The gifts of the Holy Spirit in more detail

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From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 17 – Step four in detail – receive the Holy Spirit

We have already seen the gifts of the Holy Spirit discussed by Paul in the earlier passage, 1 Corinthians 14:1-33.  There is not space to examine all of these gifts fully in this book, but I will, at least, list them and briefly explain them.  These are gifts which are still available to us today and we should ask God for them.  He wants us to have them.  Don’t be shy about it, as I was.  Don’t hold back.  Ask God for these gifts with eagerness, so that you can be more useful to God in the work He is calling you to.  Let’s look again at the full list of spiritual gifts which apostle Paul sets out for us:

7But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  8For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;  9to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  10and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.  11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

1 Corinthians 12:7-11 (NASB)

Now let’s list the nine gifts in turn, in the same order that Paul uses:

1)  the word of wisdom

This means that the Holy Spirit provides you with a specific piece of wisdom, directly from Him, which is needed for the particular situation you are facing.  Or, it could be to benefit someone else’s situation.  A solution or an insight or understanding comes to you from God which meets the need of the moment.  It’s not from your own mind.  It is planted into your mind.

With a word of wisdom, we can help others in ways that we could never do if we just used our own personal wisdom.  This is a gift we all need to seek for.  Ask God to give you His wisdom in whatever situation you face, so that you can take the right path, or solve a vexed problem.  That gift is available to us when we have received the Holy Spirit. 

A personal example of an occasion when I have received a word of wisdom is when my son badly injured his finger when he was 13.  He got his finger tip caught in a door hinge at school and cut off the end of his finger.  He was taken to A&E and then seen by an orthopaedic surgeon.  The finger end was badly damaged and the whole nail was pulled off, plus the finger tip was gone. 

I was devastated because my son was a gifted cello player and had won a scholarship to a private school to play the cello.  The finger he’d injured was on his left hand and was needed for pressing hard on strings, not just for bowing.  Therefore, he needed a full finger with a tip and nail.

I spoke to the orthopaedic surgeon but he said that it was going to be necessary to amputate more of the finger, i.e. right back to the knuckle!  I asked him if he was sure about this and pointed out to him that my son needed the whole finger for cello (and piano).  The surgeon was adamant and said that it was “the only way“.  He then called over another orthopaedic surgeon who agreed with what he said. 

However,  I believe that at that moment the Holy Spirit gave me a word of wisdom.  I just knew in my spirit that what I was being told by these two surgeons was wrong.  I knew that the finger should not be amputated and that I was being given bad advice.  I had no way of knowing that in myself.  It was a word of wisdom (and probably also a word of knowledge) from the Holy Spirit.  It was not from within myself, or from my own knowledge, because I did not have any knowledge.

So I refused to allow the amputation to go ahead, even though the operation was all lined up and ready to happen within the next hour.  I insisted, instead, on being transferred to another surgeon for an official second opinion.  That didn’t go down well.

I then prayed, and rang others to get them to pray, for the next surgeon to give correct advice and to find a way to save and restore the finger.  The next morning, to my great relief, we were put under the care of one of the top hand specialists in the area.  Plus, it turned out that he had a daughter who played the cello, so he understood the instrument fully.  He knew what was needed and why it mattered so much.

He looked at my son’s finger. Unlike the first surgeon, who had said amputation was “the only way”, the first words he said were “Well, there are at least six different ways of doing this“.  He described each way, and none of them involved amputation.  His view was  totally different from the first two surgeons!  He said he would operate and seek to restore the finger, not to amputate it.  He then operated and took pieces of skin from elsewhere and put them on the badly injured finger tip, which was down to bare bone.

Amazingly, over the next year the finger got progressively better.  In the end the extent of the healing was astonishing.  The nail grew back and so did the flesh at the side and the tip of the finger.  And it was deep enough to enable him to press on the strings of a guitar or cello.  We had been warned that there could be nerve damage and that pressing could be very painful, but it wasn’t.  The operation was a total success.  God also caused the finger to regenerate itself to such an extent that it now looks hardly any different to the other fingers. 

