We have been studying the Gifts of the Holy Spirit for several weeks now, going over the list of gifts mentioned by Paul, and now we’re at the tail end of that list.
I want to encourage those of you who haven’t heard the series of sermons that have come before, to go back and listen to them as they’ve all been made available on our website redemptionhill.in.
Today, we consider the gifts of workings of miracles and distinguishing between spirits. I will also make a brief mention of the two most controversial of the gifts – prophecy, tongues and interpretation, and in doing so we would have gone through the list detailed here by Paul.
Later, in the weeks to follow, we will do a deep and thorough analysis of prophecy and tongues.
Workings of Powers
- Now, when considering “working of miracles” and “distinguishing between spirits”, there’s not a whole lot that needs to be said. In a way, the obvious meaning of those phrases tells the whole story.
The phrase ‘working of miracles’ as given in most English translations, in the original Greek, is ‘workings of powers’. Again, both words are in the plural just like ‘gifts of healings.
Paul had in mind here, multiple workings of multiple powers. The word for powers is what most translations render as miracles. Miracles – the direct and sovereign acts of God that transcend all human categories of possibilities. Note that I said ‘transcends’ for to say that miracles are acts that are external to human possibility is to remove all of God’s miraculous works through natural means. When God hardened Pharoah’s heart and softened the Egyptian’s heart, those were as much a miracle as when the finger of God wrote on the wall or when the Red Sea split at Moses’ command.
The point here is that God’s sovereign and direct acts go beyond any reasonable assumption of coincidence or chance. They are acts of God.
- According to Paul then, God gifts a variety of workings of different miracles to his people in the church, for instance:
1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
- Now, it is also true that there is considerable overlap here between gifts of healings, word of knowledge and wisdom, or prophecy and tongues because all these are indeed workings of powers.
However, it wouldn’t make sense if Paul meant to list items here that had complete overlaps with another. There was a certain uniqueness to this one when compared to the rest.
Acts 13:6–12 ESV
6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus.
7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.
8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him
10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?
11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.
12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
This is an example of a miracle-working. Look here and see the benefit and usefulness of this gift. I will talk more about this in a bit.
The occurrences of raising the dead maybe another like when Peter raised Tabitha in Acts 9.
It could be argued that casting out demons is another act of miracle power.
Distinguishing between spirits
Also referred to as the gift of discernment, it is the ability to tell the influence of demonic spirits apart from the Holy Spirit of God.
1 John 4:1 ESV
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Can Scripture be any more clear about this than to say explicitly that we are not to believe every spirit? Now, some of you might argue that you’re not in the habit of speaking with spirits every day.
But notice here the connection John makes between false spirits and false prophets. The Bible makes many references to false prophets and false teachers that are described as wolves in sheep’s clothing.
1 John 4:2–3 ESV
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
Does this sound familiar to you? What did Paul say at the beginning of:
1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV
3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
Again, as I mentioned in our study of this verse, neither Paul nor John are saying that this mere verbal confession is a good test of distinguishing between spirits.
Instead, what they’re suggesting is that anywhere from the verbal confession to proven belief in action and service, if the life, teaching, and fruits of the person in question exalt Christ, then he may be considered a man of God. Otherwise, he is not from God.
And John lived at the time of the fulfillment of revelation, about the coming persecution by and eventual defeat of, the antichrist. This is why he makes the connection between false spirits and the work of the antichrist.
Therefore, the gift of distinguishing between spirits is not just discernment of spirits behind miraculous actions, but of spirits behind words of preaching, teaching, and counsel.
This means that this is a gift exercised by those of you who have it, on this pulpit, on every preacher you hear.
Now, you might say that such a gift should not be compared to what John says because John is talking about the wisdom and test of spirits that every believer must do, and not some gift that is given to some.
And I would agree with you there, that we shouldn’t equate the two passages as talking about the same exact thing. We shouldn’t do that.
However, the principle of testing and distinguishing spirits, I believe, falls into the same category does it not?
