1 Corinthians 12:9 – …to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit…
1 Corinthians 12:28 – And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.
Ephesians 4:11 – And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…
1 Corinthians 12:10 – …to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
We will finish our study on various specific spiritual gifts with sign gifts including miracles, healing, prophets/prophecy, and tongues. These may be ones that people are more unfamiliar with or that become more divisive within Christianity, so I pray that you learn something through reading more about these.
Place in Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:9
Defined: The gift of miracles is the ability to call on God to do supernatural acts that reveal His power by special moments of divine anointing from God the Holy Spirit.
General makeup: People with the gift of miracles see God show up in extraordinary ways from daily little events to major public displays. In these moments, there is an overriding of the natural laws, which govern the universe, and God shows up to reveal His sovereign rule as Creator over creation. Examples from the Bible include seeing demons cast out of people, nature obeying God’s authority, people being healed, animals and objects speaking and acting in extraordinary ways, divine appearances of angels and other divine beings, and the dead being raised. Obviously, these sorts of things are uncommon and do not happen regularly, otherwise they would not be viewed as miraculous.
Seen in Jesus’ ministry: Acts 2:22 says Jesus performed many miracles and John 20:20–31 says that Jesus’ many miracles were to prove He was God.
Jesus commanded nature (Mark 4:35–41), cast out demons (Mark 5:1–13; Matthew 12: 22), walked on water (Mark 6:45–51), turned water into wine (John 2:1–11), and fed over 5,000 people with one boy’s lunch (John 6:1–14).
Illustrated biblically: The apostles did “many miraculous signs” (Acts 2:43), Stephen did “great” miracles (Acts 6:8), and Paul did “extraordinary” miracles at Ephesus (Acts 19:11). Also, Paul cast out demons (Acts 16:16–18), God blinded a sorcerer for Paul (Acts 13:6–12), and there were many miracles surrounding the ministries of Moses, Elijah, and Elisha.
The new covenant church of Jesus Christ began with the pouring out of the Spirit of God on the day of Pentecost. What happened that day Acts 2:1-4 says, “came from heaven” as the unseen realm flooded and invaded the world and included “a sound like a mighty rushing wind” (Spirit of God) as “tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Just as your body is united with two parts – the physical seen and the spiritual unseen – so too is our world one reality that is a combination of two realms. Right now, there is a world in the unseen realm just as real as the world in which you live filled with departed saints and other divine beings who are just as real as the people who fill the earth.
The Bible often speaks of God’s divine family with the Hebrew word Elohim. On some occasions, this word is used to refer to God. Other times, it refers to the divine family as well as other fallen and demonic spirit beings. It is a general word for spiritual beings in the unseen realm, which can include God, the members of God’s divine council, angelic and demonic beings at work in the world, and more. One example is found in Psalm 82:1, which says, “God [Elohim] has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods [Elohim] he holds judgment.”
God’s human and divine families in the seen and unseen realm meet at the Divine Council throughout the Bible.
The Divine Council is referred to throughout the Bible as “the assembly of the holy ones,” “the council of the holy ones,” “hosts,” “the seat of the gods,” “the mount of assembly,” “the court…in judgment,” and “the heavenly host.” (Psalm 82:1; 89:4–8; Ezekiel 28:2; Isaiah 14:12–14; Daniel 7:9–10; Luke 2:13) The Bible gives us a clue that God has convened the divine assembly when He is revealed sitting on His throne. We get this same picture from Isaiah, Daniel, and John. Each one was taken from this realm into the unseen realm and placed amid the divine council gathered around God enthroned. (Isaiah 6:1–6; Daniel 7:9–10; Revelation 4) Jacob also had a visit from God, angels, and the Divine Council. They came down a ladder to meet with him and he said to them, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:10–22) Jacob then named that place Bethel, which means house of God, because it was at least temporarily the meeting place of God’s Divine Council and the connecting place for the two realms and two families of God.
