Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. John 14:12
Opening prayer: Father, how should I view the gifts of Your Holy Spirit, and how can I know which ones are for me? Please help me understand Your plan to equip me for service.
For many years, I was puzzled by our Lord's words in the Scripture passage above. They must be true because Jesus Himself spoke them. But how could mere human beings do greater works than raising dead people to life or calming violent storms with a word?
Eventually I realized that Jesus' words were true on two levels:
- First, His body, the Church, would continue His ministry -- teaching, preaching and healing -- until He returns in glory. As a group, led by His Holy Spirit, we can accomplish great things -- even miracles -- in His name.
- Second, individual members of the Church can be led by the Holy Spirit to do mighty works in His name.
The key is being filled with the Holy Spirit and then being led by the Holy Spirit to do the work of ministry.
Great! But how do I start?
The important first step is to realize that we can't do the Lord's work in our own strength, using only our natural giftings. You might have been born with great intellectual capacity, impressive oratorical skills or delightful musical gifting. You should be grateful for these gifts. But the Holy Spirit has a different set of gifts -- the tools for doing the work of Christian ministry.
The operation of these tools was essential to the growth and survival of the early Church. Their operation is still essential to the growth and survival of the present-day Church. The present-day Church is dysfunctional to the extent that it misunderstands and wrongly applies these precious gifts.
This is not a "fringe" subject. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not exclusive items that are attained only by pastors or some religious elite. God Himself gives us these gifts. They are essential to building up His Church.
Our Lord Jesus gives a clear picture in John 3, verses 5-7:Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'"
This new birth is receiving an implant of God's own Nature, as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart in response to our faith. See Transformed by the Big Loophole for details. Suddenly we have a new nature, which didn't exist in us before.
As a separate transaction, we need to be filled with power by the Holy Spirit, as described in the lesson Baptized with the Holy Spirit. If you haven't yet studied these lessons, I encourage you to click on the titles and do so now.
Once a person has been baptized with the Holy Spirit, he or she will start becoming a different person. This will happen in two different ways:
- The Holy Spirit will empower the believer with new abilities, called "The Gifts of the Holy Spirit." These gifts enable the believer to do the Lord's work in new (and sometimes miraculous) ways. Think of them as "birthday gifts" in honor of our new birth.
- As the believer makes daily conscious choices to submit to the gentle leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the believer's character is changed. The resulting new character traits are called "The Fruit of the Spirit" -- subject of the next lesson in this series.
Let's begin by reading from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 1 through 3:Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: 2 You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
Hold it, teacher! What do verses 2-3 have to do with miraculous gifts of the Spirit?
Good question! Paul was simply injecting some common sense. Before we became born again, we were led astray by all kinds of religious influences. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Unfortunately, even born-again believers can be misled. If we feed our new, born-again nature with Scripture study and prayer, the Holy Spirit will lead us in truth. If we don't feed our new natures, we can still be led astray by religious charlatans.
The charlatans are out there, in great numbers. You've seen them on religious TV, exhorting their faithful to "invest" in their prosperity gospel. You might even hear them say, "Jesus is Lord," in an attempt to sound Scriptural.
But Paul wasn't talking about the mere words "Jesus is Lord." The demons of Hell can say "Jesus is Lord" as a statement of fact, without being led by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus walked the earth in human form, several demons addressed Him as "Son of the Most High God." That didn't make them born-again believers. Paul meant that nobody can SUBMIT to Jesus AS Lord unless he or she is moved by the Holy Spirit to do so.
In fact, residents of the Roman empire were required to proclaim, "Caesar is Lord" on demand, to show their loyalty to Caesar. To say "Jesus is Lord" was to sign your own death warrant. That type of sincerity only comes when a believer is moved and empowered by the Holy Spirit. How many of the TV-only "ministers" have that type of sincerity?
In the next four verses, Paul lays down some important principles:There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.
Don't these verses all say the same thing?
- Verse 4 tells us that there are different gifts given to different people. If all the people in a group are operating in different gifts in submission to the Holy Spirit, there will be a supernatural harmony and peace despite their diversity.
