Spiritual Gifts

Question from a Site Viewer
I was always curious about spiritual gifts. I have recently come across the opportunity to speak in tongues at a retreat. The pastor at the retreat encouraged people to come up on the last night of the retreat and pray for the gift of tongues. I tried but I didn’t receive it. I was just wondering what could have prevented me from receiving it? I thought at first that it was because I didn’t want it enough or something like that. But later, after the retreat, I read in the Bible that the gifts are all given by the one Spirit, and He gives them as He determines. Does that mean that it is possible for me to ask and not receive the gift of tongues, but to receive a different gift such as prophecy? Will I not receive the gift that I want, but the gift that the Spirit determines is best for me?

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your question. I much appreciate that you sought out Scripture to interpret your experience. That is as it should be.

Spiritual gifts are the blessing of God to His people so as to empower them to serve His church. That gifts are given to serve others is well supported in Scripture. There are four basic passages of Scripture that teach us concerning spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:11-16; and 1 Peter 4:10-11). Romans emphasizes that we do not all have the same gifts, but that gifts are given by God according to His grace and in relation to one another. 1 Corinthians emphasizes that gifts are given by the Spirit for the profit of all, and they are given as the Spirit wills. Ephesians again emphasizes that God is the one who gives the gifts and the purpose is for the edification of the church. Finally, 1 Peter 4 emphasizes again the gifts are a gift from God and they are to be used to minister to one another. Each passage teaches that God gives the gifts and that they are given for the purpose of ministering to one another.

Each of these passages is also clear that there are many gifts and different gifts are given to different people as the Spirit desires. While Scripture affirms that we can seek gifts, there is no assurance that the Spirit will give us the gift we seek.

The problem I see with the gift of tongues is that it sometimes becomes a “sign” that we have arrived spiritually. People take it as a sign that the Spirit has controlled them. Yet, I think, as Paul seems to argue in Galatians, the only real evidence of the Spirit in control of one’s life is the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control) in the life (Galatians 5:22-23). I remember talking to a lady once whose husband would speak in tongues in the church and then beat her up when they arrived home from church. While such clear abuses do not denigrate the gift of tongues when used properly, it illustrates that to walk with the Spirit should be our focus. Someone who speaks in tongues and does not love others is a noisy and empty Christian, at least that is what Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:1. If we walk in the Spirit, then the fruit of the Spirit will be the evidence.

I think sometimes we yearn to see the supernatural in our lives, to know that God is with us in a tangible way. The gift of tongues helps to satisfy that yearning for the supernatural. And sometimes God gives us our requests to experience the supernatural. But I think far more often it is in the quietness of our devotional life to God and in the daily effort to do good works that we most experience the supernatural. He comes in that still small voice, guiding and leading those who train their hearts to listen for His voice.

It may be that you will live your life and not know what gift the Spirit has given to you. I know for some this seems like heresy. But it is not. The purpose of gifts is not to build you up, but to build others up. You do not necessarily have to know how it is God is using you in the lives of others. You simply need to be faithful to love and serve as the Spirit gives you ability.

While it is proper to seek a gift, my encouragement to you is to focus the majority of your desire on seeking the Giver of the gift. When you seek to see, know, understand, and love Jesus Christ both in word and deed, you will find yourself possessing the true riches of God. He is made for us our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He is our life.

I hope this helps. May His blessings be upon your life as you seek to serve Him.

a fellow pilgrim,


4 thoughts on “Spiritual Gifts”

  1. Greetings.
    Before accepting the idea that we can claim the same gifts of the Spirit that was available in the 1st century, consider what you are proposing. The physical gifts of the Holy Spirit were powerful supernatural abilities used to prove the power of God and gave credence that the person with the gifts was in agreement with God. This was a important tool used by the early church and not to be taken lightly. But is it available today? It does not take much to see that it is not. We can argue theology and Biblical interpretation until the Lord returns and we won’t reach an agreement. But this debate isn’t an abstract matter, it has practical implications. You can convince yourselves that the Bible teaches that the gifts are around today, but until you can show this is the case in the real world, all you are doing is speculating. You can not be on both sides of the fence on this issue, it is either real or not. Those who will say this is a “gray area” are lukewarm at best.

