The Holy Spirit and His Gifts

1 Corinthians 14:26-30 describes various gifts of the Holy Spirit in meetings. Chapters 11 – 14 of 1 Corinthians give further information about spiritual gifts and their use in meetings. The Holy Spirit is for the church; so, if the gifts of the Spirit are absent from a church, is something wrong?

Following Paul’s exposition of commitment-love (agapē) as the setting for use of the gifts, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 says that “where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is [supernatural] knowledge, it will pass away.” Does this mean that the gifts – or those gifts at least – would dwindle after the apostolic era?

This suggestion is known as cessationism. Assuredly no more prophecies will be given for all believers, because scripture closed after that era. But prophets might still speak into local situations, and Peter explained in Acts 2 that Pentecost brings fulfilment of Joel’s words that God will pour out his Spirit on all people, who will prophesy and the Day of the Lord will come. (This means Jesus’ return in glory.) Peter would not have cited Joel’s passage if prophecy ceases sometime between Pentecost and the Second Coming, and Revelation 11:3 mentions prophecy that will be spoken before Christ returns, yet ahead of the present time. Paul says that these gifts cease “when the perfect comes” (1 Corinthians 13:10). When is that? Paul goes on: “Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (11:12). Paul is speaking of Christ’s return. Zechariah (13:2-3) confirms that this is when prophecy will cease. So the gift of prophecy is available today.

It would make no sense that the peoples represented at Pentecost have prophets, but other peoples would not see those gifts which help to spread the faith amongst them; why would God do that? Cessationism arose as a doctrine in one particular culture centuries after the gifts had supposedly dwindled worldwide. It was obviously an excuse for their dwindling in the mainstream churches of that culture; cessationists are as driven by experience over scripture as the charismatics they profess to deplore. Where did the gifts go? Jesus could not do more miracles than a few healings where the people did not believe in him (Mark 6:5), and He is present today through the Holy Spirit – so corporate belief is not strong enough in these churches. In our culture today it is possible to go to church regularly and not even realise that you are not a Christian. How different is that from the church described in Acts of the Apostles, and what effect might this difference have?

Cessationism has gained further impetus from distaste at the muddle between the emotional and the spiritual within the charismatic movement today. This muddle, typically deriving from wish-fulfilment, is most apparent in sung worship. That is because of the stirring effect upon the human spirit of music (classical and modern!) Charismatics tend to chase after signs and wonders when they should be seeking Jesus Christ. They have “sought to possess the power of the Spirit before they have gone under the flesh-severing knife of the cross” deeply enough. Corroborating this quote (from Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, p.259) is a further passage from the same book (p.133) about those who persevered in a difficult merger of a charismatic and a conservative evangelical congregation:

Each one of us agreed to drop whatever we thought or experienced about the working of the Holy Spirit. We died to it completely. We gave it up. And we asked the Lord to teach us all over again as little children… our entire focus shifted from what we thought we knew about the Holy Spirit to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself… After about a year… there rose up – out of death, out of the grave in the newness of life – the gifts of the Spirit. But they didn’t look like anything we had seen in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement… All things look different in resurrection.

This was a marriage of word and Spirit – exactly what was needed. But both factions needed to change more deeply than they had realised.

The gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 include the ability to speak a word of wisdom or knowledge into a situation, prophecy, speaking a language you have not learnt (tongues), and interpretation of tongues. (Not all tongues are human languages, according to 1 Corinthians 13:1.) These and the other gifts are for the common good (12:7), building up the fellowship.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26, people may contribute a song, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation of that tongue (visions are not mentioned). A song of worship may come to mind in advance or during the meeting. Somebody may bring a request for a particular song of worship; they should explain their choice. Sung worship began with the psalms – all Spirit-inspired – long before Jesus’ time, and many of the best hymns have been inspired by psalms; Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 speak of hymns and songs inspired by the Holy Spirit. Or somebody can bring words they have written to a well-known tune, coming from popular music or elsewhere. Think ahead how everybody may read the words at once. Hymns and other worship songs can be sung unaccompanied, or accompanied by a musician or a recording.

A teaching might be spontaneous, something that God has taught you or that you have learnt by studying scripture and that you feel called to share. Or somebody will be inspired to prepare a teaching. A revelation may come spontaneously or in advance of the meeting. A prophet is granted God’s view of a situation (or part of it), and speaks from that viewpoint. The rest of the group should immediately weigh what has been said (14:29). This prevents nonsense being disseminated more widely (in some churches it is distressingly abundant, and the Old Testament penalty for false prophecy is sobering). Normally there should be two or three such contributions, giving way to each other if necessary (14:29-30). This is a gathering around Jesus, and people are free to address him in prayer and words of worship too.

A tongue will be spontaneous, and its interpretation also will be. Who has the gift of interpretation will be known in advance, and if nobody with this gift is present then nobody should speak in tongues (14:28); no more than three persons should do so in any case (14:27). Persons who speak in tongues should pray to receive interpretations as well (14:13). Interpretation of tongues is necessary for the sake of others present, believers and any non-believers who have been invited (14:22-23); without interpretation, the latter would regard tongues as madness (as at Pentecost in Acts 2:13).

Persons with the gift of tongues may also address God privately using tongues. They bear witness that this is fulfilling.

Although you might come with a contribution, you should not come with a spiritual agenda. Let Jesus run the meeting.

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