Spiritual Gifts

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1–11 ESV

We are supplementing our Acts series with a sermon on spiritual gifts. Just the mention of this topic is likely accompanied by several different emotions:  

  • Some of you may be starting with some confusion. “Spiritual gifts, what are those?”

  • And some of you may be on the other side, even if you are not clear on what spiritual gifts are. “Gifts, I want a gift!”

  • Some of you who have heard this discussion before may be feeling frustration or dismay. You may be saying to yourself, “This is way too complicated to worry about!”

  • And others of you may be feeling worried or concerned, “Spiritual gifts are dangerous! Stay away!”

  • Some of you may be passionate: “You must have a gift and specific ones!”

  • And others of you may be apathetic: “Eh.”

All of these emotions come from a particular personal experience. Some of you have not talked about spiritual gifts much in your walk. Some of you have had experiences with churches who have either pursued spiritual gifts or not pursued them. Some of you have favorite teachers who have strong opinions on this topic.

We come to this topic of spiritual gifts honestly as we go through the book of Acts. But even if we hadn’t, we would want you to hear from us the same hear that Paul had for the Corinthians:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1 ESV)

This topic matters in our Christian walk. And regardless of our experiences—which is a good reminder for all sides of this conversation—we want to go to scripture today see what God says about spiritual gifts that we might be “informed.” Admittedly, this sermon today is just the beginning of this discussion. For many of you, we might not hit on your personal questions about spiritual gifts. We know we will have many more opportunities to talk about these in our church life, and we want to lay some groundwork for this discussion and how spiritual gifts should be thought about in our life.

We pray that you will come away loving four main points:

  • The Holy Spirit is the gift we have received from God.

  • Spiritual gifts are the unique expressions of the Holy Spirit of God through each of his unique people.

  • The Holy Spirit expresses himself through God’s people that we might serve one another and point each other to God, as glory to God and grace to us and them.

  • God’s people are called to love and pursue as many of these expressions that God might be pleased to give to us.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Our study of Acts confronts us with this topic most naturally. As we continue to go through this series, we will see the general discussion of spiritual gifts often. At a high level, we are told that signs and wonders are happening all over. A good summary would be Acts 5:12

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done… (Acts 5:12 ESV)

We see this stated again and again:

Acts 2:43         many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles

Acts 4:30         and signs and wonders are performed through the name of … Jesus

Acts 5:12         Now many signs and wonders were regularly done…by the hands of the apostles

Acts 6:8           Stephen…was doing great wonders and signs among the people

Acts 8:6           (Philip) signs and wonders

Acts 8:13         (Simon believed after) seeing signs and great miracles performed

Acts 14:3         granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands (Paul & Barnabas)

Acts 15:12       (Paul and Barnabas) related what signs and wonders God had done through them

When we look at the specifics of what is happening, we see many types of miracles and signs occurring: healings, tongues, prophecy, and more.

Acts 2:3                 The disciples speak in tongues at Pentecost

Acts 3:1-10            The disciples heal a man by the gate beautiful   

Acts 5:10–12         Sick are brought to the Apostles for healing (even shadows crossing)

Acts 10                  Peter & Cornelius receive visions

Acts 10:46             Speaking in tongues (Peter & Gentiles)

Acts 11:27-28        Agabus prophesies in Jerusalem

Acts 19:6               Paul lays hands on the Ephesians who speak in tongues

Acts 20:7­–12         Paul speaks the man to sleep who falls out the window and he is resurrected

Acts 21:4               Prophecy of the believers at Tyre

Acts 21:9               Philips daughters prophesy at Cesarea

Acts 21:10-11        Agabus prophesies to Paul

When we started our Acts series, we said that the goal of Acts is to describe for us the movement of God through his Holy Spirit. Where the gospels show us the story of Jesus and his work during his life on earth, Acts shows the beginning of the rest of history and how the Holy Spirit is now at work in this world in a new and unique way to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through his people. We have summarized it like this:

The Holy Spirit empowers his people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people with all boldness and without hindrance.

