I love how eternal the Word of God is. Here's Paul addressing the Corinthian church that existed almost 2,000 years ago. In chapter 11 we saw that he knew they would be contentious about the submission of wives and the long hair of men just like they are today. And here in chapter 12 we see him saying, "I don't want you to be unaware (or "ignorant" as the King James says) about spiritual gifts. And people today are ignorant about spiritual gifts.
So Paul will educate us over the next chapters regarding spiritual gifts, so that we won't be ignorant, we won't be unaware regarding them.
Now the rumor had spread throughout the Corinthian church that someone had spoken in tongues in church, and the interpretation of the tongue was that it was blasphemy. That the person speaking in tongues was saying "Jesus is accursed" and such things.
In spite of Paul's clarification, that rumor has turned into doctrine. There are many denominations in the church that believe speaking in tongues comes straight from the devil. That anyone who speaks in tongues couldn't possibly be saved, for it is a demonic manifestation.
But Paul makes it clear: nobody praises the Lord by the power of the devil. If someone is praising God in tongues, this is the Holy Spirit's inspiration, not the devil's.
Now there are more gifts than tongues. Gifts of teaching, gifts of serving, gifts of faith. Nobody would dare accuse me of my faith or serving being inspired by the devil. Paul is saying: "There are lots of spiritual gifts, and they're all inspired by the Holy Spirit."
This is the key to the spiritual gifts: they are given for the common good. God gives them for the edification, the building up, of the entire church. When a spiritual gift is used in such a way so as to draw attention to one person and say, "Ooh, aah look how spiritual that person is," then it is being used improperly it is being abused. What a shame that today people use their spiritual gifts to out-do one another, to draw attention to themselves. To proclaim their spiritual superiority over each other. That is not for the common good, and it doesn't build up the church it tears it down.
All Christians are given spiritual gifts. You might be thinking, "Well, I missed out. I never got any spiritual gift." But you're wrong. The Bible here says, "to each one is given." That means that you have at least one of the spiritual gifts that we will examine. This by the way is not a complete listing of spiritual gifts. 1Peter 4 and Romans 12 mention some gifts in addition to those given here.
I guarantee that you do have at least one spiritual gift. And remember, they are spiritual. They have been given to you as a Christian, not as a human. You might have a natural ability to do this or that, and it is a God-given talent or ability, but it's not your spiritual gift.
We'll examine this deeper as we delve into the specific gifts and their operations. But keep this in mind there is an attitude predominant in the church that we can take some psychology test or a skills examination to discover what our spiritual gifts are. I don't believe it for a moment. They are SPIRITUAL gifts, and man's carnal examination will not reveal them.
Notice that these gifts are called "the manifestation of the Spirit." What does the word "manifestation" mean? Making visible, perceivable, recognizable. The spiritual gifts are a tangible way for the Lord to be seen. When spiritual gifts are exercised properly, they are a manifestation of the Spirit of God people can see the Lord through them. Let's look at the gifts that Paul lists:
The first gift he mentions is the word of wisdom. Wisdom is of course the proper application of knowledge. It is not intelligence, for there are many smart people who are not wise. Wisdom is the ability to take the knowledge you have and apply it in a beneficial way.
In the book of Acts, we read of two different disputes that arose in the church. The first one was a complaint that arose over the daily distribution of food to the widows in the church. There were two kinds of Jews those who had been born and raised in the Jewish culture, and those who had been born and raised outside of it. Those who had been brought up in Greece and spoke Greek were called the Hellenistic. They felt that their widows were being prejudiced against that they were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
So the twelve apostles got together and decided to appoint deacons to oversee the distribution. This was the word of wisdom a supernatural insight to solve the problem. How do we know it was supernatural? Well, for one, if you know anything about the twelve apostles, nobody could ever accuse them of being altogether wise on their own. Besides, when they came to this conclusion, the Word says,
Acts 6:5 And the statement found approval with the whole congregation
If you've ever tried to bring about a quick solution to two large groups of angry people, you know that it takes an act of God!
Another conflict that arose in the church was in regards to Gentile Christians. As God was bringing the gospel to the whole earth and Gentiles were being saved, some Jews got bent out of shape about it. Shouldn't they have to be circumcised? Shouldn't they have to observe the law? Shouldn't they first become Jews, and then become Christians? Many said yes. Paul, Barnabas, and Peter said no. So they took a trip to the church at Jerusalem and had a council meeting. Some argued this way, and others argued back. Finally, James stood up and said,
Acts 15:19-22 "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath." Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church
Again, a supernatural working of the word of wisdom. Resolution brought to a conflict by the Spirit moving in a man.
Notice how the operation of this gift edifies the church, not the individual. Nobody's saying, "James, you're so wise! You are so clearly more spiritual than the rest of us!" No, it builds up the church corporately. We're going to see that in the proper usage of every spiritual gift.
Next Paul lists the word of knowledge. Again, this is a spiritual gift, not a carnal one. You can't memorize the encyclopedia and say, "now I have the gift of the word of knowledge." The word of knowledge is a supernatural revelation of something that you couldn't possibly have known.
An example of this gift is shown in the book of Acts, with all the community helping one another, many people that owned land were selling it off and bringing it to the apostles to feed and clothe the people in the church. But a guy named Ananias and his wife Sapphira decided that they wanted a little glory, a little attention from the folks in the church. So they sold off a piece of property and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. But they kept back part of the money for themselves.
Now you'd think that the apostles would have been thrilled to have such a generous donation for the church. But Peter suddenly had a gift of the word of knowledge. He said,
Acts 5:3-5 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God." And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it.
Supernatural knowledge revealed by the Lord.
