Spiritual Gifts: Part 1. To Each One, Just as He Determines

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Spiritual Gifts

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

Any serious discussion of Spiritual Gifts is bound to take folks to the edge of their comfort zones, especially if diverse backgrounds are involved. What purpose do they serve? Are the gifts for today? Are there any that are essential to prove we’re saved? Is there a difference between the Baptism of Salvation and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? These questions have been asked since the beginning. Paul answered them all clearly in 1st Corinthians 12-14, but people still wonder. Let’s summarize his explanation and then let the original language show us a surprise or two.

Did You Bring Me a Gift?

The listing of gifts in chapter 12 is bracketed by two thoughts that are instructive in and of themselves. “To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”… “and He gives them to each one just as He determines.” Clear enough?

The Lord gives gifts to each believer as He sees fit for the good of all. Everyone is gifted in some way to make his or her unique contribution to the body. We don’t choose the gift(s) we get but having received them we’re to use them for the good of all.

There are nine gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12. Paul lists seven others in Romans 12, (where he also points out that “we have different gifts according to the grace given us”) and another five in Ephesians 4 again implying a distribution of gifts across the body.

It’s Greek to Me

As for the meaning of the Greek words used to describe the gifts, most are free from controversy. The exception would be clear as well but for one instance. I’m talking about the Greek word translated healing in 1 Cor. 12:9. It literally means to cure or heal. In Hebrews 12:13 this word is used figuratively in an analogy comparing the spiritual strengthening that comes from enduring hardship to physical healing. Some take this single instance to deny the literal use of the word in the 30 or so other places it appears. It’s a clear violation of the rules of interpretation. We’re to use clear passages to define obscure ones not the other way around.

How Does That Work?

As to the working of gifts in our day, the debate stems from an incorrect application of 1 Cor. 13:10. In that verse, the Second Coming is in view, when that which is imperfect (our understanding of His Plan) will be made perfect. The point of the passage is that even with our spiritual gifts we can’t understand everything. When the Lord comes and makes everything clear, the need for the gifts will cease, except for the greatest gift of all—Love.

Some claim that the perfection spoken of is the completion of the Bible, a view that can not be found before 1906 when the reappearance of spiritual gifts in the Pentecostal movement caused great alarm in some circles and a way to discredit their use had to be found.

Were You Baptized?

As for a special second baptism, where certain gifts are bestowed (specifically tongues) there is also a misunderstanding of context. There are two instances in Acts where a baptism results in the manifestation of tongues.  In both these other cases, Gentile believers received for the first time the baptism of salvation. The manifestation of tongues was the Lord’s proof to Jewish believers that “the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.” It was not intended to identify tongues as proof of salvation or any other level of spirituality. (Acts 10:44-46)

Three Greek words are used to define the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Para means with and applies to everyone before the Resurrection. Eperchomai means to come upon and describes events in Acts 2, 10:44, and 19:6, resulting there in the manifestation of tongues. En means in and refers to the result of having heard and believed the Gospel, as in Ephesians 1:13-14.

Taken together, all these passages agree that the Lord sealed the Holy Spirit within you at the moment of belief, determined what gift(s) you would need to make your unique contribution to the body, and invested you accordingly. From time to time, for His own purposes, He might also cause the Holy Spirit to “come upon” you to perform a special or limited assignment.

The Biggest Surprise

The English word “another” appears eight times in 1 Cor. 12:8-10, but in the Greek two different words are used. One means another of the same kind (allos), and the other means another of a different kind (heteros).

Using the literal Greek meanings, the two verses would read like this:

“To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another (of the same kind) the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another (of a different kind than those given wisdom and knowledge) faith by the same Spirit, to another (same kind as faith) gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another (same kind as faith) miraculous powers, to another (same kind as faith) prophecy, to another (same kind as faith) distinguishing between spirits, to another (of a different kind than either previous group) speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another (same kind as tongues)the interpretation of tongues.

The way these words are used makes it seem like Paul separated believers and their gifts into three groups. The first group gets wisdom and knowledge; the second group includes faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, and discernment; and the third has tongues and interpretation.

Observing the church, you see certain groups emphasizing some gifts over others. Instead of seeking the full distribution of gifts within their group, believers with similar gifts form like-minded congregations. Some groups even assert that you’re not really a believer unless you can manifest the gifts they emphasize, while others, denying their use, expel members who manifest gifts.

In perhaps no area of God’s Grace will you find more evidence of man’s destructive meddling than in the area of spiritual gifts. I’ll share some of my own experience next time.