Biblical Study on Spiritual Gifts
Take Up the Challenge
ALL Christians Have a Spiritual Gift
Love, the Most Excellent Way
The Greater gifts
Prophecy Is Preferred Over Tongues
What Is the Biblical Definition of
The Purpose of Tongues
Limits on Tongues and Prophecy
to challenge you right now to set aside ALL you have heard from any
person about the gift of discernment or any other gift and even what
you think you know from your own experience, and come with me on a study
through the Bible to see what God has to say about this gift as well
something in the Bible, the first place to start is to find out where
the Bible talks about it. You
can do this by using a concordance (if your Bible has one in the back
or you can use one online, such as the one at http://www.crosswalk.com
There are three major passages that are referred
to when dealing with the subject of spiritual gifts, Ephesians 4:11-13,
Romans 12:3-8, and 1 Corinthians 12-14. These three passages have listings of specific examples of gifts
that are given to us. Lets
start with the passage in 1 Corinthians 12
this is a long passage
so I will not cut and paste it all, but I ask the reader to please read
it for yourself so you will know exactly what it is saying.
In 1 Cor. 12:4-6, we read:
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. From this we can see that the types of gifts people get can vary
from person to person, but they all come from the same God. In the next verse, we see that ALL Christians
are given at least one spiritual gift and we see the reason why we are
given gifts. Now to each
one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. Then we see a listing of some of the gifts
the Spirit gives.
If we go down to verse 11, we
see that these gifts do not come out of our own choosing, but only out
of Gods sovereignty. He
chooses which gifts to give and to whom.
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and
he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
After this verse, Paul launches
into a great analogy of how believers are like a body, with all parts
having various functions, but all are equally necessary for the body
to function correctly. Again,
Paul gives a list of some spiritual gifts and then asks if everyone
was meant to have these gifts: Are
all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
From the context, we can see that he assumes the answer to these
questions will all be no. We
were not created to all serve the same function in the body of Christ. If we were all called to teach, who would the
teachers teach? The whole body
cannot be an eye or how could the body survive?
I think in dealing with spiritual
gifts, the last verse of 1 Cor. 12 is almost always overlooked -- and
yet, it is of vital importance. But
eagerly desire the greater gifts. And
now I will show you the most excellent way.
Then Paul launches into one of the most quoted chapters of the
Bible, the love chapter. It
is not by chance that Paul includes this chapter in the middle of his
discourse to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts.
The Corinthian church was one that had many problems in it. The culture of that city was very corrupt and,
as young Christians, that church made many mistakes. The purpose Paul had in writing this letter
was to help to correct some of the misunderstandings the Corinthians
and obviously, spiritual gifts caused great confusion for that
body of believers.
In 1 Cor. 13:1, we read: If
I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am
only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
As we read the entire book of 1 Corinthians, we can see that
one problem they had in the Corinthian church was that the speaking
in tongues was very much out of hand.
People were not practicing the gifts as they were meant to be
done and this was causing chaos during their meetings.
If you read the entire book, you can see that chapter 13 was
the heart of the message Paul was trying to get across to this church.
He wanted the people there to see that spiritual gifts mean absolutely
nothing if they were not done out of pure love for others. Just to speak in tongues so you could feel as if you were on a higher
spiritual plane than others was what Paul was condemning. He wanted the believers to have other peoples
best interests in front of them, i.e., love. Spiritual gifts gain nothing if they are not for the good of others.
Gifts are not for ourselves, but for others, and of course, for
the ultimate purpose of bringing glory to God.
reminds the Corinthians of their priorities:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the
greatest of these is love. Spiritual
gifts are very temporary, for this earthly life only, but our faith
in God, our hope for His return and our love for Him because of how
He has loved us, those will always be with us.
In other words, spiritual gifts are nice, but the real deal is
to have faith, hope and love. These are the things God wants us to focus
on and grow strong in
and the best one to have is love.
