Spiritual Gifts in the Church
Updated: Mar 7
1 Corinthians 12
There was much confusion in the church in Corinth about the exercise of spiritual gifts. One source of confusion was simply ignorance. There is still a great deal of ignorance that surrounds the subject of spiritual gifts. People make unscriptural claims based on the opinions and practices of a denomination, or because of an ecstatic experience they claim to have had, or they take scripture out of context and claim they have proof for their views. Some of them can cause strange things to happen, but the fact remains, they are completely out of touch with the teachings of 1 Corinthians 12-14. The fact that these people are “nice”, or that they have a reputation of being “used by God” proves nothing. The test is how they handle the Word of God. We are up against a host of evil spirits who are more than eager to exploit our ignorance in this area of the Christian life.
Another danger mentioned by Paul was former influences in the lives of these believers. Many of them had been won to Christ from a background of paganism. Behind the “dumb idols” were evil spirits. They were familiar with strange utterances. There is a real world that we are unable to see where evil spirits seek to counterfeit the holy ways of God. It is important for us to understand that Satan and his demons are masters at counterfeiting the gifts and signs of God. The danger is the same today as it was in Corinth. Those who stray from the Word of God are making themselves susceptible to demonic deception. Paul compared their experience as unconverted idolaters with their present experience as Christians. Once they worshipped dead idols, but now they belonged to the living God.
Not everyone who says the word “Lord” believes in his heart that Jesus Christ is Lord. According to Matthew 7:21-23 some people only have a surface profession. He must truly be one’s Lord. Christ being one’s Lord is a conviction of the soul. The true church is made up of those who have yielded their lives to Him. The Corinthians, who knew something of the evil influences behind the idols they had worshipped, were reminded to test all things by the Lordship of Christ. No false spirit is going to confess that Jesus is Lord. No man speaking by the Holy Ghost is going to belittle Christ.
I was told of a man from another country that had been won to Christ and had surrendered to the ministry. He came to the United States looking for financial support to help get a church started and to talk to a few churches that wanted to help. He wasn’t aware of some of the practices that go on in some of the “churches” here, and he stopped in to attend a service one day. He said they started to “speak in tongues” as they called it, and they claimed they were “in the Spirit.” He heard a lot of commotion as they began to work themselves into a frenzy. He was shocked to hear them speaking in his native tongue, and they didn’t even know it. The man said they were blaspheming God in his language. They were under the influence of an evil spirit, yet they claimed to be worshipping God. I have talked with people about these kinds of things, and you cannot deny their experience, something did happen, but they don’t seem to understand that not every influencing spirit is the Holy Spirit. It is sheer gullibility to accept what people today are calling “tongues”, “prophecies”, “healings”, or “signs” and say they are from God. When you have a group of people that emphasize “experiences” instead of the Word of God they open themselves up to all kinds of demonic deception.
Any so called “Spirit manifestation” that robs a person of self control is not of God, after all, the fruit of the Spirit is, among other things, self-control. God gave supernatural gifts to the early church for the good of the Body. However, they were capable of being imitated by evil spirits, through people who were not in subjection to Christ. It was not safe to assume (nor is it now) that any speaker is speaking from God under the influence of the Holy Spirit just because he claims to be. There is always the danger of deception. If the speaker in any way detracts from the truth about the Lord Jesus, that speaker is not speaking by the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:1-3). If they take away from the Lordship of Christ, their message is false.
There are different gifts, but there is only one Holy Spirit. What is a spiritual gift? It is a capacity for service. A spiritual gift is the “manifestation of the Spirit” through one’s life. Obviously, there is a difference between a spiritual gift and a natural talent. For example, a person may have a natural talent for singing. But singing is not a spiritual gift, though it can be used in conjunction with a spiritual gift. This goes for any natural ability that we have. The Holy Spirit can use it in conjunction with a spiritual gift if the believer will allow him to, but a natural talent alone is nothing unless it is under the control of the Holy Spirit. Then there are those who have no natural talent. They don’t feel like they can sing, or speak, or do anything. They think there is nothing for them to do, but that is a mistake. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” Some of the most talented people in the world have nothing to do with serving God. On the other hand, some of the “least talented” are using their spiritual gifts for God and God is working through them to do marvelous things. Being involved in church activity is also not a guarantee that you are exercising a spiritual gift. The purpose of the gifts God gives is to build up the church, to give help to other believers.
