In the previous talk we referenced 1 Corinthians 12:1-7. That passage helped inform our definition of the gifts.
In his next few lines, Paul provides us with a short list of some of the ways in which the Spirit expresses Himself through us. That is, after defining the gifts, he describes a few of them. Notice what he writes in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 (NIV, emphasis added)—
To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
We find nine gifts in this passage:
Let’s walk through each of these.
Word of Wisdom is the ability to speak the thoughts and guidance of God into a situation, most often in a practical way. This is different than preaching or teaching in the sense that the speaker isn’t extracting nuggets of truth out of the Biblical text so much as they are speaking truth into a specific situation.
Often, words spoken in this way seem counter-cultural on the surface level while, at the same time, resonating deep with your spirit. For instance, someone may offer you advice to “sow” your way out of a financial hole rather than “saving” and “working more” to move your way through it. Though that sounds counter-intuitive, in your situation it may be exactly what you need to hear.
Wisdom, though hidden to most people in the beginning, most often “makes sense” once it shared with others. It’s as if the Holy Spirit confirms the idea once it’s spoken.
Word of Knowledge is another speaking gift. It carries the ability to talk about something there’s no natural way the speaker would have known. In the way that wisdom often refers to application; knowledge often refers to information.
But it’s not just “any” information. Generally, it’s personal and it’s timely.
At the end of a church service one Sunday morning, a visiting speaker who had never met me— and knew nothing about me— locked eyes with me as he concluded his message and began his time of invitation and response.
“Hey, you’re a father of many kids,” he said. “You have a lot of them— more than normal. How many?”
Two of my kids sat near me. The others were either in their kids’ classes or helping teach classes in which they served. There’s no way he would have known.
“I have seven,” I told him.
“You heard me right.” I chuckled, and then told him, “As in 70 x 7 times that you forgive…”
He continued, “You’ve been in a tough season. The Lord sees you. He knows your heart. You have the Father’s heart. He wants you to know that your children are going to be OK…”
In that moment, a few things struck me that this was the Lord. Not only did this man know that I had a larger-than-average sized family, but he also knew that we found ourselves walking through a mine field and that I had worried about my kids’ hearts, as well as how some of the crisis moments we faced might effect them in the future.
“The Lord also wants to me tell you that He’s still called you. Your gifts remain, your calling remains. And there is a Kingdom call on you and those kids of yours. Does that resonate with you?”
I nodded affirmatively. He didn’t know about the private conversations in which a once close family member declared the exact opposite— that my heart was fractured, that I forfeited my ministry call, that my authority over those kids no longer existed.
“I tell you this, too… your girls have a destiny that’s special. I see them in the arts and I see them graciously empowering other women…”
How did he know?
Emma (then 18) had just submitted a script that was awarded a film shoot for the Sidewalk Film Festival. And many of my conversations on my monthly date nights with my oldest two daughters had focused on male and female relationships— and how to empower women in a healthy way, particularly as they had witnessed hidden, underhanded rebellion most of their lives.
“Your home is special,” he concluded. “There are going to be people coming to it, drawn to it, because of the atmosphere there with you and those kids. The Lord sees you and knows the path that you are walking. Keep going…”
What was that?
It was a revelation of the Father’s heart for me— about me.
Was it wisdom?
No. Wisdom generally tells you the specifics of how to lean in to distinct situations. It often provides you with actions to take.
This man didn’t provide me with wisdom. He provided me with knowledge. He knew things which the Spirit revealed to him. Knowledge imparts details that confirm to the hearer that the Father sees you— and He is for you.
Now, you might be wondering, Why would the Lord do that? Why wouldn’t He just tell us individually?
Well, that’s the beauty of being connected to the body. We’re not designed to walk alone.
Yes, the Lord could have told me these things. And He had. But it’s easy to second-guess what He says when you’re walking through a trench. By telling another man who didn’t know me unique things about me, the Lord affirmed me in a way that I knew I’d been hearing His voice all along.
And, honestly, being “called out” in front of others was a blessing. Some of the “others” in front of whom this man spoke— a few of the leaders in that church— were people who’d been sucked into that family members jibberish. They’d followed the lies and innuendos hook, line, and sinker. By speaking through a man whom those leaders invited to preach, the Lord defended me before them, while at the same time speaking precious words of confirmation to my heart.
Words of knowledge often carry— or release— faith. The words impart supernatural confidence to the hearers.
