After three week’s of teaching on the gift of prophecy at Cornerstone, which you can listen to or download the messages on our podcast (part 1, part 2, part 3), I was looking forward to moving into a three-part series on the gift of tongues.
You can listen to the message below from this past Sunday, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.
One of the more perplexing gifts of the Spirit to discuss has to be the gift of tongues. Of course, there are enough opinions out there about every other spiritual gift found in 1 Corinthians 12 – healings, miracles, prophecy, etc – that we could spend the rest of our lives conversing over the in’s and out’s of just those.
But tongues might just be in a class all by itself, causing confusion, and even much worse, for some non-continuationists. So I thought it would be good to post a series about tongues here (maybe 5 or 6 posts), hoping it brings some clarity about the nature of tongues, at least from my study of Scripture.
Over the series, I want to address some major points in regards to understanding the gift of tongues. But, in this post itself, I will simply give a kind of introduction to the nature of the gifts.
For many Pentecostals and charismatics, the gift of tongues is part and parcel to the practise of their faith. For others, the practise of this gift has been the cause for steering clear of more Pentecostal and charismatic churches. And even in decades past, the use of tongues could have been regarded as demonic a small portion of believers. But thankfully, such a belief has pretty much faded to the background.
But what I began with in my message this past Sunday was a brief overview not only to tongues, but to the reality of Spirit-inspired speech amongst the Spirit-empowered people of God. I had three specific points.
1) A new age by God’s Spirit
I’ve written on this plenty of times, but suffice it to say that, with the Pentecost of Acts 2, we entered the fulness of the new covenant age in which the baptism, filling and empowering of God’s Spirit would now be available to all God’s people – men and women, young and old. EVERYONE!
This allows for the continuation of all that Christ began to do (see Acts 1:1), this being through the Holy Spirit via the Spirit-empowered ekklesia-church.
2) A new gift by God’s Spirit
All manifestations of God’s Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 were all witnessed and evidence before Pentecost – in the Old Testament and in the life of Jesus. But this is the first time we see the manifestation of God’s Spirit through the gift of tongues.
Many theologians believe that this was a direct statement pointing to the reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel (see Gen 11:1-9). There, God confused the languages of a rebellious humanity. Here, God does a unifying work amongst the body of Christ via this special demonstration of God’s power.
Interestingly enough, tongues actually functions in a prophetic sense. How? As we know, after the outpouring of the Spirit of God, the people spoke in other languages they had not learned. But, when Peter quotes Joel in Acts 2:17-18, the emphasis of those words was that prophecy would be the fruit of the outpouring of God’s Spirit. But here, they are speaking in tongues.
What’s going on?
Well, though the specifically spoke in tongues, this gift functions prophetically when 1) people speak languages they do not know but the listeners do understand what is being spoken or 2) the gift of tongues is followed by the gift of interpretation. And I know examples of both in various situations, as well as an example of both at the same time.
3) A new proclamation by God’s Spirit
For those who have studied the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and his gifts, many will be aware of the Pentecostal argument that tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. The five usual instances in Acts that are pointed to are found in 2:1-4 (Pentecost), 8:12-19 (the Samaritans), 9:17-18 (Paul), 10:44-48 (Cornelius and household), and 19:1-7 (Ephesian disciples). I won’t go into detailed reasons why Pentecostals usually argue for this, but I, personally, believe this is too strict a statement – that tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit.
But what I would argue is that a Spirit-baptised, filled and empowered people are a people who are to be utilised in Spirit-inspired speech of all forms. Why would I claim such? There are five major accounts of people being filled with the Spirit in Acts that I believe point out that the people of God are regularly used in such Spirit-directed and empowered speech: 2:1-4; 4:27-31; 8:12-17; 10:44-48; 19:1-7 (not to mention 4:8ff).
Now the only example where we don’t see any speech come forth from the mouths of those baptised-filled with the Spirit is that of the Samaritans in 8:12-17. The usual argument by Pentecostals for the gift of tongues being the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit is that something must have been happening for Simon the sorcerer to want to buy the ability to impart the Spirit of God through the laying on of hands (see 8:18-19). While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it must have been tongues, I will venture to say that some kind of Spirit-inspired speech probably did come forth from their mouths noting the four other examples I pointed out: 2:1-4; 4:27-31; 10:44-48; 19:1-7.