Paul tells the Corinthians why the gifts were given - for the good of the whole church. The spiritual gifts are named in 8-10, 28-30, Ephesians 4:11, and Romans 12:6-8. Many Christians believe that some were temporary sign gifts, and some were permanent.
~Word of wisdom
This spiritual gift gave the church access to New Testament truth even though it had not been formally given by means of the written Word.
~Word of knowledge
Those with the gift of wisdom would be inspired to proclaim the truth and those with the gift of knowledge could expound on the truth so others could understand.
The next three gifts have been called gifts of confirmation. The Jews as a whole had rejected Christ and Christianity. Just as the miracles of the Lord were meant to confirm his claims, so the miracles performed by the early church were meant to confirm their claims that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Gospels show us how the Jews rejected the Son of God. The Book of Acts shows us how they rejected the Spirit of God as he worked through the church. The Lord promised that the church would be accredited by miracles (Mark 16:14-20).
~To one was given faith.
This is not referring to saving faith. Saving faith is a choice made by the individual, not something given to him to the exclusion of others. All Christians have saving faith, but this spiritual gift is about extraordinary faith. This is the faith that enables certain people to move mountains and see remarkable answers to prayer.
~Some were given the gift of healing.
The Lord Jesus gave this gift to his apostles and to the seventy when he sent them to preach to the Jews that the kingdom was at hand. Some people today claim to have the gift of healing. What are we to make of it? Medical science can work wonders today (medicine and surgery), but the gift of healing enabled those who had it to perform instant and permanent cures. We hear of healing movements today, but a close look shows them to be fraudulent. Nobody denies that God can and sometimes does heal people in answer to prayer, but this is not the same as an individual having the gift of healing. The miracle of healing is still very real, but many Christians conclude that the gift of healing ceased with the apostles. In the Bible, those who had the gift of healing could cure the lepers instantly, cause the blind to see, cause the lame to walk, and these miracles were verified beyond doubt. The modern so-called healing meetings are far removed from what we find in the New Testament. Have you ever noticed how the “healer” must have a crowd? They work the crowd into a frenzy and those who come forward are “slain in the Spirit” they say. Of course, a great deal of money is collected. Everyone would be much more impressed if they went to the hospitals and healed those dying of cancer, or if they would pick out the hardest case and instantly heal that person, but they don’t do that. The real gift of healing was present in the early church. The sign gifts, however, died out with the early church. Even Paul, who had the gift of healing, as time went on spoke of Trophimus being left at Miletum because he was sick. He told the Philippians that Epaphroditus had been “sick night unto death, but God had mercy on him.” The sign gifts were mainly for Israel anyway (1 Corinthians 1:22). These were sign gifts for a specific time, for the purpose of validating the gospel, that would eventually cease.
~The gift of working miracles
Paul could cause a person to become blind. He and Peter could raise the dead. Paul could be bitten by a snake and suffer no harm. These too have ceased (though people do crazy things like allowing themselves to be bitten by venomous snakes – and they often die). But remember, miracles can be counterfeited. Satan can perform miracles. He can empower people to perform “miracles”, but his purpose is to deceive people and drive them away from God’s Word.
Then there are the gifts of communication.
This was one of the gifts promised to the disciples and it enabled them to write the truths that we now have in the New Testament.
~The ability to expose error… “discerning of spirits.”
This gift was, and still is, necessary because of evil spirits and false teachers and counterfeit Christians. It is important to be able to distinguish between truth and error.
~The gift of tongues.
This was an extraordinary gift demonstrated on the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached to the thousands of people who were there. They spoke different languages and yet his message was understood by all as if he were speaking their language only. That was the gift of tongues, the ability to speak foreign languages that were not known by the speaker. This gift, for some reason, was highly prized by the Corinthians and its practice was accompanied by all kinds of abuse.
~Some were able to translate or interpret the message to others.
No translation was necessary on the Day of Pentecost, but this wasn’t the case in Corinth. Because many couldn’t understand the language being used, an interpreter was needed. The gift of tongues was designed especially for the Jew (14:21-22). “Tongues speakers” as they call themselves today have to ignore these chapters from God’s Word in order to do what they do. Like the other gifts, “tongues” were subject to satanic imitation. They still are. Pagans claim to “speak in tongues.” Missionaries tell us of witch doctors who babble and speak “jibberish”, which is the same thing that occurs today when people claim to speak in tongues. It is incredible that anyone could attribute “jibberish” and ecstatic utterances of confusion to the work of the Holy Spirit.