The Permanent Gifts of the Spirit
In the New Testament God gave spiritual gifts, or the ability to perform spiritual tasks for the Lord. Some of these continue to exist today.
The Gift of Teaching. One of the important gifts is the gift of teaching (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). After individuals were saved and became part of the church, they needed to be taught; and some in the church were given special ability to teach spiritual truth. An effective teacher is one who is yielded to God, who is taught by the Holy Spirit, and who is able to interpret and apply the Word of God effectively. Today, teaching is limited to the teaching of the Old and New Testaments. An unsaved person may have a natural gift of teaching but would lack the ability to teach spiritual truth.
The Gift of Serving. Some Christians are also given the ability to serve, or help, in various ways (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28). Practically every Christian has the ability to help in some way, but all cannot be leaders. Accordingly, Romans 12:7 states, if a Christian’s gift is serving, “Let him serve.” Obviously, much of the Lord’s work is manifest through helping or ministering.
The Gift of Administration. If one is given the gift of administration, or ruling (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:28), he should “govern diligently.” Not everybody can be a leader; not everybody has the gift of administration. Thus God gives some the ability to guide the church, and Christians who do not possess the gift of administration are exhorted to heed those who would administer the things of God and honor them by being obedient (Heb. 13:7).
The Gift of Evangelism. To the early church was given the gift of evangelism (Eph. 4:11), the ability to preach the gospel in such a way that souls are saved. All Christians, of course, are exhorted to spread the gospel. Timothy, who had the gift of a pastor, was exhorted to do the work of an evangelist even if his function was not exactly an exercise of that gift (2 Tim. 4:5).
The Gift of Pastor. One of the very important gifts in the early church was the gift of being a pastor (Eph. 4:11). The very word pastor refers to a shepherd who cares for his sheep. There is a similarity between what a shepherd does for his flock in caring for them, leading them, providing for them, and protecting them, and what a pastor does in relation to the church. It is of interest that in Ephesians 4:11 pastors are also linked to teachers, as if a good pastor is a teacher who feeds the flock through his teaching. By contrast, a teacher is not necessarily a pastor, but a pastor is always a teacher. Obviously, a shepherd who did not feed his flock would not be worthy of the name.
The Gift of Encouragement. The gift of encouragement (Rom. 12:8) has the thought of a special gift of admonishing and challenging people to do the work that God has given to them. It is, of course, directly related to the gift of getting people to do effective work for God.
The Gift of Giving. The gift of giving is a gift that every Christian should have to some extent. It is another gift of the Spirit (Rom. 12:8). Because a Christian is known by the way he handles his money in relationship to the Lord, every Christian should have a plan of stewardship that gives to the Lord proportionately as the Lord has blessed him. The gift of giving has in it the thought of being ready to give and being prompt in giving, and it is a work that is especially wrought in some Christians, though all Christians should exercise giving as a method of worship.
The Gift of Showing Mercy. Another gift is that of showing mercy (Rom. 12:8). This has in view mercy to the poor and needy and also to those in need of forgiveness.
The Gift of Faith. The gift of faith, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, has the thought of a person who is implicit in his faith in the Word of God, who accepts the Bible for what it is—the very Word of God. While all Christians should have faith, some have a clearer and more effective faith than others, but it is a gift that should be desired.
Temporary Gifts of the Spirit
All of the gifts previously mentioned are gifts that exist today. There are some gifts, however, that many believe to be temporary, that is, they ceased after the apostolic age ended. In the lifetime of Christ and of the apostles, miracles occurred frequently that were designed to attest to the truthfulness of what they preached. The miracles of Christ testified to His deity; the miracles of the apostles testified to the truth of the gospel that they preached.
Though God can always perform miracles and does today, there was a decline in miracles as the church matured and the New Testament was written. The purpose of the miracles was to give credibility to the message that was given. Once the New Testament was completed, credibility was transferred to the Scripture itself, and the Scriptures are the authority by which one preaches the gospel today.
