It is customary for some couples in North America to bring a gift, such as chocolates, flowers, or dessert when invited to someone’s home for dinner. Similarly, when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us at the time of our new birth (1 Cor. 6:19-20), He comes with a gift. Freely given by God’s grace to all believers (Rom 12:6; Eph 4:7; 1 Pet 4:10), the Spirit distributes these gifts on behalf of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7-8). We do nothing to earn them. They are part of the benefits package that comes with our salvation. There is a fundamental difference between natural talents and spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12:1 “spiritual gifts” is literally “spirituals” in the original.1 They are things that pertain to the Spirit. These manifestations of the Spirit belong to the spiritual realm as opposed to our talents which belong to the natural one. Imparted by Him they enable one to effectively do what would be humanly impossible otherwise.
There is a richness to God’s grace evident in the infinite ways He reveals it. First Peter 4:10 describes His grace as manifold. The word “manifold” means diverse or multi-colored.2 So, it’s not surprising that His spiritual gifts, a demonstration of His grace, are as well. Diverse, because God has bestowed a variety of gifts with the Holy Spirit personally choosing the right one(s) for each believer (1 Cor. 12:7-11). He does not give the same gifts to everyone but each one receives at least one gift (1 Cor. 12:7). Multi-colored, in that though two believers may have the same gift, one may have it to a greater capacity and with it a different role than the other (Eph. 4:7). Also, each believer has their own distinct personality, meaning their gift will be uniquely manifested through them. When we use our gifts, we are administering God’s grace, and Peter challenges us to be good stewards of that grace. It is by God’s grace we utilize our gifts while simultaneously God channels His grace through us to those we are ministering to (Eph. 4:7; 1 Cor. 12:6; 1 Pet 4:11).
A number of Bible teachers have fittingly divided up spiritual gifts into three categories, the temporary sign gifts which were foundational for the early church, and the speaking and serving gifts which we still have with us today. The sign gifts described in the earlier First Corinthians epistle (12:8-10, 28), authenticated the ministry of God’s servants. By the time the Romans, Ephesians, and First Peter epistles were composed the sign gifts were becoming less prevalent and are not mentioned (Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 4:10-11). This further indicates that they were being phased out at that time.
Purpose of Spiritual Gifts
First Peter 4:10-11 specifically mentions the speaking and serving categories. The Spirit distributes these gifts with two primary objectives. The first is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and through Him glorify God (1 Pet. 4:11). In the speaking gifts, believers exalt Christ when they speak the very “oracles of God.” This means that their message is prepared in submission to and in fellowship with the Spirit. Their words concur with God’s Word and are delivered under the unction or anointing of the Holy Spirit. In the serving gifts, believers exalt Christ when they serve “with the ability which God supplies,” or in dependence upon His power. In both the speaking and serving gifts, Christ is exalted in the believer when others see the supernatural character of these gifts, His grace, power, and supply being evident in their service. Second, these gifts are given so that we may serve one another, building up the body of Christ (Eph 4:15-16; 1 Pet 4:8, 10). We are to fervently love one another (1 Pet. 4:8), demonstrating our love by ministering our gifts for their benefit and edification. When one gives somebody a birthday present, it’s given with the expectation that the recipient will use the gift for its intended purpose. How sad when believers let their spiritual gifts sit unused on the shelf because we all have a part in exalting Christ and building up His church. That is why Paul urged Timothy to stir up the gift that was in him (2 Tim. 1:6).
There are few periods in Scripture when signs predominated. They are primarily seen during the times of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and during the apostolic age. They served the purpose of authenticating God’s servant and His Word. They manifested grace to the Jews who were prone to looking for signs (1 Cor. 1:22). During the apostolic age they showed them that the church was a new work of God.
The first foundational gift was the apostles and their ministry (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). To be an apostle one had to meet four strict qualifications (Lk. 6:12-16; Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1). They had to have been chosen by the Lord Jesus3, followed Him during His entire public ministry, witnessed Him after His resurrection, and continued with Him until His ascension.
They laid the foundation4 of the church, receiving and declaring God’s revelation (Acts 11:28; 21:10-11; Eph. 2:20; 3:5), and giving confirmation of that Word through signs, wonders, and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12; Acts 8:6-7; Heb. 2:3-4). The apostles laid a completed foundation (1 Cor. 3:10-11). There are no new revelations today, for we have Christ – God’s complete and final one (Heb. 1:2). We must be true to the faith that was once for all delivered to us, and take care how we build upon it. His Word is a sacred trust and we guard it by faithfully and accurately proclaiming it. There are no apostles today because no-one qualifies and God’s Word is complete.
Second, was healing (1 Cor. 12:9, 28). This was the supernatural power to permanently heal real diseases (Acts 3:6-10; 4:29-31; 8:5-8; 19:12; 28:3-6). Third, was miracles (1 Cor. 12:10, 28). This included casting out demons, raising the dead, and overruling natural laws Acts 8:6-8; 9:39-41; 19:11-12; 20:9-12). God can still heal and work miracles but there is no evidence of believers with these gifts today.
The fourth sign gift was tongues (1 Cor. 12:10, 28). This was the supernatural ability to speak an unlearned foreign language. Tongues were primarily given for a sign to Israel because the gospel went to the Jews first. Later the Gentiles became the prime focus and made up the majority of the church (Acts 13:46-47). The last foundational gift is related to the fourth and was the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:10). This was the supernatural ability to understand an unlearned spoken foreign language and to orally interpret its message in one’s own language. It was ideal when one had both these gifts (1 Cor. 14:5, 13). There is no evidence of believers with the gifts of tongues or their interpretation today. • Endnotes: 1. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. Publishers, 1985) 2. Complete Word Study Dictionary (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2013) 3. The Lord revealed His will through casting lots in the case of Matthias (Acts 1:23-26) 4. Christ: His person, work, and doctrine To be continued in our next issue