The Power of His Resurrection (pt 2)
The divine postman - or, 'Whose are the gifts?'
- Nb. This study is hypertext-linked to the Bible Gateway. By clicking on the references, you will initially be shown the passage in the New King James Version, with an option to switch to any of a wide range of different languages and translations. You can also browse the surrounding chapters or look for other references if you wish.
- Is there more to being saved than being saved?
- What are the gifts for?
- Fruit versus gifts
- With, In and Upon
- The Streams and the Well
- Were you or are you?
- The divine postman - or, 'Whose are the gifts?'
- Manifestations and Ministries
- Stirring up the gift
- How are the gifts used?
- To act or not to act?
2.1 The divine postman - or, 'Whose are the gifts?'
Read 1 Cor 12:4-11 (nb. v7). Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of all. The person exercising such a gift is neither its originator nor (with one exception which we will discuss later) its intended recipient. Rather, he or she is God's 'postman', charged with the task of delivering the gift to its intended recipient. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the gift and decides who will deliver it.
Misunderstanding of this simple but essential principle lies at the root of many of our hangups when it comes to ministering the power of God to others. Suppose we have just been confronted with someone in a pressing state of need. What is our reaction?
- 'If only I could DO something.'
- 'What have I got to give?'
- 'If only I were more spiritual, I might be able to pray and get a miracle.'
- 'Why doesn't God do something?'
What we fail to appreciate is that the Holy Spirit is already there; inside us, looking out on that situation through our eyes. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Intercessor, the Spirit of grace and the Giver of gifts. All that is required to make the connection is that we should be ready to act as his postman - taking whatever he gives us at that moment and passing it on!
It is a foolish mistake to suppose that our personal worthiness has overmuch to do with this. Have you ever refused to send a present to someone because you didn't think much of the postman? Basically, I can think of only four things about a postman which would cause me to consciously avoid using his services:
- If he failed to deliver the package as requested (Ez. 3:18)
- If he allowed it to be damaged (Job 42:7, Jer. 23:28)
- If he started claiming payment or privileges from the recipient (Acts 8:20-1, 2 Kings 5:8-27).
- If he made it look as if he, not I, had been the giver (Is. 42:8 & 48:11)
Notice that, having defined fruit as the evidence of true godliness (Mt 7:20), Jesus goes on to warn about those who call him Lord - even prophesying and doing miracles in his name - but who are really evildoers (Mt 7:21-3). Similarly, after telling the Corinthian church they 'do not lack any spiritual gift' (1 Cor 1:5-7) Paul criticises them as 'worldly' (1 Cor 3:3).
People who pride themselves on their spirituality because they have often been used to minister spiritual gifts are making a big mistake. On the other hand, if God can use a dumb ass as his mouthpiece (Num. 22:21-33), he can surely use me!
2.2 Manifestations and Ministries
Some people are regularly used in the exercise of particular gifts; whereas others may only be used occasionally, and not always in the same way. Paul makes a distiction between a 'manifestation' of the Spirit and those who regularly minister in particular areas, whether with supernatural gifts like healing or natural ones like administration (1 Cor 12:7-10 & 28-30). But you should understand that, even though God may not usually use you in a particular way, he is able to manifest any of the gifts through you if the need arises. The Holy Spirit in you is no different from the Holy Spirit who was in Paul; or even Jesus.
2.3 Stirring up the gift
Paul stresses that those who prophesy and speak in tongues can choose whether or not to do so (1 Cor 14:26-32). He also tells the Corinthians to 'eagerly desire the greater gifts' and Timothy to 'fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.' (1 Cor 12:31 & 2 Tim 1:6).
Although the Spirit will reveal how and when He wants to use us, it is up to us to cultivate a desire and readiness for Him to do so. We must also ensure that the fruit of the Spirit is seen in their operation (which is why Paul breaks off his discussion of gifts to emphasise the importance of love in 1 Cor 13). Like the postman, we don't send the gift; but we do determine when, how and in what condition it is delivered.
2.4 How are the Gifts used?
2.4.1 Gifts of Discernment
These show God knows all about us, and always knows what to do.
Discerning of Spirits is the revelation of the spiritual forces at work in a situation (angelic, human or demonic) (Acts 16:16-8). The Word of Knowledge reveals specific information about a person or situation (John 4:16-8): whereas the Word of Wisdom reveals either what to do about a situation (Mt 22:15-22, Luke 21:12-5) or an exceptional insight into spiritual truth (1 Cor 15:51).
