Concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I would not have you to be ignorant . . . but how many of us are ignorant on that very subject? Oh, we can run through the list and explain the current conception of exactly what each gift consists of, but what is your gift? Do you know anyone who operates in the gift of wisdom–really operates in it? What about healing? Discerning between spirits?
I’m not talking about the pastor or evangelist at a charismatic church calling out to the audience: “Someone here has a problem with lower back pain.” That is not the gift of knowledge. There’s always going to be someone around with lower back pain. I’m not impressed. Or praying for the dozen or so people who come up with lower back pain and declaring them healed–they have only to confess it and apply the proper dollop of faith. Does anyone reading this think that this sort of “healing” is going to cause their unbelieving friend’s jaw to drop in wonder as he falls to his knees and confesses Jesus is risen and is Lord?
Why do we not see these gifts of the Spirit in manifestation (I mean real manifestation) in the church in the western world to any significant degree? People in charismatic circles work hard pumping their faith up by memorizing and meditating on scriptures such as “By His stripes you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) and other verses ripped from their homes with none of their context brought along to comfort them, but when the sickness comes, the best and most scripture-filled of them often die in that illness. What’s going on?
Somewhere, we have missed the trail ride. The horses and their riders have taken off without us, and they’ve gone in a different direction than we expected, so we’re not even going to catch them when they stop for a picnic. I can exegete this passage, but my questions remain. I have an inkling of the answer (or some of them), but it’s not complete. Let me know what you think. The body of Christ functions best together.
Paul is writing by inspiration here, so if Paul doesn’t want us to be uninformed, it follows that God probably doesn’t want us uninformed, either. On that premise, we can trust that He will reveal to us that which we need to know about the subject at hand, to whit, spiritual things or spiritual giftings.
The word dumb here refers to the idols’ inability to speak (or do anything else), not to their dubious intellectual prowess (though that works, too–and I know you knew all that). The point is to contrast the unspeaking, inanimate idol with the active triune God, full of power and speaking through His people. Before the Corinthians became followers of Christ, they just kind of wandered around to whichever idol seemed interesting at the moment–lost, in other words.
Most of us don’t use actual idols any longer (at least in the west and the middle east), but how many people do you know who have some vague idea of spiritual things; an idea they’ve taken from pop culture, their own imaginations, and something someone said to them once? They’re wandering around, trying to find their way, and they’re literally lost.
In this context, one is to assume that the person speaking is speaking truly–not just with their words, but with their lives. No one can say, and truly say, that Jesus is his Lord except by the Holy Spirit. So anyone who can say this truly, has the Spirit of God.
Likewise, no one can say “Jesus is cursed” so long as the Spirit of God dwells in him. All the unbelieving Jews did say this, as did the unbelieving Gentiles. Jesus had been crucified, and a more shameful, ignominious death could not be imagined. If that’s not cursed, what is? It was certainly not the destiny of the Messiah the Jews had been looking for, and to the Gentiles, this did not look like the destiny of a god.
To sum up (and thanks go to John Wesley for this), Christ followers have the Spirit of God, or else they could not claim Jesus as Lord; Unbelievers do not have the Spirit of God. If they did have the Spirit, they could not declare that Jesus was cursed. Spiritual gifts are for those who have the Spirit–that means Christ followers only. Certainly there are demonic and fleshly manifestations and imitations of these gifts, but the true gifts of the Spirit come only to those who have the Spirit living within themselves.
Whatever spiritual gifts we may receive from God, they all come from the same Holy Spirit. They’re not our own latent abilities, and they’re not from space aliens. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, all of them in all their varieties, are from the Holy Spirit. We don’t choose which gifts we receive, nor do we choose when and how those gifts will manifest (though we can choose to remain silent if it’s inappropriate to speak at the time.) Therefore, we have no grounds for boasting in our own spiritual superiority because we have (or think we have) this or that gift.
God gives us different things to do, but all these various tasks and callings come from Him. One assignment is not better or more prestigious than another in God’s eyes. If you ask your son to wash the dishes, you don’t want him to write the next number-one-Christian-music-chart-topper. You want him to wash the dishes. The best service is the one God told you to do.
If God has called you to do some invisible background ministry–say caring for children in the nursery–you have no reason to feel that you’re less important or loved of God than the biggest star on today’s Christian stage. The same Lord has called us all and will reward us according to our faithfulness, not according to the acclaim we’ve received from men.
Spiritual gifts may be used and manifested in a variety of ways, but it is God who inspires all these variations in gifts. Is Paul hinting that the person being used of God in manifesting the particular gift shouldn’t get too proud of himself? That the Corinthians should keep in mind that God was at the head and could use whomever He chose for whatever purpose and in whatever manner He desired?
The manifestation of the Spirit is given. It isn’t some skill that we practiced night and day for years and now deserve a certain amount of respect for our mastery of. The manifestation of the Spirit is given, and not for the benefit of any one individual. It is given for the benefit of all present. God manifests Himself through us for the good of the whole body (that is, the church).