But what I will note is not all instances records tongues, i.e., 4:27-30 and the ever-debated passage of 8:12-17. But, again, what I do note is that various Spirit-inspired speech does come forth from a Spirit-baptised, filled and empowered people: prophecy, tongues, praise, the word of God.
And so, if anything, the people of God are to be a Spirit-empowered people speaking forth Spirit-inspired speech in all of its various forms. This also includes things like words of knowledge, words of wisdom (look back at 1 Cor 12:8-10), or what Paul notes as revelation (see 1 Cor 14:26).
Thus, while I believe it is a bit too strict to say that the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit is tongues and tongues alone, I would argue that the Spirit-empowered people of God are to be a people speaking forth Spirit-inspired speech in all its various kinds.
If you want more details, feel free to listen to the message.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I shared some introductory thoughts on the gift of prophecy, a kind of Prophecy 101, as well as giving the link to our podcast with my teaching on the same topic with our local church. I shared a lot of things mainly from the New Testament, as I believe there was a shift in the ministry of the prophet and the gift of prophecy when Jesus, the Prophet and Living Word, arrived on the scene (you can read more about this shift here).
And so here is my follow-up post on the gift of prophecy, which we could call ‘Prophecy 102’.
If you would like, you can listen to my teaching by clicking on the icon below, or you can download from Cornerstone’s podcast site or iTunes. Or feel free to read on.
Different Measures of the Gift
When reading the New Testament, it is very easy to see there are varying measures of the varying gifts that God gives. I believe this is seen in passages like Rom 12:3:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
To each has been given a measure of faith. This passage does not speak of saving faith, but I believe it speaks of the faith we are given according to the gifts God has given to us. Hence why Paul would go on to say:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith. (Rom 12:6)
Also, real life shows that each of us are given different measures of ministry-serving gifts. My teaching gift is miniscule compared with some other teachers. Not because they are so much more studied than I, though that can play a role, but because they have insights in God that I have not come to yet and might never. So not only are there differing parts of the body, but even those parts that are very similar in gift will vary in their measure of ministry and gift.
And, so, with the gift of prophecy, I easily see three distinctive measures:
a) Prophet – (Eph 2:20; 3:5; 4:11-13; 1 Cor 12:28-29)
Yes, these people will be used frequently in prophecy. But they are also called to be foundation layers and to equip God’s people. One of the best ways they equip the saints (Eph 4:11-13) is by helping prepare God’s people to fulfil their prophetic role as a Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people.
b) Gift of prophecy – (1 Cor 12:10; Rom 12:6)
Some people will be used in this gift rather frequently, but they are not functioning as foundation-laying and equipping prophets.
c) All may prophesy – (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor 14:5, 31)
Because all of God’s people now have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of prophecy, we are a prophetic body and can all be used in prophecy. I am very passionate about this and, so, share more about this reality here.
Different Ways God Speaks
Of course God reveals Himself in so many ways – through creation, through art, through a whole host of things. But with regards to God speaking and revealing Himself today in the more ‘prophetic’ and ‘revelatory’ sense, I find that there are typically 5 ways in which God does so:
a) Actual words
Here God actually speaks to the person. A case and example would be God’s call to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3. We see this in other places like Acts 13:1-3 where the Holy Spirit, via the prophets in Antioch, speaks that Paul and Barnabas are to be set apart for their apostolic-mission work. And, of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other examples in both the Old and New Testaments.
This is not so much about hearing God speak something, but rather the times when God gives a kind of mental picture of something He wants to communicate. It’s almost like a rubber-stamp on our mind or spirit of God’s revelation. Again, God has not spoken to the person but rather gives a picture, an image of what He wants to communicate. And so, when we share the prophetic picture, we describe what we see imprinted upon our minds.
Typically, we might identify our receiving of visions when we are awake and receiving of dreams when we are asleep. Peter, when quoting Joel, said that this would be part of the fruit of the prophetic Spirit in the last days. And we’ve been in the last days for about 2000 years. And so these things would continue through this entire age. An example of a vision would be the one Peter had on the rooftop with the sheet coming down with the unclean animals (Acts 10). God repeated it 3 times to communicate that Peter needed to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. A dream might be like what we find in Gen 15:12-20 where God makes the all-important covenant with Abraham.