It is significant that in the Bible there were three notable periods of miracles, periods that began and ended. The first was the period of Moses and Joshua as the children of Israel were led from Egypt to the Promised Land. Daily they gathered the manna from heaven in the wilderness. They experienced water in the desert and God’s protecting care over them in many ways. Once they were in the land, the manna ceased and the miracles that attended their journeys no longer existed. The miracles, however, gave credence to Moses and Joshua as God’s appointed leaders and authenticated them in their roles as prophet and leader.
A second period of miracles is found in the time of Elijah and Elisha. This was in a period of Israel’s apostasy, when the Word of God had been neglected. The miracles of Elijah and Elisha were to emphasize for the people of God that God did exist, that He was supernatural, that He was going to judge them, and that they should worship Him and obey Him. Once Elijah and Elisha passed from the scene, the special miracles that they performed ceased.
The third period of miracles in Scripture is that time in the New Testament during which Christ was on earth and the apostles lived and ministered. In this case, it was necessary for Christ to perform miracles as proof that He was indeed the Son of God in keeping with Old Testament predictions, and the apostles, likewise, performed miracles to demonstrate that they were operating in the power of God and that their message was from God. Once the New Testament was completed, however, this form of proof of credibility no longer was necessary as now the Bible itself could be quoted.
There is difference of opinion in the church today as to whether some of the gifts of the early church ceased or whether they continue. The true doctrine should be determined by the Bible itself rather than by human experience. It is obvious that the gifts of the early church are not being performed now in the same way they were.
The Gift of Apostleship. In the New Testament an apostle was one who was an official delegate, or one who operated under God’s orders in being sent. The word apostle occurs about seventy-nine times in the New Testament and is found in numerous passages referring to the office of the twelve apostles (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:14; 6:30; Luke 6:13). Certain individuals who were not of the Twelve were also called apostles as in the case of Paul (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1); Barnabas (Acts 14:14; cf. Gal. 2:9); Matthias (Acts 1:25-26); probably James (1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19); and Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6, 9). Several others are possibly classified as apostles: Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thess. 1:1; 2:6); Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25, where he is called a “messenger” of Paul); some apostles who are not named (2 Cor. 8:23); and Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16:7). Because the word “apostle” is used with various implications in these many references, those who were strictly apostles were those who had witnessed the Lord Jesus Christ, which would include Paul, who had Christ revealed to him. Others, however, were sent and were God’s official representatives even though they had not seen Christ visually.
Apostles were directly chosen by the Lord (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-14; Luke 6:13; Acts 9:15-17; 13:2; 22:10, 14-15; Rom. 1:1). In addition to being chosen by God the apostles usually had miraculous powers or the ability to perform miracles (Matt. 10:1; Acts 5:15-16; 16:16-18; 28:8-9). The twelve apostles were given the special task of preaching the gospel and therefore had the keys of the kingdom, which is the gospel message (Matt. 10:7-8; 16:19). The twelve apostles were promised that in the future millennial kingdom they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). As the ministry of the church multiplied following Pentecost, apostles were commissioned especially to uncover the truth of the church then being revealed (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 3:1-12). Though the basic qualification was that they should be eyewitnesses of the Resurrection (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1), it is obvious that some designated apostles were commissioned and given the gift without this experience.
It is important to note that apostleship is a gift of God, not something that is appointed by men (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). This is especially clear in 1 Corinthians 12:28, “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.” There is no provision for the gift of apostleship to be continued, and no one has authority to bestow the office today.
The Gift of Prophecy. An important gift in the early church was the gift of prophecy. This referred to people through whom God gave special divine revelation—sometimes about future events and sometimes about things that applied to the church currently. The gift of prophecy is mentioned in a number of passages (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10; 14:1-4). Some who are not designated as apostles were, nevertheless, prophets, such as Agabus (Acts 11:27-28). Also numbered among those who were prophets were Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Paul (Acts 13:1). Sometimes women had the gift of prophecy as indicated by the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). And Paul had the gift of prophecy because his life manifested direct revelation from God (Acts 16:6-10; 18:9-11; 22:17-21; 27:23-24). Numbered among the prophets also were Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32). To exercise the prophetic office the prophet received a message from God and the ability to deliver that message clearly and accurately. The message as such had the authority of God.