Now Paul begins a discourse about which of the gifts
are greater gifts. In
1 Cor. 14:1, we read: Follow
the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift
of prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not
speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries
with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their
strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue
edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like
every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.
He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless
he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
The gift that Paul esteems as
one to eagerly desire is the gift of prophecy.
Please understand that the word prophecy has two
basic meanings. The first is a fore-telling of
the future events. (You can
find this yourself by going to http://bible.crosswalk.com/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=4395&version=kjv
) This was how God spoke to
His people before Jesus came into the world.
After that, however, Hebrews 1 tells us that God no longer needed
that kind of prophet because Jesus (and the apostles writing on His
authority) have already given us all the information we need.
That is why we must reject those who come to us claiming to have
some new revelation knowledge from God.
This is contradictory to Hebrews 1.
God says that He has spoken.
Period. He has given us all we need for life and godliness
(2 Peter 1:3). To think He has
to add more special revelation now is to question part of
Gods character: 1. He must not have been able to foresee all that we would have needed,
2. He must need our help to
finish up what He is evidently incompetent to do without us humans helping
Him, or 3. He has changed His
mind about being finished with that kind of revelation.
One of the marks of a cult is where they add special new
revelation to what the Bible already says.
The second meaning of the word
prophecy means a forth-telling of Gods
truth. This is what a good preacher will do as he unfolds the words of
God so people hear Gods truth.
This does not mean the person has special knowledge
of hidden things, however.
This means that God inspires them to show people in the Bible
what God has already said to us. A prophet of this kind has the ability to
move people into spiritual action by speaking out boldly about the Bible
and the truth it contains. This
is how the gift of prophecy is to be used today, according to the Bible. And this is exactly why Paul considers this
one of the best gifts to desire. What
better thing than to show people the truth about God and to move them
closer to a relationship with Him through what you say?
Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians
14:2-5 to compare the gift of prophecy and the gift of tongues and he
gives the reasoning as to why he believes that prophecy is superior
to tongues. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does
not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters
mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men
for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in
a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather
have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks
in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
Here we see Paul saying that speaking in tongues without someone
to interpret it is a rather selfish use of a spiritual gift.
As we have said above in 1 Corinthians 12:7, the purpose of spiritual
gifts is for the common good of all.
I have heard many say that because
speaking in tongues helps to build them up, it therefore helps build
up the body of Christ, but I dont think this way of thinking is
consistent with how spiritual gifts are described throughout these passages. There are no other gifts that are focused inward
for our own edification. Instead,
they are all focused outward, to build up the body by building up each
other. To say you are going
to exercise your spiritual gift for the purpose of building only yourself
up is, well, just plain selfish. That
is not the purpose behind them. Also,
we must understand that Paul was writing this letter to correct some
problems in the Corinthian church, and Pauls major focus was to
tell them to love each other, not to love themselves.
Our focus when we use our gifts should be for the sake of others,
not for our own sakes. If everyone builds everyone else up, then your
needs will be met by others in the body of Christ as you concern yourself
with building up others.
Paul continues on here in 1 Corinthians
14:6-12 to again show what role tongues should play in our churches.
Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what
good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge
or prophecy or word of instruction? Even in the case of lifeless things
that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what
tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear
call, who will get ready for battle?
So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your
tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking
into the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages
in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I
am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager to have
spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.
In this passage we see that tongues
are of no use unless they are interpreted. Unintelligible words do no one any favors. If I spoke to you in French but you did not
understand French, how would that be beneficial to you? I could be telling you the most wonderful things
in the universe, but if you had no understanding of what I was saying,
I might as well be telling you a list of my dirty laundry. Unless you speak intelligible words with
your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. This brings us to a question: What exactly is meant biblically by speaking
For this, we must again go to
our lexicon to study both what the meaning is of the word tongues
and also what other locations in the Bible use this same word. We can find the lexicon entry for the Greek word tongues
. Here we see that this
word is used a total of 47 times in the New Testament (remember, the
Old Testament was not written in Greek) and as we look, we see that
it is the same usage as in Acts 2 where the gift was first given to
As you read through this passage
in Acts 2, take a very close look at it. Here is a detailed example of exactly what the gift of tongues is.