The Divine Council met on earth in the Garden of Eden. There, the two realms were united. Throughout Biblical history, God has chosen a place of connection between the realms that includes the Garden of Eden, Tabernacle, Temple, Jesus Christ, and now the Holy Spirit in the believer. In the opening chapters of Genesis, we see God meeting in Eden with his human family (Adam and Eve) and His divine family (cherubim angel along with Satan, the fallen, rebellious angel cast out of Heaven according to Revelation 12:7-12). This explains why Eve was not startled when the Serpent showed up in the Garden of Eden; it was the place where the two realms met and so this was not uncommon or unexpected.
God intended that His two families – human and divine – live and work together as one united family. Sin caused humanity to rebel against God and side with Satan and demons, separating us from God and angels. Sin separated the realms. Everything changed with Jesus defeating the demonic realm on the cross and reclaiming us as His people. At Pentecost, the two realms and families came together once again, as the divine council was present at Pentecost. When we read of wind and fire in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, we are seeing the divine family appear with God’s human family to again reunite the seen and unseen realms under the Lord of both, Jesus Christ.
Today, the Church in one realm is created by the Kingdom in the other realm. It serves as the outpost for the Kingdom, exists to witness to the Kingdom, and is the beginning of the unveiling of God’s Kingdom across all creation. Starting at Pentecost, God intended that both His families would work together through the Church until they were forever together as one united, forever family.
The Bible uses the words “sign” and “wonder” to denote miracles, and these two words often appear together. Sometimes the New Testament also uses the word “power” to denote God showing up in a supernatural way to do something incredible. Curiously, even though Jesus Christ said that John the Baptizer is the greatest mere mortal to walk the planet (Luke 7:28), there was no miracle in John’s ministry (John 10:41). Furthermore, Jesus was clear that some people would not convert even if they saw a miracle with their own eyes (John 4:48).
Miracles are what happens when the divine family visits the human family, and the Kingdom shows up and shows off in our world. These occasions are foretastes and foreshadowing of what is to come upon the return of King Jesus as ruler over both realms.
This is our tension – we are already citizens of the Kingdom, but not yet residents of the Kingdom. Some Christians relieve this tension with something called an under-realized eschatology. The big idea is that the Kingdom exists in Heaven and does not show up until it comes with King Jesus. Therefore, we should not expect much in the way of the supernatural or miraculous, such as healing.
Other Christians relieve this tension with something called over-realized eschatology. Those big words mean some believers think that since our citizenship is in Heaven, all of the power and prosperity of our eternal Kingdom life is ours to enjoy in this life. Both of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians were written to Christians who erred in this way, telling them that the work of God was not completed until Jesus returned a second time and the dead were raised.
Theologians refer to this tension with the language of already, but not yet. The Kingdom of God has already begun but is not yet completed.
Western Christians have seen Revelation as a book about future things (eschatology). They focus on the earthly scenes. Eastern Christians have seen Revelation as a book about worship (doxology). They focus on the Heavenly scenes. Both are true. Today God is being worshipped on Heaven and earth. One day, Heaven will come to earth, and God will be worshipped on earth as He is in Heaven. This is why one of the major themes of Revelation is “Worship God”; the book opens with John worshipping Jesus in the spirit and closes with a command to worship God until Jesus returns. When God’s family gathers in the seen realm to worship, our prayers and praise rise into the unseen realm and join with God’s family there. In Revelation, prayer and praise of God’s people gathered in worship is depicted as “incense” that rises into the unseen realm and presence of God. (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4) This might explain why, in corporate worship, there are often supernatural breakthroughs in people’s lives, as in those gatherings, the families in the unseen and seen realms are united in a supernatural way by the Holy Spirit.
Do you have this gift?
- Do you truly believe that God can do the impossible?
- When you read of the many miracles in the Bible, are you encouraged because you love to see God made known in ways that cannot be ignored?
- Have you seen someone freed from demonic oppression?
- Have you seen God perform miracles?
