A Description of Spiritual Gifts - Part I
Tim Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 12, beginning with verse 4:

I Corinthians 12

4Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
6And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
7But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
8For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
9To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10To 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:
11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
12For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

I read these to set the stage for our thinking as we continue to think about the matter of the Body of Christ. You know, the human body is a wonderful thing. As we all know, no matter how unhealthy our body may be, we still marvel at the things that it does do, the things that it can do. One of the beautiful aspects of the human body is the way God has designed it and enabled it to heal itself and meet its own needs. Obviously, we all know that there are those times when there has to be human intervention through medicine, and there are those times when we ask God for divine intervention, and He gives that sometimes; but on the whole, generally speaking, the human body is amazingly able to care for itself. We cut our finger, and eventually it heals. We get a cold, and eventually the mechanisms within our body heal that cold. Even when the body has to be assisted by medicine and other external means–surgery and resetting of broken bones, etc.–the real essence of what takes place is within the body.

Here in I Corinthians, chapter 12, the Holy Spirit, writing through the Apostle Paul, likens this group of believers to that human body. He compares those of us as a group who know Jesus Christ as Savior with the various parts of the body. For several weeks now we have been talking about the Church, which Christ calls His Body. The Church is not just this local body on Butternut Street in Abilene, Texas; but all believers, all who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, form the Body of Christ. There is a sense in which the Body of Christ, we individual Christians united, literally do the work of the Savior in the world today. There is a sense in which we, as we reach out to those around us, form Jesus Christ reaching out to those around us. The most obvious example is the giving of the Gospel. Jesus Christ is not personally on the earth preaching the Gospel today, but He has left that for you and me to do. Every time we speak to someone about Jesus Christ, we are speaking with the voice of Jesus Christ in the place of Jesus Christ. We are literally the Body of Christ.

By the same token, every time we do something to help some other person, whether they are a Christian or not, we are doing that as the Body of Christ. We are doing it just as much as if Jesus Himself were here on the earth doing that in our place. We are actually doing it in His place. We are the Body of Christ. As far as I am concerned, nothing is more sobering to me concerning my daily living than that understanding and that realization, that the things that I do and the things that you do during the course of the day, we are doing in the name of Jesus Christ. We are doing it in the place of Jesus Christ. The things that we say, God has given us the responsibility of saying in His name and doing in His name.

A Summary of Spiritual Gifts

Here in I Corinthians, chapter 12, the Apostle Paul lists for us the various abilities that God gives to various ones of us to enable us to do those things for Him. We have divided this chapter into several parts. The whole chapter is about spiritual gifts, and in our past few studies, we have looked at the distinctions in spiritual gifts, the fact that there are different kinds of gifts. That makes all of us have different interests and different spheres of influence. We have talked about all those differences within the Body. Last week we began talking about discerning spiritual gifts. How do I know what my spiritual gift is? Today we want to look at a description of the spiritual gifts. How can you know what your spiritual gift is if you don't know what the spiritual gifts are? I want us to look at the four passages of Scripture which gives us the names of these spiritual gifts. There are these four basic places in the Scripture where gifts are listed. We are going to give a summary based on the context of Scripture. We won't have time to look at all the Scripture references upon which I base the description of these gifts, but let me assure you that I am coming from the web of Scripture, and I will make reference to some of those Scriptures as we move along.

It is my belief, my understanding of Scripture, that some of these gifts are no longer being given. In our last lesson, we talked about the Biblical reason behind that, and we don't have the time today to go back over that, but one of the hottest areas of dispute among Christians today is that issue as to whether or not God is still in the process of giving all of the spiritual gifts. In our last lesson, I showed you why I believe that there were some gifts that were foundational and that because they were foundational, they are not being given any longer. It is not because God loves those of us who live in these times any less; it is not because we are any less godly; it is simply because of the nature of God's plan. Having said that, let me just say that if you missed the last lesson and you do not agree with that concept, all I can ask you to do is to get the tape or printed lesson of that message and at least understand my reasoning.

The distinction that I have made is that some gifts are foundational and others are functional. Some gifts were given for the establishment of the Church and for the writing of the Scripture. Once that was done, God continues to give gifts that keep it functioning. I will make those distinctions as we go along. The first passage that we want to look at is in chapter 12, verses 8-10, where we have a list of spiritual gifts. As we go through this list, I hope that you will think about them and see how they relate to you and what your interests are and what you might be able to do for the Lord.