What I always encourage people with is that we don’t get caught up too legalistically with terms and definitions. Goodness, we love our terms and definitions. And while I hope these are helpful here, though others might approach things with different terms, there are things that fall outside these first 3 examples. And, so, I might identify as promptings and impressions. There is no spoken word from God, no mental picture, no vision or dream, but there is a stirring, a sensing, a prompting, an impression of the heart of God and what He wants to communicate to a person, within the local church body, etc. It might call for us to speak out a prophecy or act out of prophetic action. But this comes from an inner sense and prompting of God, not so much a direct word, picture, vision or dream. Here is a great example of a prompting of the Spirit over at Jesus Creed.
I shared this in the last article, but when I say God speaks through Scripture, I do mean that He speaks from the God-breathed words that are right there in the text. But I also believe that He utilises those same words, at times, to speak things that were not ‘intended’ within the text. I will give you one example from my own life. One day, as I was reading Jesus’ words in Matt 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – I understood that Jesus was speaking in the context of challenging people that they cannot have two masters. Such is extremely important in a life of following Jesus as Master. But, as I was meditating on the passage, God said to me, ‘Scott, this is true of me as well. Where my treasure is, there my heart is also. And my people are my treasures, and, therefore, my heart is with them.’
God utilised Scripture to speak to me. It wasn’t something ‘in between the lines’. But God definitely used what was already there to reveal ‘more’ of His heart to me. Now, sure, I could have also received that from reading Psalm 139 or other passages. But God took the text I was meditating on and spoke to me right then and there. I have plenty of other examples of this exact same experience, but that should be one sufficient example.
How To Communicate Prophecy
This is important to look at as well. When we communicate prophecy, or what we believe God has revealed to us, we must use wisdom. First off, when we do prophesy, there is nothing inherently more spiritual about speaking in King James Old English – Thus saith the Lord…
Now, I think we all pretty much know that, but there was a day when prophecy always had to come with that kind of language. But remember that God is incarnational and comes to real human beings in real life. So we can speak ‘normal’ and it still remain just as true, just as directive and just as much from God.
I spoke earlier in this article of the different measures of the gift of prophecy. And, so, for the prophet and those regularly used in this gift, I would expect statements to possibly start out with, ‘This is what the Lord says…‘ Of course, it does not have to begin that way. One can begin to speak the prophecy without such a prelude statement. But, to bring a focus, especially in a larger church gathering, it can be helpful at times to begin with such.
But, a word of wisdom to those who are not prophets and not regularly used in this gift of prophecy, or for those who are wanting to learn to hear and discern God’s voice. It is best to begin a prophecy with a less directed statement such as, ‘I believe this is what the Lord is saying…’ or ‘I sense the Lord is saying…’
While I do believe God speaks clearly and directly today, having heard such prophets and those gifted in prophecy speak such powerful things in my almost 14 years in Christ, for those still growing in hearing God and in prophecy, let’s be wise how we communicate such things.
Finally, I end with some thoughts on weighing prophecy. This is biblical and a very good practise. Of course, we don’t only want to weigh prophecy, but we want to be wise discerners and evaluaters of all things in our life in God. Now, at the same time, I highly discourage against what I might call agnostic Christianity where we always question every word, action and motive, laying aside any child-like faith of trust. But, when the body speaks forth prophecy, we are to be responsible to weigh it.
One passage to focus in on is found here:
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor 14:29-33)
Who are the ‘others’ in vs29 that are encouraged to weight the prophecy? Some would argue it is the other prophets in the congregation. But, noting the whole thrust of chapter 14 – Paul’s instruction to the whole church, not simply prophets – I believe it is asking the whole congregation to be responsible in weighing things.
Also, to go along with some things I said earlier, it is worth noting that, in vs31, the word all is used 3 times. This, I believe is another pointer that all of God’s people, indwelt by the Spirit of prophecy, can prophesy. We can all prophesy so that all can learn and all can be encouraged.
Now, a quick word about what it means to weigh prophecy, though I am sure more could be said. When it comes to weighing, here are 4 questions that I find helpful:
Is it in line with the principles and teaching of Scripture?
What do our wise and experienced leaders have to say about the prophecy?
Does it resonate well in our hearts as men and women of the Spirit?
Does it bring clarity rather than confusion?
If, for some reason we believe the prophecy or revelation shared is not of the Lord, it does not necessarily mean we kick the person out of the church. That is not the norm, at least in my experience. But, suffice it to say, each case will call for its own wisdom. It could be that the leaders speak a personal word to the person who shared the off-base prophecy. Or it could be a public correction right then and there following the so-called prophecy. Or it could be a correction in the next church gathering. Again, it will call for the leaders to have God’s wisdom.
