Rethinking the Gifts of the Spirit: Part III

This will be the longest post in our present series. But I felt it would be better to keep this particular topic all together instead of breaking it up in pieces.

I want to briefly examine how I understand the spiritual manifestations of 1 Corinthians 12 in light of their usefulness. It seems to me that these manifestations can be divided into three categories: The revelatory gifts, the inspirational gifts, and the power gifts.

Note that these manifestations are different from other “gifts lists” in the NT (e.g., Romans 12) in that they are all supernatural in nature. To my mind, any supernatural act exhibited through humans in the NT can be ascribed to one of these nine manifestations. (By the way, I’ve addressed the so-called “Five-Fold Ministry Gifts” in a previous post.)


The Word of Knowledge. The word of knowledge is a word from the Lord to the believer revealing past or present facts in the mind of God. It is called “a word” of knowledge because it is simply a “part” or a “fragment” of the fullness of God’s mind (1 Cor. 13:9).

Peter demonstrated the word of knowledge when he supernaturally knew that Ananias and Sapphira had kept back part of the price of their land (Acts 5:3). Peter also received a word of knowledge concerning the three men from Caesarea who sought for him while he was praying upon the housetop (Acts 10:19). Another example of this gift was when Ananias of Damascus received supernatural knowledge that Saul had been converted (Acts 9:10-15).

The word of knowledge is helpful in counseling others. Through this gift, the Holy Spirit may show a person the spiritual condition of an individual and the means by which to help him or her. Further, the word of knowledge is extremely helpful in prayer.

Through it, the Spirit of God may reveal things to us that we could have never known through natural means, enabling us to pray more effectively. Just as the Spirit of God revealed the battle plans of the king of Syria to the prophet Elijah, so the Lord can reveal the strategy of the enemy through this gift (2 Kings 6:9-12). So just because God gives someone a word of knowledge doesn’t mean that they are supposed to share it with others.

And as I pointed out in Revise Us Again, it’s unnecessary and often counterproductive to use this gift by saying, “The Lord told me” or “God showed me” in front of it. It’s often much wiser to just make use of the knowledge to help someone with a problem. When Peter used it in Acts 5, for instance, he didn’t preface it by saying, “God told me.”

The Word of Wisdom. The word of wisdom is a word revealing God’s purpose for the future (Luke 11:49). Agabus demonstrated the word of wisdom when he foresaw a famine coming upon the whole world and when he foretold Paul’s persecution at Jerusalem (Acts 11:28; 21:10-11). God also revealed to Ananias the calling of Paul through this gift, showing him that Paul was to “suffer great things” for the Lord’s sake in the future (Acts 9:15-16).

The word of wisdom is helpful in revealing the Lord’s mind concerning His plan and purpose for the church as well as for the individual believer. Through the word of wisdom, the Spirit of God often prepares and warns the saints of impending danger, a coming attack of the enemy, or an upcoming move of God. Such knowledge is helpful in preparing us for the future and brings great glory to the Lord when such words are fulfilled. Again, it’s not necessary to say “God showed me” or “the Lord told me” when operating in this gift.

The Discerning of Spirits. The discerning – or distinguishing – of spirits enables one to perceive the spirit world. It may enable one to perceive demons, angels, or God’s hand upon an individual. Paul exercised this gift when he perceived that a damsel was possessed with an evil spirit (Acts 16:16-18). Paul also exercised this gift when he perceived the Lord’s hand of judgment upon Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:11). This is a valuable gift when ministering to others in a spiritual way.


Prophecy. To prophesy is to speak forth the present mind of the Lord. When people prophesy, they are speaking from a present burden granted to them by the Spirit of God. Prophecy may contain a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge. It always contains revelation or spiritual insight—which are part of this spiritual gift. Revelation or spiritual insight is the “input” side of this gift. Prophecy is the “out” side of it.

The word “revelation” is spooky to some people. It simply means an unveiling or an uncovering. When the Holy Spirit reveals truth to a person, the NT calls it “revelation.”

Prophecy may be lengthy or short. It may be given to an assembly or to an individual (i.e., “personal” prophecy). It may be expressed through the language of Scripture (Luke 1:67-79), it may be delivered through an analogy (Acts 21:11), or a direct message (Acts 21:4).

The content of prophecy is always Jesus Christ. Authentic prophecy always brings Christ into view (Rev. 19:10), for Jesus is the Truth and He is God’s revelation. So when a person prophesies, they are unveiling Christ. Prophecy, therefore, often occurs when a person preaches. If the individual is revealing Jesus Christ through their preaching and God is anointing it, they are prophesying.

