Chapter 10: Spiritual Gifts: Sphere and Control

The doctrine of the Bible is Trinitarian doctrine; it teaches that God is One (Deut. 6:4. Mai. 2:10. I Tim. 2:5) and that it has pleased Him to manifest Himself in the threefold distinction of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In regard to this study, it should be realized that each person in the Godhead is active in the bestowal and operation of spiritual gifts.

The Trinity and Gifts

There are three major passages in the New Testament which deal with the matter of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-18. I Cor. 12 through 14. Eph. 4:1-16). The first passage is related to God the Father; the second, to God the Spirit; and the third, to God the Son. It should also be noted that the first is relevant to the individual Christian’s attitude toward others; the second, to the function of spiritual gifts in the local church; and the third, to the importance of spiritual gifts in the progress of the Universal Church.

The tenses of time may also be considered as significant in these three passages: The past, “Think soberly, according as God hath dealt (did deal) to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we” (Rom. 12:3-8). This may have been at conversion or some other past experience. The present: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:4). The future: “Gifts unto men … for the perfecting of the saints, … unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:7-13).

The Sphere of Function

While in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Romans we have the record of the bestowal of spiritual gifts, in I Corinthians we have the sphere in which they function.

The First Epistle to the Corinthians quite naturally divides itself into two parts. The first section from chapter one to the end of chapter ten; the second, from chapter eleven to the end of chapter sixteen. In the second section we have the repeated expression “be come together,” indicating that Paul is not dealing with matters relative to the individual in the church, but with the practices in public church gatherings. Furthermore, he also makes other references to the local church as it is gathered for congregational services.

There is only one Church in the New Testament and it is presented under two aspects, the Universal and the local. The spiritual gifts are given for the benefit of the entire Church, but, according to Scripture, their proper place of activity is the local church.

The Groups of Gifts

The Spirit of God, by selecting two certain words, divides the list of gifts in I Corinthians 12:7-11 into three. Unfortunately the two words are translated into English by only one word, the word another. Paul used one word that means another of the same kind, and a second word that means another of a different kind. We could paraphrase verses 8-10: “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another of the same kind, the word of knowledge. To another of a different kind, faith by the same Spirit, and to another of this same kind, the gift of healing, and to still another of this same kind, the working of miracles; to such another, prophecies; and to such another, discerning of spirits. To another of a different sort, divers kinds of tongues; and to another of this sort, interpretation of tongues.”

It will readily be seen that in these groups there is first, the faculty of wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is acquired and by wisdom is applied. In second place, there is the faculty of performance and accomplishment. In the third place, there is the faculty of speech and communication.

The Operation of Gifts

In the matter of spiritual gifts and their operation, the three chapters of I Corinthians: 12, 13, 14, are very important. In chapter 12 are the various abilities of the gifts; in chapter 13, the proper attitude accompanying the gifts; and in chapter 14, the specific arrangement controlling the operation of the gifts. It has been said that great gift requires great grace; according to these three chapters, any gift requires much love for its proper function.

At the opening of chapter 13, the Apostle casually and only approximately refers to the three groups in the list (chap. 12:8-10): the first, the faculty of speech in verse one; the second, the faculty of knowledge in verse two; the third, the faculty of performance and action in verse three. The Apostle implies that although a Christian might be the personification of all the gifts, without love speech would be merely a noise, knowledge as nothing, and the most spectacular accomplishment would receive no compensation.

I Corinthians 13 is frequently called Paul’s Psalm of Love, and it is all that. It opens with the possible absence of love in the centre is given the pure ability of love, and at the close mention is made of the permanent abiding of love. Love causes spiritual endowments to function without irritation for the profit of all concerned.

The Abuses of Gifts

In the closing section of First Corinthians the Apostle condemns the extravagant use of a spiritual gift, and shows that the true value of a gift is demonstrated by its utility to the entire Church.

In this section, Paul deals with various abuses in public church practices: the insubordination of the women (11:1-16), the desecration of the Lord’s supper (11:17-34), the improper use of spiritual gifts (12:1—14:40), and the perversion of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection (15:1-58), and the negligence relative to church funds (16:1-9). The carnal mind is always ready to deviate from the divine plan, and to adapt God’s intentions to suit its own purposes.

In a study of the chapters which were meant to correct the abuses of spiritual gifts, it is discovered that some were given for extraordinary purposes, they were sign gifts of only temporary duration.

There were many signs and wonders at the beginning of the Church era. They accompanied the ministry of the Lord Jesus (Heb. 2:3-4). They were seen in the ministry of all the early apostles of the Lord (Acts 2:43; 5:12). They were seen in the testimony of Stephen (Acts 6:8), and were a part of the preaching of Philip in Samaria (Acts 8:6). They also accompanied the service of the Apostle Paul (Acts 15:12. Rom. 15:19). The birth of the Christian Church was fully attested by confirmatory spectacular signs; they demonstrated the divine origin, the supernatural character of the great movement of grace.

These signs and wonders gradually ceased with the passing of time. Even before the end of the apostolic period, the record of signs and miracles closed, and there is no indication that apostolic delegates like Timothy and Titus performed miracles.

