Spiritual Gifts

I Corinthians 12

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2011

We have been studying the Book of I Corinthians. If you remember, the book of I Corinthians is divided into two parts. The first part of the book Paul deals with problems that the church was having. In the second part of the book, Paul answers some questions that the Corinthians had.

They wrote him a letter with some questions. We don’t have that letter. We don’t know what all of their questions were but one had to do with marriage (7:1). One had to do with food offered to idols (8:1) and one had to do with spiritual gifts (12:1) and that is our topic for this evening.

It is an important topic. Tons of books have been written on the topic of spiritual gifts. This study may completely revolutionize the way you look at spiritual gifts.

For some, it will all be brand new but even if you have studied spiritual gifts in the past, there should be some things you learn, because God’s Word is so deep, you can never completely exhaust it. Let’s start this with a basic question: What is a spiritual gift?

Definition of Spiritual Gifts

Let’s start with a basic definition. Spiritual gifts can be defined as ANY ABILITY empowered BY THE HOLY SPIRIT that is used to edify THE BODY OF CHRIST. It is a God-given ability that enables you to effectively serve the body of Christ. It is a supernatural ability given to every Christian to minister and you can minister to a person’s physical, emotional or spiritual needs. This definition can be broken down into several simple points.

1. Spiritual gifts are SUPERNATURAL abilities.

They are supernatural, not natural abilities. We sometimes divide spiritual gifts into two categories –supernatural gifts (healing the sick, raising the dead or casting out demons) and natural gifts (the gift of helps, the gift of giving or the gift of mercy) but, according to Scripture, all of the spiritual gifts are supernatural.

They all come from the Holy Spirit and they are something that we should want. Notice what Paul says in 14:1 (“Pursue love AND EARNESTLY DESIRE SPIRITUAL GIFTS”). They come from God and should be something that we really want.

2. Spiritual gifts are SOVEREIGNLY GIVEN abilities.

The Holy Spirit decides what gifts we have. We didn’t have a choice in what were given. Spiritual gifts are sovereignty given as well (12:11, 18, 28). We cannot choose our talents. We are born with them.

We can’t choose our spiritual gifts either. God chooses what gifts we have, although we can pray for different gifts (14:13). God gives the gifts to people AS HE WILL (as He determines), not “as we will.” He gives different gifts to different people.

Paul says this in I Corinthians 12:8-10. ONE was given one gift. ANOTHER was given a different gift. All were NOT given the same gift. Paul made that clear in 12:29-30. Diversity is rooted in the nature of God himself. God apparently likes diversity. He gives out a wide variety of gifts, just as we see incredible diversity in the world He created.

3. Spiritual gifts are given to EVERY single Christian.

Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift (12:7). There are no ungifted Christians. Every Christian has some spiritual gift and some have a lot more than one. Paul says, “To EACH ONE is given a manifestation of the Spirit,” not “to some is given” or “to a few spectacular Christians is given a manifestation of the Spirit.” The lowest Christian has a spiritual gift but we do not all have the same gift.

These gifts are very different.  The gift of teaching is very different from healing. The gift of speaking in tongues is very different from the gift of giving. Some are gifts are spectacular and very prominent and some gifts are hardly even seen and far less spectacular.

Even people with the exact same gift (teaching), have a different type of gift.  Some people are really good at teaching children. Other people have the gift of teaching and love to teach but hate teaching children.

They are much better at teaching adults. Another example is the gift of healing. You may not have noticed but Paul does NOT mention “the gift of healing” but “gifts of healing” three times in this chapter (12:9, 28, 30). It is always in the plural.

Apparently, there are different gifts of healing for different diseases. No one person has the gift to heal everyone. Paul also speaks of “different kinds of tongues” (12:28). Apparently, there was not just one gift of tongues.

These are examples of how the Holy Spirit does not just sovereignly give people spiritual gifts, he gives out different gifts in different degrees and in some cases different kinds of the same gift to different people.

Not only do we have different gifts from one another but we but we have different degrees of gifts.  God really believes in diversity.  Some preachers have five talents. Some have three talents.  Some have one talent and some do not have any.  They are in the wrong profession.  They need to find a new line of work.  The Holy Spirit does not merely decide who gets what gift. He decides who get how much of each gift.