Now, the point is that I was in a crisis.  I was being given wrong medical advice which I was not qualified to disagree with.  Yet, I knew in my spirit that it was wrong.  The Holy Spirit had revealed that to me.  If I had listened to the first surgeon (and his colleague) instead of the Holy Spirit, my son would now have a missing finger end.  Instead, his finger is virtually perfect and he has no loss of function and no pain either.

Another example of a word of wisdom involved a young man I know.  He was a sixth former (aged 17) who was at school, studying for A levels.  He had not been wise in his lower sixth form year and had done badly in his chemistry exams.  Therefore the teacher told him very firmly that he could not continue to do chemistry in the upper sixth form.  He said he would have to give it up and only do physics and biology. 

I was being told about this by the young man.  He was resigned to this and saw no way round the problem.  He had been thrown out of chemistry and that was all there was to it.  However, I felt a deep concern rising up inside me.  God then gave me a word of wisdom.  God revealed to me how He saw the situation, i.e. that the young man must continue with chemistry.  I knew suddenly what to tell him. 

It was that although he had been thrown out of chemistry A level, he should nevertheless, turn up for the first lesson of the new school year and just sit down in the class.  I said he should tell the teacher that he did not want to stop doing chemistry and to promise to change his ways.  He took my advice and turned up, sat down, and spoke to the teacher.  It didn’t go down well initially, but he persisted. In the end he was allowed back into the class. 

He went on to do well in chemistry in the upper sixth form.   Ironically, he then took chemistry for his degree, narrowly missing out on first class honours.  He then went on to do a Masters degree in chemistry.  Doing that Masters degree then won him a fully paid position to do a PhD in chemistry which he has recently completed!  All of that happened to a lad who had been thrown out of his A level class half way through.

The point is that God knew that that young man’s future was to be wrapped up in chemistry and that he must not give it up, despite the mess he was in, and despite what his school was telling him.  So, God shared His thoughts with me.  He revealed His sense of concern and urgency and gave me a word of wisdom which met the need of the moment.  What I told that young man wasn’t a good idea, it was a “God-idea“. 

If I had simply thought up that plan for myself it wouldn’t have worked.  Also, who would ever have imagined that chemistry was going to be such a vital part of the future of a young man who had just been kicked out of A level?  At a human level it made no sense, but it was God’s wisdom in operation and reflected God’s deeper understanding of the situation and of the future.

That is the difference that a word of wisdom can make.  They ought to be much more common, and they would be, if more people were willing to believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for us to use today.  I should add that in my son’s case I think the gift of faith was also involved. (see below).

2)  the word of knowledge

This is similar to the word of wisdom, except that it involves a specific fact or piece of knowledge rather than wisdom or understanding.  The Holy Spirit reveals a fact to us to help us, or which we can say to another person, which unlocks the situation.  It can provide a breakthrough.  For example it could be that there is an illness or disease that needs healing.  Or it could be about some problem which they would, otherwise, be unaware of. 

I can remember on one occasion being exasperated by some problems in my business.  I was asking God to tell me what on earth was causing the problems, because I was baffled.  To my great surprise I heard, in my head, an almost audible voice saying a person’s name.  I was amazed because it was the last person I would ever have expected.  I had no idea they were causing harm. 

Yet, when I investigated it (very thoroughly and carefully), I found it to be entirely true.  They had been causing great harm in the firm and had been deceiving me for a long time.  That was a total revelation to me. I could not have figured it out for myself.  Or, if I ever had, it would have taken much longer.

God regularly gave me words of knowledge (and words of wisdom) in my job as a lawyer and a manager.  I found myself repeatedly in situations where I just instantly put my finger on some point. It then turned out to be the key fact in a case, on which it all turned.  Or, God would alert me to a hazard or problem which I could not have realized for myself.

I have deliberately chosen to give examples of the word of knowledge and word of wisdom which show their relevance to everyday life at work or school or in our personal life, not just at church meetings.  They can certainly be given in a church meeting, but not only in that context.  That is worth emphasising, because few people seem to realise that God wants spiritual gifts to be used in every part of our life, not just in the setting of a church meeting.

Perhaps the most common context where I find God gives me words of knowledge or words of wisdom is where I am sharing the gospel one to one with a person.  God will often give me a point to make, or an analogy, or a question to ask which is extremely relevant or timely in the life of that person.  It just comes out of me, without me even needing to think.  That has occurred more times than I could ever remember.  It illustrates the point that spiritual gifts are meant to be used regularly and freely, in every day life, not rarely, or as a last resort.