You may have been in a Bible study or church service before and heard someone say, “I’ve been praying and I feel like the Lord is healing someone of a back problem, now…”
Or it could be another issue. Whatever the case, though, the person being addressed (even if they’re not “called out” in front of a large group like I was) senses that God is for them, that He truly cares.
The gift of faith is more than just belief— it is a knowing. The gift of faith envelops a person like a blanket, leaving little to no room for doubt. It carries an authority that gives that gifted person an unshakable confidence that God is moving— and, it will create faith in others who are nearby.
We see the gift of faith operating in the apostles— a lot. When Peter “skips the prayer” and simply commands the lame man to “rise and walk,” we witness the gift of faith in action (Acts 3:6).
Where do we see the gift of faith today?
I intentionally included a “church” example and a non-church example above. Again, the spiritual gifts aren’t confined to the four walls of the building. Arguably, an entrepreneur with a multi-million dollar business has a greater reach and larger base of influence than many pastors. And, notice, the gift of faith might be tied to a specific event (“God will see you through this situation”) or it may exhibit itself as a longer-term proposition, a lifestyle.
The gift of healing is the divine strength or ability to act as an intermediary in faith, prayer, and by the laying on of hands for the healing of physical and mental illnesses.
Whereas all believers can “lay hands on the sick” and see them recover (see Mark 16:15-20), some believers have a unique ability to walk in this gift at a higher capacity. The same thing is true of evangelism, by the way. Everyone can share their faith; some people have a higher effectiveness at doing so— it’s how the Spirit expresses Himself through them.
That's a great way to understand the gifts, by the way. They're all available to each of us in some way. The Lord can work through any of us at any time in any way He chooses. However, in the same way that our created design has specific strengths, so also do our gifts. There are likely one or two that you gravitate towards.
Now, let me stretch you a bit…
I used to believe this gift functioned only in the “miracle” sense. However, the more I read through the New Testament and the more I discover what Jesus did— and what He empowered His disciples to do— the more I believe that we need to expand our belief system regarding healing.
For instance, I know a physician, a family doctor, in my hometown whom I believe has the gift of healing. Sometimes, he prays for people and they are healed (i.e., a miracle); at other times he uses his training and imparts information and practical application to them that causes them to be healed. In either case, he has a higher percentage rate of “wellness” than the average doctor. Remember, the gifts are for ministry (service inside the church) and for mission (outside the church). And, they work in alignment with Biblical obedience and our created design.
Whereas the gift of healing primarily deals with people, the gift of miracles most often deals with situations, places, or things.
In the Old Testament, we read about the prophet Elisha and his students losing an ax head in the Jordan River while they were building a place for them to dwell. Elisha caused the iron ax head to float back to the surface of the water, so they could retrieve it (see 2 Kings 6:1-7). Jesus’ instance of the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:30f.) and the feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:1f.) are additional examples of miracles.
Where do we see miracles today?
Well, have you ever seen someone who’s able to “do more with less”?
Perhaps they’re functioning in the arena of the supernatural.
Or do you know someone who works so quickly that they seem to compress time and space and move through life more rapidly than other people— almost as if the natural universe is serving them?
Yep, this may be another example of someone operating at a supernatural level here.
Prophecy deals with the core issue of identity. Someone with the gift of prophecy often has a unique insight to speak life to an individual— generally to who that person is despite what we might see— by calling forth their destiny as a son or daughter of the King.
Prophecy functions different than word of knowledge, because the word of knowledge usually deals with a situation. Prophecy, on the other hand, deals with people.
Earlier in our study, we spent an entire chapter discussing Simon Peter’s transformation (chapter 2). When Jesus informed Peter that he was a “rock” (even though he wasn’t yet acting like it!), that was prophecy in action (see John 1:42).
Prophecy is supernatural ability “to see” beyond the coal and call forth the diamond in someone. Furthermore, most prophets don’t even need to mention anything about the dirt they may see. And, someone with the gift of prophecy doesn’t get hung on who someone’s not; they just speak forth the destiny of who they really are.
Paul reminds us that “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). Prophecy doesn’t seek to expose people’s secret sins, prophecy reveals redemption and ongoing salvation.
I’ll give you an example— another personal one.
Twice a year I co-lead a men’s weekend retreat. We call them Advance, as we encourage, equip, and empower men to move forward in each area of their lives. Sunday morning is always a highlight. At the conclusion of our time together we have a “soft close” by breaking the men into groups and having a designated leader pray for and speak life over each of the attendees. Though some men are initially nervous at the idea of a stranger praying for them (it’s a secular event), we encourage them to trust us. This always becomes one of their favorite moments of the weekend, too— showing that prophecy, when ministered correctly, always empowers love and encouragement.