Such direct revelation, however, was not necessary once the New Testament was written, but those in the apostolic church who did not have a New Testament needed guidance in doctrines that were very important to the church. Though the gift of teaching, or expounding the truth of the Word of God, is clearly given in the present age, today no one has received the gift of prophecy in the sense that he could add one word to the Scriptures or one truth that the Scripture does not contain. In Revelation 22:18-19 a solemn prohibition is leveled against any who would want to add to the Bible. God continues to give guidance to Christians seeking the will of God (Rom. 8:14), but such guidance is not a normative doctrine that could be added to God’s Word.
The Gift of Miracles. God as God is able to perform miracles in any age at any time suitable to His purpose. However, the gift of miracles mentioned in Scripture (1 Cor. 12:28) was a gift that was primarily used in the New Testament to authenticate the message that the apostles would preach. Though some believe that miracles are still valid, it is obvious that most of the work of God today is not accomplished on this basis but on the basis of the teaching and preaching of the written Word of God. While the gift of miracles may be considered as having ceased, God can continue to perform miracles in answer to prayer if He so chooses. But when a miracle is performed today, it is for a different purpose than that of authenticating the person who performs the miracle.
The Gift of Healing. In the New Testament numerous cases are displayed where people were healed, especially in the lifetime of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30 healing is mentioned as a specific demonstration of the power of God. Such healing was beneficial to the human body and often corrected human ills that were unable to be cured by any other means.
God has not changed and miracles can be performed today, but it is questionable whether any individual has the gift of miracles, that is, the ability to heal all who come to him as was true in the case of Christ and of the apostles. Even in the book of Acts, however, healing was not as prominent a token of divine power as it was in the gospels.
The Gift of Tongues. In the church today there is a difference of opinion on whether or not tongues, as exercised in the early church, are given today as a spiritual gift.
The subject of tongues is not mentioned in the four gospels and only in Acts and 1 Corinthians in the rest of the New Testament. In the book of Acts speaking in tongues is mentioned three different times. The first time it is mentioned is on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) when the eleven apostles and other believers present spoke in tongues that were not native to them. This event followed the advent of the Spirit of God, the indwelling of the church, and the filling of the Holy Spirit. The authentic character of this miracle was attested by the fact that people who were there from various countries found Christians speaking in languages that they knew but which were foreign to the persons speaking. Therefore, it made the impression that God was in it and testified to the truth of the gospel as it was being preached by Peter. It was also a partial fulfillment of Joel 2:29, where it was predicted that the Spirit would be poured forth, though it is not the complete fulfillment, which will yet await the period preceding the second coming of Christ.
In Acts 10:46 a second instance of speaking in tongues occurred in the case of Cornelius. Just as in Acts 2, where the demonstration of speaking in tongues was necessary to prove beyond doubt that the message was from God, so in Acts 10, when Peter preached the gospel to Gentiles, he was surprised that the Gentiles received the same gift as the apostles did on the day of Pentecost, and speaking in tongues was the evidence of it. It proved to Peter they were saved.
A third reference to speaking in tongues occurred in Acts 19:6, where some who had known only the baptism of John were introduced to the Christian faith and then spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Though speaking in tongues has been a controversial doctrine in the church today, it should be obvious in Scripture itself that tongues do not occupy a leading role in the early church’s activities. Even though Paul claimed to have spoken in tongues, there is no instance where he used this as a method of preaching the gospel.
Whether or not one believes in tongues for today, the Scriptures are clear that there are certain regulations that govern the use of this gift. In 1 Corinthians 14 several principles are laid down: (1) Tongues were declared to be the least of the gifts and inferior to “strengthening, encouragement, and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:1-12). In this connection, Paul made the statement that five words of understanding were more important than ten thousand words in a tongue that is not understood (1 Cor. 14:19). (2) Tongues were to be used in the assembly only when the person speaking could interpret what he said (1 Cor. 14:13-20). (3) Tongues were intended to be a sign to unbelievers in fulfillment of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:22). Accordingly, it was not intended for the teaching of believers. (4) Speaking in tongues was to be regulated, and only two or three were permitted to speak in any one service, and then only if an interpreter was present (1 Cor. 14:26-38). It is probable that the gift of interpreting tongues also was a temporary gift; therefore, unless someone has this supernatural gift today, there should be no public speaking in tongues. (5) In a church assembly women were not to speak as a prophet or in tongues (1 Cor. 14:34-35). On the one hand, Paul recognized the validity of speaking in tongues in the apostolic period; on the other hand, other gifts were considered more important, those that minister directly to the edification of the church.