The difference between teaching and prophecy can be summed up thusly: Through teaching, the believer expounds, interprets, and applies Scripture. Through prophecy, the believer reveals God’s will for the present moment. This, of course, can include predictions about the future, but such foreknowledge is always meant to prepare believers for the present hour.

Prophecy, then, is intensely present. It conveys God’s present burden for His people. Christ is unveiled in the present tense and there’s a present word of application attached to it.

Furthermore, prophecy is usually designed to recover God’s perfect will when it has been lost sight of. This was largely the function of the Old Testament prophets. They brought back God’s mind when it had been lost. When prophesying, one may or may not appeal to the text of Scripture (albeit, a true prophetic word will always harmonize with the principles of Scripture).

Teaching is acquired mainly through study, while prophecy is acquired mainly through revelation. Teaching ministers to one’s spirit primarily through the intellect. Prophecy ministers to one’s spirit primarily through the heart. Oftentimes, a believer may  prophesy while she or he teaches. A good example of this is to be found in some of Paul’s letters where he expounds the Scriptures as well as prophesies God’s present word to the churches.

Through prophecy, the present mind of the Spirit is uttered, ministering exhortation, edification, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3). Sometimes prophecy is given to an individual, making known his or her gifts and calling (1 Tim. 4:14) or by disclosing the secrets of their heart through a word of knowledge.

1 Corinthians 14:24-25 says, “But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believes not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.” Because prophecy is such a valuable gift in edifying the church, Paul spills a good deal of ink discussing it.

Different Kinds of Tongues. Different (various) kinds of tongues is a supernatural utterance in unknown languages. These languages have never been learned by the speaker, nor are they understood by her or him (1 Cor. 14:14). Some tongues are foreign earthly languages. Others are angelic languages (1 Cor. 13:1). This gift has a dual-role. First, tongues can be exercised for personal edification, whereby one privately communicates with God in the spirit (1 Cor. 14:2, 4, 14, 28).

Second, in its public use, tongues are to be accompanied with interpretation for the edification of the believers so they can understand what has been prayed (1 Cor. 14:27-28). Tongues is essentially a prayer language.

The Interpretation of Tongues. The interpretation of tongues is the supernatural gift that enables one to interpret (not translate) an utterance given in other tongues. Through this gift, one may interpret her or his own tongues (1 Cor. 14:13-18) or the tongues of another (1 Cor. 14:27). The purpose of this gift is to bring understanding and edification to the minds of those hearing the tongues (1 Cor. 14:2-5). Therefore, if tongues is spoken in a church meeting, the interpretation of tongues should accompany it, else the church will be unedified (1 Cor. 14:28).

Since tongues is prayer, the interpretation will also be a prayer. Since tongues is often confused in certain denominational churches, people will sometimes pray in tongues, then another person will follow it by prophesying. People will wrongly assume the tongues were interpreted.

According to Paul, the gifts of tongues and interpretation in the public meetings of the church served as a sign of judgment against unbelieving Jews in the first century (1 Cor. 14:21-22; Isa. 28:9-13; Acts 2:11-13). Even so, Paul makes clear that prophecy is superior to tongues and interpretation (1 Cor. 14:5).


The Working of Miracles. The working of miracles is the supernatural ability to effect miracles. A miracle is a Divine intervention in the normal order of things. It circumvents natural law. Miracles confirm the gospel message and display God’s power to deliver fallen humanity from the old creation. This gift was exemplified when Peter’s shadow healed the multitudes and when Paul was unharmed by the venom of a poisonous snake (Acts 5:15; 28:3-6).

The working of miracles was also displayed when Paul raised Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20:9-12) and when Paul and Silas were supernaturally delivered from prison (Acts 16:25-26). Today, miracles continue to confirm the truth of the gospel, as well as destroy the works of the devil (Mark 16:15-20), especially in superstitious nations where the culture believes in and is swayed by miraculous signs. The casting out of demons is also an example of this gift.

Gifts of Healing. This gift effects Divine healing in a person’s body. The fact that this manifestation is called “gifts” of healing suggests that those who possess this gift may have special graces to pray for different types of sicknesses. There are abundant examples of this gift operative in the book of Acts (Acts 3:7; 5:16; 8:7; 14:9-10; 28:8-9). Today, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Great Physician, still manifests Himself through this gift for His glory and honor (James 5:15; Mark 16:18). He is still “healing all who have been oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38).

