Spiritual Gifts

Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #5 There Are Individual Gifts of Pastoring, Apostleship, and Evangelism

In discussing the unity and maturing of believers, Paul describes in Ephesians 4 how God’s comprehensive and unified work results in grace for each individual believer (Eph 4:7). Each of us can rejoice, knowing that God has given us individually the grace we need, while at the same time we can understand that we are not independent of Him nor of each other. We are designed to function as His body—as one—even though we are individual members of His body.

Considering the unique source of grace and the gifts that stem from grace, Paul explains that Christ gave the gift (4:7), and He gave gifts (4:8). His grace included not just the singular gift of salvation (as described in Eph. 2:8-9), but also everything necessary for complete sanctification (as described in Eph. 2:10).

Ephesians 4:11 identifies four vital gifts: “and He gave indeed the apostles, and the prophets, and the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.” This is a literal translation accounting for each Greek word in the passage. Notice that the objects of verb gave are preceded in each case by the definite article the. Also notice the passage does not say that He gave the gift of apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, and pastoring and teaching—if that is what Paul intended to say, he could have easily structured the passage to make that meaning clear. Instead, he identifies the gifts as the apostles themselves, the prophets themselves, the evangelists themselves, and the pastors and teachers themselves.

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Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #4 "I Can't Help . . . I Don't Have that Gift"

Romans 12:6-8 describes eight gifts: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, and mercy. 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 lists nine manifestations of the Spirit: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. Verse 28 adds eight appointments: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, helps, administrations, and tongues. 1 Peter 4:11 mentions only two gifts: speaking and serving.

We know that every believer has the Spirit of God (Rom 8:9; Eph 1:13-14), that “we have gifts that differ” (Rom 12:6), that to “each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit” (1 Cor 12:7), and that “each one has received a special gift” (1 Pet 4:10). We also know that while identifying one’s spiritual gifts(s) with certainty is not required and may not even be entirely possible, the Spirit’s giving and manifesting is not at all irrelevant. These gifts are designed to play an important role in the church. After all, they are deliberately tasked means designed to work toward one vital end: “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet 4:11b). If their purpose is His glory, then ignoring them is not an option.

But if a person is, for example, fairly certain that they have been gifted with teaching, then what are they to do when faced with a different ministry opportunity having little or nothing to do with teaching? What if there is a financial need in the church that the “teacher” is aware of and has the means to help resolve. Can he claim that he is only to function as a teacher, and hasn’t got the gift of helps? Does this absolve him of any responsibility toward the needy family? 2 Corinthians 8:14 describes the purpose of abundance as for supplying needs (without any reference to spiritual gifting, by the way). Paul adds in 9:8 a broader purpose statement for abundance: “…always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” Every good deed implies that one’s work and service is to extend beyond personal spiritual gifting, though a case could be made that all gifting—including God’s provision of material wealth—is spiritual gifting.

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Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #3 We Have to Identify Our Gifts

gift question markRead the series so far.

He had no military training, and no skill with the elite weapons of war, but when he saw a battle that needed to be won he didn’t hesitate to engage. Against all odds, and armed only with the knowledge of how God had strengthened him before, a sling and a few small stones, David faced a vicious enemy. 1 Samuel 17 gives the account of how David heard the Philistines taunting God and the armies of Israel, how no soldiers were willing to fight the Philistine champion, and how David—depending on the Lord—won the day. Being only a boy, David was met with resistance when he volunteered to fight. King Saul told him he was not able (1 Sam. 17:33).

David’s response was brilliant (and helpful): “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37). And of course, we know the rest of the story.

David’s attitude toward serving God provides an excellent example for us today, especially as we consider spiritual gifts. David lived in a different age, and the Holy Spirit was not operating in exactly the same way—He would temporarily strengthen people for specific tasks, and there is no evidence that He indwelt people then as He does in the church age. Because David wasn’t dealing with “spiritual gifts,” I use his episode with Goliath as an example, but we have to be careful not to take the analogy too far.

In any case, David was certain he would be able to function successfully in a future endeavor only because of how God provided for him in similar past endeavors. He exhibited no fear in looking forward to the task at hand because of his history with God. But as far as we know, David had no special revelation from God to that point. As far as the Bible reveals, God did not promise David He would deliver him from the lion or the bear—or Goliath. But yet David was confident, and he proclaimed to Goliath, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted” (17:45).

