A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Last time we discovered Pentecost was not the day the Disciples received the Holy Spirit, but instead, it was a time when He came upon them with an unmistakable display of power (Acts 2:1-4). Remember, they had already performed miracles in the Lord’s name. When He sent the 12 out to preach to Israel, He gave them authority to heal the sick and drive out demons (Luke 9:1-6). After that, He sent out 72 others to every town in Israel, Jewish, and Gentile, and they were able to heal the sick and drive out demons too (Luke 10:9,17). But never before had anything like the events of Pentecost happened.
What Happened On Pentecost?
We begin this part of our study by looking at the effect speaking in tongues had on those in the presence of the disciples on Pentecost. Since this was the first time anything like this had happened, we should expect to find some defining characteristics for this supernatural ability. Theologians call this the Principle of First Mention. It’s based on the fact that when an important idea appears for the first time in the Bible, additional detail is often included in the passage to help us understand it. For example, we find the first mention of the cross in Matt. 10:38, where Jesus said, “anyone who does not take His cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” People sentenced to be crucified were required to carry their own cross to their execution, and we’ve all seen vivid enactments of the Lord doing just that. But He didn’t mean we all have to be crucified like He was. He meant that His followers must put their own plans for their life to death and seek to follow His plan for them instead.
With that, we’ll pick up the narrative in Acts 2:7 to get the crowd’s reaction to their use of the gift of tongues.
Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Act 2:7-11)
When the Holy Spirit came upon the Disciples that morning, they were supernaturally empowered to speak to their audience in such a way that each one present understood them in his own native language. Their hearts were opened to Peter’s sermon, and about 3,000 were baptized into the faith.
Later on, when Paul described the gift of tongues, he said it’s complemented by the gift of interpretation implying that messages in tongues are meant to be understood. Otherwise, they serve no purpose. Paul taught that if there is no interpreter present, then the person with the message is to remain silent. (1 Cor. 14:27-28) Without an interpretation, the message is meaningless.
By the testimony of these two examples, it’s clear that messages in tongues are meant to be understood and the use of the gift is meant to be orderly, as a sign for unbelievers, just as it was at Pentecost. Uttering a phrase or sentence consisting of words no one on Earth can understand doesn’t meet either the Biblical definition of, or the Holy Spirit’s purpose for, the gift of tongues. But when the Holy Spirit empowers someone to share a message in a language he or she can’t speak, that person is exercising the gift of tongues. When someone translates such a message into a language that everyone can understand, he or she is using the gift of interpretation. At Pentecost, no interpreters were needed because everyone heard the Gospel in his own language.
Gifts In 1 Cor. 12
As for spiritual gifts in general, the Bible makes it clear that every believer has at least one. These gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit just as He determines, for the good of the body. (1 Cor. 12:7,11)
How the Holy Spirit distributes His gifts is hinted at in the words Paul used in listing them. The English word “another” appears eight times in 1 Cor. 12:8-10, but Paul alternated between two different Greek words when he wrote it. They both mean another, but allos means another of the same kind, while heteros means another of a similar but different kind. The way Paul used these two words is very instructive.
Using their different meanings, 1 Cor. 12:8-10 would read like this. (It will read more easily if I leave out the parts that say it’s all done by the same Spirit. I assume we already know that.)
“To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another (Greek allos, another of the same kind) the message of knowledge, to another (Greek heteros, another of a different kind than those given wisdom and knowledge) faith, to another (allos, same kind as those given faith) gifts of healing, to another (allos, same kind as faith) miraculous powers, to another (allos, same kind as faith) prophecy, to another (allos, same kind as faith) distinguishing between spirits, to another (heteros, of a different kind than either previous group) speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another (allos, same kind as those given tongues) the interpretation of tongues.
The way Paul alternated allos and heteros shows that he was separating believers into three groups. The first group gets the gifts of wisdom and knowledge; gifts for the second group include faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, and discernment; and the third has tongues and interpretation.
I don’t think we should necessarily understand this as a set of hard and fast rules. For one thing, the Holy Spirit can come upon any of us at any time with the temporary power to do what needs to be done at the moment. And for another, He distributes His gifts just as He determines for the good of the body. But it does confirm that different people get different gifts and can help us understand why certain gifts seem to be more prevalent in some parts of the Church than in others.
Even if some of the details concerning these gifts are confusing, others are very clear. For instance, every born-again believer was given at least one spiritual gift when we received the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Our job is to use our gift(s) for the good of the body, following the Spirit’s prompting.
Also, the gift of tongues is not given to every believer and was never intended as evidence of a so-called baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Gifts In Romans 12
Some folks don’t realize there are other lists of gifts in the New Testament. One is in Romans 12 where Paul also gave us the procedure for discovering our gifts. First, we offer our lives totally to God, giving Him permission to accomplish His will in us. Next, we stop conforming to the pattern of this world and its preoccupation with getting all this life has to offer, often at the expense of our heavenly calling. Then we let ourselves be transformed by the renewing of our mind. We do this by rejecting the secular world view and accepting the Biblical one in its place. By doing these things, we’ll begin to understand God’s will for our lives and how He’s gifted us to fulfill it. (Romans 12:1-2)
Then he listed seven more gifts the Lord has made available, again as He has determined.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)
You can see from this passage the Lord intends for us to use our gifts. As you let Him re-order your life around the area of your giftedness, you’ll be more effective in everything you do and experience higher levels of satisfaction and well-being than you’ve ever known. And you’ll have a greater impact for good on those around you. This is what the Lord meant by streams of living water flowing from within us. (John 7:37-39)
Gifts In Ephesians 4
And there is still one more list from Paul. Speaking of Jesus, he said;
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
The gift of prophecy is contained in all three lists, perhaps reflecting Paul’s view that we should be eager to prophesy (1 Cor. 14:39), and teaching appears twice. So the total of 21 includes 18 unique gifts. The list in Romans 12 is attributed to the Father, the one in Ephesians 4 to the Son, and the one in 1 Corinthians 12 to the Holy Spirit.
Our gifts were invested in us the moment we heard the Gospel of our salvation and believed it. Sadly, some believers are never told they have a spiritual gift and therefore don’t ever look for it. Others know about it but need some time to tune out the static of their secular lives sufficiently to hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit within them. When they do, they realize He’s been there all along, waiting to activate the gift He’s given them and provide guidance on its use.
Still, others come to the Lord at a point in life that makes them especially attuned to the Holy Spirit’s voice, and they immediately know, with a clarity they can’t explain, what their primary gift is and how they’re supposed to use it. For them, it’s like having a tiger by the tail as their lives are radically transformed, and they realize things will never again be the same as they were before.
Depending on their gift they may start a Bible study or a prison ministry, visit the sick, or begin giving away their money. Often they do this to the utter amazement of friends and family, who marvel at the change in them.
The only difference between these three groups is the length of time it takes to be transformed and renewed. The Holy Spirit is the same for all of us. As Charles Stanley so aptly puts it, “It’s not how much of the Spirit is in you, it’s how much of you is in the Spirit.”