Gifts of the Spirit

The God who speaks and acts

Last week we read these verses from Psalm 135:15-18:
“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them and so will all who trust in them”.
 
Let me tell you about the God we worship. The one and only God, the one who hears and sees and speaks. Our worship and desperate seeking does not rebound from metal idols, does not fall to the earth ignored by fallible humans. We lift our eyes and hands and songs to the one who sees and speaks and listens.
 
The Lord speaks in many ways. Through the bible, through the witness and words of His Son, Jesus. Jesus himself said that God would continue speaking through His Holy Spirit.
 
John 14:26, The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

 

When the Holy Spirit comes and lives within you He enlivens your spirit. That part of you that is created to be in relationship with God comes alive. And as that relationship forms He speaks.
 
When we speak with each other we use a range of communication channels restricted to our senses – our body language, touch, the words we read, speak, recite and sing, the pictures we paint and so on.
God’s Spirit communes with our spirit in these and other ways. The Holy Spirit and His communication is a gift from God. Although we can’t codify and neatly define what He does, we describe His activity as releasing “gifts”. Hence, spiritual gifts.
 
One of the things I love about the Vineyard is that many gifts of the Spirit are in evidence here. The Spirit uses these gifts to speak to and through us:
  • To us, reminding us of what Jesus said and what the bible says.
  • To us, giving us revelation into situations and circumstances.
  • Through us to others so that they may hear from God.
  • Through us to God, helping us express ourselves when we run out of words.

 

Our spirit brought to life by His Spirit; opening our heart to His love; opening our understanding to His mind; opening our lives to His healing and His power.
 
The context for this is the fulfilment of a prophecy from hundreds of years before .
 
Joel 2:28,29 “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”
This came to pass on the day of Pentecost and ever since then the Holy Spirit has been present, speaking to us, releasing power and encouragement into our lives.
 
1 Corinthians 12-14 (along with Romans 12, Ephesians 4) provide us with a commentary on the gifts. It is not exhaustive but it certainly illustrates the genre – if you will.
 
Paul wrote this letter to a young church which celebrated a vibrant spirituality. It was also a little out of control. It is a bit like reading one side of a blog – you get Paul’s perspective but have to read between the lines to work out what the questions are which he is answering.
 

1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-31a, 14:1-19, 23-33

For some of you this is familiar stuff. For others of you this will read very strangely. And I do sympathise! Everyone goes for the “Love is patient, love is kind” part in the middle chapter (which I didn’t read) but when it talks about tongues and miracles and prophecy, many people, especially well-behaved Yorkshire folk, have no helpful frame of reference by which to judge it. Almost all your associations will be with strange and wacky behaviour from the fringe - or from Youtube.
The big picture is that when God, through His Holy Spirit, reveals himself in the created world He does so in many, many ways – some of which are familiar and ordinary and some of which are strange and exceptional.
 

Spiritual gifts

A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in the ministry of the church. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology p1016.
 
The spiritual gifts are not just spoken ones but are also acts of power and acts of service. The bible does not give us an exhaustive, defined and prioritised list.
 
Here are the ones described as a gift of the Spirit in the bible.

Gift
Bible reference
Description
Apostle
1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11
Could be the 12 apostles plus Paul or could be more generally a leader or messenger
Prophet
1 Cor 12:10, 28, Eph 4:11, Rom 12:6
Someone who shares a revelation they believe has come from God , in their own words
Teacher
1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11, Rom 12:7
 
Miracles
1 Cor 12:10, 28
Unusual interventions by God in the normal order
Kinds of healing
1 Cor 12:9, 28
Accelerated or miraculous physical and psychological restoration
Helps
1 Cor 12:28
Being particularly good at helping people
Administration
1 Cor 12:28
A gift that sees special results in its application
Languages
1 Cor 12:10, 28
Prayer in another language
Word of wisdom
1 Cor 12:8
Additional wisdom from God
Word of knowledge
1 Cor 12:8
Additional information from God
Faith
1 Cor 12:9
Particularly effective in prayer and encouragement
Discernment
1 Cor 12:10
Able to distinguish between good and evil
Interpretation of languages
1 Cor 12:10
 
