How do the Gifts of the Spirit Work?

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1 Corinthians 12:8-11 (ESV)
For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Before we take a deeper dive into what each of the Gifts of the Spirit mean, there are a few misconceptions that need to be cleared up.

First of all, there is a dangerous doctrine that is somewhat prominent today known as “cessationism.” Cessationists believe that the Gifts of the Spirit stopped with the death of John the Disciple on the Island of Patmos. There is absolutely no Biblical evidence that supports the fact that the Gifts of the Spirit are no long active. If we believe that the Bible “is alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12), then the gifts Paul discusses in these verses are still equally as alive and active.

Secondly, the Gifts of the Spirit are for every believer. Some people believe that these gifts are only for certain people. Some people point to the fact that the term “gifts” in these verses is the word “charismata” in the Greek and claim that only Christians who attend charismatic churches have access to these gifts. Acts 10:34 declares that God is “no respecter of persons.” If we believe that verse, we should understand that God does not withhold any of His gifts from believers based on who they are or what church they attend. Instead, our Father offers His gifts to all of His children.

Finally, in an effort to build upon the second point, it’s worth noting that every believer does not have every gift operating in his or her life. At Christmastime, everyone does not receive the exact same gift. Instead, the gifts are chosen for the recipient by the giver. In the same vein, God knows what gifts His children are best suited for. If you have a toddler, you wouldn’t buy him or her a new car. If you have a teenager, you wouldn’t buy them baby toys. In the same way that you know how to choose gifts for the people in your life who is receiving them, God knows how His children will handle any of the gifts that He gives them.

With those three foundational principles in place, let’s take a deeper dive into what these gifts mean and what they look like in the lives of His people through the examples of these gifts working in the New Testament church.

Word of Knowledge

As Christians, we believe that God is all knowing and all present. Everywhere that we go and everything that we think, do or say is visible to Him. Since God knows all, sees all and is everywhere, He has access to knowledge that we don’t have. In some cases, God shares some of that information with one of His people who can then share a word of knowledge. This can be a form of encouragement or a form of correction.

One such example is found in Acts 5 when two members of the local church named Ananias and Sapphira brought some money to the church. They said that they were giving all the money that they had generated from the sell of a property. God knew that they were lying and shared that information with Peter who called them out for their lie. Both of them were struck dead by God’s wrath and carried out of the building.

Word of Wisdom

Wisdom largely relies on saying the right thing in the right way at the right time. Knowing what needs to be said but delivering it the wrong way can be detrimental. Additionally, saying the right thing at the wrong time can do serious damage. The gift of words of wisdom largely builds on the word of knowledge but combines the ability to deliver the message the right way at the right time.

In Acts 15, we read about a large disagreement between Jewish believers and Gentile believers. The Jews believed that the Church should still operate under the law of Moses while the Gentiles said it was obsolete. James, the half-brother of Jesus stood up and delivered a message that settled the entire debate. How? By saying the right thing in the right way at the right time.

Gift of Faith

It may seem odd to have faith (which all believers have according to Romans 12:3) as a gift. However, the gift of faith speaks more to people who genuinely believe with their entire being that God is able to do something that seems impossible.

In Acts 12, we find Peter in prison surrounded by multiple guards. In the middle of the night, while the local Church was praying for his deliverance, God miraculously brought Peter out of the prison. While some of the believers there were stunned that Peter had been delivered, it’s safe to assume that someone who was praying truly believed that God was doing the impossible.

Gift of Healing

There are still cases of miraculous healings today. Jesus healed countless people during His ministry, and He said in John 14:12 that His followers would perform the same works and even do greater works. Make no mistake about it, God still allows His people to bring healing to those around them.

In Acts 3, Peter and John were on their way into the temple when they encountered a man who was crippled, asking for spare change. Instead of offering him money (they had none), Peter and John touched the man and healed him in the name of Jesus.

Gift of Miracles

We throw the word “miracle” around very loosely. When watching a sporting event, we may say that a team made a miraculous comeback. However, the real definition of a miracle is “an event that supersedes all scientific and natural laws.”

In Acts 20, we read a story in which Paul preached an incredibly long sermon. In fact, he started early in the day and preached well into the night. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window seal when he fell asleep, fell out of the window and died. Paul went out and raised him back to life through the gift of miracles.

Gift of Prophecy

Some people view prophecy and a word of knowledge as the same thing, but they are two separate gifts. When someone has the gift of prophecy, God shares something through them much like He did in the Old Testament books of prophecy. It can be encouragement, admonishment or a prediction about a future event.

In Acts 11:27 and 21:10, we read about a prophet named Agabus who delivered multiple predictions about events that God had shown him that came true. It’s also worth noting that in 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, prophecy is the only gift that Paul told the church not to shy away from.

Gift of Discernment

It’s crucial that we understand that both God and Satan can cause supernatural events to happen. The important part for us is to be able to understand the source of the events that we see. That is the gift of discernment. It means to understand whether something is of God or if it came from the enemy.

In Acts 8, we read the story of Simon the Magician. He had performed multiple tricks through sorcery that he convinced the people were the acts of God. They lacked discernment. When Philip came to the area and preached the Gospel, Simon received Christ and gave up his wicked sorcery.

Gift of Tongues and Interpretation

These gifts, which go together, scare many believers because there is a lot of misinformation about them in addition to them being difficult to understand. The Bible records two different types of tongues. In Acts 2, the Church spoke in foreign languages, and everyone understood them in their own language. In 1 Corinthians 14:2, Paul discusses tongues as a heavenly language in which we speak to God. Both are still viable and active today, as is the gift of interpretation. When someone has the gift of interpretation, they can explain what someone said in a language that others around them will understand. It is a way of God getting everyone’s attention.

Paul lays out the ground rules for tongues and interpretation in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28, meaning that both are still active today.

A Closing Prayer:

God, I know that You have divine gifts for me. Help me to prepare myself to receive what You have for me so I can play my part in expanding Your kingdom. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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