The Gift of Tongues

One of the most spectacular sign gifts was the gift of tongues, a gift abused at Corinth, a gift still abused by the claims and perversions of the present.

Its importance: The importance of the gift of tongues becomes evident when we contrast God’s government with God’s grace. In government, God confused the tongue of men. He confounded their language that they might not understand one another (Gen. 11:7). Furthermore, in government God shall restore humanity to one pure language (Zeph. 3:9). The discord of Babel will give place to a unity of language when idolatry has ceased and when the Lord has executed judgment upon all the nations and established a reign of righteousness. Now between God’s governmental dealings at Babel and during the Millennium, God sent a message of grace to all the world; therefore, He made this world-wide message available immediately to the representatives of the nations gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. These representatives were amazed and asked the question, “How hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born? … We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:8-11).

Its ancient abuse: This is readily detected in the reading of chapter 14 of I Corinthians, and more of this will become evident as we study Paul’s correctives for this abuse.

Its modern abuse: The modern abuse of this gift is fairly well known. This abuse arises from three erroneous concepts. First: It is contended that under the power of this gift, persons are able to speak the language of angels, that what sounds like jargon to us is actually a heavenly language. All this is based upon one word appearing frequently in I Corinthians 14 in the King James Version, the word “unknown.” It occurs in verses 2, 4, 13, 14, 19, 27, and is taken by some to mean a language unknown to men, therefore angelic. Even a cursory reading of these verses shows that in every case the word “unknown” is italisized which means that it is not in the original. It would have been much better had the translators used the word foreign, implying a language foreign to the gathered congregation. Second: This abuse also arises from the failure to understand the apostolic use of this gift. These points should be noted: (a). The Greek word tongues (glossia) is used synonymously with language in the three historical demonstrations recorded in the Book of Acts: at Pentecost (2:4-11), in the case of Cornelius (10:44-46), and in the case of the disciples at Ephesus (19:1-7). (b). The gift of tongues was one of the sign gifts, particularly to Israel. The prediction of Isaiah (Isa. 28:11-12) is quoted (I Cor. 14:21) to prove that this spectacular gift at the beginning of this era was a sign to the Jewish people. (c). Only a few in the apostolic church possessed this gift, and all were not encouraged to seek it. Paul raises seven rhetorical questions (I Cor. 12:29-30), and all imply that the major and sign gifts were limited to a comparatively few persons, (d). There are two lists given in I Corinthians 12, and in both of these tongues and the interpretation of tongues are at the last (Vs. 8-10 and 28). These two gifts are at the very bottom of the lists. What some men would put at the beginning, God places at the end. (e). It is also worthy of note that the most gifted in languages among all at Corinth, the Apostle Paul, preferred not to use this gift. He said, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding” (I Cor. 14:18-19). (f). Unrestricted use of tongues, even in apostolic days, brought the church into disrepute before the world (I Cor. 14:23). (g). The gift was not to be employed at all in apostolic churches unless there was also present an interpreter.

Third: This gift is sadly abused today because of a refusal to accept the scriptural assertion found in this very context that tongues were to cease (I Cor. 13:8). Three salient points appear in I Corinthians 13:8-12, and these may best be understood by asking three questions: What was to cease? Why were they to cease? When were they to cease?

What was to cease? Certain gifts that belonged exclusively to the early days of the Church: prophecies, tongues, and knowledge (V. 8). Why were they to cease? Because they were imperfect, “We know in part, and we prophesy in part” (V. 9). The full revelation of God had not yet been given. When were they to cease? “When that which is perfect is come” (v. 10). While there are differences of opinion in regard to what this means, there is one suggestion which seems more suitable than others, and it agrees with all the items in this context, that divine revelation as given in the Scriptures would eventually be completed. The Apostle Paul informs us that he had received a stewardship to fulfil, complete, the Word of God (Col. 1:25). Doctrinally this is true; there was no further revelation from God after Paul’s day. The completion of God’s will to man is seen in the unfolding of the mystery in regard to the Church (Eph. 3:1-10). There were other writers chron- ologically after Paul, but there was no further new doctrine revealed. Paul completed the New Testament Canon in connection with doctrine.

The Objectives of Gifts

There are three statements made by the Apostle in this closing section of First Corinthians which provide a goal for all gifts and activities in the local church. Two of them are found in the chapter that deals with the abuse of the gift of tongues, (a). “Let all things be done unto edifying” (14:26). (b). “Let all things be done decently and in order” (14:40). (c). “Let all your things be done in love” (16:14). Here then are guiding rules in the employment of all gifts entrusted to men.

Tests on This Chapter

1. What relation has the Holy Trinity to spiritual gifts?

2. If gifts are given to the Universal Church, where is their scriptural sphere of operation?

3. Name the three classifications of the gifts listed in I Corinthians 12:7-11.

4. What more than endowment is necessary for the proper function of gifts? State chapter.

5. Name some of the abuses corrected by Paul in the closing section of I Corinthians.

6. How important was the gift of tongues?

7. Why is it abused today?

8. Who was the greatest apostolic linguist?

9. What Scripture states that tongues would cease?

10. Name three objectives of any gift.