The question is, Do you know what your gift is? If you do not know, how do you find out? The Bible does not tell you how to find out what your spiritual gift is. Paul assumes that people know. What are some ways people can found out their spiritual gift?

How to Discover Your Spiritual Gift

 1) Pray

Ask God (I Corinthians 14:13) and He will show you and have an open mind to wherever he leads. This is a prayer He will answer because it is a prayer according to his will (I John 5:14)

2) Be Informed

Read the Bible. Read all of the passages in Scripture that deal with spiritual gifts (Roman 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4; I Peter 4). Read books on the subject.

3) Take a Test on Spiritual Gifts

There are many tests you can take to determine what your spiritual gift is.  There are many spiritual gifts inventory tests online.

4) Serve in Different Kinds of Ministries

It will become apparent as you do this. There will be some ministries that you have a passion for and love and are good at and some that are not for you.

5) Seek Confirmation From Others

As you use your gifts, they will be apparent to others. Ask a godly person who knows you well what they think your spiritual gift is.

4. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to EDIFY the body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is here pictured like a bodybuilder who seeks to build up the body of Christ (12:7; 14:12; Ephesians 4:11-12). Spiritual gifts are part of the bodybuilding ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is spiritual body building. If you have a spiritual gift that means that someone in the church needs your gift. Gifts were given “for the common good.”

What Spiritual Gifts are Not

Spiritual gifts are NOT offices

Only a few people in the church have an office or an official title but every member of the church has a spiritual gift. Spiritual gifts are not offices. Why not?

1. A person may have a gift but NOT an office.

There are many small group leaders who have the gift of shepherding but they do not have the title of pastor. There are many women who have the gift of shepherding.  You can learn a lot from some women who do not have the title of “pastor.”

2. A person may have an office but NOT a gift.

A person may hold an office or have a title in a local church and NOT have the gift that goes with that office. There are many people all throughout America who have the title “pastor” but cannot teach the Bible. That is not their gift. They have the title of pastor but what kind of a shepherd does not feed his own sheep?

A man may have the title of “Pastor” but not have the gift of shepherding. Ideally, if you have an office, you should have the gift to go along with that office. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.  A spiritual gift is not the same thing as a church office.

Spiritual gifts are NOT talents

There is an important difference between the two. Natural talents are given to the saved and unsaved and spiritual gifts are given just to BELIEVERS. All people possess natural talents but only Christians possess spiritual gifts.

Many unbelievers have incredible natural talents but they do not have a spiritual gift. A man may be extremely gifted at public speaking. He may be able to entertain people or give a good lecture but that does not mean that he is able to edify the church.

Lists of Spiritual Gifts

We know what spiritual gifts are and now we are ready to look at Paul’s list of spiritual gifts in chapter 12. The interesting thing is that in chapter 12 we do NOT have one list but three lists of spiritual gifts. I want to do some inductive Bible study with you. What are the three lists? There is one in 12:8-10. There is one in 12:28 and one in 12:29-30. The first list is found in 12:8-10. How many gifts are on this list? Nine. What are they?

The first list of spiritual gifts in I Corinthians (12:8-10)

1. Word of Wisdom
2. Word of Knowledge
3. Faith
4. Gifts of Healing
5. Miracles
6. Prophecy
7. Discerning of Spirits
8. Tongues
9. Interpretation of Tongues

Some of the gifts on the list seem to go together. The first two go together (Word of Wisdom and Word of Knowledge). We do not know the difference between those two. One might be more theoretical and one more practical.

One may give information (the scholars and the teacher’s gift), while the other more application (the counselor’s gift). Many have connected this gift with prophecy but I do not see that in the text. The next three go together (Faith, Healing, Miracles).

All Christians have faith. They all have saving faith but they do not all have the gift of faith, the kind of faith that can move mountains. George Mueller had this gift. The two after that go together (Prophecy and Discerning of Spirits). Discerning of spirits is apparently tied to prophecy.

Someone with this gift would be able to tell if a prophecy comes from God or from Satan. The last two on the list go together (tongues, interpretation of tongues). So there are nine gifts of the Spirit in Paul’s first list.