- Verse 5 emphasizes that God calls different people to different categories of ministry. Most of us are not called to be ordained ministers of the gospel. However, all of us are called to be ministers to those around us. We are all called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
- Verse 6 tells us that even within "similar" ministries, the Holy Spirit leads different ministers to perform different activities. Not all evangelists are on TV. Not all have open-air stadium ministries. Not all teachers are pastors, and not all pastors are gifted as teachers.
- Verse 7 is the summary: God gives different gifts to each person individually, but He wants the gifts to benefit His people as a group. Properly used, the gifts of the Holy Spirit will inevitably build up the body of Christ, the Church. Selfishly used, the gifts of the Holy Spirit don't help anybody.
In verses 8-10, Paul gives us a partial listing of the gifts:For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
Notice that in this first grouping, Paul lists the gifts without explaining them. Apparently his readers were quite familiar with the gifts. They had either personally experienced or seen these gifts on a daily basis.
But what ARE these gifts?
In general, these are distinctive gifts conveyed by the Holy Spirit to the believer. They involve spiritual power working through a human agent. These gifts are given AFTER the recipient becomes a born-again believer. Before you came to the Lord, did you walk around discerning spirits or miraculously healing your friends? Were you born speaking prophetically for God?
Please note that these are not enhanced versions of the natural gifts that God bestowed on us at birth. Your natural gifts may include musical talent, verbal skills or athletic abilities. After you come to the Lord, the Holy Spirit may enable you to use your natural talents in a ministry context. But natural gifts are quite different from spiritual gifts.
You've probably noticed that the devil has cheap imitations of these powers, but they surely aren't "gifts." The enemy of your soul dangles spiritual power as BAIT, to entrap the foolish. There's a huge difference between Spirit-gifted believers and demon-possessed persons. Unfortunately, many of the latter group actively pretend to be the former. More on that subject later.
Let's go through Paul's first list.
Word of wisdom
Wisdom is simply applied knowledge. We experience the word of wisdom when the Holy Spirit gives us supernatural wisdom in a particular situation. In the 7th chapter of the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit enabled Stephen to speak Scripture and history in a remarkable way.
In your daily walk, the Holy Spirit will sometimes empower you to share the Gospel with another person. The Holy Spirit will miraculously give you words to touch the heart of that person. When it happens, you KNOW that your intellect didn't concoct that word of wisdom. It came from the heart of God, as a gift to that soon-to-be believer.
If you regularly study Scripture, the Lord will often illuminate your understanding, and show you how to apply the Word during the day. The word of wisdom will always help one or more believers and thereby edify (build up) the Body of Christ.
The word of wisdom is not a flashy gift, and the charlatans don't mimic this during their fund-raising campaigns. But it comes first on God's list for good reason. Godly wisdom is one essential to your walk with God. Consider these words from Proverbs chapter 3:Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding; 14 For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. 16 Length of days is in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor. 17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who retain her.
Think about it. Wisdom is a profound gift from the Lord, and one that He delights to give us, if we diligently seek it.
If wisdom from God can bring happiness, long life, riches, honor and peace, we can stop right here and be content. But God has other gifts to bestow.
Word of knowledge
Sometimes the Holy Spirit reveals something that the believer couldn't possibly have known otherwise. In Acts chapter 5, the Holy Spirit told Peter that Ananias was lying.
Sometimes in your prayer times, the Lord will reveal something to you. Maybe that word is for you: to encourage you or convict you of a particular sin.
On rare occasions, the word is for (or about) somebody else or some group. In any case, the Holy Spirit bestows these words of knowledge to accomplish His own purposes.
Please exercise great wisdom concerning the word of knowledge. If someone gives you "a word from the Lord," you must evaluate that word in the light of Scripture and in the context of what you KNOW God is doing in your life.
By the same token, don't be offended if you share a word of knowledge with somebody and that person doesn't immediately take action. Sure, YOU believe it's from the Lord, but the Holy Spirit and Scripture must make that word real for the intended recipient.
The word of knowledge is not God's answer to the Psychic Hotline. When you receive such a word, immediately ask the Lord for wisdom in how to apply it.
God LOVES to see us exercise faith in Him. He grants us eternal salvation when we exercise faith in the redeeming sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, rather than in our own righteousness. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), so faith must be as natural for the Christian as breathing. But this faith is something special. At specific times, God gives us clear directions to step out in faith in a particular situation, and the results are often miraculous (at least in our eyes).
