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 REVELATORY GIFTS: SPIRITUAL MANIFESTATIONS OF DISCLOSURE
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.
THE INSPIRATIONAL GIFTS: SPIRITUAL MANIFESTATIONS OF UTTERANCE
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 POWER GIFTS: SPIRITUAL MANIFESTATIONS OF THE MIRACULOUS
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.