Paul’s second list is found in I Corinthians 12:28. How many gifts are in that list? Eight. What are they? It contains one less gift but there are several gifts in the second list that are not in the first list. How many? Four (Apostles, Teachers, Helps & Administration)

The second list of spiritual gifts in I Corinthians (12:28)

1. Apostles
2. Prophets
3. Teachers
4. Miracles
5. Gifts of Healings
6. Helps
7. Leadership
8. Different Kinds of Tongues

Paul’s third list is found in 12:29-30. How many gifts are on that list? Seven. What are they?

The third list of spiritual gifts in I Corinthians (12:29-30)

1. Apostles
2. Prophets
3. Teachers
4. Miracles
5. Gifts of Healing
6. Tongues
7. Interpretation of Tongues

Overview of the Three Lists of Spiritual Gifts

1) I Corinthians 12 has three lists of spiritual gifts. Paul lists a total of thirteen spiritual gifts (unduplicated) in I Corinthians 12.

2) Six gifts are mentioned only one time in all of the lists – Faith, Helps, Leadership, Word of Wisdom, Word of Knowledge and Discerning of Spirits.

3) There are no new gifts in the third list of spiritual gifts.  They are all mentioned in the first two lists of gifts in I Corinthians 12.

4) Four gifts are mentioned in all three lists in I Corinthians 12 – Prophecy, Healing, Miracles and Tongues.

5) These gifts can be divided into different categories.

Most see three categories based on I Corinthians 12:4-6, although there are more than three here.  Some of these gifts involved WORDS (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, tongues).  Some involved ACTIONS (healings or miracles), while some other of these gifts were displays of incredible POWER (miracles). They were spectacular.  They were visible to everyone.

Other gifts were less spectacular. They were not often visible.  They are more behind the scenes gifts (helps).  Some of these gifts seem to be completely SUPERNATURAL and MIRACULOUS. Other gifts on the list seem like NATURAL gifts (leadership or administration, teaching). Some of these gifts were EXTERNAL (miracles) and some were more INTERNAL (faith).

6) None of the lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament are exhaustive.

The list in I Corinthians 12 is not exhaustive because Paul has two other lists in the NT and includes some other gifts not mentioned in any of these lists. In Romans 12:5-8, Paul mentions some other gifts not mentioned in I Corinthians 12 (the gifts of serving, giving, encouraging and showing mercy).

In Ephesians 4:11, Paul lists some other gifts not mentioned in either Corinthians or Romans (the gift of pastors or shepherds, as well as evangelists). All of the gifts listed in the NT are not necessarily all of the gifts either. None of the lists are exhaustive. People may have other gifts not on any of those lists (e.g., music).

Two Views on Spiritual Gifts

This topic of spiritual gifts is highly controversial. There are two main views on the topic of spiritual gifts. There are two very different ways that I Corinthians 12 is read by Christians (Christians who are conservative and believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God).

I would not do justice to the topic if I did not tell you what the debate is all about I want to give you arguments for both positions. Why do I want to do this? Most Christians know what they believe but they don’t have a clue what many other Christians right down the street believe.

What I want to do is to give you both sides of the debate. What are some of the arguments that both sides give? I can’t list them all but I can list several of their arguments for you to think about. As I do this, I have a challenge for you. This may be impossible but we will try it.

If you believe that the gifts are still around today, try to listen with an open mind to the arguments as to why they ceased. If you believe that the gifts all ceased, try to listen with an open mind to reasons why the gifts are still around today. Evaluate everything from the lens of Scripture. Then, I will make a few simple observations of my own. What are the two views?

The Cessationist View of Spiritual Gifts

Paul mentions a list of nine spiritual gifts in 12:8-10. According to one view, NONE of them exist today. The word of wisdom and the word of knowledge do not exist today. No one has the gift of healing today or the power to do miracles. There are no more prophets today.

The gift of tongues also no longer exists today, according to this view. These gifts all died out around 100 AD. They believe that these gifts were temporary. They believe that there are two kinds of gifts – permanent gifts and temporary gifts. The temporary gifts (like the ones listed in 12:8-10) all died out at the end of the apostolic age.

This is the view of Piedmont International University.  It is the view of people like John MacArthur and Chuck Swindoll. It was also the view of John Calvin. Why do many believe that some of the gifts have ceased? What are some of the arguments for this position?

1. We know that one of the gifts for sure no longer exists, so others may not as well.

Paul mentions apostles in one of the lists of spiritual gifts in this chapter (12:28, 29) and there are no genuine apostles today with the same authority as the The Twelve. If the apostles died out at the end of the apostolic age, maybe some of the other gifts listed in this chapter died out as well?