3)  the gift of faith

This is when God gives you the specific faith to believe Him for something so that you can then pray with greatly enhanced confidence that the prayer will be answered.  You might face a difficult situation and you don’t have enough faith to ask for help and to believe that that prayer will be answered.  The gift of faith can suddenly lift up the level of your faith so that you can then ask with full confidence, expecting your prayer to be answered.  Or, where you face a problem or there is danger, you can step out in faith, believing God will provide for you. 

With this gift you will attempt things, or ask for things, where you would not otherwise do so.  It transforms your prayers and your actions from mere presumption into stepping out in faith.  That’s because the gift of faith has been imparted to you from outside of yourself.  It is not merely worked up by yourself, in your own strength, or by your own effort.

In 1999 I believe God gave me the gift of faith to enable me to set up a new business when all the facts and circumstances seemed to suggest that it would inevitably fail and that there was no point even trying.  However, because I had the gift of faith I pressed on and refused ever to give up, even though there were many difficulties to overcome.  I couldn’t have done it without the gift of faith and probably wouldn’t even have been willing to attempt it.

4)  the gift of healing

This gift means that a person is given the faith needed to pray for healing for themselves or another person.  They are then supernaturally healed by God’s power.  This gift is rarely seen in Western churches because our minds are so saturated with unbelief and scepticism.  However, it is much more common in the Developing World.  In such places, where medical help isn’t very available, the people seek much more earnestly for this gift.  More people are therefore physically healed by God’s miraculous intervention than in the West. 

5)  the gift of effecting of miracles (or working of miracles)

This is similar to the gift of healing but more general. Thus it would relate to any supernatural, miraculous intervention.  Again it is rare in the West, but it shouldn’t be.

6)  the gift of prophecy

Prophecy is not divination or fortune telling.  That is evil and is of the occult.  The gift of prophecy means the ability, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to speak God’s truth into a situation.  We deliver a message which God wishes to give, but He does it through us, in our own native language.  It often relates to the future and reveals something which is going to happen.  If so, it needs to turn out to be entirely accurate or it should be rejected as false. 

Prophecy is a message from God to the people.  That is the direction of travel.  Thus it differs from the interpretation of tongues (see below) which involves us saying something to or about God, such as praise, worship, prayer etc.

The main purpose of the gift of prophecy is to edify, exhort and console other people:

1Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 3But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.  4One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.

1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (NASB)

Whenever a prophecy or “prophetic word” is given it should always be weighed and tested very carefully by those hearing it.  It should only be accepted if it is genuinely from the Holy Spirit.  That therefore requires people with discernment to be able to know what it is and the courage to say whether it is valid. (see below)

An example from the Bible of a person giving a personal word of prophecy to another person is the account in Acts chapter 21 of Agabus.  He told Paul what trouble awaited him if he was to go to Jerusalem, which Paul was determined to do:

10As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  11And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” 12When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.

13Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”  15After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. 

Acts 21:10-15 (NASB)

So, Agabus was able to tell Paul what lay ahead.  Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and imprisoned and ended up being sent to Rome to be tried.  Agabus’ prophecy allowed Paul and those around him to be prepared for what lay ahead and to be able to pray for Paul.  Thus, neither Paul nor his friends were caught out or surprised when he was later taken into protective custody in Jerusalem, due to so many people seeking to kill him:

10And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.  11But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” 

Acts 23:10-11 (NASB)

From my own experience, an example of a prophecy relating to the future was one which was given to me in 2004.  It came very indirectly from a friend of a friend of a friend of mine.  A man called Chris had heard of me from a friend of his called John, who was a friend of my friend, Bob.  They all lived over 100 miles from me and I didn’t know Chris or John at all.  Neither did my friend Bob know Chris. Yet God gave Chris a very clear, very helpful, word of prophecy concerning my business and it was passed on to me. 