The Christians all spoke in what they thought was their own language,
but it came across to anyone who heard it in that persons own
language. This would be like
me speaking in English, but a French person hearing it in French and
a Spanish person hearing it in Spanish and a German person hearing it
in German, all at the same time! As
you can see from this context, the tongues they were speaking in might
have been unknown to the actual people speaking them, but they were
all real, actual languages. And
the purpose of this phenomenon was to tell people of the risen Christ
and for that purpose only.
If we go back to 1 Corinthians
14:22, we see what Paul says is the purpose of tongues: Tongues,
then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers. Why would they serve as a sign to unbelievers
if the unbeliever couldnt understand what the person was saying?
Wouldnt it be more of a sign to an unbeliever if, lets
say someone who spoke only Russian happened upon a church service in
English, among people who did not at all speak Russian, and yet, when
the unbeliever entered, people began to tell him about Jesus in his
own tongue, Russian? I have
witnessed the reactions of unbelievers when they see Christians speaking
in the type of tongues that are not real, actual languages on earth. Their reactions were to be pushed further away from God instead
of drawn into a closer relationship with Him.
Again, Paul must have witnessed a similar
thing going on in the Corinthian church because once again, we see him
speaking words of correction to them.
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks
in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come
in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever
or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying,
he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by
all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall
down and worship God, exclaiming, God is really among you!
1 Corinthians 14:23-25 The confusion
we often see on TV or in some churches today where tongues are being
spoken and no one understands them is not the thing to impress unbelievers. Instead, Paul says here that the thing to REALLY
impress them is to talk to them about Gods truth, to tell forth
what God has said in the Bible, that is when the person will come under
conviction in their hearts and fall on their knees to worship God.
At this point, Paul gives some very specific
guidelines that are to be followed if you exercise the gift of tongues.
1 Corinthians 14:26-33 says, What then shall we say, brothers?
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction,
a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done
for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the
most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should
keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three
prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is
said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is
sitting down, the first speaker should stop.
For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed
and encouraged. The spirits
of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
Here Paul reiterates the purpose for our spiritual gifts: for the strengthening of the church.
Notice here that Paul sets limits
on how many can speak in a tongue.
He says that no more than three should speak during that time
of worship. And if there is
no interpreter, they are to remain quiet and not speak in tongues. Many churches today teach that all should speak
in tongues, but, as we have already seen in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30,
not all are expected to speak in tongues, just like not all are expected
to be teachers. Here we see
that this gift has limits on what is to be shared with the rest of the
body of Christ.
I have also heard some say that
they have no control over when they speak in tongues or prophesy. This passage contradicts that thought. Paul clearly limits how many can speak in tongues.
If he could do that, then either God is subject to what Paul
ordered here (not!) or people can indeed control when they speak in
tongues and when they dont. Also, in regards to prophets, once again, we
see Paul giving a clear indication that prophets can control their prophecies.
The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control
of prophets. They can indeed control themselves.
Why does Paul give these limitations
on these two gifts? I think
we can logically conclude that it was because the Corinthian church,
as several churches today, was abusing these gifts and not using them
in the correct fashion. These
gifts, as do all spiritual gifts, have their place in the body of Christ,
but we must always remember, For God is not a God of disorder
but of peace. When any church service or meeting becomes
chaotic, you can be certain that God is no longer in charge. If you are searching for a home church, keep
this point in mind. If the service
seems to be normally chaotic (and remember, disorder here is used in
the same vein as chaotic), avoid that church.
God is a God of peace.
Therefore, my brothers,
be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting
and orderly way. 1 Corinthians
14:39-40 Here yet again, Paul
calls the Corinthians back to order in the way they worship. The major focus is still maintaining a fitting, orderly, peaceful
time of worship.
This is the end of part one of
this article. Part two will
continue on with learning about other specific gifts.