Now, if the person continues to share wrong things, then we would probably need to put a stop to their sharing, if not forever, at least for a time. Again, that might call for a personal word with the person or a public sharing with the congregation. With these things we always need the Lord’s wisdom.
Of course, when it comes to false prophets (2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 4:1), false teachers (2 Pet 2:1), and even false super apostles like what Paul dealt with (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11), these people are immediately seen outside of the fold. The fruit of their lives, what they speak and how they act, will mean that we guard the people from such deceivers and not give any room to them, warning the congregation to stay away from such people. So, though we do not stone people today, we do exclude them from the fold.
But, for the most part, those who are truly in the body of Christ and are looking to hear the voice of God and be faithful to speak what He prompts and reveals, we must allow for the church to be a safe place where we can learn to practice the gifts of the Spirit. I believe this calls for us to allow the people to take steps of faith, even if they might miss something. Some will disagree, but I believe this is part of helping the people of God learn to hear God and speak correctly what He reveals.
Now, 95% of the time, it is my experience that no bomb will be dropped that will devastate people. But it does happen, and when it does, we must deal with it with wisdom. And so, this is why I believe it can be helpful to utilise the leadership of the church as a kind of ‘screening process’ first, asking the people to share with the leadership before stepping forward and utilisng a microphone to share any prophecy. I have found this to be extremely helpful in guarding against unhelpful things spoken to the congregation. We want to steer clear of a controlling spirit as well. But we must consider how to maintain a good balance.
Well, this should suffice for now – a Prophecy 101 and 102 – for getting an introduction into the gift of prophecy, especially noting the changes that Christ and the new covenant have brought about to this all-important gift. We cannot centre out theology in the Old Testament. We can obviously build on it and learn from it, but we must now see Christ and the New Testament as the great teacher on all things of our faith, including prophecy. Of course, this does not mean we have a 7-step instruction manual process to help us through in every instance. Such would take away from the reality that this is part of walking out a life of faith. But I do believe these are some helpful insights into this gift as understood from the fuller, new covenant perspective.
On Sunday at Cornerstone, after a few weeks of visiting speakers, I continued on from my introduction to the gifts of the Spirit. I began what will be a two-Sunday series on the gift of prophecy, maybe something like seminars entitled Prophecy 101 and Prophecy 102.
You can listen to the message by clicking on the icon below, or you can download from Cornerstone’s podcast site or iTunes.
For those interested, the major thrust of my message can be found in the article below.
There are five terms I specifically discussed:
At times, in discussing this word amongst varying Christians, there are two unhelpful perspectives that I believe can arise from the term revelation. They are as follows:
This comes with regards to some ideas about the book of Revelation. The Greek word for revelation is apokalupsis, and it’s where we get our word apocalypse. And that word apocalypse brings up all sorts of unhelpful images, with a special thanks to Hollywood in recent decades.
Oddly enough, the word apokalupsis or revelation simply means an unveiling or an uncovering. As an illustration, it’s quite like being present at a theatre play and awaiting the beginning scene of the play. The curtains are drawn closed and everyone is chattering away with anticipation of the opening scene. And, at the first sound of the pit orchestra, the curtains open and the crowd sees the beautiful and intriguing set designed on stage, the cast of characters beginning with a great dance, etc. With that, we just had an unveiling, an uncovering.
The same is true of God’s revelation. When God reveals, He is pulling back the curtain, if you will, for us to see.
Some Christians hold that God is no longer revealing Himself (they might term it as no more ‘special’ revelation) because we now have all of God’s revelation fully and finally recorded within the canon of Scripture. The Bible is the final measuring stick for the beliefs and practises of the church and, thus, God no longer speaks and specifically reveals Himself. But I have three minor points to bring up about God revealing Himself today.
a) No new redemptive revelation.
I would agree with just about every evangelical Christian that God is no longer bringing forth new redemptive revelation. To claim such is dangerous. Well, it’s heretical. We believe that Jesus Christ and his work alone is the final word on God’s redemptive plans for all peoples. To that, there is nothing to add. As Paul said, if we preach another gospel than the finished work of Christ and, well, one will be cursed (Gal 1:8-9).
b) God has always been speaking and acting outside the Bible.
As I always make sure I communicate, I recognise that the Bible stands as the measuring stick for our faith and the practice of our faith. And, within the the text, we find a very thorough account of all God has said and done from the beginning until the first century. We truly know this is God’s inspired word.