As Andrew mentioned a couple of weeks ago, as we move throughout any book of the bible, one of the questions we ask is whether the author is describing events to us or prescribing something for us to believe or do. We want to ask that same question here about these miracles, signs, and gifts. We look to the rest of the Bible to see what it says about this topic. The first conclusion we come to is that the Holy Spirit is now here and working through God’s people, and it is good! Look at how Paul continues on in our passage this morning:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:1–3)

It is only by the Holy Spirit that we are all able to even confess that Jesus is our God. When we see people acting and speaking in ways that honor God through Jesus Christ, we know the Holy Spirit must be there. In Acts 10 that is exactly what happens to Peter. He hears the Gentiles praising God, so he knows they must have been saved and given the Holy Spirit. It is only with the Holy Spirt that anyone can praise God, have their hearts changed to love him, and their ears opened to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter says it this way in Acts 2:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38 ESV)

In fact, as we look at scripture we need to remember that the Holy Spirit is the gift we have received from God. Peter goes back to Joel 2 in his explanation to the Jews at Pentecost.

““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; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2:17–21 ESV)

The law could not change the heart, so everyone needed God to intercede in their life to do what only he could do: change their desires. God accomplished this through Jesus’s righteous life and his death on the cross so he could send his helper, the Holy Spirit. Paul and the Apostles make it clear that receiving the Holy Spirit is the sign that you are a believer.

If our first question regarding “spiritual gifts” is whether we all have THE gift, the Holy Spirit of God in us, we would say that Scripture answers that with a resounding YES! And praise God for this!

Application

Stop for a minute and realize how amazing this is! You, Christian believer, have the very Spirit of God in you. Something promised for centuries you get to experience fully in your faith in Jesus Christ—God’s Spirit in you: guiding you, empowering you, making you more like Christ, bringing you into relationship with the only God of our universe.

Holy Spirit Expressions: Expected!

As we continue to look at Scripture we see how extensive this work of the Spirit is in us. We see what are called the “fruits of the Spirit,” ways that the Holy Spirit is changing our minds, hearts, and affections that we might love what God loves and how he loves. These are listed in Galatians 5:22–24 as things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And if God is working on our inward desires through his Holy Spirit, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that our actions are effected as well. Listen to how these passages talk about the actions of the Spirit through us:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (Romans 12:6a ESV)

 

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”(1 Peter 4:10 ESV)

 Each of these passages are in the context of the life of the believer and how they should live out that life well. And we are told each person has a “manifestation” of the Holy Spirit. What we call “spiritual gifts” are simply the unique expression of Holy Spirit in each and every one of us being worked out practically. If “faith without works is dead” as James says (James 2:14–26), we are blessed that God supernaturally intercedes on our behalf that both our desires and actions might glorify him. Spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts.

But why? Why is he also effecting our outward expressions?

“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:11–12 ESV)

There are many reasons God has given us his Holy Spirit, but one of the reasons he empowers and equips us is that we might serve, encourage, and strengthen one another! This is where our typical understanding comes from regarding gifts: God’s Spirit at work in us will manifest itself in ways that are a gift to you and others that God might be glorified and we all might be strengthened.

And listen to how Paul talks: “variety of gifts,” “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,” “each has received a gift.” Paul recognizes the breadth of God’s work in God’s people. Since every believer has received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we should expect that God is active in them in as many varied ways as he has varied people he has create. Each working in ways to glorify God and give grace to his people.

Summary (To This Point)

So far we have seen that:

  • The Holy Spirit is THE gift from God

  • Spiritual gifts are the unique expressions of the Holy Spirit of God through each of his unique people.  

  • The Holy Spirit expresses himself through God’s people that we might serve one another and point each other to God, as glory to God and grace to us and them.

Application

Again, isn’t it amazing God’s plan! He has chosen you and me to be a part of the process of encouraging other believers and bringing God glory by working in our lives both to change our hearts and to effect our actions through his Holy Spirit.

Examples of the Expected Expression

Let’s look at these same passages and see some examples of this expected expression of the Spirit in his people.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 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 ESV)

Peter summarizes these expressions of the Holy Spirit into two main categories: those who serve, those who speak. Let’s look at Romans 12:6

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6–8 ESV)

Paul gives us a list of different expressions of the Holy Spirit worked out his people’s lives.