- When you hear of or see miracles, is your faith in God greatly increased?
- Do you use stories of God’s miracles to help prove to others that Jesus is God?
- Do you find God does supernatural things through your times of prayer and worship?
- Does the Kingdom of God mean a great deal to you and serve as a driving motivator for all of your beliefs and behaviors?
Place in Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:9
Defined: The gift of healing is the ability to call on God to heal the sick through supernatural means for the purpose of revealing God and His Kingdom where all sickness will be forever healed.
General makeup: Those with the gift of healing trust that God can heal the sick and pray in faith for the physical restoration of those in need. These people see healing as a sign that God uses to reveal His power to people so that many will come to believe in Jesus. People with this gift do not see someone healed every time they ask God, since healing is something that God alone decides to do (e.g., Galatians 4:13–14; Philippians 2:27; 1 Timothy 5:23; 2 Timothy 4:20).
Seen in Jesus’ ministry: Matthew 4:23–24 and 9:35 speak of Jesus’ many healings.
Illustrated biblically: The Twelve had the gift of healing (Matthew 10:1), as did the Seventy (Luke 10:8–9), Peter (Acts 5:14–16), and Paul (Acts 3:1–8). Additionally, church leaders are supposed to pray for the sick so that God might heal them (James 5:13–16).
God made you as one person in two parts. Part of you is immaterial and spiritual – your soul. Part of you is material and physical – your body. You are one whole person, and your spiritual and physical aspects affect one another. It is the same for all of us: sin has infected and affected every dimension of who we are. Sin has brought suffering to the body. Every one of us is either battling an injury or illness or walking with someone who is, which explains the enormous health care and pharmaceutical industry that exists to deal with the effects of the curse on our bodies.
Thankfully the God who made us also sent His Son to heal us, both body and soul, with outer and inner healing. Isaiah 53:5 says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Jesus died for both our sin and our suffering. Importantly, this promise of physical healing does not come with a time frame. Some of God’s people will experience bodily healing in this life; all of God’s people will experience total healing in their resurrection bodies in the eternal life.
Many times in Jesus’ ministry, people were healed through deliverance. The demon brought the sickness or injury, and once the demon was gone, so was the sickness. (Matthew 4:23–25; 8:16; 9:32–33; 12:22–23)
A doctor named Luke wrote more of the New Testament than anyone. His concurring books, Luke and Acts, record verified healings by the Holy Spirit’s power operating through Christ and Christians. Luke was also the personal physician to Paul and traveled on various mission trips, bandaging him up after his beatings, riots, or imprisonments. Paul and Luke had a close friendship and ministry partnership. Setting an example for all Christians and caregivers, Paul had a doctor who cared for his body and soul: “Luke the beloved physician.” (Colossians 4:14)
God can and does heal. Sometimes God does this naturally through a physician. Sometimes God does this supernaturally as the Great Physician. Therefore, healing does not replace traditional medicine. As we see in Doctor Luke, it is biblical to believe in both medical science and faith-filled prayer. We know many medical professionals who went to college for a degree and also go to the Spirit for power. They minister to not only the bodies of their patients but also their souls. This is the example of Doctor Luke, which helps prevent the either/or thinking that someone needs to be healed either only through prayer or only through a doctor.
Jesus began His public ministry reading from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19).
To begin with, Jesus was healed. He suffered and died on the cross and then rose to conquer sin, sickness, and death. When Jesus rose from death, some dead people also rose as a foreshadowing of the healing power of God’s Kingdom. Jesus also healed others. Roughly 27 times in the Gospels, we see Jesus heal an individual. Roughly 10 times, we see Jesus heal entire groups of people. (Matthew 4:23–25; 8:16; 12:15; 14:14, 34–36; 15:30; 19:2; 21:14; Luke 6:17–19) Jesus performed other verified healings not recorded in the Bible. (John 20:30) Specific deliverance miracles Jesus performed through the Holy Spirit include healings from bleeding, epilepsy, deafness, muteness, and blindness. (Luke 13:11–16; Matthew 17:14–18; Mark 7:35; Matthew 9:22–23; 12:22)
Once Jesus returned to Heaven following His healing from death, some wondered if God would continue to heal people. Doctor Luke wrote his follow-up book, Acts, which reports the supernatural acts of the Holy Spirit through Christians who continued the Spirit-filled ministry of Christ. Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ at His baptism, the Holy Spirit then descended upon Christians so that they could live by His power and continue His kingdom ministry.