During the Seattle event, my friend Ryan walked up to me. I stood at the front of the room, as I’d just dismissed everyone to the groups.
“I want you to pray for me,” he said.
I listened for the Father’s voice— to see what He might want me to say to Ryan. What was His word for my friend? I wanted to know and communicate that message to Ryan.
Then, after a few seconds, I replied, “No. I want you to pray for me?”
“Yes. You pray!”
He stammered a moment. Then, he took a shot at it. It was a slow go at first, but then something broke, the floodgates opened, and he prayed like he’d never prayed before.
As he said “Amen” I looked at him and smiled.
“What just happened?” he asked.
“You see yourself as weak,” I told him. “But I— and all of these men here— see you as strong. The Father sees you as a spiritual bulldozer, a man who is going to plow the ground and clear a path for so many others who are walking behind you, men that you can’t see right now, that are looking to you for guidance. You’re a leader. I see that. I believe in you.”
My friend Les, one of two other guys who hosts these events with me, concurred and offered Ryan a few similar words of encouragement.
Because of his background, the words all made sense to him. And, whereas he came to me thinking he wanted generic prayer, he received something more specific. Les and I both spoke the heart of the Father over him.
Now, the fruit is that 18 months later Ryan actually spoke at our event. He recalled his testimony of walking through bouts of depression, of leaning hard into some deep relationships other men, and discovering this true identity.
In his own words, “My life used to be like a dumpster fire, but now I’m on the right path. Any of you have an open invitation to contact me and talk with me anytime you need me.”
Discerning of spirits is another manifestation of the Holy Spirit working through the people of God. True discernment doesn’t just see what’s happening on the surface level; rather, it empowers someone to see the motives and intents behind what’s happening.
A person with a developed gift of discernment might recognize something regarding a person, something relevant to a situation, or even something related to a move of the Spirit. And, they’ll be able to determine if something is holy or unholy.
Someone with a highly developed gift of discernment will often have unique insight as to how the Lord is moving— even in situations where it’s difficult to see Him moving at all. Many times, they’ll get a “sense” or “feel” about something— even if they can’t exactly articulate what it is. They’ll just know.
What’s the difference between faith and discernment?
Well, faith often looks forward. It anticipates something that God will do. Discernment, on the other hand, looks at the present— at the “here and now.”
In addition, faith often expresses itself as belief. Discernment expresses itself as insight.
Think about it like this—
Remember, healing and miracles are similar, as well. We determined that— in general— healing deals with people; miracles deal with things.
Tongues is a gift we reviewed in previous chapters of the book when we discussed the baptism of the Holy Spirit (chapter 8). Though the misuse and unscriptural application of this gift have made many people nervous about its use, the fact is that it remains a gift, a valid charismata whereby the Lord expresses His love in tangible ways to (and through) His people.
Some members of the Body of Christ have the unique ability to receive messages from God, often in a public ministry setting, whereby the Spirit delivers a unique word to the body for the edification of the group as a whole. The message is not planned (and is most often just a few sentences long) but imparts the life of the Kingdom in a fresh way.
(This is different than prophecy, too, for prophecy most often ministers person-to-person instead of person-to-group. And, prophecy is delivered in a person’s native language.)
The gift of tongues is different from the “prayer language” of tongues. In the same way that many believers can pray for healing— and see results— I believe many believers can pray in tongues. Whereas praying in tongues largely involves us communicating to God (and Him talking back to us, of course), a message in tongues comes straight from Heaven only.
As this is such a multi-faceted gift, we could easily invest multiple chapters on this gift alone. That said, let me provide you with a few “hangers” to help you remember this one:
Whereas I can pray in tongues, I’ve never communicated in a foreign language apart from years of study (and even then my skill level was horrible). And I’ve never spoken in tongues in a public ministry setting like Paul seems to mention in this passage.
Often, you’ll see that leaders with ministry offices— particularly equippers such as apostles and prophets— function at a high level with this gift. However, having a ministry office is not required for this gift. Many intercessors regularly share this gift with the Body of Christ.
By the way, Paul warned Corinth about their use of this gift, as they exercised it in a disruptive and dis-unifying way (1 Corinthians 14). Not only to the gifts exalt Jesus, they also connect us to each other when used properly.
