Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Part Four

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

This page is courtesy of P. G. Mathew, M.A., M.Div., Th.M

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

 Our God is a giver. Just as the sun continually gives light and heat, so our God is giving constantly. He gives not only to his people--the adopted sons of God--but the Bible says he also gives to his enemies. It is God who sustains the whole universe by his powerful word; therefore, the young lions do not lack. He gives and gives and gives, and yet remains the same. The inexhaustible treasure of all goodness is our God.

Not only does God give through his creation, but he also gives spiritual gifts by his sovereign determination to those who are called by his name and baptized in the Holy Spirit. There are nine spiritual gifts--charismata, the gifts of grace--are recorded in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. In this study we want to deal with the last three gifts: the discerning of spirits, speaking in other tongues and interpretation of tongues.


The Gift of Discerning Spirits

The first gift we will consider is the discerning of spirits. This is a very important gift to be exercised especially by the leaders in the church. Can you imagine a pastor who doesn’t have discerning of spirits? Through this gift of the Holy Spirit, he can discern whether one is led by the Holy Spirit or by the evil spirit, Satan. He makes this discernment especially by discerning what a person speaks, whether he is speaking orthodox or false doctrine.

If there is a time in which the church needed this gift, this is it. Preachers all over the world are preaching nonsense and yet masses of people flock to hear lies and perversions of the gospel. The church is in a sad condition because of the lack of this gift. If we do not have this gift, we may confuse the synagogue of Satan with the true church of Jesus Christ. Just think of the proliferation of cults in this country! Let us, then, examine the gift of discerning of spirits.


Old Testament Examples

First, we will examine the Old Testament to find examples of the exercise of this gift. In 1 Kings 22 we find the story of Ahab, the king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, forming an alliance to fight the kingdom of Aram.

Jehoshaphat told Ahab he would help him, but first he wanted to obtain counsel from God about this situation. "No problem," Ahab said, in essence. "We have prophets aplenty. In fact, I support about four hundred of them. When I call, they come and speak in unison whatever I want them to say."

The prophets came, and Ahab asked them, "Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?" "Go," they answered, "for the Lord will give it into the king's hand" (v. 6).

Jehoshaphat was not convinced. He asked Ahab, "Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?" (v. 7) Jehoshaphat knew Ahab’s four hundred prophets were prophets of Baal, not of the Lord.

In verse 8 we read, "The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat: ‘There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah, son of Imlah.’" Ahab’s reaction to Micaiah is still true today. Many still hate any man who preaches the truth.

Before he entered the presence of Ahab and Jehoshaphat, Micaiah was given some inspiration from the prophets of Baal. In verses 13-14 we read, "The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs and speak favorably.’ But Micaiah said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.’"

Micaiah was a true prophet. A true preacher of the gospel will never prostitute the gospel for human favor. So Micaiah gave Ahab the truth, saying, "I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd," and the Lord said, "These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace" (v. 17). Micaiah prophesied defeat, which was exactly opposite of what the four hundred other prophets had unanimously prophesied.

Why did the four hundred false prophets unanimously prophesy success for Ahab? They were not filled with the Holy Spirit. This is where the gift of the discerning of spirits comes in. In verse 23 we read, "So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours," Micaiah said. "The Lord has decreed disaster for you."

This is an example of the discerning of spirits. Jehoshaphat was somewhat confused by the conflicting prophecies, but Micaiah spoke with certainty, saying, in effect, "Do you want to know why they are saying this to you? They are inspired by an evil spirit, not the Holy Spirit."

What happened? Ahab believed the majority, went off to war, and was defeated and killed. This is the importance of the gift of discerning spirits.


New Testament Examples

We find this gift exercised in the New Testament as well. In Matthew 16 we find Jesus and his disciples in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter confessed correctly, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Then Jesus predicted his arrest, his crucifixion, his death, his burial, and his resurrection.

How did Peter react to this? In verse 22 we read, "Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you.’" Peter was speaking against God’s eternal plan of salvation through the death of his own Son. But Jesus exercised the discernment of spirits. In verse 23 we read, "Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God’" meaning God’s will of saving some people through the death of his Son, "’but the things of men.’" This is the gift of discerning of spirits.

Do you see the importance of this gift? If you are a father, you need the gift of discerning of spirits. If you are a pastor, you need the gift of discerning of spirits. If you are a leader in any capacity, you need the gift of discerning of spirits.

In 2 Corinthians 11 we read about false preachers. Even in the New Testament times there were false prophets, false shepherds, false apostles. In other words, this situation is not new. So Paul writes to the Corinthian church, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising , then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve" (vv. 13-15).

The apostle Paul had this gift of discerning of spirits, and when he saw these people, he said, "They are not true apostles. They are false apostles. They are deceitful men. They are agents of Satan."