These are probably the most difficult gifts to exercise because, although God gives the revelation, the way it is used depends entirely upon the one exercising the gift. (How many other ways could Jesus have used the knowledge about the woman in John 4, for example?) These gifts need to be liberally mingled with spiritual fruit in those using them. It also requires spiritual maturity to distinguish between what comes from God and our own imaginations.
The way in which revelations are given varies. It may be mental pictures, heightened awareness, visions, dreams, natural events which serve as 'parables', words of Scripture which assume special significance, words or knowledge which come clearly and quite unbidden into the mind, or even an audible voice. Whichever form God uses, there will be a consciousness that He is speaking to you.
In learning to use these gifts it is important to have a realistic opinion of ourselves. We are told, 'If any one speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God' (1 Pet 4:11). But we must not overreach our faith and put across our own ideas as the word of God; so there has to be a balance here. We should not 'fish' for clues and then announce some blinding revelation. If in doubt, it is better either to remain silent and use the information to guide your questions or to say candidly, 'I think God is saying...'
2.4.2 Gifts of Demonstration
These show God is able and willing to intervene in our lives.
There is a considerable overlap here. Healings may well be so dramatic as to warrant being described as miracles. Miracles cover any divine suspension of normal physical laws, such as feeding the 5,000 and raising the dead. Although every Christian has faith, the gift of faith is a sudden infusion which goes beyond the normal for the person exercising it.
The key thing to remember is that God never performs gratuitous 'magic' just to impress people. He only acts when there is a real need requiring his intervention and there are people there who are spiritually ready to receive it (Acts 14:8-10 & Mark 2:5). When that happens you will normally be conscious of the Spirit a) stirring up your heart about the situation and b) urging you to do or say something. Don't panic. Do your bit and leave the rest to God.
2.4.3 Gifts of Declaration
These enable us to spontaneously proclaim God's truth.
Prophecies involve the understanding of the one exercising the gift; whereas tongues are languages unknown to the speaker, so the understanding is bypassed. Consequently, although tongues may appear more supernatural, prophecy requires more spiritual maturity and is often linked with the gifts of revelation, especially in those with a prophetic ministry.
Although the general rule concerning gifts is that they are not given for the benefit of the one exercising them, tongues are primarily a private prayer language (1 Cor 14:4). The purpose is that the believer may be built up in his own spirit by being enabled to pray and praise God more freely and may then overflow in spontaneous testimony (Acts 2:4-11).
Only when coupled with interpretation does tongues become a gift of direct practical value to the church (1 Cor 14:5-13). This provides a bridge between tongues and prophecy, bringing understanding of the tongue; but not requiring the same level of maturity as prophecy in judging when and how it is to be used. Some say that tongues are always prayers, even when interpreted: but Acts 2:11 and 1 Cor. 14:5-6 may suggest otherwise.
Many think that somehow the mind, or at very least the tongue, is taken over when people speak with tongues or prophesy. But, unlike trance-induced utterances, the decision when and if to give the message is up to the speaker (1 Cor 14:27-32), although it is the Holy Spirit who enables (gives the power to do it right) (Acts 2:4). So, as with every spiritual gift it is necessary to act in faith. (This requires an attitude of complete dependence that says, 'Holy Spirit, I'm about to open my mouth and speak out whatever words you put into my mind. If you don't give me the right words, this is going to be one awful load of rubbish: but I know you will do the right thing because Jesus promised it.' (Gal 3:5 & Luke 11:11-3).)
When praying in tongues do not let your attention be drawn from God (the one you are praying to) to the sound of the tongue itself. Like Peter, trying to walk on water with his eyes on the waves, you will flounder. A tongue often sounds strange, and may well be repetitive: but will usually get more fluent as you open your heart to the Lord.
Prophecies often cause a 'chain reaction', with one stimulating another (1 Cor 14:29-31). A tongue also stimulates interpretation.
Sometimes people on the brink of giving an interpretation get confused when someone who gets there first gives what seems to be a different rendering. There are three possible explanations: i) the interpretations may be phrased quite differently and yet convey the same message, ii) what they or the one speaking first had was actually a prophecy augmenting the tongue or iii) they got it wrong. The devil is always quick to suggest the latter; but it should really be evaluated by scripture and the discernment of others.
2.5 To act or not to act?
Sometimes the Spirit's prompting is like a 'gentle whisper' (1 Kings 19:12) and at others 'like a burning fire, shut up in my bones' (Jer 20:9). We should not be too fearful of making mistakes - Jesus won't abandon us (Mt 14:25-33). As at all times, the key issue is to 'let the peace of God rule (arbitrate) in your heart' (Col 3:15). Ask yourself, 'Which will maintain my peace with God - to act now or to wait?' Let God take care of the consequences.