The Book of Acts records roughly 14 healing miracles. 12 of the 28 chapters in Acts record a miraculous healing reported by Doctor Luke. This was to be expected as it’s what Jesus promised His first followers in Matthew 10:8, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” In obedience, we read of the early church in Acts 8:4-8, “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ…they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.”
Simply stated, the miraculous is part of ministry. However, because God is free, we cannot make Him heal. Some say that by walking in faith and not sinning that no Christian needs to ever be sick, but Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25–27), Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20), and Paul (1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 11:30; 12:5, 7–10; Galatians 4:13) each had sickness that was not healed despite the fact they deeply loved God and walked with Jesus faithfully.
Every Christian will be fully, totally, completely, and eternally healed forever. This will happen upon the second coming of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the dead. On that day, Revelation 21:4 says the curse will be fully lifted, death will be defeated, and Jesus “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Until the day of Jesus’ return, the resurrection of the dead, removal of the curse, ruin of Satan and demons, and re-creation of the world, we are in the time between the times. The kingdom of God does show up in power at times, bringing revivals, awakenings, healings, and outpourings of God’s presence that are sneak previews, glimpses, and dress rehearsals for the coming of King Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Until that day of sight, the righteous live by faith that all healing is coming for all of God’s children.
Do you have this gift?
- Do you have a deep compassion for people who are sick?
- Do you have a deep conviction that God can heal anyone He chooses?
- Do you enjoy praying for people who are sick, whether that be from a distance or up close through the laying on of hands?
- Do you have an interest in medicine and finding ways to help people be most physically healthy?
- Have you seen God heal someone?
- When God heals someone, are you excited because it helps to reveal His power to others?
- Do you long for the coming of God’s Kingdom when there will be an end to all sickness since sin and its effects will be no more?
- How have you seen signs and wonders follow you as you follow God?
Place in Scripture: I Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11
Defined: Like a mail delivery person who does not write or edit the mail, but collects and delivers it, the prophetic calling combined two ministries. First, prophets received specific revelation directly from God. Second, they speak that revealed Word to the people God had called them to with the expectation of an obedient response to God. Prophets communicate their God-given message either by speaking or in writing.
General makeup: People with a prophetic gifting more easily spot compromise, sin and error and desire immediate change and action for Christ. They tend to be bold, sensitive to sin, and place a very high value on biblical behavior and telling the truth no matter the cost.
Seen in Jesus’ ministry: Jesus was the prophet like Moses that was promised (Deuteronomy 18; Acts 3:22, 7:37). Jesus said He was a prophet without honor in His hometown (Mark 6:4-6), but that many people in the crowds who came to hear Him believed He was a prophet (Matthew 16:14, 21:11, 21:46).
Illustrated biblically: Roughly 25% of the Bible is prophetic in nature in that it tells us future details that God promises will happen. There is an entire genre of biblical literature called the “prophets” that includes both major (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel) and minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). John the Baptist (Matthew 11:7-11), along with Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32) and John (Revelation) all have this gift in the New Testament. There are times where the Holy Spirit falls on the church and numerous people prophesy (Acts 19:6)
There is some and confusion about the gift of prophecy. Much like the spiritual gift of apostleship, there is both an office that is limited to a few people as Prophets and a gifting and ministry that is open to many who receive the spiritual gift of prophecy.