Evangelist
Eph 4: 11
Being particularly good and effective in sharing faith (one on one, in groups, preaching, through media etc)
Pastor-teacher
Eph 4: 11
 
Serving
Rom 12:7
 
Encouraging
Rom 12:8
 
Generous giving
Rom 12:8
People who have money and give regularly and generously
Leadership
Rom 12:8
 
Mercy
Rom 12:8
A strong prevailing attitude of mercy in the way you deal with people
Marriage
1 Cor 7:7
 
Celibacy
1 Cor 7:7
 
Whoever speaks
1 Pet 4:11
Covers a whole range of the speaking gifts
Whoever renders service
1 Pet 4:11
Covers a whole range of the serving gifts

 
When I was about 13 or 14 spiritual renewal was happening in our church. I was watching my parents and other leaders learn about and practice various gifts. The oddest one of all was what they called “speaking in tongues”. I didn’t get this at all so I did some reading. It did seem to me from my studies and observation that speaking in tongues was a Good Thing. The trouble was, how do you do it? Is it a matter of working yourself up into a spiritual ecstasy? Is it only available to the very good or the very mature? Was it just Japanese?
 
So I sat in our front room, in a house just a couple of miles down the road from here, and asked God to let me speak in tongues. Nothing happened. I felt foolish. Then I realised I hadn’t opened my mouth – it’s hard to speak without opening your mouth. So I did. And nothing happened. Then I realised I hadn’t made a sound – it’s hard to speak without making a sound. So I prayed again, opened my mouth and pushed out a sound. And as some unusual syllables tumbled over my lips I found I was stringing together words and sentences in a language I didn’t understand.
 
Since then I have sought to pray like that regularly. I feel as though it is pretty well always simply me praying and speaking to God, beseeching Him to do something – whether I am praying for the sick, wandering past a gambling arcade or stuck in a difficult conversation. I don’t think I have ever done it in public. Although there have been changes in the vocabulary I think I use the same language now as I did when I was 14.
 
Now that is my experience – many of you will have a different experience so don’t hear me say that is the only way.
Why does the Holy Spirit do such an unusual thing? There is the Acts 2 occasion when the other languages communicated to people from other countries but that is very rare. I find this gift valuable when I don’t know what to say but I do need to pray.
 
Let’s look at what Paul says in his letter about how we should exercise the use of languages.
 

11 tips about tongues and spiritual gifts.

  1. Note I say languages not tongues. I think “tongues” is an unfortunate though understandable word to use. The confusion comes about because the Greek word from which it comes is glossai. This word can be translated both as “tongue" and as "language" and is used twice with both meanings in Acts 2:3,4: They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. A more obvious translation would be “languages”. 
  2. 1 Corinthians 14:2 says, "anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God".
    Thus I understand a tongue to be 
    a. a prayer
    b. to God
    c.  by us
    d.  in another language.
  3. Verse 4, "he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself" makes it clear that the main purpose of tongues (notwithstanding the rather unusual occurrence on the day of Pentecost) is generally for the speaker's benefit, not the rest of the church. By spending time in such prayer you are built up. And a timely word spoken in another language and interpreted can inspire us all to prayer and worship.
  4. What this does not mean is that tongues + interpretation = prophecy. We often hear what sounds like a prophecy when someone offers an interpretation. Although the prophecy is wonderful and speaks into our lives – it isn’t actually the interpretation! We have gone straight from another language to prophecy and have skipped interpretation!
  5. But sometimes the purpose of other languages being spoken in public (as opposed to in private) is to act almost as a wake-up call! You had forgotten that we are here to hear God speak and this reminds you to listen out to the prophecy. The interpretation may be someone’s cry to God to speak.
  6. Sometimes I sense that people are almost offended by someone speaking in tongues. As though they were sinful or trying to draw attention to themselves. Don’t think that.
  7. In verse 29 Paul talks about prophets as opposed to prophecy, elsewhere he does the same with other gifts. This implies that some people are known to regularly operate effectively in certain gifts. We have to hold that in tension with 12:11 which makes it clear that the distribution is continually in the will of the Spirit.