One who can discern spirits can recognize the schemes of the devil. In 2 Corinthians 2:10-11, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven, if there was anything to forgive, I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake in order that Satan might not outwit us." And then he says this: "For we are not unaware of his schemes." In other words, Paul was saying, "We are very aware of the schemes of the devil." That is what is meant by discerning of spirits. An apostle must have that gift so that he can counsel and lead others in the ways of the Lord.


Testing the Spirits

We read about discernment of spirits in 1 John 4. In verse 1 John writes, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit. . . ." Don’t be gullible, in other words. That is the nature of evangelicalism today--gullibility, believing everything we hear. In fact, we have elevated this gullibility to make it a form of piety. What is piety? To believe everything. Dull-headed, anti-intellectuals will believe everything they hear.

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit," John says. It is a prohibition. Be an unbeliever, in other words. You should believe only in Jesus Christ, not in everything else. John continues, "but test the spirits to see whether they are from God," like we test metals and see whether they are genuine. In other words, what is the source of that spirit--God or Satan? Then John gives the reason: "because many false prophets have gone out into the world." This is discernment of spirits.

How should we test the spirits? Through doctrine. In order to discern the spirits, we must know doctrine. So in verse 2 John says, "This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God."

When we look at all the cults in this country, there is a sure sign that they are animated from Satan. What is that sign? They deny that Jesus Christ is God. They deny that God became man. They deny the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.

John continues, "But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God." Any spirit that denies Jesus as God/man, as God taking upon himself human nature, is from Satan, not God. In fact, earlier in this epistle John writes, "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist--he denies the Father and the Son."

We must be well-versed in the Holy Scriptures so that we will be able to discern the spirit behind a preacher or prophet. If such leaders do not teach orthodox doctrines, they are Satanic. They are false apostles.

Jude writes about this as well. In Jude 4 we read, "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you." False prophets, false preachers come secretly into the church. They slip in among you, but you must realize that they are coming to you from the pit, from hell, from Satan--not from God. If pastors and leaders do not know doctrine, they cannot discern spirits. Such leaders then open the doors of the church for Satan to come in and operate.

Jude continues, "They are godless men who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." Deny Jesus Christ! This shows discerning of spirits.

May God help every leader to have the gift of discerning of spirits so that we can believe and proclaim the true gospel and avoid falsehood!


The Gift of Tongues

The second gift we want to examine in this study is the gift of speaking in other tongues. This particular gift is an embarrassment to modern evangelicals. They are surprised that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost would give such a gift to his church. But if this gift is an embarrassment, there is an even greater embarrassment: the cross itself.

I was brought up in India and people would mock me as I was growing up for believing in Jesus Christ, who was crucified on a cross. "What kind of God is your God?" they would ask me. "How can you believe and trust in a God who was crucified on a cross?"

The cross of Christ is a scandal, a stumbling block to unbelievers. But, like the apostle Paul, I glory in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is not an embarrassment for me. It is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, but to us who believe it is the power of God unto salvation. Why? Because it is the power of the cross that causes the dead to come alive in spirit and it is the same power that will raise you from the dead. All that power comes from the cross where Jesus Christ died in our place.

If I can put up with the embarrassment of the cross, then I can also put up with the embarrassment of speaking in other tongues. And when we study this gift, we notice it is a New Testament gift, special to the new covenant. We do not see this gift exercised in the Old Testament. It is a New Testament specialty.

Some scholars disagree with that idea, saying that the confusion of tongues in Genesis 10 was speaking in tongues, but it was not until the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 that people could understand the tongues, hear the gospel, and be saved. This is just not true. Scholar, let me tell you, the people of the book of Acts were not saved by hearing speaking in tongues. They were saved by listening to the preaching of the apostle Peter.

Additionally, I would remind the scholars and embarrassed evangelicals that speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift, a charisma, given by God from heaven. The Bible says, "Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). If the Head of the church thought it good and necessary for the church, who are you to elevate yourself above the apostles and above Christ and above the Father and look down upon this gift when it came straight from heaven? It is a Spirit-given gift. It is good.

In Acts 2:4 we read, "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." In the Greek we read, "to pneuma edidou," meaning "as the Spirit was giving." This clearly has reference to the Holy Spirit, not an evil spirit. The disciples spoke as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance. Thus, if anyone wants to find fault with speaking in tongues, he must find fault with the Holy Spirit who was giving these people utterance. Do you agree with me on that?

What, then, does it mean to speak in tongues? It means speaking in an unlearned earthly or heavenly language. The point is, one doesn’t need to learn a language to speak in tongues.


Speaking to God

Paul writes about the gift of tongues, along with the gift of prophecy, in 1 Corinthians 14. He says that the one who speaks in tongues does not understand what he is saying. In verse 14 we read, "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful." We must understand this: He who speaks in tongues does so because the Spirit gives him utterance, but he does not understand what he is saying.