It was detailed, but it basically related to the fact that I was going to go through a period during which a series of people were going to plunder my business and steal from me.  However, he said that I should not be alarmed when it occurred.  He said that God had it all under control and would not allow them to go beyond a certain point and would ensure that the business remained fruitful. He also said that God would repay me seven times over for everything that was stolen from me.  That prophecy came out of the blue, from someone I had never met. 

It all proved to be entirely accurate.  I therefore knew about this period of difficulty in advance, and was encouraged to keep going and not to be alarmed by it.  That really helped me to keep it all in perspective.  It also alerted me to pray about it and to be prepared for it all, which reduced the scale of the losses.  So, that prophecy greatly encouraged me.  It built up my faith, endurance and hope at a difficult time.

That shows how valuable prophecy can be, when it is valid and is genuinely from the Holy Spirit.  It is like a word in season which has a huge impact for good.  I have always been grateful for that particular word of prophecy and for Chris, the man who gave it.  I’ve still never met him.

However, the gift of prophecy does not always relate to the future.  It is often used to reveal what God feels and wishes us to know about what has been happening, or what is happening now, or to tell us something about us or about the state of the church.  It could be a word of encouragement, correction, guidance or even rebuke. 

Whatever it is, it should always be carefully weighed and tested by those who hear it.  Nothing should ever be accepted uncritically or passively.  In particular, whatever is said must never contradict the Bible.  If it does, it is not a genuine prophecy.  This gives us yet another reason to study and be familiar with the whole Bible, so that our discernment is more thoroughly informed.

7)  the gift of distinguishing of spirits

This means the supernatural ability to tell whether something said or done is coming from God, or from a demon, or merely from a person themselves.  So, if someone gives a prophecy you might be unsure whether it is a real prophecy from God, or a false demonic counterfeit, or of purely human origin from the person themselves. 

If so, this gift is of great value.  God reveals to us the origin or source of what was said or done by that other person.  We need to seek for this gift.  It is not highly regarded or sought after, but it ought to be.  It is a great help to the church when a large number of members have this gift.  Let me give an example of one of the times when I have operated in this gift myself:

Many years ago I was Chairman of the Trustees in quite a large charismatic church.  The church contained a mixture of some good and bad things.  I was struggling to know what to think about some of the carnal, worldly behaviour and false spiritual manifestations that were coming in to the church.  It was a highly confusing situation.  I knew some things were wrong, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what was going on. 

I was even more confused because in some ways the leader of the church was, himself, a major concern to me.  I was troubled by his actions and by the way he spoke.  Sometimes he seemed to be genuine, but at other times he would surprise me by acting in carnal, manipulative, dishonest and controlling ways.  He didn’t add up and it was very confusing to me.  

But he was the leader of the church and I naively assumed that he must, therefore, be genuine.  Plus I’d seen him do many good things, especially in past years.  Yet, now, he was different and something was wrong, even sinister.  If it happened today I would weigh him up far quicker.  But, in those days I knew so much less.  I needed God to step in and give me understanding of what was really going on.

Then one Sunday morning, God gave me a revelation of what the problem really was.  I suddenly became able to see what was happening and what lay behind all the confusion.  I was sitting listening to the leader speaking at the front of the church when I saw something very strange in his eyes that I had never seen in anybody before.

His eyes and his whole face suddenly changed.  His eyes lit up and became someone else’s eyes.  They were very different.  They glowed and looked entirely evil.  I was, in fact, looking into the eyes of the demon which was within, or operating through, the leader.  I also saw the demon’s face in his face,  which became contorted.  His facial appearance altered dramatically.  It was horrible.  It went on for about 10 or 15 seconds and then it stopped.

I would, perhaps, have assumed that I must have imagined it.  However, there are at least two reasons why I feel sure it was genuine and that God really had revealed to me that a demon was operating in and through the leader of the church, which I would never have guessed or figured out for myself:

i)   immediately after the service another man, who was older than me, and who was a fellow trustee in the church, came over to me.  We looked at each other and I could see he was very concerned.  I said “Did you see what I just saw?”  He looked grimly at me and said “I did“.  We then discussed it. Both of us had seen the same things.  I don’t know if anybody else did.  I expect not.  I expect they saw nothing at all.  The congregation certainly gave no impression of having seen  anything. It was something which probably only the two of us had seen, because only we had  operated at that moment in the gift of distinguishing of spirits.  I think that because the situation was so serious and involved the very leader of the church himself, God revealed it to two of us simultaneously, so that each of us could be sure that we were not mistaken.

ii)  subsequent events seemed to prove the truth of what I had seen.  Things went from bad to  worse.  More and more lies were told.  More carnal and manipulative things were done. Eventually, that leader gave up his ministry completely and left his wife for anotherwoman.  I tried to reach out to him, to help him and get him to repent.  So did the other man  who had seen the demon in his eyes. 