We exercise faith when God's promises are more real to us than our circumstances. We exercise faith when we act on the basis of God's will, as revealed in Scripture and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.
An important principle is shown in Romans 10:17:So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
The word of God is revealed to us in two ways. There is Scripture (the Greek word logos), which shows us God's general will. There are also times when the Holy Spirit quickens a particular Scripture or otherwise gives us a word (the Greek word rhema) concerning God's specific will in THIS situation. The passage above uses the word rhema, meaning that faith is when we respond to the Holy Spirit's specific guidance.
In the book of Judges, chapter 6, the Holy Spirit came upon Gideon. Then the Lord directed Gideon to act in faith to defeat an opposing army of about 130,000 Mideonites (Judges chapter 7). God told Gideon to send 99% of his army home, so that Gideon's band of 300 men could defeat the enemy simply on the basis of God's power. Gideon did, and God did.
The boy David acted in faith on the Scriptures, facing the giant Goliath. David didn't trudge forward speaking dull religious platitudes. David shouted out praises for the power and glory of the God of Israel. Then he RAN to what his brothers KNEW was certain death at the hands of the Philistine. God knew differently. David's faith overcame his circumstances.
If you read the book of Acts, you'll find dozens of examples where disciples acted in faith on God's Scriptures and in response to the direct leading of the Holy Spirit. These days, we have a LOT more Scripture than the early disciples. More of God's will has been written down and published for all to see. But that doesn't free us from the responsibility of asking God to guide us in situations where His will isn't perfectly clear.
Gifts of Healings
Notice that the Bible talks about Gifts (plural) of Healings (also plural). These are individual packages of healings given to specific persons. Your friend next door may receive healing from a cancerous condition, or somebody in New York may receive a healing for a chronic kidney problem. These are gifts to the specific persons, from God.
Healings are a very precious gift from God. All sickness comes as a result of Adam's fall, as the wages of sin. Therefore a healing is more than a welcome relief from suffering. It is a miraculous, partial reversal of The Curse, a special act of God's love in our behalf.
God is willing to bestow a gift of healing through the prayers of any Spirit-filled Christian, assuming a healing is God's will for the recipient.
Some believers are greatly used by God as a conduit for His healing gifts. In most cases, these believers are successful in their prayers because they are good listeners. They pray to HEAR the will of God FIRST. Then they can pray with 100% confidence because they are lined up with God's will in that situation.
That's why I'm not completely comfortable speaking about individuals having "The Gift of Healing." That puts the emphasis on the brother or sister doing the praying, rather than on God or the recipient of the gift of healing. I'd rather say that brother or sister has "The Gift of HEARING" -- a special case of the Word of Knowledge discussed earlier.
"...to another the working of miracles..."
Let's stop here and compare God's plan to our weak flesh (human) nature. God wants to give us the gifts in a deliberate sequence. He wants us to receive Wisdom, Knowledge and Faith before we start praying for healings or other miracles. Unfortunately, human nature is foolish, ignorant, faithless and impatient. We like the EASY way, the convenient way, the spectacular way. We want to jump in and start praying for great riches or spectacular miracles before growing in spiritual maturity.
God's plan is better. He wants us to enter His Kingdom as little children: with enormous capacity to learn and grow, but limited power and authority at first. As a 12-year-old boy with big feet, I was repeatedly told I would "grow into" the feet. Likewise, God will enable us to "grow into" full operation in His gifts.
It takes a lot of Wisdom and Faith to discern God's will for a miracle. But if we are abiding in Christ and faithfully studying Scripture, the Holy Spirit will show us His will. Just don't be surprised (or impressed with yourself) when He asks you to work a miracle. The Lord will occasionally ask you to pray for a miracle. Miracles should be a normal part of our walk. We should always have our hearts tuned to hear God's voice -- just in case.
Does God want to make a spiritual miracle worker out of me?
Maybe. But not necessarily. Most of the time, the work of the Holy Spirit is quiet and hidden. Most of His work involves changing our hearts and character to be useful to Him.
You wouldn't dream of letting a child play with a loaded gun. A wise parent first instructs the child over time before trusting him or her to act responsibly. Likewise the Holy Spirit seeks to change our hearts, to make us more like our Lord, before entrusting us with great power.
"...to another prophecy..."