The gifts are not all given to only one person. God uses the whole congregation to minister to one another. (Or at least, I suppose He would like to.) The utterance of wisdom implies seeing things in a way that we don’t usually see them. The wisdom of God is so simple once we hear it, yet so profound. We can’t develop this kind of wisdom on our own. It comes only from God. James 1:5 says that God gives wisdom to everyone who asks, so this gift of wisdom must be a separate and special manifestation over and above the common wisdom available to all believers.
The utterance of knowledge refers to the Spirit imparting knowledge we have no other way of obtaining. God may speak to your heart and tell you that the woman sitting beside you is in need of a friend despite her perfect exterior. I’ve also heard of Him sending a man on a foot-journey for miles through the countryside seeking Bibles, only to arrive just in time to meet another man who was impressed to bring a package of Bibles to a specific place. This is the gift of knowledge. In America, we have e-mail instead. 😉 But of course there are some things you can’t find on the net–really.
God has given to every man the ability to believe, leading to salvation. The faith referred to here is a special, over-the-top faith. It’s a unique spiritual gift. Not something we can develop by memorizing scriptures, though internalizing the Word does develop faith in believers as we learn the will of God and the extent of His love and His power toward us who believe.
Gifts of healing. Again, this is a special gift and we don’t all have it, but certainly some of us should have it if God’s Word is true and if we’re walking in His Spirit. We all know that God heals people gradually and that people heal gradually on their own because of the way God made our bodies to repair themselves. That may be part of the way the gift of healing works, but I believe that God also heals suddenly. The problem with God “using the doctors” is that He doesn’t really get credit for what He’s done from most people. They hear about the extensive medical treatment and how God healed my shattered arm through surgery and physical therapy (and that’s fine, and thank God for doctors and nurses and med techs and all) and we think, “Yeah. God healed her all right. I’m so impressed.” All healing, and every other good thing, comes from God, but I think the gift of healing is a supernatural gift and as such goes beyond natural forms of healing into something we can’t explain with our limited scientific knowledge. What do you think?
Working of miracles . . . ditto what I said about healing. As an aside, restoring an amputated or severely mangled arm would fall into this category, while mending a broken arm would be a gift of healing.
Prophecy . . . this may mean prediction of the future, and sometimes it does mean this. However, prophecy isn’t only predictions. Prophecy also means giving an inspired exhortation, usually to God’s people.
The ability to distinguish between spirits . . . remember earlier how Paul said no one speaking by the Spirit of God can say Jesus is cursed, etc? Obviously this isn’t as simple as mere words, but if you don’t know the person’s life, how can you tell whether he’s lying? Some people are really good at lying.
All Christians have the ability to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). I remember long ago seeing a well-known televangelist’s show playing in a patient’s room when I was working as an RN. I watched for a few minutes and though he didn’t say anything heretical, I got an immediate red light in my spirit–a genuinely creepy, appalled feeling about him. It was the first time (and the only time) I had seen him perform. A year or two later, he was in jail, and he wasn’t exactly imprisoned for preaching the gospel.
This ability to distinguish between spirits as a special gift of the Spirit and not a general empowering of all believers hasn’t been talked about a lot, and I’m not sure what the difference between this and the above would be. It’s listing here does imply some distinction from the 1 John 4:1 testing of the spirits, though. Any ideas?
Various kinds of tongues . . . If you’ve had anything to do with the charismatic church, you know it recognizes at least three distinct manifestations of the gift of speaking in unknown languages.
- Speaking in a language not only unknown to the speaker, but likewise unknown to anyone else except God and perhaps the angels.
- Speaking in a human language which the speaker has not learned, but which is understandable to a natural speaker of that language.
- Speaking in an unknown language with the understanding that someone nearby will be able to interpret it.
And that ties in with the last gift mentioned here: Interpretation of tongues. If an exhortation or message is given by a member of the congregation in an unknown language (as in #3 above), Paul warns that an interpreter must be present and must give an interpretation so that everyone present can understand what was said. This doesn’t usually mean someone who speaks the unknown language as his natural tongue, but rather someone to whom God gives the interpretation supernaturally.
Again, Paul emphasizes that all spiritual gifts come from God via the Holy Spirit. We can neither legitimately boast of our gifts, nor look down on others who have gifts we consider to be inferior to our own. The Corinthians were proud of the spiritual giftings they had received and saw them as a sign of their own superior spirituality. This is a natural reaction and something we always have to guard against in all things. I think maybe pride is the devil’s chief weapon against us.
So why don’t we see these gifts more in action in the church today? Could it be the way we have our meetings set up with one person or one group of people up on stage and the rest of the church sitting out in the audience being properly quiet and attentive? Or maybe it’s because we have so many other resources to depend on–resources that we can see and touch–that we don’t turn to God as our first and only answer. Or could it be that God is being merciful to a church that has become so self-centered and consumer oriented that we couldn’t handle it if He did miracles by our hands?
I want to see the gifts working today, and I don’t believe that God has changed His mind about the way He chooses to work among men. What do you think? What do we need to change in order to see God’s working in our lives in a way that will minister to the body, help us to mature as believers, and, incidentally, also get the attention of the lost and dying who wander from one half-baked spirituality to another in search of the truth? What will it take? Are we willing to pay the price?
Grace and Peace,