In the Old Testament, the title “prophet” refers to the office of the person chosen by God to both hear from and communicate for Him (1 Samuel 3:20; 1 Kings 18:36; 2 Kings 6:12; Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1). The prophets were also painfully aware of the weightiness of their call since they consciously knew that they were the very mouth of Almighty God and spoke for God Himself. This is clearly seen in Moses (Exodus 4:16; 7:1–2), Isaiah (Isaiah 1:20), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:7), Amos (Amos 3:8; 7:16), and Zechariah (Zechariah 7:12). According to the Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad, the phrase “the word of Yahweh” appears 241 times in the Old Testament, 221 in relation to a prophet.
Additionally, Jesus (Matthew 7:15; 24:11, 24), Paul (Acts 20:29–31) and John (1 John 4:1) all promised that false prophets would come. False prophets falsely claim to speak for God (1 Kings 22) and may also perform false miracles (Deuteronomy 13:1–3; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13–15).
2 Peter 2:1-9 says, “False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.…For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.”
The primary job of a true prophet is to prepare God’s people for the real future. God knows and rules the future, and at times He chooses to reveal it to His people so they can prepare for it. Here are five key ways to recognize false prophets.
One, false prophets are wolves who lie about the future (Matthew 7:15). Sometimes false prophets prophesy that good times are coming when they are not. God says that false prophets “have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14) False prophets only say things people want to hear, ignore personal sin, and like to say that everyone is going to Heaven. Of false prophets we are told, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
Two, false prophets prey on people’s fears. Some people worry about a catastrophic future and are susceptible to scare tactics from wolves disguised as prophets. Sometimes wolves cause people to distrust everyone but them, and they rule out of fear and control. Jesus warns that “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” (Matthew 24:11)
Three, false prophets are often flatterers. They puff people up with praise, only saying what people want to hear rather than what God wants said. Jesus warns, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) As demonic deception increases in the last days, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Four, false prophets often work with demonic power that makes them seem like God’s anointed. Counterfeiting the kingdom of God, they lead people astray with clairvoyance, healing, revelations, visions, and other demonstrations of unusual supernatural power. But it is all demonic. “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24)
Five, false prophets are wolves who wear the sheep’s clothing until the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, exposes them. Sometimes these people claim to love Jesus, prophesy at church, cast out demons, and see people they anoint with oil healed. But they have no relationship with the Shepherd because they are not among the sheep. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Despite false prophets and false prophecies, we are not to despise them but rather discern them. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-21 says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
While no one single test for authentication of a prophet is appropriate, a few criteria help distinguish between true and false prophets. A true prophet had outstanding moral character (Ezekiel 13:10–16), while false prophets did not (Isaiah 28:7). The prophecy of a true prophet came true every time (Deuteronomy 18; Jeremiah 28; 1 Kings 22). False prophets were for hire and preached what they were paid to preach (Micah 3:11). False prophets prophesied only peace (Jeremiah 6:13–14; 8:10–11). The message of a false prophet conflicted with God’s prior revelation, led to the worship of false gods, and was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 13). Perhaps the most thorough descriptions of false prophets are given in Deuteronomy 18:14-22 and Jeremiah 23:9-40.
Today, Christians can also help to discern between true and false prophets by their inward testimony of the Spirit (Deuteronomy 18:14–22; John 7:17). Prophecy is also spoken of in various ways throughout Scripture. Importantly, the New Testament does not elevate prophecy to the highest level of authority as the Old Testament does. Each potential prophecy is supposed to be tested and approved by church leaders (1 Corinthians 14:29–32; 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22).
In the broadest sense, prophecy is sometimes the teaching ministry of preaching the Bible as God’s Word in the church. Examples include 1 Corinthians 14:4 where prophecy “edifies the church,” 14:6–7 where Paul links prophecy and teaching, saying, “prophecy or word of instruction,” and 14:24–25 where he explains that, through the Spirit-enabled preaching of the Bible, non-Christians will be convicted of their sin and give their lives to Jesus.