But, of course, the Scripture does not record every word and act of God, does it? A couple of small examples are found in 1 Sam 10:10-13 and 1 Tim 1:18-19. In the first, we find Saul empowered by the Spirit prophesying amongst a group of prophets. What they said was not recorded in Scripture. But there is no doubt that, as prophecy, it would have been Spirit-inspired utterance. In the second example, we read of Paul reminding Timothy of the prophetic words that were made about him and that ‘by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience’. In both situations, we would have found Spirit-inspired prophecy. But in neither case do we find those prophetic, and revelatory, words recorded in Scripture. The event is mentioned, but not the specific words. And that is quite ok. God has been doing it ever since the beginning and He will keep doing so until all things are completed in Christ.
c) God speaks and reveals today.
As all would note, nothing that God speaks and reveals today would contradict the tenor of Scripture summed up in Christ and the gospel. Such is out of bounds, for we are convinced Scripture is the word of God.
And, so, one way that God still speaks today is through Scripture. Some refer to this as illumination, which is a helpful term. But some use it over and above the term revelation, for they are convinced God no longer does it. But both terms do refer to God unveiling Himself, making Himself known to His creations. It’s just that the term illumination centres around light. And revelation also has to do with light, because revelation helps us see better. So I believe the terms are connected, kind of semantical cousins.
Now, when I say God speaks through Scripture, I do mean that He speaks from the God-breathed words that are right there in the text. But I also believe that He utilises those same words, at times, to speak things that were not intended within the text. I will give you one example from my own life. One day, as I was reading Jesus’ words in Matt 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – I understood that Jesus was speaking in the context of challenging people that they cannot have two masters. Such is impossible. But, as I was meditating on the passage, God said to me, ‘Scott, this is true of me as well. Where my treasure is, there my heart is also. And my people are my treasures, and, therefore, my heart is with them.’
God utilised Scripture to speak to me. It wasn’t something ‘in between the lines’. But God definitely used what was already there to reveal more of His heart to me. Now, sure, I could have also received that from reading Psalm 139 or other passages. But God took the text I was meditating on and spoke to me right then and there. Of course, many a folk claim this, with some of it being quite off-base. But there are some guidelines that can prove helpful, of which I have shared a bit here.
Still, I also believe very much that God speaks and reveals Himself ‘outside’ of what is in the Bible. Again, the Bible is the measuring stick for such revelation and that which is truly from God will not contradict that summation of Scripture in Christ. But the reality is that God is a relational and living God, and relational and living beings actually communicate. It’s part and parcel to being relational. I cannot imagine God not speaking, not revealing, not unveiling. It’s at the core of who He is. So God will and does speak, even if there is no verse and chapter number to quote.
2) New revelation
The big question I always get asked is: Is this new revelation?
I have talked about this already above, but I would say there is absolutely no new redemptive revelation. Again, Christ and his work are the final word on that. Such is a closed chapter. But, with regards to God speaking into our lives, our situations, our churches, even the nations today, I am ok to recognise it as ‘new’. Why? Because our lives, situations, churches, etc, are not detailed in Scripture. God didn’t speak about Scott Lencke in Scripture. God did not speak about Cornerstone in Scripture. God did not speak about 21st century Belgium in Scripture. Of course, that which is in Scripture speaks into all three of those. But not in a detailed sense. And I find God still regularly speaks, with detail, into those areas of real life.
I didn’t spend a long time on this, but I did give what I believe is a solid, working definition of a prophet: one who received and brought forth a direct, inspired, revelatory message from God.
Now, some of these prophets, especially in the Old Testament, were given the amazing, special and authoritative privilege of having their words recorded in the Scripture. And for that every Christian is thankful for their God-inspired words in the Bible. But, of course, not every prophet had their words recorded in Scripture. But, such people were still utilised in direct, inspired, revelatory messages from God, with this ministry continuing into the new covenant era (i.e. Agabus, those in Corinth, those in Antioch in Acts 13:1-3, Philip’s daughters, etc), and I am very much convinced it still continues today.
4) Prophetic community
I have shared about this a lot, but, suffice it to say, because the Spirit of prophecy was to be poured out on all God’s people as of Pentecost, we now have a prophetic community in the whole body of Christ. When Peter stood up on that great day, he quoted some words from Joel’s prophecy:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)
The reality is that now, male and female, young and old, are part of the prophetic community of all believers. We don’t simply have the priesthood of all believers, but we now also have the prophethood of all believers. I share much more in this article.