God's prophets work two ways. Most of the time, they speak forth God's will in accordance with Scripture. At certain times, they will foretell future events.
In real life, prophecy works like a combination of the Word of Wisdom, the Word of Knowledge and Faith. The prophet operates in the Lord's wisdom, and speaks in faith in obedience to the Holy Spirit.
Some characteristics of prophets:
- God's prophets always seek to glorify God. They trust God in every circumstance, and delight to declare His faithfulness to His Word.
- God's prophets always seek to know God's will through Scripture. Their hearts are prepared by diligent study.
- God's prophets always seek to edify other believers. As Jesus said, "Freely you have received; freely give."
- God's prophets always speak according to the will of God, consistent with Scriptures.
- God's prophets always speak the truth, and their predictions are 100% accurate. In the Law of Moses, just ONE wrong prediction was enough to qualify a person for stoning. Today's prophets would walk more humbly if these rules still applied.
If somebody CLAIMS to be a prophet but consistently falls short in these areas, he or she is a false prophet -- a wolf, looking for weak sheep. Such a person is NOT a brother or sister in Christ and must be quickly removed from your fellowship. Don't even eat lunch with him/her.
On the other hand, some well-intentioned Christians think they've heard from the Lord on certain subjects, and make silly predictions about the future. Their behavior brings dishonor upon God and His church. Forgive them, but bring the wrong predictions to their attention in a loving way -- just as you would for any other type of sin or shortcoming. The Holy Spirit will guide you and give you wisdom, if you ask Him.
"...to another discerning of spirits..."
To be honest, most believers are a little bit uncomfortable with this gift. We don't WANT to know how many demons are floating around out there. It sounds pretty scary.
Fortunately, God doesn't ask us to go around counting demons. But there are specific times when we absolutely MUST know the truth of a particular situation. For example, we must know:
- Whether a person's words and actions are motivated by the Holy Spirit, by a demon, or by that person's own flesh nature. Pastors, in particular, must constantly exercise this discernment. Likewise, you and I must exercise discernment concerning our pastors and teachers. You should pray for discernment about me and these lessons. And you must really pray for discernment when you are around people operating in the Spirit gifts; the enemy is always seeking to infiltrate our home groups and prayer groups.
Even right-on teachers and pastors have bad days and crummy messages. Your discernment will enable you to know whether their teaching is demonic or just uninspired.
Likewise, some really "off-center" teachers can seem to have right-on messages. Nothing wrong with their words. The gift of discernment will enable you to know God's opinion, and will alert you to the little clues of demonic influence.
- When a demonic spirit is operating in a particular situation. Wake up, believers! When you feel down and depressed shortly after a major accomplishment for the Lord, wake up! It might be an attack from the enemy (revenge). Then, too, it might be plain old fatigue. Either way, you're very vulnerable when you're tired. Get "covering" prayer from your spouse or from a strong believer of the same gender. Let that person break the grip of the enemy and pray some steel into your shield. If you're in a tough situation and not sure of your discernment, click here to ask more detail.
Religious spirits love to operate in churches. The first instance of Jesus casting out a demon was in a synagogue. I've personally observed demonic powers operating in all types of churches, from mainline denominational to wild-side splinter groups. Even in very good church fellowships, a particular meeting can suffer a heavy lifelessness until somebody exercises discernment and prays (usually silently) to break it. One morning, I was guest-teaching a Sunday-morning Bible class and was surprised at the silent heaviness over everybody at the beginning. A few minutes later I discerned the spiritual oppression and said an instant prayer. The oppressing spirit immediately broke and fled, and the group became its usual cheerful gathering.
- When a particular person is demon-possessed. Most of the time, this will be obvious to a Spirit-filled believer. Instantly start praying for the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom to know God's will in that situation. Be careful to do nothing more or less than God's will, even if God's will is to walk away. And have faith that what God requires, He enables.
The tricky part is that "possession" is often a part-time situation, triggered by drinking or drugs. A short, soft-voiced woman in our apartment complex once become a raging monster during a drinking bout. She began throwing living room furniture through her front window, screaming profanity in a voice not her own. Before and after this event, she was congenial, educated and articulate. Without discernment, you would never have believed the story from any of the witnesses.