Prophecy is sometimes a revelation about a future event that God intends to reveal to the entire Church; a revelation that is authenticated by coming true as predicted. This is what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 14:6 where he links “revelation or knowledge or prophecy.” A clear example of this is Acts 11:28–29 where the prophet Agabus predicted a famine, thereby preparing the early Christians to better help people.
Prophecy is sometimes a word from God to be given to an individual. An example of this is the prophet Agabus who told Paul how he would die in Acts 21:10–11.
In summary, prophecy is a Holy Spirit enabled ministry to either:
- Predict, or foretell future events to prepare people
- Admonish or rebuke behavior to purify people. These prophecies in the Bible are often referred to as the “woes” because they often begin with the prophetic warning from God, “woe”.
Do you have this gift?
- Would you rather speak God’s Word to others without much explanation than taking time to explain every detail?
- When you see sin or errors do you feel compelled to confront them?
- Do you tend to see more evil, sin and error than others?
- Are you capable of detecting and refuting false teachings?
- Are you bold for Christ?
- Do you sometimes need to not just tell the truth, but do so in love?
- Do you get frustrated when people are not obeying God or have no urgency about obeying Him?
- Do others consider you more of a truth person than a love person and a justice person than a mercy person?
Place in Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:10, 12:28-30, 13:1, 14:1, 14:5-6, 14:18-23, 14:39
Defined: The word “tongues” is best translated “languages” from the Greek, so speaking in tongues is a supernatural ability to pray in the Spirit in the language of Heaven, or speak to others in their native language, which is unknown to the speaker.
General makeup: This gift may also include the general ability to skillfully translate from one language to another as scholars do to get God’s Word out in thousands of languages so that people can read God’s Word in their own tongue/language. Additionally, this gift may include the ability of some Bible scholars to work masterfully from the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew, Greek Aramaic) to accurately help us learn the exact meaning of the Scriptures from the original languages and earliest manuscripts.
Seen in Jesus’ ministry: Jesus is said to have perfectly operated in every spiritual gift listed in the Bible, with one curious exception, speaking in tongues. The debate over such things as speaking in tongues is important, but not of the utmost importance. Jesus is the perfect example of living a Spirit-filled life. We do not, however, know if Jesus ever spoke in tongues. The Bible is simply silent. I take this to mean that whether you speak in tongues or not, you can live a Spirit-filled life like Jesus, marked by godly character and a love for the Word of God.
Illustrated biblically: The spiritual gift of tongues, when listed among the various spiritual gifts lists that we have studied in this book, is always listed last. Some have taken this to mean that it is the least of the spiritual gifts, which may or may not be the case. Nonetheless, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:18, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” He also said that when done publicly like in a church service, this gift needed to be utilized in such a way “so that the church may be built up” and others “benefit” (1 Corinthians 14:5-6). For this to happen, we must not “forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39). Instead, unlike private worship, when we are worshipping in public, we need to gather in a way that is “done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). The rest of 1 Corinthians 14 speaks to gathered public church meetings with parameters for tongues such as two or three people at the most, in an orderly fashion, with a person who can interpret so that everyone present can be edified (1 Corinthians 14:26-32, 39-40). Lastly, not every believer will receive the gift of tongues any more than every believer will receive the gift of administration (1 Corinthians 12:8-12, 12:29-30) even though there are occasions where the Holy Spirit does decide to give the gift of tongues to everyone present (Acts 2:4).
One of the first things we learn about God in Genesis is that God speaks. Human beings communicate in languages because we were made in God’s image.
Scholars tell us that there are around 7,000 languages that we know about on the earth today, in addition to the languages we simply do not know about. The Bible tells us in Genesis 11:1 that there was once a day when, “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” The one language allowed ideology and frame of reference so that everyone could work together in a united way.