2. There is an argument from church history.

Many of the early church fathers said that these gifts did not exist in their day.  That is what St Augustine said and he was one of the leading church fathers in the fourth century.

Another prominent fourth century father named John Chrysostom also said  that these gifts no longer occur. He said that not only have these gifts ceased but that it has been so long that we do not even know what some of these gifts are anymore.

3. Many of the so-called “charismatic gifts” were sign gifts.

Gifts of like healing, miracles and tongues were all sign gifts. Their job was to authenticate the message of the apostles (Hebrews 2:3-4; Mark 16:19-20; Acts 2:43; II Corinthians 12:12).  The problem here is that that miraculous gifts in the NT were not limited to the apostles.  This is abundantly clear from the Book of Acts.  Luke mentions several people who had these gifts who were not part of The Twelve.

Stephen was not an apostle.  He was just a deacon and yet we are told in the Book of Acts that he not only performed signs and wonders, he performed GREAT signs and wonders (Acts 6:8).  Philip also was not an apostle but we are told in the Book of Acts that he also performed incredible signs like exorcisms and physical healings of the sick (Acts 8:6-7).

Ananias was not an apostle.  As far as he know, he was not even a deacon.  He may just have been an ordinary lay believer and yet, on at least one occasion, he gave sight to the blind (9:10, 17).

4. The charismatic gifts were part of the foundation stage of the church.

Paul said in Ephesians 2:20 that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.  The church is pictured as a building and the apostles and prophets are part of the foundation of that building. They were foundational gifts to the church. You only build a foundation once.

Once a foundation of a building is laid, it does not need to be laid again. The job of the apostles and prophets was to write Scripture and when every book of the Bible was written, they were no longer needed. God is no longer writing books of Scripture today.

5. I Corinthians 13:10 says that tongues will cease when the perfect comes.

The perfect cannot refer to Jesus because it is neuter not masculine (“that which is perfect” and not “the perfect one”).  Many believe that the perfect refers to the completed Bible. They believe that the perfect came when the last book of the NT was written and the church was given a full and complete revelation from God. James speaks of “the perfect law of liberty” (1:25).

The Charismatic View of Spiritual Gifts

Others believe that ALL of these gifts mentioned in 12:8-10 did NOT cease when the apostles died. This view believes that these gifts are still needed today. They still exist today and some Christians still have these gifts. What are some of their arguments?

1. If some of the gifts ceased around 100 AD, then why did church fathers in the second century (Justin Martyr & Irenaeus ) and third century. (Tertullian) say these gifts still existed in their day?

2. Some of the other gifts listed in this chapter are still around today (teaching, helps, and administration). If they exist today, these other gifts could exist today as well.

Just because apostles were temporary, does not mean that all of nine gifts in 12:8-10 are also temporary. After all, the apostles were people. There was no gift of apostleship. Exhorters exhort, teachers teach, evangelists evangelize, prophets prophesy but there is no verb that goes with apostles. It was an office, rather than a gift.

3. If the gift of prophecy ceased around 100 AD, then why do we find it taking place in the middle of the future Tribulation period (Revelation 10:7; 11:6, 10, 18; 16:6; 18:24).  Why does it take place at the end of the Tribulation period (Joel 2:28-29) just before the Second Coming, if the gift has already ceased?

4. I Corinthians 13:10 CANNOT refer to the writing if the NT in its context.  It has absolutely nothing to do with the closing of the canon.   How do we know this?  The context rules out that interpretation. What Paul says in verse ten is explained in verse twelve.

We are told that the perfect will come (13:10) only when we see “face to face” (13:12). You can only see a person face to face. It is talking about seeing Jesus face to face. Even in the Bible, we do not see face to face but only “face to book.” We are also told that when the perfect comes we will know even as we are known.

That has not happened even with the closing of the canon. There are some things that are obscure in the Bible and even when the Bible gives us whole chapters on a subject (heaven), we only have a glimpse into the future. Even in Scripture, we see “as in a mirror dimly.”