The Gift of Faith. The gift of faith is a special kind of faith that produces and receives the working of miracles (Gal. 3:5). It is distinct from saving faith and from ordinary faith. Through the gift of faith, the believer may raise the dead, heal the sick, cast out demons, or accomplish some other miraculous work through the power of the Holy Spirit. In short, the gift of faith appropriates the miraculous power of God. Scripture teaches that faith is required to work miracles (Matt. 17:20; 21:21; Mark 11:22-24; Acts 3:12, 16; Gal. 3:5), and in most cases, to receive them (Matt. 9:20-22; 13:58; Mark 2:1-12; 5:21-43; 10:46-52; Acts 14:9).

While all of these gifts are supernatural, they can be exhibited in a non-flashy, non-attention grabbing way. I’ve watched these gifts operate in such a manner that they didn’t draw attention to the individual using them. In fact, in some cases, many people who witnessed the gift in operation didn’t even realize that a supernatural gift was at work. This is because the person operating in it used it in a “normal” and “ordinary” manner . . . very different from the supercilious pomp and bluster that shrouds them in some movements. I will say more about this in future installments.

Read Part II

Stay tuned for Part IV

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  1. Nancy says

    I’m reading some of these recent articles a little late; just haven’t had the time lately. It’s really sad that spiritual gifts have not been explained properly in any of the evangelical churches I have attended throughout my life. I have never collectively experienced anything like what you are talking about. I’ve just recently started attending an evengelical church again after a long break away and once again am coming home empty, not feeling like I’ve experienced “church”. Where in the world can I go to experience “real church”? Not a criticism just a real felt need.

  2. Nischelle Reagan says

    Ditto on the dream comment above =]
    I’ve had many dreams that end up coming true, and it’s quite a strange thing to be on the receiving end of. Often times the dreams are so realistic and I am led to pray for a particular person. Often later the person was going through the exact situation that I had a dream about.

  3. Teague says

    If I’m getting ahead of you, just let me know. Do you think people receive certain gifts for life or could someone operate in all 9 gifts at one point or another? This isn’t a burning question for me but I was just curious if you had any thoughts.

  4. Al says

    Question … A friend of mine told me she received a gift of “spiritual writing”. She says though it is not listed in the bible, it is like a gift of tongue. She scribbles an unknown writings and she can sense the content of it… I guess like interpretation. A preacher came to her church and handed out pen and paper suggesting everyone try it. Recommended especially to male congregants to release stress and become more spiritual. Would like to know your take on such a gifting. Thank you.

    • says

      My take is that I have nothing to say about this. Just a few observations, however: 1. There is no such gift mentioned or exemplified in the NT. 2. Most Christians in the first-century couldn’t read. And even less could write. So if such a gift did exist in the first-century, very few Christians could have made use of it. 3. I’m an author and I write constantly. I can sense when the Lord’s anointing is on me enabling me to write beyond my natural capacity, however, it’s not automated like using a Ouija board. 4. “Automatic writing” is something that is used in the mystic cults. Those are just observations. Again, I have no opinion on whether or not your friend has a true gift from God or not. But it’s something I’m not terribly interested in, personally. I prefer to focus on what the NT actually teaches about the spiritual gifts that Paul talked about.

  5. Angela says

    I love the last paragraph about not using the gifts in a flashy manner. Naturally there might be some leaping and praising God after a big miracle, but that should be the thankful response, not the result of trying to whip up excitement in a crowd.

    I am reminded of how Jesus normally ministered, and gave the Father the glory.

  6. Marc Goodman says

    Frank thank you very much for this fuller explanation of the gifts. It’s incredibly valuable in another way besides simple understanding. I believe that it enables the believer to discern through prayer specifically where they are in their walk with God and also how to be more effective in that walk.

  7. Matt Bray says

    Thanks Frank! Wow! Another great post on a topic I am really passionate about. About your statement that faith is required to receive miracles… the three verses that most closely support this position are acts 14:9, Matt 13:58, and Mark 10:46-52, but none of these illustrate that faith is required. They only demonstrate that faith makes it more easy to receive a miracle and that sometimes having faith can make one well, not that faith is REQUIRED. Obviously, faith is required to perform a miracle. But aren’t there countless examples of people in scripture receiving a miracle without faith? For instance… the dead probably didn’t have any faith to be healed… they were dead. People who walked by Peter’s shadow didn’t even know they were about to be healed, how could they have faith? Your thoughts, Frank? Thanks again!