The problem is that, once sin entered the world, the unity that God provided could be used for sin and evil. This is precisely what happened in the rest of Genesis 11, which occurred in what is ancient Babylon and roughly the same location as present-day Iraq. As people kept moving further East, which is away from God (Genesis 11:2), they devised a plan to build a counterfeit kingdom of God called Babel with a tower at the center so they could replace God and sit above to look down on the kingdom they made with their own hands. God came down to investigate this unified attempt to dethrone Him. Genesis 11:6-9 reports, “And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore, its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”
The reversal of Babylon occurred at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-11. Following the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the Holy Spirit fell on people, and we read, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed…”
At Pentecost, the unseen realm showed up in the seen realm so that God’s family, both divine and human beings, were reunited as a sign pointing to the Kingdom of God where all the nations will be united under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. One day, all the nations of the earth will be no more but saved people from every nation will gather around Jesus Christ as the center of our lives, world, and history. Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
Until the Kingdom of God where we all speak the same language, or at least can understand and interpret all the languages of the nations (the spiritual gift of interpretation of tongues), we translate the Bible and other Christian books and songs into various languages as the Church is the greatest force for written languages and translation in world history. Furthermore, some Christians do have the supernatural spiritual gift of tongues. The confusion regarding tongues is that at least three different uses of the gift are mentioned in Scripture, as well as differing original Greek words that are all translated into English as “tongues”.
One, tongues is a private prayer language. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 14:14 saying, “I pray in a tongue.” This private prayer language may be the language of the angels in Heaven. Perhaps, just like various nations have a language, so too God’s Kingdom has a language. This is what I believe Paul refers to saying in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” The purpose of this private prayer language is to connect at the soul level with God, transferring burdens, and being encouraged by meeting with God in private. 1 Corinthians 14:2 says, “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” Praying privately in the Heavenly language of tongues is to be done to build up the individual believer in the same way that private Bible reading, and prayer, accomplish the same purpose. Paul says this very thing in 1 Corinthians 14:4, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself…” However, there is a difference as we learned earlier in this book between our private and public worship. When we “come together” we need to consider others and what “builds them up” so that we are serving and not being selfish (this is the entire focus of 1 Corinthians 14).
Two, tongues is a missionary gift that enables someone to speak the gospel of Jesus to foreigners in their native language that the speaker does not know. Acts 2:1-13 records such an occasion when 3,000 people were saved in a day as the Gospel was preached through the early Christians. The original Greek text indicates that they not only heard the Gospel in their native language, but also their specific dialect. A modern-day example would be someone who only knew Hebrew suddenly, supernaturally, and extemporaneously speaking to a crowd of English speakers from the United States, Great Britain, India, and Scotland who all hear it with their particular dialect. Another example includes the Gentile coverts at Cornelius’ house who had the same experience as Acts 2:1-13 in Acts 10:44-47 and 11:15-8. As an aside, some scholars will argue that since the hearers heard the gospel in their own language (Acts 2:6) in Acts, tongues may be more of a hearing gift for the listener than a speaking gift for the communicator. Either way, there is a supernatural work of God the Holy Spirit that overcomes the language barrier to reach a lost person.
Three, tongues is a revelatory language whereby a message of God is spoken in a language unknown to the speaker that must be translated into the native language of the people in the church so that they can understand what is being said. This use of tongues, therefore, also requires the assistance of someone with the gift of interpretation (1 Corinthians 12:10, 14:27-28). In this form, tongues functions a bit like both tongues and prophecy as something is revealed from God in one language, but needs to be translated into another.
Do you have this gift?
- Do you have a private prayer language of tongues?
- Are there times in your private prayer that you communicate at a soul level too deep for words that unburdens you and unlocks spiritual growth?
- Have you ever had a prophetic word that was given through you in a language that was foreign to you?
- Have you ever interpreted the prophetic word given through another person in a language that was foreign to you?
- Do you have an ability to learn and master languages more easily than most people?
- Do things like Bible translation and getting Bible teaching out in multiple languages to reach people from as many nations as possible matter a great deal to you?
- Are you burdened for multicultural ministry, global missions, and reaching the nations for Christ?
Do you have or have you experienced the gifts of miracles, healing, prophets/prophecy, or tongues?
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