  • Prophecy

  • Serving

  • Teaching

  • Exhorting

  • Contributing

  • Aiding

  • Mercy

Similarly, in the remainder of our passage in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gives us a different list

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 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. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4–11 ESV)

He lists out a very different list, but one that again shows us a variety of ways that the Holy Spirit works through his people.

  • Word of wisdom

  • Utterance of Knowledge

  • Faith

  • Healing

  • Miracles

  • Prophecy

  • Distinguishing Spirits

  • Languages (tongues)

  • Interpretation of Languages (tongues)

Typical Positions on the Gifts

Before we go much further, it might be helpful to pause for a moment and look at the typical positions people take when talking about Spiritual gifts:  

  • Spiritual gifts don’t exist

  • Spiritual gifts were just for the first century

  • Spiritual gifts exist today but not miraculous gifts. Therefore, you just need to discover the “gifts” (or talents) that you have and then serve in them.

  • Spiritual gifts exist today, both miraculous and non-miraculous. But the miraculous is extremely rare, likely only limited to the mission field, so if you ever see them scrutinize them carefully.

  • Spiritual gifts exist today, both the miraculous and non-miraculous and it is the believers responsibility to seek both types.

  • Spiritual gifts exist today, both the miraculous and non-miraculous, and they are a sign of God’s favor on you and you should look for a second experience to receive these beyond salvation and expect to see certain gifts, if not all of them, in your life as proof of your favor with God.

As we have seen, since all believers still have God’s Spirit in them and the expectation is that the Spirit of God has manifestations in his people for his glory and our grace, we can’t say these gifts never existed nor that they aren’t for today.

In the lists that we just looked at we can note two main points. First, none of these lists are complete nor identical with one another. As we have said, the Holy Spirit moves through his people in a variety of was commensurate with their unique design and God’s gifts to them. That is why we don’t agree with the last statement, that all believers must have the same or some same gifts to be saved. None of these passages would agree with that. Second, just like in Acts Paul lists so called “miraculous gifts” alongside all the gifts that we would consider to be less miraculous. Prophecy is listed alongside mercy and teaching. Speaking in different languages is listed alongside faith. This is why we don’t agree with the third statement, that there are gifts, but not anything miraculous. There is no evidence that miraculous gifts are no longer given to God’s people, and they are listed as gifts God’s people should expect for their life of encouraging and growing one another.  

Attitude: Cautious or Pursuing?

The last two options left are really ones of attitude. Do we remain cautious of spiritual gifts or do we pursue them? There are encouragements from Scripture for both sides of that question. First, we see that we are called to earnestly desire the higher gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31). 1 Corinthians 14:1 says that we are to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.  1 Corinthians 14:39 says to earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (sounds like the Corinthian church may have seen some abuses like the American church and tried to fix it by forbidding tongues). Lastly, Romans 12:6 exhorts us that “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” We are warned in 1 Thessalonians 5:9–12 that we should not “quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”

On the other side, to those who have seen the work of the Holy Spirit in their life, we are warned about our prideful attitudes. Deuteronomy 8:17 says:

Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth. (Deuteronomy 8:17 ESV)

Paul reiterates this sentiment in Romans 12:3 when he says:  

By the grace given to me I bid every one 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 which God has assigned him. (Romans 12:3 ESV)

Conclusion

There is much that we haven’t discussed about spiritual gifts this morning. What are tongues? What does prophecy look like in the New Testament? How do these work in the church? There are many discussions still to have. But as we continue to work through Acts, we have seen the foundational heart of God toward these gifts. We have seen that: 

  • The Holy Spirit is the gift we have received from God.

  • Spiritual gifts are the unique expressions of the Holy Spirit of God through each of his unique people.

  • The Holy Spirit expresses himself through God’s people that we might serve one another and point each other to God, as glory to God and grace to us and them.

  • God’s people are called to love and pursue as many of these expressions that God might be pleased to give to us.