Yet, in one sense, we both failed.  The leader was not willing to listen or to repent.  He just hardened his  heart.  I couldn’t do anything to stop the collapse of the church that followed.  But, at least God had warned me and enabled me to try to help the leader and others.  By the way, I didn’t tell others what I’d seen that morning, not even the leader.  Its purpose was to help me and the other trustee to understand what was going on, so that we could help the leader and the church.  It wasn’t meant to be broadcast, at least not on that occasion.

8)  the gift of tongues (private and public)

We need to distinguish between two different ways in which the gift of tongues operates.  There are private tongues which are purely for your own personal use when you are alone.  With that gift you can pray on our own in tongues or “in the Spirit“.  That will strengthen and edify you.  It is also a means by which God can put prayers into our mouths which He wants us to pray.  Or He can put praise and worship into our mouths even though we can’t understand it.  I use tongues very regularly in private and I always feel better for it.  That is to be expected.  Indeed, apostle Paul said he spoke in tongues more than all (any) of the people in Corinth:

I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 

1 Corinthians 14:18 (NASB)

What Paul meant by that was that he spoke in (private) tongues more than any other person at Corinth, not more than all of them put together.  I clarify that because I’ve heard people say that he meant that he spoke in tongues more than all of them combined.  They then suggest that it meant that the people at Corinth didn’t generally speak in tongues.  They then put that forward as a justification for them not speaking in tongues, i.e. that the people in Corinth didn’t speak in tongues very much.  It doesn’t mean that at all.  On the contrary, it just means that Paul used the gift of tongues a lot, to edify himself and to build himself up.  The clear implication is that we should follow Paul’s example and use the gift of tongues regularly, not that we should avoid it or ban it. 

Indeed, Paul tells the Corinthians directly that he wishes they would all speak in tongues and that they would all prophesy.  Clearly that has to mean that they did not all do so,  or he wouldn’t have said it.  However that fact can not be used as an argument against speaking in tongues and/or prophesying, because Paul clearly says he wishes they would all do so:

Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.

1 Corinthians 14:5 (NASB)

Another form of the gift of tongues is when the gift is for public use.  It is good in a church meeting for up to two or three people (one at a time) to speak out loud in tongues.  They should each then pause and allow what has been said to be interpreted by someone else in the meeting who has the gift of interpretation of tongues.  Or it can be interpreted by the person themselves, i.e. the one who gave the original message in tongues. 

What is said in tongues will basically be directed from the person towards God.  Tongues enables us to address God more fluently.  It will not be a message from God to us, though other things could be referred to within it, as happened in the instance that Derek Prince spoke of, where a Welshman’s sins were described within the message in toungues (given by a non-Welsh speaker). That is, the person speaking in tongues was praying to God (in Welsh) for the Welshman, not saying something on God’s behalf to the Welshman.

9)  the gift of interpretation of tongues

This is a gift that enables a person to understand what has been said by themselves, or by someone else, speaking publicly in tongues.  God gives understanding and then the person interprets it in ordinary speech, in their own language, so that all can understand it.  This gift should always be used whenever tongues are spoken publicly.   Tongues are basically directed from the people towards God.

Therefore, when the interpretation is given it will, if it is valid, be in that direction.  It will be saying something that is addressed to God, not to the people. So it differs from prophecy, which is about God speaking to the people.  A message in that direction would be given directly as a prophecy, not by way of tongues and interpretation.

Therefore, it is vitally important that when that interpretation is given, there must be mature people listening to it who are willing to speak up and challenge it if it is not correct.  That is needed to prevent false interpretations being given.  Someone else in the meeting also needs to be operating in the gifts of interpretation, and/or distinguishing of spirits. That will enable what is  being said to be tested and verified.

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