We want to understand everything, do we not? But here is a situation where we do not understand what we are saying, and yet the Holy Ghost is working! The one who speaks in other tongues speaks mysteries, as we read in verse 2, "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit." He is speaking the mysteries of God.

Not only are we speaking the mysteries of God but in verse 2 of 1 Corinthians 14 we read, "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God."

To whom are we speaking when we speak in tongues? To God. So I ask those who are unsure about speaking in tongues: Do we need to speak more to God or less?


The Purpose of Tongues

What is the purpose of the gift of speaking in tongues? In 1 Corinthians 14:4 we read, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself." He builds himself up, in other words. A man may be weak, discouraged, gloomy, doubting, fearful, timid, and confused. But when he speaks in other tongues, what happens? He is built up, edified, and encouraged; he becomes bold and courageous; he begins to rejoice and becomes confident and competent. These are not bad results from a spiritual gift, are they?

This is why I find it hard to accept those who disparage the gift of speaking in tongues. The Bible tells us that the one who speaks in other tongues edifies himself. This gift is designed to help us get built up, charged up, to do God’s work and live for God.

However, if others in the church are to profit from speaking in tongues, it should be accompanied by another gift which we will discuss later on--the gift of interpretation. In the church we are interested in communication with the people of God, and therefore when a person speaks in tongues in the church, there must be interpretation.

In 1 Corinthians 14:13 we read, "For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says." When there is interpretation, the rest of the church can also be encouraged, edified, comforted, and built up by the message in tongues. In other words, in the church we must speak in a language people can understand. So verses 5, 13, 27, and 28 of 1 Corinthians 14 all speak of the importance of interpretation in the church.

In 1 Corinthians 14:14 we read, "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful." He who speaks in tongues may be praying in the Spirit, without understanding what he is praying. Western man has a hard time with that idea because western man wants to understand everything. But this tells us that the one who speaks in tongues is praying to God, speaking mysteries to God, and, at the same time, being built up and edified in God for service to God.

Not only that, in verse 15 we read, "What shall I do? I will pray with my spirit," meaning I will speak in tongues when I am alone, "but I will also pray with my mind," in the church. Then Paul writes, "I will sing with my spirit," again, when he is alone, "and I will also sing with my mind," in the church. There you have it. When we speak in tongues, not only are we praying in the Spirit, but we can also sing in the Spirit. You may not know what you are singing, but you know the effect of it: you are being built up and edified for service to God.


Thanksgiving for Tongues

What should be our attitude toward this gift of tongues? In 1 Corinthians 14:18 Paul writes, "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you."

What is Paul doing here? Thanking God for this gift from God. Paul was not saying, "O God, this gift of speaking in tongues is not the most superior gift, you know. Let’s be very decent about it. I know there is such a gift, but it is the lowest in the totem pole. Let’s not worry too much about it." No! Paul says, "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you."

Have you ever read of the troubles and problems experienced by this apostle, some of which appear in Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians? I am sure that Paul would be speaking in tongues while he was in the ocean, when he was receiving the forty lashes minus one, when he was being beaten with rods, when he was being stoned, and when he was famished, thirsty, cold, and naked. I’m sure he was praying and speaking in other tongues and singing in other tongues through all of these experiences, and through that means he was being built up and edified. No one gave him a fat salary for going through all of these things.

What is the problem of modern Christians, especially in this country? Oh, we have everything now, so we think we don’t need spiritual gifts such as the gift of tongues. We have become rich and in need of nothing. But the apostle Paul received great benefit from this gift. If he benefited from it, I think I should likewise receive benefit from it. And if the great genius, the great apostle, Paul, appreciated the "lowly" gift of tongues, I think we should also appreciate it, even though it means praying without understanding what we are saying.

However, we must keep in mind that this gift is mainly for the private use of the believer. I have spoken in tongues, and I still do, but I do not speak in tongues in a worship service unless there is interpretation, so that the whole church can be edified.

In 1 Corinthians 14:4 we read, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself" and in verse 28 we read, "If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God." If you speak in tongues, don’t disturb the church, in other words, unless there is an interpretation. So speaking in tongues is mainly for the private use, for the private edification of an individual believer.


Tongues and Baptism in the Holy Spirit

As we said before, speaking in other tongues is a phenomenon of the new covenant. It is also an evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. In fact, speaking in tongues appears every time baptism in the Holy Spirit is mentioned and every time there is a manifestation of any gift at all, this gift appears.

In Acts 2:4 we read, "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." There is no other gift mentioned here except the gift of tongues.

In Acts 10:44-46 we read about what happened to the household of Cornelius while they were listening to the gospel preaching of Peter: "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the message and they believed. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles." Notice, unlike the day of Pentecost, we do not find people from all over the world in the house of Cornelius, yet people were speaking in other tongues.

