If you’ve been in Christian circles for any length of time, or if you’ve read your Bible, inevitably the gifts of the Holy Spirit will eventually come into view. Questions abound concerning the use and/or abuse of the gifts, particularly as it pertains to some of the more “miraculous” ones such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.
When approaching this subject, what’s NOT helpful is endless debate with one another concerning our preferences, what makes us comfortable or uncomfortable, or our own opinions. What IS helpful is going straight to the Word of God. If you are reading this, I’d encourage you right now to take a break and read 1 Corinthians 12-14. Paul starts off this way: “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” In case you missed it, Paul’s going to talk about the gifts. So the three chapters that follow are worth the read.
Those three chapters could be summarized as follows:
Chapter 12: Every Christian is a member of one body (Christ), and the Holy Spirit gives gifts to each member of that body for the sake of unifying and building it up.
Chapter 13: More important than exercising the gifts is loving one another the way Christ loves us. Without love, every gift, no matter how miraculous, is worthless.
Chapter 14: The gifts are to be used in an orderly, intelligible fashion so as to edify the body rather than create confusion and chaos.
What we have, then, is a healthy framework for approaching the gifts—we know that chaos and confusion in worship are not from the Lord, we know that disagreements surrounding the gifts should be set in the context of brotherly, Christ-like love, and we know that the gifts should be used in godly community for the building up of that community and the glory of Jesus.
While that framework is a great place to start, it doesn’t answer all of the difficult questions, so allow me to anticipate a few of those and offer Lifepoint’s approach to them:
Are the gifts still in operation today?
From the Scriptures, there is no indication that gifts were supposed to cease after the apostles died. Thus, Lifepoint believes that the gifts are still in operation today and that, as always, the Holy Spirit gives those to believers when He wills and how He wills (I Corinthians 12:11).
What about tongues, prophecy, and healing?
There are a few things that need to be said about these. Concerning prophecy, we believe the Old Testament type of prophecy where God spoke directly to someone, told them to write it down, and it became Scripture, no longer applies. While God still speaks to His people today, the canon of Scripture is closed (meaning we can’t add to the Bible) and everything we claim to hear from Him must be tested against His Word.
There are two types of prophecy: forth-telling and foretelling. The latter literally means a prediction, whereas the former means the ability to speak the will and truth of God into a situation. Let’s be clear—God knows the future and can do anything He wants (He is God, after all), and He has and may reveal a portion of that future to his saints for the sake of building up the church and bringing glory to His Son. However, what is normative in the New Testament is forth-telling—receiving from the Holy Spirit the truth of God and speaking it in such a way that brings clarity and edification.
Concerning healing, we believe that God can and does heal people miraculously, as He chooses. However, as we look in Scripture we don’t see people (other than Jesus) who have the gift of healing in the sense that they can heal people whenever they want, on command. What we do see are specific instances where God heals people using his saints, and the saints give all the glory to Jesus.
As an example—I was at my sister’s wedding rehearsal recently and my father started experiencing debilitating stomach cramps. It got so bad he could barely stand up straight and was starting to wonder if he had food poisoning. My mom prayed for him, but shortly after I felt compelled by God to lay my hands on my dad and pray again that God would heal him (see James 5:13-16). I did so, and about 10 minutes later he was feeling better, and an hour after that he was totally fine and we went on with our evening. I think that what’s the “gift of healing” means, but the point is that God did the healing and I felt compelled in that moment by the Spirit to pray for my dad. It absolutely does NOT mean I can command God or that I have the power to heal whomever and whenever I want—if I did, I should get up, head to the nearest hospital, and get to work.
As for tongues, Lifepoint rejects the notion that someone needs to speak in tongues to be saved. We simply don’t see that in every conversion story in the New Testament. Furthermore, Paul’s series of rhetorical questions in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 seem to assume that not everyone has each gift. In fact, that’s kind of the point: we each have different gifts from the same Spirit, which is an expression of diversity and unity in the body of Christ. That is, to be a healthy body, we are dependent on Christ and one another.
What we see normatively in Scripture is that tongues refer to actual human languages that the speaker has been given the ability to speak by the Holy Spirit. See, for example, Acts 2 and the episode at Pentecost. It’s important to note as well the purpose for which tongues were given: proclaiming the mighty works of God. Scripture does not rule out the possibility of a private prayer language, but what is typical in the New Testament is people being given the ability miraculously to proclaim the gospel in foreign languages.
Does God speak to people in dreams and visions?
That God speaks to people in these ways is entirely biblical (Acts 2:17), and many godly, Jesus-loving Christians today and from the church’s history would say they experience(d) this. So yes, God may have spoken to you in a dream. You may also have had bad fish. Or too much Chipotle too close to bedtime (been there).
Here are a few things to remember. First, we should be very, very careful in ever saying “God told me…” Claiming such a thing is a big deal. Secondly, we need to test whatever we hear against Scripture. If it contradicts what God has already revealed about Himself in His Word, then it’s not from God, because God does not lie or change (Numbers 23:19). Finally, ask for counsel from other trusted believers in the church. The gifts of the Spirit, and our Christian walk more generally, are always meant to be lived out in the context of healthy Christian community.
At Lifepoint, we believe in an incredible God who empowers his people through His Spirit to accomplish the mission of Christ. The point of the gifts is not to become obsessed with manifestations, experiences or the gifts themselves, but to be more in love with the Giver, to edify the body, to make us more effective as the church and to glorify Jesus.
We should expect that no one person has all the gifts, nor that one particular gift is given to all people. We each are given specific gifts by God’s Spirit, according to His will. We should pray and ask for God to give us the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not only because we should desire good things from God, but because He tells us to desire them (1 Corinthians 14:1).
We encourage our folks to pray for spiritual gifts and to exercise those wisely in the context of healthy biblical community. This is yet another reason we so strongly encourage people to be an active member of a Lifegroup. It’s in those groups that we can most diligently pray for one another, sharpen one another, hold one another accountable and encourage one another to utilize the gifts God has given us for the building up of the body of Christ.*
We hope this helps as you seek to follow Jesus. Grace and peace in the Lord.
*See the attached Spiritual Gifts Inventory. It may be a helpful starting place in discovering how God has uniquely gifted you.