Finally, I began to touch on the gift of prophecy. There is much more to share next Sunday (and, thus, in another post here). But here are a few things I shared thus far.
I believe there are two misunderstandings about prophecy:
a) Prophecy is mainly about prediction.
I am not a fan of the word prediction because it makes one think of fortune telling and palm reading, which is, of course, very dangerous. I would rather use the term forth telling. And, yes, God forth tells things to come. Such is right through the Bible, and I have known such today as well. But prophecy isn’t always about saying something to the effect of: In the next week, events A, B and C will take place in your life. Why? Because the goal is not prediction. The goal is summarised fairly by Paul in these words:
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. ( 1 Cor 14:3)
Prophecy could include forth telling from God, of directives and things to await with regards to ‘the future’. But that is not the central core of prophecy. Prophecy is God unveiling His plans, His purposes, His ways, His heart for the upbuilding, encouragement and consolation of His people.
b) Prophecy is mainly about rebuke.
This is another misnomer for some. Again, a quick glance at 1 Cor 14:3 reminds us of one central goal with prophecy. It doesn’t mean that prophecy is merely a pat on the back with a, ‘You’ll be ok. Hang in there.’ At times, prophecy will involve correction and rebuke. But even in rebuke and correction, such comes forth with the ultimate goal of seeing people strengthened, edified and built up. This is in line with Paul’s earlier words about the purpose of all gifts of the Spirit:
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:7)
Therefore, I would say a helpful and good working definition for prophecy is this: a Spirit-inspired, intelligible, verbally delivered message intended to edify, encourage and comfort other believers. I’ve seen this happen on a regular basis for the past 12 years of my life in Christ and I would never, ever be moved from seeing it as something foregone, ending a long time ago with the finished product of our canon of Scripture. And I have not only known prophecy and revelation to come forth today, but I have also known the true fruit to come from it, that of upbuilding, strengthening, encouragement, exhortation and the common good.
1) The knowledge of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:1)
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.
Paul did not want this group of believers to be uninformed, or ignorant. Well, for the Corinthians, they had knowledge, but they had wrong knowledge as well as wrong practise.
So Paul comes in and teaches about healthy and proper practise. Many times, out of fear, it is easier to steer clear of things that have been continually done wrong. For example, some are afraid to engage with evolutionary biology because so many people have utilised as an attack against Scripture and Christ. But I think this might be a bit too reactionary on our part.
The same is true with the gifts of the Spirit. Many people are not open to these because they know how unhealthy the practises of some have been. I’m sure you have a few names or groups in your mind already. And, yes, that is true. But misuse and abuse should never lead us to abandon something. Rather, as imitators of Christ, we are called to faithful and healthy use. Such instruction was very relevant to the Corinthian church.
But, with today’s church, whereas most people have moved away from a possible antagonistic view towards the gifts of the Spirit, due to the major moves of the Spirit across multiple denominations and church groups, including an enormous amount of solid men and women of God, you might still find quite a lot of people uninformed. The Corinthians had wrong knowledge in a lot of ways. Many present day churches are just not knowledgeable at all about these gifts. Our best ideas are from television, or even worse, YouTube. But that doesn’t become all that helpful for becoming informed about the reality of these gifts.
And, so, that’s where we need to be challenged. We are not to remain uninformed. We are not to remain ignorant. Almost 2000 years later, we are to remain challenged by these words of Paul:
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Cor 14:1)
Where do we start? Most of us probably know some person or people involved in a church that believes in and correctly practices the gifts of the Spirit. And there are plenty of solid resources and books to consider – here is a short list of some. But let not our desire be to remain uninformed of these gifts. And, even more, let us be stirred to earnestly desire such gifts.
2) The nature of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-6)
The first thing to briefly point out is the activity of the Trinity with these gifts:
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
Normally, the word Lord (kyrios in Greek) is utilised for Jesus and the word God (theos in Greek) is utilised for the Father. I am simply amazed at both the cooperation and unselfishness of the Trinity. If only the body of Christ could get a small glimpse of that reality, all that it might spur us on for what God Himself desires for us.
But, with regards to the nature of the gifts of God, all gifts, I believe there is a heavy amount of misunderstanding. It is all centred around certain thoughts that could go like this: First, we believe the gifts of God are secret, hidden abilities within us that we are called to search for, dig up and unearth. And, the way many of us do so is by taking a multiple-choice test to figure out what our top 3 or 4 gifts are. Then, we feel good that we have identified our gifts.