Does the content of this section shock you? Just remember Paul's words in Ephesians chapter 6, verses 12-18:For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints
According to this passage, God requires us to recognize the spiritual nature of our daily walk. We're in a battle, and you can't see the enemy. Therefore we must be watchful (verse 18) with our supernatural senses, exercising discernment along with the gifts of wisdom, knowledge and faith.
...to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues...
The "different kinds of tongues" is a most-peculiar gift. The most-famous example was when the 120 disciples began speaking in other tongues on the Day of Pentecost. God chose this day and this particular miracle to spread His gospel as rapidly as possible. Pentecost was a pilgrimage day, and devout Jews from everywhere were in town to observe the feast. Each of the pilgrims heard the disciples proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his own language. Just as each gift of healing is a partial reversal of the general curse on humanity, the gift of tongues on that occasion was a partial reversal of the curse and confounding of languages at Babel. While this type of miracle may have been repeated elsewhere, we have no record of it in Scripture.
In later passages in the Book of Acts, different groups of disciples spoke in tongues unknown both to themselves and their hearers. For example, before Peter could finish sharing the Gospel message with the Gentiles in Cornelius' house, the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles and they began speaking in other tongues. To fully appreciate how odd this miracle was, consider the conventional Scriptural pattern for believers:
- An unbelieving person hears the Gospel message and decides to become a believer.
- The formerly unbelieving person makes a profession of faith to begin trusting in the completed work of Jesus. At that moment, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the heart of the believer to perform His precious work of salvation and transformation.
- As an outward demonstration of his inward profession, the new believer gets baptized in water.
- At some point, perhaps at the first profession of faith or perhaps years later, the new believer prays to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, as described at the beginning of this lesson. Frequently, this will involve another believer praying for and laying hands upon the new believer.
- After the baptism with the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit will begin to appear.
The above is not the only way it can happen, but it had already become a tradition in the early church. Furthermore, the Apostles had only been sharing the Gospel with Jewish people and occasional Samaritans.
So? What's so wrong about that?
God didn't want the church of Jesus Christ to become a Jewish sect. He wanted all men, everywhere, to hear the Gospel message and live forever. The Holy Spirit acted to shake the Apostles out of their newly formed comfort zone.
The Holy Spirit made it clear to Peter that Gentiles could be converted and Spirit-filled exactly like Jewish believers. To drive home His point, the Holy Spirit came upon the people of Cornelius' house in a way that looked fanny-backwards to Peter.
These days, the gift of tongues is sometimes called "prayer language." It is a wonderful way to praise and worship the Lord in our private devotions. In public worship gatherings, the gift of tongues poses a problem. With rare exceptions, nobody understands what is being spoken in the prayer language. It sounds like utter foolishness. It can easily be faked. Even when genuine, it can be an irritating distraction. Worse, it makes unbelievers (and new believers) very uncomfortable.
As you are probably aware, the gift of tongues is very controversial. We will cover this subject in greater detail in a future lesson.
Before we end our discussion of individual gifts, let's talk briefly about certain odd behaviors that claim to inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The "Gift of Foolishness"
There are groups promoting activities not described in Scripture: hysterical laughter, growling like lions and barking like dogs. These practices don't glorify God. Barking doesn't lead sinners to Jesus. Hysterical laughter doesn't offer the water of the Holy Spirit to souls thirsty for God.
Jesus didn't act like that. Jesus arose up before dawn to pray in private. Then He quietly walked in the POWER of God, preaching the gospel, healing the sick and delivering sinners from death. Enough said.
Bottom line: Don't be fooled by all the hysteria and foolishness that some folks indulge in. Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, does not appreciate being blamed for their silliness. The Holy Spirit sometimes makes believers do surprising things, but you can bet He never makes people act foolish in front of TV cameras. To the best of my knowledge, there is no Gift of Foolishness. Foolishness is the opposite of Wisdom, which does come from God. Ordinary human flesh (and demons) can look plenty foolish without any help from God, thank you.
Putting Gifts in Perspective
As we said before, God gives us these gifts to build up His Church, the body of Jesus Christ. They may seem odd from a human perspective, but God has both a Plan and a Problem, as we'll see in the next few verses.
In verses 11-14 we read His Plan:But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free -- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
You're probably smarter than me, so maybe you understand these verses perfectly. But the more I study them, the more mysterious they appear.
