Spiritual Gifts in the Bible
Table of Contents
Origin of Spiritual Gifts
The Bible teaches that God gave gifts to mankind, specifically to His people. It was prophesied about in the Old Testament by King David (Ps 68.18) and fulfilled once Christ returned to the Father and received gifts to give to humanity, sent and where distributed by the Holy Spirit as God willed (1 Corin 12.11).
After Jesus descended into Hell to free the people of God from Sheol, He ascended into Heaven [stopping by Earth in His resurrected body for about 40 days (John 20.17)] and sent the Holy Spirit after being seated at the right hand of the Father (Eh 4.10), giving gifts to all His children.
The Holy Spirit is Himself a gift from God (Eph 1.13), but He also brings with Him, an abundance of spiritual blessings and gifts to be used for serving God (in Greek the word ‘diakoneo’ is used for minister, it is the same word for serve). We find in 1 Corin 12.7 that the Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men,– Psalms 68.18 (ESV)
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.– John 14.16-17, 25-26
Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. – Ephesians 4.7-8 (ESV)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change – James 1.17 (ESV)
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; – Acts 2.17
God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. – Hebrews 2.4
Spiritual Gifts in the Bible – Old Testament
We have many examples of the Holy Spirit indwelling people in the Old Testament and imparting spiritual gifts; however, it was not until Jesus returned to the Father that the Holy Spirit would come and permanently take residence in believers (Eph 1.22-23, 4.7-8). In the Old Testament God would give gifts to His people for specific purposes, such as the strength of Samson (Jud 14.6), or the workmen who built the Holy Ark (Ex 31.3), or King David’s anointing (1 Sam 16.13). However, the Holy Spirit would depart from believers after His work was done (Jud 16.20, 1 Sam 16.14, Ps 51.11).
(In reference to Living Water) By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified – John 7.39
Authority during Jesus Ministry
We find that before the Holy Spirit came to dwell in believers, that Jesus gave authority to heal and cast out demons to the disciples (Matt 10.1,8, Mark 6.7, and Luke 10.19). The Holy Spirit did not make His permanent dwelling in the disciples as the Lord Jesus had not yet ascended to heaven (John 7.39).
The word used for the authority that Jesus gave the disciples (in Matt 10.1,8, Mark 6.7, and Luke 10.19) was exousia, which in the Greek means authority or ‘power or jurisdiction,’ it derives from the verb exesti which means ‘it is lawful.’ This was the same word used in Acts 1.8 when Jesus said that power would come upon them.
However the disciple’s authority from Jesus was not infallible, as in the example when the disciples could not cast out a demon in Matt 17.19. Additionally, it was not until after the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the disciples that they counted persecution as joy (compare Matt 26.56 with Acts 5.40-41).
Gods Gifts are Irrevocable
Once God gives a gift to someone, it cannot be removed by anyone but God. Jesus gives us a parable of this with the ‘parable of the talents,’ (Matt 25.14) and in this parable, it is made to seem as though when a gift is given, God allows you to keep it until you are judged by Him and have to give account for how you used it. This is further demonstrated when Paul’s exhorts teachers that they shall be judged more strictly (James 3.1).
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable – Romans 11.29
Gifts from God and Spiritual Gifts
God has given a great many gifts to mankind, as described in His word. The Spiritual gifts as spoken of in 1 Corinthians are different than other kinds of gifts God has given to all believers. i.e. the gift of eternal life (Rom 6.23), coming boldly to God’s throne (Heb 4.16), the gift of Christ’s righteousness (Rom 5.17), etc.; these are given to all believers.
Purpose and Meaning
We know that we are to use our gifts to the glory of God (Col 3.23), serving God through His people (Matt 25.40, 1 Peter 4.11). 1 Corinthians 12 gives us a teaching on begin spiritually mature and using the spiritual gifts that God has distributed to each believer to be used for a specific service.
These gifts are given to believers to edify or to build up the church body of believers. In other words to strengthen, exhort, teach, mature (mature is the same word for perfect in the Greek), other believers in the faith. This would include future believers (i.e. through gifts like evangelism or prophecy).
1. Now concerning spiritual (gifts), brethren, I would not have you ignorant. 2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. 3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. – 1 Corinthians 12.1-11(ESV)
Looking at 1 Corinthians 12 verse 4 – 6, we see that God gives a diversity of gifts for a diversity of administrations or services; all for a diversity of operations or different types of services according to His will. All of God’s children are called to different ministries or services or works for God’s kingdom. Those who are a part of ministries that differ from each other are still called to work together in the bond of peace which is love (Eph 4.1).
Witness to the Word of God
One of the purposes for God giving gifts and works miracles was to bear witness to His word and works. Many of the miraculous works where to confirm the word of God as we see in Acts.
They remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands – Acts 14.3
Holy Temples of God
Believers are the Holy Temple of God, through whom His will and work is done on earth. God gave us His Spirit because He delights in dwelling with His people (Zeph 3.17, 2 Corin 13.14). We are living temples of His Spirit. When Jesus died, the believers became the Holy Temples of God in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. This indwelling allows God to use us as He wills by His Spirit, through the gifts He has given to us, using each believe according to His purpose.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? – 1 Corinthians 3.16
Placement and Order of Gifts
God has set certain gifts in proper order for the service to the body. 1 Corinthians seems to give us some insight into how the operations of services are to work. Apostles (Greek word for ‘sent’ or ‘one who is sent’) are often called to be those who setup a church ministry.
Prophets speak a revelation from God. Teachers teach some understanding or doctrinal truth of scripture. After this we have miracles and healings services or ministries for believers. Included are ministries of helps, administration services and tongues.
The order for service and use of the gifts follows, with lists of spiritual gifts:
28. God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. – 1 Corinthians 12.28-31(ESV)
In Ephesians 4 we see a specific emphasis on gifts that are for the perfecting or maturing of the saints and building up the body of believers. It is stated by some that Evangelists and Pastors are not mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 12 list because they are a part of the teaching ministries.
We see them separated in Ephesians for a reason, and should be treated separately. Some are gifted with a spiritual gift of teaching, but all believers are called to be able to teach others according to the proportion of their faith (Rom 12.6), and as they mature in their faith (2 Tim 2.2).
He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors (shepherds) and teachers, 12. to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13. until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14. so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
15. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16. from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Eph 4. 11-16
Order of Operation
God is a God of order (1 Corin 14.33) not of disorder, He is of peace not confusion. He has made all things to be done in a good and orderly fashion including service in and among those who are ministering (serving). Each person using their gift is to use it in proper order in accordance with how God has determined it to be used. We have an outline in 1 Corinthians 14 how a meeting of the Saints should be conducted:
- Hymn of praise to God
- Give a teaching lesson for the people
- Give a revelation (instructions in 14.29-33)
- Allow for a word in tongues (instruction in 14.27-28)
- Allow for an interpretation of that tongue
- Prayer for miracles and needs (drawing from 12.28)
- Ministry or prayer for healings
- Helpers to assist in duties needed for service or gatherings
- Administration of duties for service or gatherings
26. What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.
29. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32. and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14.26-33 (ESV)
Use of Spiritual Gifts
Each believer has a gift that differs according to the grace given to us by God. As different members of the body we should become aware of our function, being sober minded knowing our place and performing that function according to the faith God has assigned to us. God will give us the faith we need to perform the function or position He has put us in (Rom 12.3).
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function – Romans 12.3-4
Our gifts are given to use according the grace of God, grace being defined as a gift or begin given something you don’t deserve. It is by the grace of God, or His free gift, that we freely receive spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit works in us to work according to His will and purpose (Phil 2.12).
5. so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7. if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8. the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. – Romans 12.5-8
Differing of Gifts
In 1 Peter we find the exhortation to use the spiritual gift God has given to each of us, to serve one another. God has given various grace meaning He has disbursed various gifts and measures of gifts to various peoples, as is needed in the body.
Paul goes into great detail in 1 Corinthians 12.12-27 revealing how each part of the body is different from one another and each serves a different function. However, we must work together as whole to serve Christ. Some believers may not understand the gifting of others, or be able to relate to them; however we are to keep to bond of unity which is Love with true believers, all for the glory of God.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 4.10-11
How the Gifts Edify
We are to desire spiritual gifts, especially that we all may speak prophecy from God to others. We are taught that speaking prophecy edified others and speaking in tongues edifies ourselves. We see an example that the spiritual gifts are to build up the body of Christ, either yourself or others. In this example Paul exhorts us to seek gifts that will build up others in the body.
So we see a pattern, once we see a need in the church, we are to seek after spiritual gifts and use them to edify the body and in doing so we glorify God, reflecting His truth in our actions.
1. Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2. For 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. 3. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
4. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. – 1 Corinthians 14.1-5 (ESV)
How to Receive the Gifts
We have many examples throughout the New Testament of the Holy Spirit or His gifts begin given through the laying on of Holy Hands. The Holy Spirit uses believers to impart spiritual gifts to other believers via the laying on of hands.
This practice was done all throughout the Old Testament (Gen 27.21, 48.14, Ex 29.10, 15, 19, Num 8.10, 12, Heb 6.1). Jesus laid His hands on people (Matt 9.18, 19.13, Mark 6.5, 7.32, 10.16, Luke 13.13). At the very least it is a symbol of blessing and passing something on from one to another, however it should not be done in haste (1 Tim 5.22).
And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. – Acts 19.6
Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. – 1 Tim 4.14
For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands – 2 Timothy 1.6-7
For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established – Romans 1.11
(… of the grace of God given to you) … So that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ – 1 Corinthians 1.7
Lying on of hands is not a requirement; as when a person believes, they are born of the Spirit of God. Then the Holy Spirit dwells in you at the moment of faith in Christ, however you may not realize it at first.
Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost – Acts 19.2
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. – Romans 8.9
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit – Eph 1.13
Don’t Quench the Spirit
There are a few things that will quench (extinguish) the Spirit of the Lord, and prevent Him from working in a particular way He desires. This is accomplished when a believer is not obedient to the Holy Spirit, when a believer allows traditions (Mark 7.13), legalism or limitations in faith (Mark 6.5) to trump the Holy Spirits guidance or when a believer begins to use the gifting of the Spirit with impure motives.
We find continuously in the New Testament that worldly or carnal activities (including God given gifts or their use) lead to rebuke. Some of these examples are seen with Balaam a prophet seeking selfish gain in 2 Peter 2.15, those who tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit but fell away in Hebrews 6.4.
Do not quench the Spirit. – 1 Thess 5.19
Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them – Luke 9.54
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money – Acts 8.18
This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? – Galatians 3.2
Some believers argue that we don’t see many spiritual works or gifts in today’s world; however this is a very short sighted and even carnal view. God is constantly at work in the lives of all His people, and salvation and the changing of a person heart is a miracle that occurs every day!
God is constantly at work from teachings to ministry, from missions to miracles, etc. A critical mentality of the working of the Holy Spirit is something we have to be careful of, as it may lead to the denial of the power of God (2 Tim 3.5). Yet we also need to be discerning of all spiritual works!
Spiritual activities are occurring all around us, all day long, from both the enemy (Eph 5.6) and from God. God leads His people by the Spirit continually (Gal 5.18). We are to live by faith (2 Corin 5.7), knowing God is always at work in everything (Rom 8.28).
Do False Converts Recieve Spiritual Gifts
We find a warning in Hebrews 6.4 that those who taste the Heavenly gift and share in the Holy Spirit but fall away, there is no way from them to return to repentance. These are false converts, as we know those who went out from us where not of us (1 John 2.19). The Bible suggests here that false converts do experience the Gift(s) of the Spirit, at least for a time.
This echos amongs Peters warnings in 2 Peter 2. That false teachers and prophets will raise up who bring in destructive heresies into the church. We find in 2 Thess 2.9 that in the end times there will be false miracles, signs an wonders.
Even Judas Iscariot shared in Jesus authority before the crucifixion, and was told to cast out demons and heal the sick (Matt 10.1).
Understanding Spiritual Gifts
In 1 Corin 2 we find an exhortation concerning various spiritual concepts for the mature, which would include spiritual gifts (2.10). We have not received the spirit of this world or the wisdom of this world that is passing away, but the Spirit and wisdom of God. For the Spirit of God knows the things of God and the thoughts of God, and they are revealed to us. The Spirit helps those who are saved to understand the things that are freely given (graciously) by God, the things that are spiritual (2.12).
These things are taught in words by the Spirit and are spiritually interpreted. None of these things can be understood or received by the natural or carnal man, for to him the spiritual truths will seem like foolishness and cannot be understood. The carnal or worldly man can only receive the things of this world. This is why these concepts are for the spiritually mature, for carnal or worldly Christians or unbelievers will not be able to understand these concepts.
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2.6-16
The Greatest Spiritual Gift
An entire chapter is dedicated to the greatest of the spiritual gifts, love, in 1 Corinthians 13! It is from this gift that all the others derive their value and meaning from, in fact without this gift, all other spiritual gifts are useless.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13.2
The depths of this topic require its own section however in reference to spiritual gifts it needs to be understood that in the Christian life, love is to be the center of all we do. God is love (1 John 4.8), and we are to do everything because we love God first, then our love for others should be second. All things are to be done in love (1 Corin 16.14).
It is easy for Christians to allow pride to blind them from being loving (1 Corin 8.1); Christians can take pride in their doctrine, knowledge, abilities, or gifts, causing them to lose focus on loving those who they are called to edify with their gifts.
Christians will disagree with one another over various issues; however we are called to love our brothers, in fact this is the way in which we know we are Christ’s disciples. If you disagree with a brother over the spiritual gifts. do not forget, it is more important to love that person (John 13.35).
Counterfeit Spiritual Gifts
Are there counterfeit spiritual gifts, or spiritual activities that are not from God but masquerade as something from God? Are there deceptive works by the enemy that are used to deceive the children of God?
I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. – 2 Corinthians 11.12-15
We find that since the time of the Apostles, Satan has attempted to infiltrate the church with his agents, even building up apostles that Christians follow. It can be drawn from this that false teachers and false prophets will be followed with false spiritual gifts.
This can be taken from various verse including those on false prophets, which would be considered prophets if they had some type of spirit of divination (2 Pet 2.17, Acts 16.16). Acts 8.9 records Simon the Sorcerer who deceived many with his miraculous works. Their goal is always to draw people after themselves (Acts 20.20) and make a gain out of those who follow them (1 Timothy 4.1-2).
How do we guard against these things? God tells us to test every Spirit (1 John 4.1) and to be lovers of the truth, because the teachings of the Devil can only be lies (John 8.44), or twisted truth (2 Thess 2.9-11).