The thing is that such a pattern is not really left to us in Scripture, is it? Listen, I am not trying to say it is inherently evil to take a test for gaining information and understanding about the giftings and ministries God might have opened to us. But, when it comes down to it, we are not really ever asked to search and find out our gifts. God’s people are simply called to serve. We are told to get on with edifying the body, serving, blessing, building up, etc. Remember, these are serving ministries, not hidden abilities to unearth.
Think of it this way: The reason why we know someone is an evangelist is because they are drawing other people towards Christ. The reason why we know someone is a teacher is because they are faithfully explaining the truth of Scripture. The reason why we know someone has a ministry of leading is because people follow their lead. And so on and so forth.
There are 3 other reasons why I believe this is a more healthy approach to spiritual gifts than the test-to-find-out-your-gifts approach:
a) There are two main words in the Greek that we translate as ‘spiritual gifts’ – pneumatika and charismata. The word pneumatika (i.e. in 1 Cor 12:1) could probably be better translated as ‘spiritual people’ or even simply ‘spirituals’. There is nothing about hidden abilities to dig up that is found in this word. I don’t doubt that the Spirit puts things within us, since He does indwell us, and it might be that the word charismata could be used to make this point. But we still need to remember we have no precedence in Scripture to find out our gifts, especially through a multiple-choice test.
b) Look at the emphasis of vs4-6 again:
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
Vs4 utilises the word gifts in the place of the Greek word charismata. But look how it is coupled with the two words from the following two verses – service and activities. These gifts are serving ministries (for ‘ministry’ simply means ‘service’). And these are actual activities, or workings, of the Spirit. They aren’t hidden. They are activities we walk out through serving!
c) Finally, note the emphasis of vs7
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Again, just as vs4-6 point out that they are something we serve in and are activities, here we are told they are manifestations. This also highlights that they are visibleactivities that take place – again, through serving.
So I focus in on the nature of these gifts because I believe we can easily hold to a warped view of such. We are not called to find out our gifts and, then, once we do, we slot in to where our gifts can be best used. It’s just not really done that way. Rather, we are simply called to serve. And as opportunities arise, if it is right, God will empower us to be used in such a service, in such a ministry, in such an activity, even a manifestation of God’s Spirit.
Therefore, I will be honest and say that I don’t believe the excuse, ‘Well, that’s not my gift,’ is a very valid one. So what if one doesn’t think they have the gift of whatever. Let’s be open and available to God in being utilised where we are weak. Remember, His grace is sufficient. His power will be made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
Yes, I am very much aware of balancing this with wisdom. I am not saying we throw anyone and everyone into any and every ministry activity. But, I would remind us that I have been emphasising that that is not how it works. You don’t throw people in to ministry opportunities. You see where a ministry, a service, and a manifestation of God is needed, and available people step in to serve in just that way as they are empowered by God.
That is the nature of the gifts of God’s Spirit. All of them.
3) The result of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7)
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
The gifts are given mainly to be a blessing to people – to build them up, edify, exhort, strengthen. This is similar to what Paul says specifically about the gift of prophecy:
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Cor 14:3)
When people serve in these gifts, the body of Christ will be spurred on towards the things of God. That is the fruit, the results. Even with prophecy, there are many who think 1) it is mainly about predicting the future, 2) it must be in King James English and 3) it must always be rebuke. But that is not what prophecy is mainly about, as Paul reminds us in this verse above. Of course there will be times to challenge and rebuke. That is a reality. But, in all, it’s given (even in rebuke) to help people move towards Christ. And such is truly building them up, strengthening them, blessing them.
Also, let me take a minute to remind us that the reverse is true as well. If the gifts of the Spirit are for the common good, then if we don’t have the people of God being utilised in such gifts, the body will be found lacking. It is as simple as that. It doesn’t mean we will forever be held back from moving forward in Christ. But these specific gifts will help us move towards Christ more and more, just as all the gifts of God will. That is important to remember.
4) The list of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:8-10)
By no means do I believe these 9 gifts are exhaustive, or even that the other lists in the NT (1 Cor 12:28-29; Eph 4:11; Rom 12:6-8; 1 Pet 4:10-11) are exhaustive. There is quite a good representation amongst them. But there are plenty of other serving ministry gifts available to God’s people.
But these gifts remain part of the mix, no doubt.