Yes, I can easily understand that the gifts are personally distributed by the Holy Spirit. I can even understand that He gives us gifts individually, according to His own plan. But how can these individual gifts -- operating through rebellious, self-centered vessels like me and you -- possibly make us into something resembling a unified body? How can this body, consisting of such flawed individuals, EVER live up to the title of the "body of Christ?"
Please don't take this lightly. I'm a life-long student of human nature and group behavior. I've read hundreds of books, looking for answers about why people act the way they do. And the more I learn about human nature, the less I trust it.
Isn't human nature grand and noble?
Not so you'd notice. We're selfish. We're weak. We cave in to temptation. We quit under pressure. We quit even before the pressure begins. We're always looking for the easy way, the convenient way. We intuitively resist the activities that will strengthen us. We eat the foods that destroy our health. We'll willingly risk a lifetime of suffering and side effects in hopes of enjoying a few moments of illicit worldly pleasure.
Would you trust the eternal future of the human race -- to humans?
God did -- but He didn't trust our future to human nature. He entrusted our future to the operation of His Holy Spirit through the agency of human believers.
Amazingly, His plan works. At times, some of us get it right. At times, enough of us in a particular group submit our rebellious hearts to the leading of the Holy Spirit. At times, collectively, we resemble the body of Christ. At times, unbelievers come into our assemblies and sense the presence of the Lord and surrender their hearts to Jesus. At times, we minister to each other. At times, the Holy Spirit works healings and prophecies and words of wisdom through these mortal bodies of ours. It's a miracle.
The Problem: Cancerous Christians
The church's biggest problem isn't the aetheists or attacks from outside. The biggest hindrance to church health is cancer within the body.
Chemically, there is very little difference between a cancer cell and a normal, healthy cell in your body. The primary difference is behavioral. The normal cell contributes to (and will sacrifice itself for) the survival of the body. The cancer cell is purely self centered. The cancer cell will destroy other body parts in order to grow itself.
Likewise, a Cancerous Christian looks very much like any other. He or she may be a benign tumor, just taking up space. He or she may also be very active, attending services, singing songs, attending potlucks, reading books. Some Cancerous Christians actively seek, receive and visibly practice the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Cancerous Christian often attends seminary and enters the ministry as a "career."
But the Cancerous Christian is purely concerned with his or her own personal "growth." The Cancerous Christian wants a platform to exercise his/her gifts. Cancerous Christians are ambitious, and often seek leadership positions and public recognition for their works. They start TV ministries. They collect money. They even create "prosperity gospel" messages to justify their lavish lifestyles.
These people are visible cancers, disfiguring the body of Christ. These are the hypocrites that our unsaved friends despise.
God calls us to serve like Jesus. God calls us to arise up early, before sunrise, to seek His face and learn how we can serve Him each day. God calls us to repent of our selfish, self-centered, cancerous behavior.
Which body parts are most important? Verses 15-19 give insight:If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
The Church, the body of Christ, has a lot of diversity. In fact, there's more diversity than we're comfortable with.
Admit it: you and I are really invested in being just exactly who we are. So if we've dedicated a lifetime to being an ear, the feet will probably look very odd to us.
Verses 20-26 echo our earlier discussion of healthy believers vs. Cancerous Christians:But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Verses 23-24 are pretty subtle. Paul is talking about our internal organs and private parts. These "less honorable" or "unpresentable" parts are adorned with clothing ("...on these we bestow greater honor...").
Remember: the body of Christ is very complex and very diverse. It is a supernatural, spiritual entity. We can't begin to understand how our Lord works through all of us to work His program. Yet somehow He makes everything work.
Gift Ministries: The Body In Action
So how does all this work? We've read lots of Scripture about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And we've read lots about how each of us function as parts of the body of Christ. But how does all this look in real life? How do the gifts work to knit us together as a functioning entity?
Verses 27-28 give us insight into this mystery:Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
In the first part of this chapter, Paul described gifts of the Holy Spirit which the Holy Spirit gives to individuals. Now these verses explain that God gives us individuals with these gifts to minister within the church. Let's discuss these briefly.
The term "apostles" is usually reserved for the disciples personally chosen by our Lord during His earthly ministry (the original 12, less Judas) plus Paul/Saul of Tarsus. In Scripture, we have no record of disciples being ordained as apostles.
