The following definitions may be helpful in understanding where we should be functioning in the body of Christ. The divisions of speaking, serving and signifying are used, but these are not specified in the Bible.
The Speaking Gifts
1. Apostleship. “Apostle” means “sent one,” a messenger or delegate sent with orders. The word involves the concept of being commissioned to be an ambassador. An ambassador is more than just a messenger, and the thrust of the word is on the commission. The word is used in at least six ways in the New Testament: (1) Jesus is called an Apostle (Hebrews 3:1); (2) The Twelve Disciples are called the Twelve Apostles (Revelation 21:14); (3) A larger group of followers of Jesus who saw Him after his resurrection and received a commission from Him are called apostles (1 Corinthians 15:7); (4) There were counterfeit apostles (Revelation 2:2); (5) A delegate or envoy commissioned by a church for a specific task is called an apostle (Philippians 2:25); (6) Certain other persons who were commissioned by the Holy Spirit to do pioneer missionary work were called apostles (Acts 13:2; 14:4,14). Exactly how this was determined is not clear. Timothy, Barnabas, Andronicus and Junias were called apostles; but Titus and Apollo were not, perhaps because they were involved in follow-up work.
The doctrine of apostolic succession held by the Roman Catholic Church implies that through the “ordination process” there are still apostles today. However, this doctrine is not in Scripture. There are no apostles alive in the primary sense of men personally commissioned by the Risen Lord to go into all the world and preach the gospel. But the gift of apostleship has a secondary meaning. This applies to individuals who have been commissioned by the Holy Spirit to do pioneer missionary work among a certain group of people. William Carey was in this sense an apostle to India, Adoniram Judson to Burma, Hudson Taylor to Interior China. The gift of apostleship implies more than just being an evangelist or a messenger. He is an ambassador for the Lord with an unusual sense of authority and responsibility.
2. Prophecy is a gift to be coveted in the church because “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV). The Biblical revelation ends with a warning in Revelation 22 about anyone ever adding to the Scriptures. In that sense there have been no prophets since the first century. But the word “prophecy” also means to forthtell the Word of God, and so, in that sense, there continues to be the gift of prophecy among men who powerfully preach and apply the Word of God. Prophetic insight enables one to put his finger on the sin of a person as John the Baptist did, and as Peter did in Acts 5. It also enables the person to apply a certain truth of Scripture to a situation.
3. Evangelism is the gift of proclaiming the Good News effectively so that people respond in conversion.
4. Pastoring simply means “shepherding.” Jesus is called the Good Shepherd. The gift of shepherding involves guiding the flock, helping them to feed on the Word of God and guarding them from wolves and from Satan, who goes about like a roaring lion. Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders “to feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28). A pastor must be able to use God’s Word to minister to the sheep.
5. Teaching is the ability to effectively and systematically instruct someone (Romans 12:7). A teacher can explain and interpret the doctrines of Scripture and has a good grasp of the facts of the Biblical record.
6. Encouragement is sometimes translated as “exhortation” (Romans 12:8). Jesus used the same root word when describing the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The word implies “one who is called to one’s side to help, encourage, exhort, appeal to, entreat.”
7. Word Of Wisdom means literally “wise speech” (1 Corinthians 12:8). It has to do with a godly practical advice or good judgment about the problems facing a Christian. It is the wisdom that God imparts to those close to Him as per Solomon or the practical good sense of Stephen (Acts 6:3). It is the kind of wisdom found in the book of Proverbs.
8. Word Of Knowledge involves the knowledge of the intimate things of the Lord (1 Corinthians 12:8). The early Christians would contrast this with the special knowledge of the pagan mystery religionists about the intimate things of their gods. Paul used the term for those who displayed unusual insight into the ways of the Lord. Paul used the same word in Philippians 3:8, in which he says he counted all loss “for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.”
The Serving Gifts
1. Helps carries the meaning of lending assistance to someone. It is the same word used in Acts 20:35 indicating “support” of the weak. It is also related to the idea of waiting on tables (Acts 6:2). John Mark was taken on the first missionary journey by Paul and Barnabas as a “helper” (Acts 13:5 NASB). Other examples are Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22).
2. Hospitality means “love of strangers” (1 Peter 4:9). Hospitality was highly valued among early Christians. Hospitality is to be given to strangers and to all God’s people, not just to one’s friends (Matthew 5:46-47).
