they are to pass on the Gospel to their children. The fourth commandment places them in a position of honor, and they are the “elders” in their families. 
  9. The variety expressed in the various lists and mentioning of particular gifts suggests that there is no comprehensive list of the spiritual gifts. No one can fully understand or describe all of the ways that the Spirit can act supernaturally in various circumstances. 

A Final Word

So, are we to be ‘1 Corinthians 12’ Christians? 

Are we to be ‘1 Corinthians 13’ Christians?

We are to be both! 

Paul taught us well. 

And Jesus taught us to “Love one another as I have loved you!”


See other articles by Bob Tedesco in Living Bulwark archives:

Top image credit: Painting by Juan Bautista Maíno (1581 – 1649 AD) depicting the Holy Spirit (represented as a dove) descending and resting on the first followers of Jesus Christ. Image from Commons Wikimedia. In the public domain.

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