Just What Is A Gift Of The Spirit?

JuST What Is A Gift Of The Spirit?
By Hardy W. Steinberg

Charles H. Spurgeon, one of England’s renowned preachers, had great compassion for the poor. He had almshouses built near the tabernacle where he fulfilled his ministry.

Once as he visited an elderly resident, he showed interest in the few possessions she had brought with her. A framed piece of paper attracted his attention. When he asked about it, the woman explained that years ago an elderly man had given it to her in appreciation for her devoted care.

Because she had regarded his signature with great sentiment, she reluctantly gave Spurgeon permission to remove it from the frame and take it with him. At a bank, officers explained the check was valid. They had been puzzled why a vast sum of money remained in the account of the deceased.

When Spurgeon returned to the almshouse, he explained to the woman that she had more than enough money to live in comfort. She had lived in poverty for years because she was unaware of the meaning of check in her possession.

Like this woman some people live in spiritual poverty because they are uninformed about God’s provisions. Paul addressed this condition when he wrote to believers in Corinth: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (1 Corinthians 12:1). Today there is a continuing need for understanding this provision for a victorious church.

In thinking about the gifts of the Spirit it helps to ask, “Just what is a gift of the Spirit?” Three words used to describe the phenomena shed helpful light on this question.

In 1 Corinthians 12:1 Paul referred “to these phenomena as “spiritualgifts.” A close look at the verse shows that the word gifts is italicized. This means it has been supplied by translators to make the meaning more clear. Literally the phrase would read, “Now concerning spirituals.”

The Greek word used here has various meanings, and the precise meaning must be determined by its usage. J.H. Thayer in his lexicon pointed out that in this context the word refers to that which emanates from the divine Spirit, that which is produced by the power of God, that which is supernatural .

The gifts of the Spirit then are not heightened natural abilities but are completely supernatural phenomena. They cannot be humanly produced. People may try to counterfeit them, but Simon the sorcerer learned he could not buy the power to duplicate or bestow spiritual gifts on others (Acts 8:9-24). Only God can do that.
“Manifestation” is another word used to describe spiritual gifts. Paul wrote, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:7). This word indicates that gifts of the Spirit are displays, exhibitions, or unveilings of the Spirit’s power. Just as God gave Moses (Exodus 33:11-23) and the disciples (Matthew 17:1-7) a brief manifestation of divine glory, He gives brief displays of divine attributes in the gifts of the Spirit.

Peter received a manifestation of omniscience in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-9). Again Peter was the human instrument through whom God gave a brief glimpse of His omnipotence in healing the lame man (Acts 3:12). As the disciples went everywhere preaching, the Lord worked with them; and it was the Lord, not the believers, who confirmed the word with signs following (Mark 16:20).

A third word used to describe supernatural phenomena is “gifts.” Paul wrote, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). The use of this term indicates that manifestations of the Spirit are a bestowal of grace and not a reward of any kind. The clear distinction between wages and gifts is illustrated in Romans 6:23. What a person earns through effort constitutes wages, but what he receives through unmerited favor is a gift.

There are two important lessons in the use of the word gift. First, gifts of the Spirit are not a sign of spiritual elitism. Their manifestations cannot be an occasion of pride. Just as believers are not saved by works but by grace (Ephesians 2:8), so they do not receive manifestations of the Spirit because of super-spirituality but because of God’s grace. Even before the Corinthians achieved spiritual maturity (1 Corinthians 3:1), God in grace granted manifestations of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:7).

A second lesson in the use of the word gifts is that believers are not to assume they are so unworthy that God will not manifest himself through them. Moses and Gideon were men aware of their unworthiness, but God mightily used both. It is false humility to refuse what God wants to bestow in grace.

The spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 then are not natural but supernatural.

A word of wisdom is not a recommended procedure based on human experience, but a supernatural revelation of a course of action-as in the case of Joseph going to Egypt to protect the life of Jesus (Matthew 2:13).

A word of knowledge is not humanly accumulated information, but a divine revelation of facts which can be acquired in no other way-as in the case of Joseph’s knowledge of 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of famine (Genesis 41:26-30).

The gift of faith is not the natural faith a farmer shows when he plants seed, believing he will receive a harvest. Nor is it even the faith which results in salvation. It is an extraordinary supernatural endowment which makes it possible for the believer to declare that something will come to pass. For example, the case of Elijah’s announcement of an extended drought (James 5:17), or of Paul telling the lame man of Lystra to stand upright on his feet (Acts 14:10), or of Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:43). Gifts of healings are not the products of a physician’s skill. While we are grateful for the developments of medical science, even doctors recognize they cannot heal people. They treat the malady through their acquired skills, but God does the healing. All healing is divine and miraculous, but on occasion God grants extraordinary healings as in the case of the lame man at the temple (Acts 3:6).

The working of miracles is not extraordinary human achievements but a supernatural change in natural laws as in the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16) and the River Jordan (Joshua 3:16).

Prophecy is not human eloquence in preaching, but supernaturally inspired utterance in a known language which results in edification, exhortation, or comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). While the gift of prophecy is inspired utterance, it is not equal to nor to take the place of Scripture (Revelation 22:18,19). It is to be evaluated by the congregation (1 Corinthians 14:29,30). If it conflicts with the Word of God, it is to be rejected.

Discerning of spirits is not human psychological analysis of others but a divine revelation of the kind of spirit producing a manifestation, as in the case of Paul at Philippi (Acts 16:16-19).

Speaking in tongues is not linguistic aptitude, but supernatural enablement to speak in a language not previously learned (Acts 2:6-9). Interpretation of tongues is not acquired translation ability, but a supernatural revelation of that which has been spoken in an unknown tongue.

Gifts of the Spirit then are not displays of human ability, nor are they permanent possession of the believer. They are supernatural manifestations produced by the sole power of God. The power or gift is resident in the Holy Spirit and cannot be separated from Him. This is why believers need to heed the injunction of Scripture to be filled with the Spirit if they want to be instruments through whom God can manifest His supernatural attributes.

(The above information was published by the PENTECOSTAL EVANGEL, June, 1990)
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