5. If you believe that many of the gifts ceased in 100 AD, you have to disobey clear command of Scripture.

This is a powerful argument for all who take Scripture seriously.  Paul says very clearly that we are NOT to forbid the use of tongues (14:39). It is a command. Yet this is exactly what the non-charismatics do. They forbid people from speaking in tongues.  They outlaw the use of the gift in their church and small groups.  Some have gone from outlawing it to calling the use of it by any professing believer as demonic.

General Observations on the Debate

I would like to make two very simple observations about the debate about spiritual gifts.

1) The Apostle Paul does not address or answer this question in I Corinthians 12.

Paul does NOT address the question of whether the gifts would still be in existence after all of the Apostles died. He doesn’t deal with whether these gifts will still be in existence two thousand years later. The Bible does not categorically state that many of the gifts ceased at 100 AD. What about I Corinthians 13:10? Doesn’t that verse tell when these gifts will cease?

When the perfect comes, the gifts will cease. Yes but Paul does not say WHEN the perfect will come (although the context seems to indicate it will be when we are face-to-face with Jesus). He does not say that it will come in 100 AD and he does not say WHAT the perfect is. There are many different interpretations of what the perfect is.

2) The issue of spiritual gifts should NOT be made a test of fellowship.

Whether all of the charismatic gifts ceased or did not cease at the end of the first century is not a major doctrine of the faith. People can have strong convictions either way but the Bible does not explicitly say. There are essential and non-essential doctrines of the faith. This is a non-essential doctrine.

If you say that you have to speak in tongues to be saved, then it becomes an essential doctrine because it deals with salvation but the view that the gifts continued after the apostolic age is a non-essential doctrine.

Five Errors Regarding Spiritual Gifts

1. Ignorance

The first major problem in the church today is that many people are ignorant about the whole topic of spiritual gifts. Paul said “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be ignorant” (12:1).

We have Christians in churches all throughout the country who are spiritually ignorant. They do not know what the Bible teaches on a lot of topics and the topic of spiritual gifts is one of them. Two years ago, Barna did a survey of professing Christians in America and found that only two thirds of them had even heard of spiritual gifts.

2. Laziness

The second major problem in the church today is that people do not use their spiritual gifts. A small group of people in the church do all the work and the rest of the church becomes spectators or pew warmers. The church was never designed to be run by a few paid professionals who do all of the work, while everyone else sits back and watches.

Picture a body and the foot and hand and heart do not work. The church is the same way. In the body of Christ, there are all kinds of parts of the body sitting around doing nothing. They are not performing the function God intended them to perform. That does not describe a healthy body or a healthy church.

Paul told Timothy, “Stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (I Timothy 1:6).  What does that mean?   This verse tells us three things about spiritual gifts.

One, we all have a spiritual gifts inside of us.  Timothy had one and we all have one.

Second, this verse teaches that gifts can die if people do not use them.  That is true on the natural level.  It is true on the spiritual level.  Gifts are like a fire and fires can die.

Three, this verse teaches that gifts need to be cultivated.  GOD gave us gifts but WE have the responsibility to stir them up. No one can do that for us. This is something that we have to do constantly.  It is not a one-time action.

Talents have to be developed as well. The gift of teaching requires hours of preparation and study. Great musicians spend hours practicing. Gifts have to be developed. Even Michael Jordan did make the varsity basketball team when he first tried out for it in high school.

For those who have the gift of teaching, learning the original languages and getting a seminary degree is one way to develop your gift. Whatever your gift is, use it (Romans 12:6-8). Using the gift God gave you is a matter of obedience.

3. Wrong Ministry

The third problem is that there are other Christians who are working and are very busy. There are some people in all kinds of ministries (and in some cases leading those ministries) without the spiritual gift to do that ministry. A.W. Tozer once said, “About 90% of religious work done in the church is done by ungifted members.”

Our ministry in church should match our areas of giftedness. If everyone in the church actually used their gifts and served in ministries which matched their gifts, you would have a healthy church.

4. Jealousy

The fourth problem is that some Christians are jealous of the spiritual gifts of others (12:15-20).  This is a common problem in the church today.  Many are jealous of believers who have the spotlight on them.  Others are jealous of the gifts of other believers.

5. Pride

The fifth problem is that some Christians look down on other Christians who do not have their spiritual gift (12:21-25).  Some Pentecostals think that everyone should have the gift of healing and if people claim to be a Christian but do not have that gift, they look down on them as if there is something wrong with them.

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