    • says

      I suppose there are exceptions, as in the raising of the dead. But if one examines all the cases where Jesus healed someone, for instance, He would often ascribe the healing to their faith.

  8. says

    Thank you for this wonderfully descriptive post. Very helpful and interesting to see how they each intertwine with the others. I think one day we will be amazed how God’s power worked in the daily little things we often brush off as ordinary.

    Have you written anything on dreams?

  9. Matt Ziemer says

    Good stuff Bro. That is a new thought for me that public toungues are primarily for Jewish unbelievers. I will have to spend some time pondering.

  10. Jeff says

    Love your work. Must though take issue with your explanation of the gift of tongues. You really had to stretch scripture beyond its plain, common sense words, to support your view that tongues include something other human languages or that it includes self indulgent gibberish and call it a prayer language.

    • says

      Nope. Paul talks about the “tongues of angels and men” in 1 Cor. 13. Many studies have been done by linguists by tongue speakers and the consensus has been that 1) it’s a language but 2) it’s not a known, human language. So I believe Paul helps us by saying that some tongues are angelic languages and others human. I don’t recall anywhere saying that “self-indulgent gibberish” is tongues. Where did you get that idea?

      • Jeff says

        PS: The only place in scripture about which I am aware where ‘unknown tongues’ is clearly described is following Pentecost. In that setting, it is clear that the ‘unknown tongues’ were known languages not previously known by the ones speaking them, but fully understood by the ones listening as they were those from other cultures who had flooded the city for pentecost. They heard and undertstood the gospel in their native languages. Nowhere else, including those scriptures you cite, is there any place that expands the meaning of ‘unknown tongues’ beyond the pentacostal experience. I try to use the clear verses to govern the interpretation of the more obscure. Thanks again.

        • says

          There’s no way to prove the case one way or another. Using Acts 2 to support the idea that tongues is *always* a human language while dismissing 1 Cor. 13:1 as being an unrealistic metaphor doesn’t work. Too many assumptions made there. NT scholar Gordon Fee makes a compelling case that when Paul refers to “tongues of angels,” he is speaking of the language of heaven (Fee, NICNT, 1 Corinthians). Others scholars agree with him. But again, one cannot prove it one way or the other. That said, “tongues” was a tiny piece of this article. I trust my readers are taking in the whole of it. I’m far more interested in prophecy than I am tongues, as was Paul. ;-)

          • says

            “I’m far more interested in prophecy than I am tongues.”

            Me too and I want to hear “read” more. Incredibly curious about your thoughts on dreams. :)

    • says

      I’ve experienced prayer in an unknown language (at least unknown to me). It occurred only once – when I was alone and quite broken in prayer so there is no way to know if it could have been interpreted.

      Was it known or unknown to men? I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter. I know it was real; I felt God’s power give me strength to get through a terrible time. I can’t explain it – I have no witnesses. I’ve come to believe it was the intercession of the Spirit; not a human language.

      Honestly, why would it need interpretation if I was alone and why would it make any sense for it to be another known language if there was no one there to hear it?

      There are some things that will be a mystery to us and my heart is that we have to be okay with that. Jesus gives us what we need, when we need it.

  11. Al. Bajus says

    Fantastic! Thank you for this, and parts 1 & 2. I am looking forward to the rest.

    Recently, in the little fellowship we attend, there have been some distinct words of knowledge as well as the discerning of spirits. Coupled with the display of these genuine gifts (which have been used for edification and glorifying Christ), there has also been the display of counterfeit gifts that have been used to try to divide, cut down and destroy. It has been an… interesting drama to observe as it has unfolded. Fortunately, the posture of most of the brethren has been to fall on our faces and beg the Lord to search our hearts. So much marvelous growth has happened!

    I did leave a comment with a question regarding a bit of the issue here, if you have time to answer:

    Thanks for all you do!
    Hope one day to be able to shake your hand…

  12. mainpain says


    Thanks for this series. I am part of a group that meets monthly for prayer etc for our city and notice that many from similar church structures imitate the same behaviours in the things of the Spirit. This is solid teaching, and I hope will help us jettison the Azuza St. type actions in favor of what God is doing in His Body now. Many times we are emulating behaviours we observe rather than experiencing the fresh move of God in our lives. In one of your house church stories you mention the coming together of several church experiences and the friction it caused. So much so, that you all refrained from doing what you “knew” and the result was seeing God move in ways none of you had experienced before, that is what I pray the Body will do with this teaching, listen for God’s voice, set aside our own knowledge and let God move. Thank you, thank you , thank you.

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