    1. I agree that this is not merely an academic debate. There are serious issues of how God works today in His church that are at stake, as well as the very basis of the role of Scripture in shaping our lives and our thinking.

      I am not willing to cast out Scripture simply because in some Christian circles there are no examples of godly men and women exercising the gifts of God. The gifts of God for the church are taught in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. The gifts are mentioned in relation to the ongoing activities of the church in Acts, in Romans 1:11, 1 Corinthians 1:7, Galatians 3:5, 1 Timothy 4:14, and 2 Timothy 1:6. It is clear to me that they can be repressed by Christians, as Paul exhorts Timothy to not neglect his gift (1 Timothy 4:14) and in another place to stir up the gift (2 Timothy 1:6). The idea that the gifts were overpowering manifestations of God that people passively received, as some teach, does not seem to comply with the Biblical language. We are exhorted to desire spiritual gifts, and especially prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1). We are exhorted to use the gifts that we have (Romans 12:6-8). In 1 Peter 4:11, Scripture seems to equate gifts with the spiritual abilities that God gives His servants.

      The purpose of the gifts are to build up the body of Christ. The focus in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and 1 Peter 4 is within the church, using the gifts to benefit one another. In these passages, there is no sense that the purpose of the gifts was to show the power of God or demonstrate that those with the gifts were of God. In fact, the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 14 seems to be addressed to a misuse of the gifts. Christ Himself said that there would be those doing great miracles that would not make it into the kingdom (Matthew 7:21-23). Paul says that exercising the gifts without love profits nothing in 1 Corinthians 13, implying again that individuals could use the gifts in a way that was not honoring to God and not demonstrating that God was with them.

      Given the great deal of instruction about gifts in Scripture and the lack of any teaching that gifts were to be limited to the apostolic period, my hermeneutic does not allow me simply to dismiss the gifts. I know in some circles the gifts are downplayed or ignored, but I believe such is to the detriment of the church. The early church fathers certainly thought the gifts were ongoing, as Irenaeus discusses in Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 32, pointing out that the use of the gifts by the church is for the advantage of mankind and to minister to others.

      When I help others, I believe I am doing so with the gifts God has given me. When I teach, I seek to rely on the gifting God has given to do so. When I counsel others, I seek to give the counsel that the Spirit directs. When I was ordained, older godly men laid their hands on me to impart the power of the Holy Spirit for the service I was to give. I do not think they were mistaken. When I have place my hands on others to impart a gift to them, I do not think that such is a meaningless act before God. When Paul warns about laying hands suddenly on someone (1 Timothy 5:22), I think Paul understood that the gifts imparted through such action should be judiciously given.

      Accordingly, I respectfully disagree with your position on the gifts of God in today’s church.

  2. Greetings.
    Are you and I talking about the same question? My reply was about the speaking in tongues and the gift of prophecy, both physical and supernatural manifestations that he was praying for. Those who claim that the physical supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit are going on today are making a claim that goes past simple Biblical interpretation. If I claim that I have the ability to fly, people will not debate me, because they will see me fly. The issue of supernatural gifts is not to be proven by scripture but by sight. Jesus told those who would not believe His words to at least believe the works that were done in their sight, (John 10:38). Yes, many of the gifts of the Spirit are active today but the question was about tongues and prophecy and that was what my reply was about. If you are implying that the physical manifestations are going on today you are wrong. If tongues were for today, we would not be debating it now. Remember, common sense trumps theory.

    1. Sorry. I did not read your initial reply as being limited to what some term as “the sign gifts,” i.e., miracles, tongues, interpretation, and future telling. I realize there is a difference of opinion among believers over the continuing existence of the sign gifts. In some circles, it would seem to be heresy to deny them, as they are a regular part of church life. In other circles, it would seem to be almost heresy to admit them. Since Scripture expressly tells us not to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39), I am reluctant to forbid what we are told not to forbid. I tend to be agnostic on the continuing viability of some gifts, taking 1 Corinthians 14:38 to heart. But I am not willing to go farther and affirm that they are not for today, as some have done. I have known too many godly people who have both affirmed and practiced these gifts and I think they have Scripture on their side.

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