Understanding Spiritual Gifts
By Dr. Dale A. Robbins
The ministry of Spiritual Gifts originates in the New Testament,
commissioned by our Lord Jesus Christ. After He established His church on the earth and
ascended to Heaven, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to equip His church with power and
spiritual gifts (Greek -- charismata) so that His disciples could continue to carry out
His ministry objectives. While there are certain gifts of a spectacular nature that are
often given greater attention, the New Testament mentions at least 21 that are provided to
the church. These gifts are listed in Eph. 4:11, Rom. 12:3-7, and 1 Cor. 12:1-12,28, and
are generally assigned to one of three categories, as listed below:
Most churches and denominations accept some
variation of the "motivational " and "ministry" gifts (perhaps with
controversy over the office of apostle and prophet). However others completely reject the
modern day operation of the 9 charismatic gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:1-12. In brief, their
view is taken from an interpretation of 1 Cor. 13:8-10, claiming that such spectacular
gifts were only intended as a short-lived, supernatural lift to help the early church get
started -- that they vanished after the last Apostles of Jesus died, when the scriptures
took their place.
Charismatic Gifts in History
Church History clearly refutes any notion that
charismatic gifts faded away after the apostolic era. Other than diminishing somewhat
during the middle ages (probably due to the inaccessibility to scripture by the common
people), it is obvious that spiritual gifts were never completely absent from the church.
Scores of statements to this effect were recorded by church leaders such as Irenaeus, who
wrote around A.D. 150 "...we hear many of the brethren in the church who have
prophetic gifts, and who speak in tongues through the spirit, and who also bring to light
the secret things of men for their benefit [word of knowledge]..." Elsewhere he said,
"When God saw it necessary, and the church prayed and fasted much, they did
miraculous things, even of bringing back the spirit to a dead man." (Refutation and
Overthrow of False Doctrine, Pg. 174). Near the close of the second century, Tertullian
cited similar incidents, describing the operation of prophecies, healings and tongues, and
in 210, Origen reported many healings and other charismatic gifts, as did later writers
such as Eusebius, Firmilian, Chrysostom and others throughout many centuries.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says that spiritual
gifts such as glossalalia (speaking in tongues) has occurred in Christian revivals of
every age. In the same vein, Souer's History of the Christian Church (Vol 3, Page 406)
cites a reference to the famed leader of the protestant reformation of the 16th century,
stating, "Dr. Martin Luther was a prophet, evangelist, speaker in tongues, and
interpreter, in one person, endowed with all the gifts of the Spirit."
In recent years, a mighty outpouring of the Holy
Spirit brought about what was called the "Pentecostal movement" in the early
1900's, where many churches experienced a revival of the Holy Spirit's power and spiritual
gifts. Later in the 1960's, spiritual gifts began to emerge in all kinds of churches and
mainline denominations throughout the world, in what was called the "charismatic
renewal." Spiritual gifts were suddenly manifested wherever believers or
congregations were receptive and opened themselves to the inner workings of the Holy
Today, the charismatic gifts remain available as a
part of God's plan for His church, and are increasingly being manifested within
fellowships and believers around the world. They are sometimes called God's "power
tools," given to the body of Christ as valuable helps to accomplish works of
The 9 Charismatic Gifts
1 Cor. 12:7 "But the manifestation of the
Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:
These gifts might be well defined as "A
temporary, supernatural intervention of natural laws, bestowed by the Holy Spirit where
His presence is invited and accommodated." Individually, each gift is defined as
(1) Word of Wisdom -- A Word refers
to "a supernaturally imparted fragment," while wisdom, which generally means
prudence, decision making.
(2) Word of Knowledge -- A
supernaturally inspired utterance of facts.
(3) Faith -- A supernatural
impartation of assurance in God.
(4) Gifts of Healings --
Supernaturally ministering health to the sick.
(5) Working of Miracles -- A
supernatural intervention of natural laws. The Greek describes it as "works of
power" and implies instantaneous results.
(6) Prophecy -- A supernaturally
inspired utterance from God. A genuine prophetic utterance never contradicts, neither is
equal to, the written Word of God. To forthtell or foretell. To speak from the mind of
God. Prophecies are to be judged (1 Cor. 14:29, 1 Thes. 5:20-21).
(7) Discerning of Spirits -- This
is a supernatural ability to discern a person's spiritual character and the source of his
actions and messages, such as from the Holy Spirit, demon spirits, the human spirit or
from the flesh.
(8) Different Kinds of Tongues -- A
supernaturally imparted utterance in an unlearned language which is interpreted as a
prophecy to the body for their edification. (This is distinguished from
"praying" in tongues, which is intended to edify one's own spirit -- 1 Cor.
14:14.) A message in tongues to the body is always to be interpreted (by another gift),
and is limited to three within a gathering (1 Cor. 14:27).
(9) Interpretation of Tongues --
This is the supernatural interpretation of a message in tongues into the understandable
language of the hearers. It is not a "translation" but an interpretation.
The Application of the 9 Gifts
It should always be remembered that the purpose of
all the gifts are to edify the church, and their distribution within the body is
completely dependent upon the discretion of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:11). The scriptures
imply that it's appropriate to seek specific gifts, however, one's motive must be for the
building up of the church, not for self gratification. "...since you are zealous for
spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel"
(1 Cor. 14:12).
There is a difference between spiritual gifts and
fruit. Gifts are the Spirit's manifestation through a vessel, but fruit is the offspring
of one's spiritual character. Spirituality cannot be measured by gifts, but by fruit (Gal.
5:22-24). Love is the predominate feature of spirituality (1 Cor. 13:13), without which,
charismatic gifts cannot function effectively (1 Cor. 13:1-2). Paul expressed that the
church should have a desire for spiritual gifts, but it should follow the foremost pursuit
of love. "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts," (1 Cor. 14:1).
The service where spiritual gifts function may
likely take on a less structured, more spontaneous environment that may seem peculiar to
some. But in 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul established specific guidelines for their
use so to remove the potential for confusion and disorder. Rather than banishing the
operation of these gifts entirely as some churches have done in fear of mayhem, they
should seek to understand and implement the prescribed order, as the Apostle admonished:
"Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with
tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:39-40).
This article (VL-164) is copyrighted © by Dale A. Robbins, 1995, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA 95949. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. This writing is also available as an attractive tri-fold pamphlet, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.