Thirdly, Paul speaks of the gift of faith. Remember that,
Rom. 12:3 ...God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
But there are some people that have been given the spiritual gift of faith. And it enables them to step out and do things that seem crazy in our eyes for the kingdom of God. There was a time that I was blessed with an unreal measure of faith. When God told me to move to Cheyenne, Wyoming, I didn't know anyone here, I'd never been east of the Colorado River. I didn't have a job, I didn't have a house. And I had a wife and kids to take care of!
But God had given me a spiritual gift of faith, and none of those obstacles mattered. We set a moving date, and house or no house, job or no job, we were heading out, no turning back. Looking back, it was a radically risky thing to do. But at the time, just having a supernatural gift of faith made it seem like the only thing to do.
That's another distinction of spiritual gifts they're not always in operation. Peter had the word of knowledge, but not all the time. James had the word of wisdom, but not all the time. I don't always have the supernatural faith to jump out and do the impossible. They're not there all the time.
So remember, they're supernatural, not carnal. They're for the edification of the church, not the person. And they're not always in operation all the time.
Now Paul brings up the gifts of healing. This is one of the most misunderstood gifts. In reading this list, Paul makes a distinction. Compare for example the difference between healing and miracles. In the effecting of miracles, the gift is to effect the miracles. But in healing, it is not the gift of the effecting of healing, it is gifts of healing. Nowhere in the Bible will you see someone with "the gift of healing." But you will see all throughout God giving "gifts of healing." It is important that we understand this, because it is widely misunderstood today.
If I lay hands on someone and pray for their healing, and they are healed, have I been given the spiritual gift of healing? No. THEY have been given a gift of healing.
Now, certain people have been gifted with the spiritual gift of the effecting of miracles. A miracle is a supernatural event in which God changes the natural laws and flow of things for a certain purpose. The dead have been raised, the lame made to walk, the blind to see. Some people say that this doesn't happen today. Nonsense! We have seen miracle after miracle happen in just the short time we've been here. Little baby Bethany is a living testimony to the effecting of miracles. Time after time, the doctors would say, "she's not going to live for more than another day or two." We'd all pray, and the doctors would say, "We don't know how this happened, but..."
A friend of mine smuggled Bibles into Romania back when it was closed to Christianity under the dictatorship of Ceauchesku. They had a special vehicle with hollow compartments that they stuffed full of Bibles to take through the border crossing. At one point, they were being hassled by the Romanian border guards, who insisted on searching their car. A guard opened up the trunk and discovered the hidden panel in the trunk above the rear wheel well. As he opened it up, my friend shouted a prayer out loud, "Lord, help!" The guard reached his hand into the compartment nearly up to his shoulder. Nothing was there. Begrudgingly, he let them pass through into Romania. Amazed that the guard had been able to put his entire arm in the compartment, when they got a couple of miles up the road, they stopped and opened the trunk. When they opened up the panel, there were all the Bibles that had been stuffed into the compartment you couldn't even stick your finger in there more than a quarter of an inch! No one can tell me the gift of miracles doesn't happen today!
Prophecy is another widely misunderstood gift of the Spirit. Today, we think of prophecy as foretelling the future. And while that is a part of it, it is actually forth-telling the Word of God.
That can sometimes be in the form of speaking a prophecy of the future, but more often, it is be speaking a Word of God to someone that the Lord wants spoken.
The gift of teaching is very much intertwined with the gift of prophecy. Many times I have heard people teaching and preaching the Word and I think, "Wow! That's directly to me! God is speaking to me through this person!" People have come up to me in the past and said, "I think that every sermon you preach is directed at me!" Once a guy even got mad at me, accusing me of using the pulpit to address problems that he was having in his own life.
But as you know, all I'm doing is reading the Word and making it clear and understandable. I don't have an agenda, or a secret purpose to nail you with this or that topic. It is simply the gift of prophecy God using a teacher or a preacher to speak directly to you.
Again, a misunderstood gift the distinguishing of spirits. This is thought today to be a unique ability to name demons. "I discern that you have a demon of lust! I distinguish that you have a demon of alcoholism!" But as we've covered a number of times before, the Bible does not teach that there is a demon of this and a demon of that.
What is the biblical explanation of the distinguishing of spirits? John wrote in his first epistle:
1John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
The "sprits" are the attitudes, the motives of these people. Not demonic spirits, but the spirit of a person. Early in the church, there were already many who had gone out with their own agendas, false prophets, wolves in sheep's clothing. Someone in the fellowship needs the gift of distinguishing of spirits, the gift of discernment, to alert us that there is a wolf in our midst. God supernaturally warns us through this gift that although someone might look and sound okay, they are here to fleece the flock, to rip us off, or try and destroy us.
There have been many times that I wish I had this spiritual gift. That someone seemed so genuine, but then stabbed me in the back. People that have taken money from me, people that were under the covering of our ministry, yet sought to draw away disciples after themselves to their destruction.
Oh, how we need the gift of discernment functioning in the church today!
We're going to spend next Sunday learning all that the Bible has to say about tongues, so for now, we'll skip these verses to come back to them next week.
Now remember that we have not been given a comprehensive list of the spiritual gifts in this section of Scripture. There are other gifts. For example, in Romans 12 we read of the gifts of, serving, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and mercy.
The distribution of the gifts of the Spirit are entirely up to Him. You can't go to a seminar to get the gift of prophecy. You can't get the gift of the word of knowledge just by thinking and hoping really hard. God distributes the spiritual gifts the way He wants to.
Now let's take a chapter to discuss the gift of tongues. Then we'll continue on with this chapter and look at why He does it this way, as we analyze the functioning of the church, the Body of Christ.