Interpretation of tongues is the final manifestation of the Spirit Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12. Some members of the Body of Christ have the ability, given by God, to communicate these messages of tongues to the church!
A message given in tongues in a public venue should always be interpreted. This message will most often not be a “word for word” translation of what was spoken by the person with the gift of tongues, but a paraphrase— something that gives the “general sense” or “feel” of what was imparted to the congregation.
And, since a message in tongues comes from Heaven to earth, it will most often be something God wishes to communicate to us— not something we are communicating to Him. The message generally imparts identity (who we are), destiny (where we’re headed), and hope (that we’ll make it there).
Words have power to bless. Even if we don't have the identical words translated (as in translating from Spanish to English), the declaration of the Spirit, through the voice of a human, carried power to touch our spirits. Now, this interpretation (not translation) awakens our hearts and minds to what was delivered to us!
I’ve been in church services before when a pastor or other leader says, “Pray in the Spirit!”
Or, “If you have a prayer language, use it now.”
In my opinion, that’s not the time and place for the exercise of this gift. Paul even eludes to this (1 Corinthians 14:5-6). He tells us that “outsiders” who see this will likely think we’re out of our minds (14:23).
I was in a church service once and a leader said— from the stage— “Sometimes God has us do stuff like this to offend your mind so that He can reach your heart.”
Ummm, no. (That is another of those pithy statements that sound true but lack substance.)
Paul reminds us that everything should be done “decently and in order” (14:40). Notably, the context of this statement is during his teaching about tongues. Further, Paul applauded the Berean church, as they were the ones who searched the Scriptures to see if they were being taught the truth (Acts 17:11).
Sure, there is a time and place for everything. In general, a public ministry setting is not the time and place for the use of tongues unless an interpreter is present.
So far, I’ve offered you the following:
Look back at the chart. That’s a total of 21 ways listed in Scripture whereby the Lord expresses Himself through us.
Some pastors and teachers add at least three more gifts which Peter references in his first epistle. Notably, in this passage whereas translators refer to “gifts,” Peter— like Paul— mentions charis, that is, “grace effects.” And, he uses that word charitos that we saw in John 1:16, where he talks about the “animating, life-giving presence of God working through us.”
Peter encourages us in 1 Peter 4:8-11 (NIV, emphasis added)—
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Notice the three Peter mentions:
Now look back at what Peter writes amidst this short list: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have” (1 Peter 4:10).
And, he reminds us that we are “faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (4:10).
Some teachers believe all 20-something of these gifts are spiritual gifts. Some cite the 9 from 1 Corinthians 12 as their complete list. I don’t believe either of these views are correct. In fact, I don’t believe any closed list is accurate.
You see, Peter wasn’t trying to create an exhaustive list. He was simply emphasizing that God works through each of us, and that we need to remember that we’re connectors to the Kingdom when we serve— however it is that we serve.
Paul wasn’t trying to create a comprehensive list, either— in any of the passages in which he mentions the “expressions” of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12, he reminds us that these manifestations are to be used for the common good of everyone (see 12:7). Furthermore, in Romans 12 he urges people to use their gifts (see 12:6-7). Re-read each of the passages in full and you’ll see what I mean. Those are the unique emphases of each.
Remember what we said about the gifts in the previous talk. They are each—
God can blow His Spirit through us in any way He chooses!
Here’s what I’m getting at: each passage contains, in my mind, only a partial list of possible gifts. Remember, too, that these gifts aren’t “gift boxes,” they’re expressions of the Spirit moving through us. He can do that in numerous ways.
Any gift list is really just a starting point. The spirit of God can do whatever He wants to do. So, we’re more interested in discovering how He works uniquely through you than we are fitting things into a theological box.
As we conclude the chapter, let me show you an example from the Bible of what I mean. The first time we see the Spirit of God filling someone to complete a task occurs when Moses begins to build the Tabernacle.
God tells him (Exodus 31:2-5 NIV, emphasis added)—
See, I have chosen Bezalel… and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts…
Notice, the first time a person was filled with the Spirit to minister it was not a preacher or a musician but a craftsman!
This means God might supernaturally empower you to do something else. It’s possible that some people are gifted to:
We’re not looking for a list— we’re looking for supernatural fruit! The goal is to discover how God supernaturally works through you and then continue using those gifts! In other words, work from the definition, not the list.
That said, in the next talk we’ll set some guardrails in place. We’ll outline a few things gifts are— and a few things gifts aren’t— in order to better strengthen our understanding of the gifts and, ultimately, our expression of them.
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