Peter was astonished that the gift of the Holy Ghost had been poured out on these Gentiles. It was clear to Peter that these Gentiles had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. How did he draw his conclusion? Verse 46 tells us, "For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God." Here is another example of speaking in tongues being mentioned whenever the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit are mentioned.

In Acts 19:6 we read, "When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied." Notice, the gift of tongues is mentioned first here.

My point is that every time gifts are mentioned in relation to baptism in the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues is mentioned, and it is mentioned first. Thus, I am not embarrassed or ashamed of this spiritual gift. We should be embarrassed about sin, not speaking in tongues. Be an infant in evil, not in spiritual gifts.

The gift of speaking in tongues is an evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is the evidence that appears every time baptism in the Holy Spirit is mentioned in relation to gifts.


Tongues in Today’s Church

There are always people in the church who are very orderly, very sophisticated, and very scholarly. Such people want everything to be done very beautifully, decently, and in a frozen way.

Such people were in the Thessalonian church of the first century. These people were not embarrassed about tongues, but about prophecies. Paul wrote to them about this problem, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 we read, "Do not put the Spirit’s fire out; do not treat prophecies with contempt."

The Thessalonian church was putting out the Spirit’s fire, saying they didn’t even want prophecy in their church. Today’s church is the same, isn’t it? We don’t want anything to do with the Holy Spirit. We are more sophisticated than these primitive Christians. We have evolved, so now we say that all these gifts have ceased. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not operating in the church of today, many would say.

I ask you, scholar, did the Holy Ghost give you that amazing revelation? I ask you, preacher, did the Holy Ghost give you a special revelation on that? Why do I ask that? Because the Bible doesn’t say the gifts have ceased at all. You who insist on the absolute veracity and canonicity of the Holy Scriptures, you just made this all up, and you want me to believe it!

You see, we modern evangelicals have become so sophisticated that we no longer want prophecy, speaking in tongues, or any other manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our services. Like the Laodicean church, we say we are rich and in need of nothing.

What does the Bible say? In 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 Paul writes, "Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy. . . ." Paul wrote this because God is interested in communication in the church. People should prophesy or speak in tongues and interpret in the church context. Then he says, "and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way."

If this scripture is true, then isn’t the pastor or the church which forbids speaking in tongues in violation of biblical law? I think this is the case, unless they can show that God gave a special revelation right after the death of all the apostles that he would no longer bestow these spiritual gifts because the church had matured so much that it had no need for these things. Therefore, let us not despise and forbid exercise of the gift of speaking in tongues.


The Gift of Interpreting Tongues

The final gift we want to consider in this study is the interpretation of tongues. In the church, one can prophesy or one can speak in tongues, as long as there is interpretation.

If speaking in tongues in the church is to be profitable to the church, the complementary gift of the interpretation of tongues must be present. In 1 Corinthians 14:13 we read, "For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says." What is the purpose? So that the people of God may receive edification, because faith comes by hearing. If someone is speaking in tongues, let him interpret so that others may be edified, encouraged, and built up.

Finally, realize that Christ builds the church and gives gifts to it. He is a giver. These gifts are for evangelism, which is the work of the church, and for the edification of the church. Additionally, these gifts will continue until the second coming of Christ. So we read in 1 Corinthians 1:7, "Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." Paul did not understand there was going to be a cessation of these gifts! His understanding was that these gifts would continue until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


The Greatest Gift

The gifts of the Holy Spirit enrich the church of Jesus Christ in every way. In 1 Corinthians 1:5 we read, "For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge. . . ." Spiritual gifts do not impoverish the church; they enrich it.

But what is the greatest gift God can give us? The gift of salvation. The question is, are you saved from God’s just wrath against every sinner? The wrath of God "is being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of men" (Rom. 1:18). It is continuously being revealed, and there will also be be an ultimate revelation of his wrath that is coming.

Have you received the gift of salvation, God’s greatest gift to us? Have you repented truly and trusted in the only Savior Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification?" That is the question you must ask yourself.

Remember the story in Luke 10 in which the disciples went out to preach the gospel and perform miracles? The seventy-two returned, all excited, and they told Jesus, "You know, Jesus, it was a wonderful trip. Even the spirits are subject to us in your name." What did Jesus say? "Do not rejoice in that the spirits are subject to you but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).

Are you sure that your name is written in heaven? If it is not, the wrath of God is abiding upon you and you are condemned already.

I counsel you to make your calling and election sure. I assure you, if you are saved, you will not do certain things and you will do other things. You will have God before you and will walk before him, walk with him, and walk after him. Your whole life will be regulated by his presence and his word. And if you are not saved, I encourage and beseech you to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Amen.

Copyright © 1999 by P. G. Mathew

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