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Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #2 Speaking in Tongues is a Needed Evidence that We Have the Holy Spirit

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With over 40,000 members, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas is the largest church in the United States. For better or for worse, Lakewood and its leader Joel Osteen are profoundly influential. One significant area of influence is in the realm of spiritual gifts. A search of the terms “spiritual gifts” on Lakewood’s website produced (at the top of the list) a downloadable booklet called Understanding the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, from Joel Osteen Ministries, and authored by Lisa Comes. The booklet explains how and why one should speak in tongues, and cites speaking in tongues as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (point 5, page 3). The view promoted in the booklet is not original with Lakewood, Osteen, or Comes—in fact, it is the prevailing view in Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations. But is it a biblical view? Is speaking in tongues needed evidence that we have the Holy Spirit?

First, as we considered in the previous article, Romans 8:9 emphatically notes that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” By contrast Osteen’s and Comes’s booklet cites Acts (2:17-19, 39), Luke (11:13), and John (7:37-39) to support the point that not every believer has the Holy Spirit. And it is true that Romans presents a very different picture of how one receives the Holy Spirit than do the Gospels and even the book of Acts. But rather than contradicting one another, these books consider different contexts—different times, and different ways in which God has worked over the ages (nothing contradictory at all). To illustrate, Joel Osteen has never (to my knowledge) advocated that believers today should present to the Lord two turtledoves or two young pigeons as is mandated in Leviticus 5:7. Presumably this is because Osteen recognizes that Leviticus was written about a different people and context than the church of today.

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Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #1 We Need A Second Work of Grace

The great Inigo Montoya famously said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

That line is apropos for many occasions, but it especially fits how we often understand spiritual gifts. Instead of recognizing spiritual gifts as tools God gives to help us get His work done, we often consider them to be mystical links between God and us—evidences or proofs, if you will, that He is really working. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised, after all we are in good company (recall Israel’s episode with the golden calf—their faith was pretty weak at the time too). But still, like Montoya says, we use the words without really understanding how He uses the words. Consequently, we make them into something they aren’t. In the series of articles to follow we take a look at ten common myths regarding spiritual gifts. Here is the first one:

Myth #1: We need a second work of grace in order to get a spiritual gift

The Bible is notably silent about receiving the Holy Spirit as a step separate from salvation—except in the book of Acts (more on that book in a moment). Romans 8:9, for example, says, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” We either have the Spirit or we don’t. We are either in Christ or we aren’t. Paul leaves no middle ground. In fact, Ephesians 1:13 tells us how and when we receive the Holy Spirit: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Paul adds that the Spirit is “given as a pledge [or downpayment] of our inheritance [eternal life], with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:14). At the moment of belief, the Holy Spirit is given to believers.

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Miraculous Gifts: If They Ceased, Why?

So far in this study of cessationism (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), we have considered the what question and the when question. Per the what question, cessationists conclude that what took place in the New Testament (with regard to the miraculous gifts) is not happening in the church today—even if charismatics are using biblical terminology to refer to non-biblical practices.

Per the when question, cessationists conclude (on the basis of passages like Ephesians 2:20) that the miraculous and revelatory gifts were intended only for the foundational (apostolic) age of the church. Thus, they should not be expected to continue after the time of the apostles.

But this raises the why question: Why were these gifts given, such that they are no longer necessary after the foundation age ended?

At least three purposes are designated in Scripture.

Purpose 1: a sign.

The miraculous gifts were given as a sign by which God authenticated His messengers during a time of transition from Israel to the church. That purpose was no longer necessary once the transition was complete and the church was firmly established.

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Does Prophecy Continue?

Did all the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, such as tongues and prophecy, cease with the completion of the New Testament? If we take the position that prophecy continues in some form, is such a view compatible with the conviction that God has given us all the authoritative revelation He intended to give (that the the canon of Scripture is closed)?

Last January, Dr. Bruce Compton (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary) presented a paper on these questions at the Preserving the Truth Conference. What follows is a summary reflecting my understanding of Compton’s analysis. The full paper is available at the PTC resources page.1

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Are Tongues for Today? Part 4

Originally published as a single article: “Tongues—Are They for Today?,” DBSJ 14 (2009). Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The argument from the biblical function of the tongues as edifying the church

The following is not so much an argument against tongues per se, but a collection of snipes at the practice of tongues in the broad church today. In short, they argue collectively that if speaking in tongues continues in the church today (which I grant only for sake of argument), most of what passes for glossolalia today does not fit the biblical criteria for tongues as set down in 1 Corinthians 12–14. Specifically, the following four expressions of “tongues” in the church today fail because they do not fulfill the primary function of spiritual gifts—the edification of the church.

Tongues as incoherent, inherently meaningless utterances

Great debate swirls over the identity of the use of glōssa (γλῶσσα) in the NT. Poythress reduces the options to the following five:

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