In fact, couldn’t we say that the discernment that John suggests is one that all Christians are called to exercise, and the gift of discernment that Paul suggests is one given to a few Christians who are able to distinguish what is not naturally distinguishable?
Acts 16:16–18 ESV
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.
17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
How do you distinguish the spirit of this age from the Holy Spirit, when a man is able to say everything with theological precision and outwardly show godliness?
Such a gift needs to be more necessarily confirmed by the church or believers around you because most men and women think that they have good discernment, and it may be that you’re wrong.
Prophecy, Tongues & Interpretation
Paul also mentions the three most controversial gifts of our time. But let me tell you something church, these three are not the most controversial of the gifts just in our time, but in all of history, and in fact, in the Corinthian church for whom Paul is writing this letter.
He spends considerable time in chapter 14 detailing these gifts, attempting to resolve the tensions in the Corinthian church.
As I mentioned before, we will be dealing at length with these three in the coming weeks. But for now, I will say this much.
- We, in our church confession of faith, believe that the gift of prophecy is working and in effect today for the benefit of the common good of the church.
The gift of prophecy is the human delivery of divine revelations. It is, speaking in human words what God sovereignly reveals, which does not owe to any knowledge or intuition in the mind of the person prophesying. It can be a revelation of the person’s heart or the revelation of things to come.
At the same time, it must be stated, that our church, in our confession and faith, does not believe that such revelation is to be taken as equal in authority with Scripture. Scripture alone is the sure foundation upon which all these gifts are tested.
- Regarding tongues, we believe that this gift continues and that this gift may be languages of this world, or as it is also known heavenly languages.
There is a reference to tongues in Acts 2 which is clearly distinguishable from the reference to tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. We will study this in detail in the coming weeks.
One and the same Spirit
1 Corinthians 12:11 ESV
11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
Jesus, when referring to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, said in:
John 16:5–7 ESV
5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’
6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.
7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
- Jesus thought it advantageous for us that he goes away. Why? Because the next phase of his Kingdom building was going to be far more spread out and through his servants; and all that required the coming of the Helper. Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is our help. Everything he does is for the sake of our help.
If you then look at the Gifts of the Holy Spirit with contempt or even reluctance because you do not believe that it helps, is to say that the Holy Spirit is involved in unhelpful ministry. This is to go against Scripture.
If you are a cessationist who believes the gifts have ceased, then you have at least a theological framework for disassociating the contemporary use of gifts from the Holy Spirit. But on the other hand, if you are a cautious continuationist (who believes gifts do continue) but you want to keep a distance due to the unhelpful nature of the gifts, then you are in serious need of theological education.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit, are the Gifts of the Helper, which means that these gifts are among the means by which he helps us.
John 16:8–11 ESV
8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;
11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
- The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He does not compromise on sin, confuse on righteousness or conflict in judgment. All of which is often attributed as the “inevitable” result of exercising spiritual gifts today.
Why? Because the so-called charismatic circle has proven this to be true. But, I thought we are supposed to expound Scripture and not people.
The Holy Spirit never contradicts the purpose for which he has been sent by Christ into this world – to aid his people. Therefore, we must understand that these gifts cannot contradict the fundamental workings of the Spirit.
Spiritual gifts are tools or means to accomplish his plans for us in all these things.
John 16:12–15 ESV
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
- The Holy Spirit will glorify Christ, and so will all his tools to empower us.
- He is a Spirit that reveals the heart of Christ and his purpose. By function, he is therefore a revelatory Spirit.
- What Jesus said did come to pass definitively when the Spirit inspired the authors of the NT to write those books. The Canon of Scripture is therefore complete – sealed and closed.
- And today, he discloses to us the truth of Christ from the passages of Scripture and uses all the tools of his Spiritual Gifts which he distributes to each one according to his will.
So, when Paul says,
1 Corinthians 12:11 ESV
11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
we have to understand what he means. These are the works of one and the same Spirit who placed the incarnate pre-born into the womb of Mary empowered him through his life on earth to preach, proclaim and work for his Father’s kingdom, and then raised him from the grave three days later and lifted him to the throne of heaven.
This is the one and same Spirit that is at work inside us.