The Greek word apostellos, translated "apostle," means "one sent forth." It implies a sender, a message and a specific mission to accomplish.
In addition to the 12 men mentioned above, other individuals are described as apostles:
- In Acts 14:14, Paul and Barnabus are described as apostles.
- In Romans 16:7, two men -- Andronicus and Junia -- are described as "outstanding among the apostles..."
- In Galatians 1:19, Paul says he "...saw none of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother."
- In Hebrews 3:1, Jesus is described as "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession." In this context, Jesus was the first Apostle: He was sent forth by the Father to personally bring the precious message of redemption to fallen mankind.
In my personal opinion, the Lord still anoints and sends apostles to the church today. We certainly still have need of them. These men do the same tasks that the original 11 Apostles did immediately after Pentecost. They preach, they teach, they plant churches. They disciple others to carry the Gospel message and plant other churches. They are more than just successful pastors and teachers. They are more than just evangelists. They carry the seeds of planting entire church bodies. They demonstrate a hundred-fold or a thousand-fold fruitfulness in training other men and women to reach their full ministry potential.
Apostles may operate in all the gifts of the Spirit. As one pastor described it: "I look inside myself and don't see any gifts. But the Holy Spirit lives inside me, and He has all the gifts."
God gives prophets to the Church to serve as evangelists, pastors and counselors. In ministry context, we say these individuals function in the office of the prophet. They speak forth God's Word with clarity and consistency, to edify the individual members of the body of Christ.
Of course, men and women may operate in the gift of prophecy outside the formal context of ordained ministry, as we discussed earlier. In all cases, the Holy Spirit speaks through submitted vessels to build up all the members of the body.
The third gift ministry is teaching. Teachers make Scriptures come alive in the minds and hearts of individual believers. Teachers are not evangelists, nor do they generally function as prophets to the assembled congregation.
Some evangelists, pastors and prophets are also gifted as teachers. However, their ministry is to the congregation at large. Teachers are entrusted with the responsibility of working with believers individually and in small groups. A few teachers have become so popular that large groups gather whenever they speak. Nevertheless, all true teachers live for the opportunity of making God's Word real for people, and delight to share with individuals and small groups where they can directly interact with their students.
"...after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues."
Apostles, prophets and teachers are the three most-visible gift ministries. Then come these five: miracles, healings, helps, administrations and tongues. Like the first three, their operation is essential to the healthy functioning of the body.
- Miracles and healings, as discussed earlier, are a direct result of a believer's personal prayer life. If we are really praying in the Spirit (hint: praying in tongues can help here), we are in two-way communication with God. If we actively listen to God, He will reveal His will for miracles and healings.
- Helps and administrations are very dear to the heart of God, because they involve giving. Helps is easy to understand. A Spirit-filled believer is always ready to sacrificially help another person.
- The gift of administrations is something quite different and special. It involves planning, organizing and carrying out church programs. Some is done by pastors and church administrators. Some is done by volunteers. Unlike worldly administration, God's work cannot be done with fleshly talents. God's work is always an act of faith, performed at the direction of the Holy Spirit.
- The gift of tongues is valuable for building up individual believers and sometimes helpful in group settings. In prayer meetings that are primarily "believers-only" gatherings, praying in tongues as a group can be helpful. In such cases, the Holy Spirit can speak praise and worship through us, to help tune our hearts to His goals for the group. As we'll see in a future lesson, our "prayer language" is not a suitable vehicle for delivering prophetic messages to a group.
Let's conclude with verses 29 and 30:Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
The answer to these questions is self-evident. God gives gifts to whomever He pleases, for whatever reasons make sense to Him.
Pray earnestly to the Father to give you wisdom and courage regarding the gifts He gives you through His Holy Spirit. God wants you to be a healthy, contributing member of the church, the Body of Christ.
Our next lesson will explain the Fruit of the Spirit. A later lesson will give specific insight concerning the gift of tongues.
If you would like to ask further questions or discuss this in more detail, please feel free to send me an e-mail by clicking the "mail-to" link below. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can (assuming the first rapture event hasn't already happened).
Closing Prayer: Lord, Your love and power are too amazing to understand, but I'm grateful. Show me how to use these precious gifts to strengthen my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.