Spiritual Gifts and Modern Christianity
(1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 1-13)
Continuing onward today in our ongoing study of the apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the 1st century Corinthian church, let’s move on to chapter 12. I’ll be going over the first half of chapter 12 today, and we’ll get into detail on the second half next week due to the very important and highly significant subject matter contained herein. Let’s begin right away with verse 1: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed’, and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” (1st Cor. 12, verses 1-6)
Paul the apostle starts off by reminding the Corinthians how far they had come from a spiritual standpoint. They had gone from being pagans, worshiping gods of wood and stone, to born-again Christians, saved by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. What a quantum leap these Corinthians had made in the Spirit! In this there is good news for all of us; that is, anyone who can say without hesitation, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”, or, “I worship Jesus as the Son of God”, knows immediately that they have the Holy Spirit living within them. Otherwise, they could not utter these words and really mean it. And if they didn’t mean it, others will know it because it will be self-evident. Paul goes on to make the comparison that as surely as there are manifestations of the Holy Spirit within widely varied types of individuals, in the same way there are widely varied signs of the fruit of that same Spirit exhibited within each and every one of us. Paul then goes on to name the different fruits of the Spirit.
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1st Cor. 12, verses 7-11)
You will notice that Paul names nine different gifts of the Holy Spirit. These different gifts are diverse enough that anyone who is a true follower of Christ Jesus can pick one and begin to pray directly to Jesus for that particular gift, whatever it may be. No special talent or innate ability is required. That’s exactly why all can participate. That’s the first nugget of truth that we can extract from Paul’s writing. In the family of God, nobody gets left out. Everyone participates and benefits equally without exception. So pick a gift, any gift that you think best matches your abilities in the Spirit, and begin to exercise it. If you seem to get off to a slow start at first, don’t let that deter you. Keep practicing, because you know that practice makes perfect.
Remember that you won’t be going it alone, for the Spirit of the Lord will be with you, and He will stay with you because He is dwelling within you. God is very willing to give you supernatural ability in the Spirit that will cause you to excel in an area where you may not have been able to previously. I know this to be true because it has worked for me in the past, and if I can do it then so can you. Let’s go through these nine gifts one at a time.
The first is the “message of wisdom”. Do not mistake formal education, or human intelligence, or any person’s IQ, for what the apostle Paul calls “the message of wisdom”. The 3 things I just mentioned are all carnal in nature, being of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. “Wisdom”, from Paul’s viewpoint then, is spiritual wisdom, a wisdom gained from a lifetime of experience gained from constant devotion to Christ. The “message of wisdom”, then, is a gift generally reserved for the clergy, or for those in academia, but also for older people like myself who have been around the block a time or two, and who have gained wisdom from many years of experience, sometimes even by trial and error. This type of deep and lengthy experience should never be underestimated. When one learns their life lessons the hard way, one tends to learn them quite well, and I’m speaking here from experience.
The second spiritual gift is the “message of knowledge”. Like the ‘message of wisdom’ above, the ‘message of knowledge’ is about spiritual matters rather than knowledge of this world. The message of knowledge can be interpreted here as having extensive knowledge of the Word of God, and this can only be accomplished through years of study. Pastors and those who teach Bible studies have this gift, and it is an honorable thing to use this, or any of these gifts, to one’s utmost for the love of Jesus.
The third spiritual gift is faith. Faith is a gift most often bestowed unto prayer warriors and prayer partners, and to those with gifts of healing (more on that one shortly). Faith is also a very good starting point for new believers as they build their new-found faith in Christ. It is something very good and valuable to hold onto while deciding which one of the 9 spiritual gifts is best for the individual believer. That also includes having Spiritual faith as the chosen gift of the new believer. This is how we exercise our faith as we explore the gifts of the Spirit so that we may discover which gift best suits each of us according to the talents and abilities of the believer.
I will comment only briefly on the next two, ‘gifts of healing’ and ‘miraculous powers’. While these gifts have existed since the time of Christ and His apostles, there are those “healers” today who claim to have these powers, but in reality they are fierce predators. They continue to “heal” people on TV as they charge them for the privilege while broadcasting the results of their “work”. But Jesus warned us about this when He walked the earth, as it is written: “Jesus answered, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name proclaiming, ‘I am the Christ’, and will deceive many.” (Matt. 24, verses 4-5) Further down in this same chapter Jesus adds, “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert’, do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms, do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man”. (Matt. 24, verses 26-27)
I’m not saying miraculous healing doesn’t exist. As a matter of fact I think it does. All I am saying is that, based on what I have seen on the ‘Christian television’ stations, one should approach what is being taught and what you are seeing with a critical mind, using the Bible as a reference manual for what is on your screen. That is the one sure way to keep oneself from being deceived. Discern for yourselves what is genuine or what is phony. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit has already given you this power. Use it judiciously.
The next gift Paul mentions is that of prophecy. Prophecy means to literally proclaim the Word of God while applying it to events from the past, present and future. Evangelists, for example, most often have the gift of prophecy as their spiritual gift, but anyone can have this gift. I once met a Texas housewife who had this gift while having never studied in a seminary, so God can bestow it upon anyone he chooses.
The seventh gift Paul mentions is the gift of ‘distinguishing between spirits’, and he is not talking about a medium at a seance. Distinguishing between spirits also has nothing to do with judging people, so be sure and not fall into that trap. As you have probably guessed, ‘distinguishing between spirits’ is done in the Spirit of Christ, not in the flesh or through intellectual capability. It is a spiritual distinction one can make through a supernatural gift of identifying different types of spirits, mainly being able to separate bad from good, but also as a way to distinguish hidden motives and concealed agendas within otherwise “nice” people.
The last 2 spiritual gifts are speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Speaking in tongues simply means to be able to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in any foreign language in a supernatural way, while having no specific knowledge of that language. Those who interpret those tongues are the ones who are translating the unknown tongue being spoken back into the native language of the hearer for the edification of that church or group. This spiritual gift exists so that the gospel can be preached in every language on the face of the earth. It is common for missionaries to have the gift of speaking in tongues, or of the interpretation of tongues.
A word of caution here – there are churches that teach that speaking in tongues is the best evidence that believers have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, as if this particular gift is the one that matters most (or worse yet, that it is the only one that matters). If you find yourself in a church that teaches that speaking in tongues is the only, or the primary, evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, get out of there immediately. I won’t name names, but they are a single-minded denomination bordering on a cult, and as such they are not teaching the whole truth, so it would be wise to not associate with them. Remember that even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. Paul finishes his train of thought by comparing the human body to the church. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1st Cor. 12, verses 12-13)
We are all within the body of Christ, which is His church, but we all serve various functions within that Body. Our diverse gifts of the Spirit, which God gives to everyone, make up the different functions of the greater Church. Not everyone can be a pastor, or a teacher, and not everyone is called to be only one thing, all except for prayer. Prayer, my dear readers, is mandatory for all serious believers. We can’t have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ unless we pray to Him daily. How can we have a personal relationship with Jesus unless we talk to Him? There are also those who have multiple gifts, such as music and dance, and others who focus on a specific ministry, such as missionaries. But instead, in the kingdom of God, everyone does one thing and does it well (even if it’s just being an usher), and all the various functions and ministries that are being performed coordinate together to form the living body that is Christ’s church. As the old song goes, “we are one in the Spirit, we are one with the Lord”, and that sums up His church very well. And next week we’ll finish chapter 12. Until then, be blessed in Jesus’ holy name!