In summary, speaking in tongues is the least of the gifts; it is not a test of salvation today; it is not an indication of spirituality; and it is not inseparable from the baptism of the Spirit. These points are supported by the scriptural record concerning the use of tongues in the early church.
The Gift of Interpreting Tongues. The gift of interpreting tongues (1 Cor. 12:10; 14:26-28) was the ability to translate what others said in unknown tongues and give the meaning to the church. It is questionable whether anyone has the gift of interpretation today; and, if not, speaking in tongues would be limited to private exercise (1 Cor. 14:27).
The Gift of Discerning Spirits. In the early church it was quite necessary to distinguish between revelation from the Holy Spirit and deceitful revelation from Satan. Accordingly, some were given special gifts to discern truth from error (1 Cor. 12:10). There is a sense in which all Christians have some ability along this line as indicated in 1 John 2:27, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit just as it has taught you, remain in him.” Inasmuch as every Christian is indwelt, or anointed, by the Spirit, to some extent he has the ability to distinguish truth from error. An important exercise of this is to test whether what others preach is the true gospel that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2) and attempt to determine whether the revelation comes from God (1 John 4:1).
The doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit is very important because it emphasizes how in the body of Christ different people have different gifts. No one has all the gifts, and all the gifts are not necessarily given to any particular person. The challenge is for each person who has spiritual gifts to exercise them in the power of the Holy Spirit and to use them for the purposes for which God has given them to him.
1. How would you define the gift of teaching?
2. How would you contrast the natural gift of teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching?
3. How would you define the gift of serving?
4. What is the gift of administration?
5. What is the significance of the fact that not every Christian has the gift of administration?
6. What is the gift of evangelism?
7. Is it possible for one who does not have the gift of evangelism to preach the gospel of salvation?
8. What is the gift of pastor? How does it relate to the shepherd’s caring for his sheep?
9. What is the significance of linking pastors and teachers in Ephesians 4:11?
10. How would you define the gift of encouragement?
11. What is the gift of giving?
12. What is the gift of showing mercy?
13. What is the gift of faith?
14. What is the distinction between permanent spiritual gifts and temporary spiritual gifts?
15. Why were miracles necessary in the lifetime of Christ?
16. Can God always perform miracles? Does He do it today?
17. What was the purpose of the miracles in the New Testament?
18. Name the three notable periods of miracles, when they started, and when they stopped.
19. From the fact that previous periods of miracles stopped, can we draw a lesson concerning the ending of the third period of miracles?
20. What is the gift of apostleship? Is it given today?
21. Who gives the gift of apostleship?
22. How is the gift of prophecy to be defined?
23. Were all Christians prophets?
24. What is the gift of miracles?
25. How is the gift of miracles contrasted with the capacity of God to still perform miracles today?
26. What is the gift of healing?
27. Does anyone have the gift of healing today?
28. How is the gift of tongues defined?
29. Name three incidents in the book of Acts where tongues are mentioned.
30. Are tongues ever mentioned in the four gospels or in the epistles of Paul, except in 1 Corinthians?
31. If tongues are used today, what are some of the principles concerning its limitations?
32. What is the evidence that speaking in tongues was genuine in Acts 2?
33. Why was the gift of tongues exercised in Acts 10?
34. Why was the gift of tongues exercised in Acts 19:6?
35. How prominent was the speaking in tongues in the preaching of the gospel, such as Paul’s preaching?
36. What can we conclude by the statement that tongues are the least of the gifts?
37. What is the implication that tongues should be used only when an interpreter is present?
38. What was the purpose of the gift of tongues?
39. How often should people be allowed to speak in tongues in a given church service?
40. Were women allowed to speak in tongues in the church services?
41. How would you summarize the biblical teaching on the gift of tongues?
42. What is the gift of interpreting tongues?
43. What is the gift of discerning spirits?
44. Are all the gifts necessarily given to any one particular person?
45. What is the challenge to each person who has spiritual gifts?