Some find it helpful to divide these nine gifts into 3 groups of 3, as follows:
Gifts of power: faith, gifts of healings, workings of miracles
Gifts of thought: word (message) of knowledge, word (message) of wisdom, distinguishings between spirits
Gifts of speech: prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues
With Cornerstone, I am going to start with prophecy, as it seems the most readily available gift of the Spirit to God’s people (from my reading of passages like Acts 2:17-18 and 1 Cor 14). So, as and if I post articles about these gifts, I will probably follow my preaching order. We shall see.
5) The empowering of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:11)
Finally I emphasise that these gifts are empowered in God’s people, and this is obviously done by the Spirit. I have written plenty on how God has been emphasising His power to me as of late, and I have specifically been focusing on the power of the Holy Spirit. And, so, in this short verse, we are reminded of this empowering:
All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
Similar words are found in vs6:
and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
We need to be connected to the power source, if you will, which happens to be the person of God’s Spirit Himself. The Spirit was given in the first place to empower God’s people to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). I feel 100% confident in acknowledging that these nine gifts, along with all of God’s giftings, will be helpful in walking out our call as an empowered people.
So, thus, you have some of my introductory thoughts to the gifts of the Spirit, at least as found in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.
Just as a side note, for the sake of moving more towards discussion of the gifts, I left out addressing why some people believe these gifts have ceased (known as cessationism). If you want to read more of my thoughts addressing the usual passages quoted by cessationists, and some ‘positive’ affirmations of the continuation of these gifts, you can read here and here. Another objection of cessationism is that these gifts seemed to have ceased pretty much in the second and third centuries and nor do we see them much throughout church history. Here is some food for thought on the charismata in church history.
Lastly, I leave you the audio file from my message on Sunday if you would like to click on it below, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.
Starting this Sunday at Cornerstone, I plan to begin a preaching series on the gifts of the Spirit. As I have shared much recently (here, here and here), God has been re-emphasising his power to me – the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the kingdom of God and the power of the gospel to change lives (amongst other emphases on His power). And, I have specifically been spending time preaching on the power of the Holy Spirit. You can listen to two of my most recent sermons: Acts 1:1-8 here and Acts 2:1-21 here.
Thus, after spending this time with Cornerstone looking at the reality of the power of the Spirit in both Acts 1 and 2, I believe it is now right in God to move on to specifically addressing the gifts of the Spirit. This will be an exciting time for the church, as they have never had any specific previous teaching on the Holy Spirit and His gifts. The past month has already been very stirring as we held two conferences – VMI and Fast Forward – and have been focusing on the power of God, especially the power of the Spirit. But this will be helpful, meaty and practical in seeing our local church body move forward into the things God has planned for us.
Though the church has never been antagonistic to the Holy Spirit and His gifts, and many come from backgrounds that allow for all gifts of the Spirit to be active, as I mentioned, the church had not had any specific teaching on the Holy Spirit’s gifts and, thus, not actively looking to practise these gifts in their gatherings and lives. But, with the recent connection of the church with Lifelink International, and with my arrival to oversee the church as of the summer of 2008, we have been purposeful to move towards an emphasis on the work of the Spirit and His gifts. It has taken us a while to get there, but now with a little (or BIG) push out of the nest by God, it is time to specifically dive into such an amazing reality.
But, we have had tasters of His gifts, no doubt. There have been times when prophecy has come forth (though some might not have realised it was such). And I have done teaching on the continuance of all five (or four) ministries mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (you can see the 4-part series here). And, just two weeks ago, we had an evening of seeking God together, mainly to hear from Him and speak forth what we believed God was stirring and saying. And, lo and behold, we had some prophecy, as well as others stepping out by praying aloud, sharing Scriptures, etc. It was truly beautiful and stirring!
So, I look forward to jumping into that all-important text in Corinthians on gifts of the Spirit, beginning with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to 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. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
There is a lot one could address just in that text, but we will take it week by week. We will also have visitors in to speak on some Sundays, so my specific series might be put on hold here and there. But that is fine by me. They will bring the word of the Lord into our church regardless.
And I also look forward to a time of training in hearing God and prophesying next Saturday morning, 11 September. God continues to blow upon the embers of our heart and I can only expect there will be more blowing in the weeks to come.
So, stay tuned to our podcast if you would like to hear some teachings on the gifts of the Spirit (rather than read, though I might post some articles as well in the weeks to come). I will also post links to the teachings here at To Be Continued.