3. Giving conveys the idea of sharing. All Christians are to give, but some have the gift of giving. Romans 12:8 indicates giving is to be done “with simplicity,” “with singleness of mind,” “without pretense,” “freely, with delight,” “generously, with liberality.” These are all translations of this phrase in different versions. Barnabas had not only the gift of encouragement but of giving (Acts 4:34-37).
4. Administration Or Government. Three words are used for this gift. The first one means to “superintend, preside over, to rule.” The second word has the concept of “shipmaster, helmsman or steersman.” The third word means “to go before, lead, have authority over.” Paul says “he that ruleth” should do it “with diligence” (Romans 12:8). The idea is one of being a leader, or being able to graciously organize and direct people.
5. Showing Mercy. Romans 12:8 says “he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.” The word may be translated “to have compassion on” or “to give undeserved favor.” Dorcas is an example of one who had this gift because of her many “deeds of kindness and charity” (Acts 9:36-39 NASB). One must have the ability to empathize with someone in sorrow or pain and must do it cheerfully.
6. Faith means “firm persuasion.” The object of faith is God. It is a simple child-like trust in Him. Faith is the confidence in God that He will answer their prayers. Such faith is a stimulus to others. Examples are Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Barnabas (Acts 11:23-24).
7. Discernment means to distinguish or judge. The most dramatic case of this being practiced is by Peter with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). Discernment is the ability to distinguish that which is truth and from the Holy Spirit from that which is counterfeit and from Satan. Paul exercised this in Acts 13:10-11. Discernment may relate to doctrine as well as life. It has to do most dramatically with teachings that come from Satan and not from the Holy Spirit. People as well as teaching ministry might be included in things discerned.
The Signifying Gifts
1. Miracles. Three words are used in this connection. One means “power,” another “wonders” and still another “signs.” Jesus exercised these repeatedly. Scripture records 35 specific miracles He performed and alludes to hundreds of others. Paul performed some mighty deeds (2 Corinthians 12:12) that helped authenticate his apostleship. In perspective, it appears that miracles or signs have a function in the beginning of a work, especially to pagans; but because they can be duplicated by Satan, they may become counter-productive and distracting. Man’s exercising the gift of miracles differs from God’s miraculous working in lives or through circumstances.
2. Healing. Peter had the gift of healing (Acts 3:6-8; 5:15-16; 9:32-41). Not every sick person was healed; Paul himself was ill (as was Timothy) and not healed. Like miracles, this gift seems most prevalent in the beginning of the Acts. Nonetheless, God miraculously cures people today. Elders may go and pray for those who are ill, as described in James 5.
3. Tongues And Interpretations. Tongues means a language. Supernatural speaking in another language to preach the gospel occurred in Acts 2. Speaking in tongues is valid and from the Holy Spirit if someone can interpret what is said by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14). Most of the so-called “speaking in tongues” does not qualify. A gift from the Holy Spirit ought to minister to others.
A special word must be said about the gift of tongues since many believers press it upon others as necessary to a life of power and holiness. Most advocates of tongues believe that speaking in tongues is the outward sign of the baptism of the Spirit, subsequent to conversion. Whether genuine tongues are being spoken by someone or not at present does not make it more significant than other gifts with which it is listed. It is one of many. Not all can, or should, have it (1 Corinthians 12:30; 14:19-24). It is not the most important gift. It should be regulated by Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:27-34). Some avoid this regulation by teaching that there are several varieties of tongues (sign to the unbeliever or in the church, differing from private or devotional tongues). However, this subdivision is not clearly set forth in Scripture.
How should one respond to those who press tongues-speaking on others? Do not try to prove that tongues have ceased or that they are of the Devil. Do not belittle the importance of tongues or forbid them to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39). Do not debate the details of their experience. Rather establish the following principles from Scripture:
1. No Scripture expressly states that tongues are a sign of Spirit-baptism.
2. “Baptism,” “filling,” “sealing,” and “anointing” by the Spirit are not identical terms.
3. No Scripture tells us expressly that tongues are the “language of the Spirit,” the “language of prayer” or the “language of heaven.”
4. Tongues did not deliver the Corinthians from carnality and gross sin and do not succeed in this any better today.
5. Tongues in the book of Acts did not come when individuals sought the gift. God granted this manifestation to certain groups in a public way on His own initiative, not theirs.
6. Tongues are not elevated in Scripture to be the key to victorious life.
7. Tongues in Scripture often came simultaneously with other events, but should not be confused with them.
8. No Scripture teaches how to speak in tongues. No person should coach another on how to “get” the gift, any more than getting any other gift.