    Therefore there will be particular ones of us whom the Spirit encourages to speak out in another language from time to time. It won’t be unusual for the people who interpret or have words of knowledge or the gift of healing to be consistent too. Interestingly, in 14:28 Paul implies that the person who speaks in other languages will know the people with the gift of interpretation. If they are not around then other languages shouldn’t be used (unless they are going to interpret themselves).
  8. Verses 6, 11, 17 – you will make me a foreigner if I can’t understand you. Paul goes on to make it abundantly clear that he does not want church meetings to be filled with speech in a language others can't understand and therefore it is OK to have a small amount, so long as it is then interpreted.
  9. In a mature church where people are paying attention and seeking God's word I would expect tongues to be rare and prophecy to be more prominent.
  10. Verse 27. So when someone speaks or sings in another language in public you will find that a leader will either invite an interpretation if it seems an appropriate moment or we may find interpretation as we worship and pray all together. The main purpose of waiting for an interpretation is so that everyone can be in on the prayer or on the praise. However, as the words spoken in another language would be expected to be in the flow of what is going on you can also hear an interpretation as you continue to pray and praise in the course of worship. For example we don’t expect an interpretation when everyone sings in other languages.
  11. Verse 33 makes it clear that the Lord expects not disorder but peace. Those of you who share spiritual gifts publically are in control of yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will be terribly well behaved and tightly controlled. When God gets involved in our lives it can get a bit messy but it doesn’t need to be disordered (sport, hospital, garage analogy).

    Paul is addressing the way the gifts are handled in a relatively small group – such as a housegroup or perhaps a bigger gathering of say 50 people. In a larger group than that it becomes more and more difficult to have everyone sharing the speaking gifts – just from a practical point of view.
Very few of these gifts are to be restricted to times of corporate worship like this. They are to be used on our own, in housegroup, in larger gatherings and also in the normal course of your life.
 
We sometimes say that the meeting place is the training place for the market place. I would go further and say that:
  • the housegroup is a great training place;
  • weekly worship is a great practice place;
  • and the marketplace is the putting it to-good-use-place.
 
If you go to one of our housegroups you would most likely find that there would be a time of worship after which one or more people may share some of the encouraging and speaking gifts. Maybe a prophecy or another language with an interpretation. Maybe someone will have a word of knowledge which will get taken up by the leader to direct a time of prayer and ministry during which there will be words of knowledge, wisdom, discernment, healing and encouragement. There will often also be some time when someone will use a teaching gift. Someone will most likely have helped by bringing refreshments and that would have been organised by someone with a gift of administration. Many of the people in the housegroup will give generously to the church.

In a larger meeting like this, especially where there maybe guests, we ask for the Lord’s help to plan a little more carefully so that we do everything but do it without disorder.

So many of those same gifts will be at work in different ways on Sunday. Serving and administration gifts are being exercised to make weekly worship happen. The children are being taught and encouraged and ministered to – just as we are. Worship leaders are exercising gifts and putting words to our hearts’ cry. We have exercised various gifts already in our prayer ministry time.
 

Conclusion

In a few moments I am going to handover to the Love in Auction Team who will invite you to share your serving, helping and generosity gifts as we seek to bless the poor and needy in the communities around us.
 
To echo Paul, I would love you all to be filled with the Holy Spirit, taking risks and operating in many of His gifts. I would love you to learn how to do so in the housegroups, find opportunities to express them at weekly worship but mainly I would love you to put them to Kingdom work in your daily lives.
 
Of course the Holy Spirit can do what he likes! And sometimes, as we seek to follow His prompting and take risks we will get it wrong - in speaking out, in leading and in ministry. But it is OK to make mistakes. If we are gracious to each other we will learn and hopefully the power and the word of the Lord will penetrate through to hearts and lives.
 
We worship, serve and follow a God who speaks. He speaks through the bible and foremost through His Son, Jesus. But He also speaks and acts today through the gift of His Holy Spirit. I welcome His promise to send His Holy Spirit on all of us and to distribute His gifts to all as He wills.

 

David Flowers, 21/11/2010
SaveSaveSave