The Gift of Wisdom

The first gift to be mentioned is in verse 8:

I Corinthians 12

8For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom;…

This is the ability to receive and to present the Word of God. Back in chapters 1-4, Paul was talking about wisdom over and over again. In those chapters, God defines wisdom as the Word of God, the written Word of God. The essence of God's wisdom is in the Bible, so I believe that this gift of wisdom was the inspiration of Scripture that God gave to various men who together wrote the New Testament. Before that, they had written the Old Testament. So this word of wisdom, the wisdom of God which is the Word of God, refers to that gift of inspiration, and therefore it is a foundational gift. God gives all of us the ability to understand the Scripture. He gives insight into the Scripture, but in this particular case, this gift was the ability to receive the Word of God and to write it down. God did a tremendous work to see to it that we have the Scripture in the form that we have it now. God did a tremendous work in giving us His word, even to the point of giving us a spiritual gift that would provide that.

The Gift of Knowledge

Then in verse 8, we have the the second gift, the gift of knowledge:

I Corinthians 12

8…to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

In its context, since this gift is mentioned along with the gift of wisdom, this is the ability to understand and present the wisdom of God as revealed by those writers. In Hebrews, chapter 2, in our last lesson, we saw these three generations of readers. The writer to the Hebrews said that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to His followers and they passed those things on to us, so the writer of the book of Hebrews was the third generation, and then the writer of the book of Hebrews was passing it on to the fourth generation which encompasses all of us who read the Scriptures. So while the New Testament was being recorded, God gave the ability to some men and women to understand in many cases that spoken word of knowledge that was still in the process of being written down.

This would be very similar to the gift of teaching, which we will talk about later. I believe that this was a foundational gift that was given while the New Testament was in the process of being written down because much of what we now have in the New Testament was originally spoken. Much of Paul's writing was done as a spoken message and then recorded. All of the book of Acts, all of the Gospels are a written record of what someone said–Jesus or one of the apostles–and then it was written down. So the gift of knowledge was the ability to hear that spoken word and to teach others who had not heard it themselves, a unique gift that was given in the day when the New Testament was being written down.

The Gift of Faith

The gift of faith is in verse 9:

I Corinthians 12

9To another faith by the same Spirit;…

All of us who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior have been given the gift of faith in a certain sense. If you have accepted Christ as Savior, that is because God gave you the faith to believe all of those things that we believe about Jesus Christ. Even our faith is not something we can be proud of; it is something God gave us. The Scripture makes that abundantly clear, but there is also a gift of faith that God gives. One Bible scholar says that actually it is perhaps a gift of faithfulness. I believe this is a gift that God is still giving. It is a gift that involves the ability to trust God particularly in unusual situations.

A place where this gift would be used, I think, would be pioneers in the ministry, founders of organizations, the founders of a church. Even today churches are still being started all the time, and those who begin a church need a special kind of faith to see it through and to believe God for what can be accomplished. Those who found a Christian school or those who begin some other kind of Christian organization need the gift of faith. Examples of people who probably have the gift of faith are people like Bob Jones, Sr., founder of Bob Jones University or Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, or Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade. Those men have an unusual vision, an unusual ability to believe God for what they cannot see now. I mention the names of those men because now we can look back and see historically that God has done these things through their ministry. So the gift of faith or faithfulness is the third kind of gift He gives. It is the first on the list of functional gifts.

The Gift of Healing

A fourth gift is the gift of healing. If we look through the Scripture at the various places where the gift of healing is recorded, if we were to take the time to analyze those places where the gift of healing is described, I think we would summarize it by saying that the gift of healing is the gift of being able to heal at will. That is an important distinction to make because I believe with all my heart that God is still in the business of miraculously healing people today. We don't see it real often, but probably most of us can think of examples that we have at least heard about of someone who was very ill, maybe someone who was even terminally ill, and God miraculously healed that person. I do not want it to be misunderstood that I believe that God heals miraculously, and I think He may do it more often that we realize.

This is a gift of being able to heal people at will–the person who has the gift being able to go to the person and decide that through God's power, that person will be healed. If we were able to take the time to go through the New Testament and look at the examples of Jesus and the apostles and the kind of healing that they did, we would see that that gift of healing is not the same as healing in answer to prayer that we see today. Jesus never tried and failed at healing anyone. Jesus never cautioned a person that they were not healed completely because their faith wasn't strong enough. Jesus walked up to sick people with all different kinds of afflictions and said, “Be healed.” He said it in various ways. Sometimes He touched them, and sometimes He didn't. Jesus was able to heal whomever He decided to heal. He gave His apostles that same power. Again, if we trace through the New Testament carefully enough, we will see that that power was given as a confirmation of Jesus' message as a validation of the message that Jesus and the apostles were preaching. The gift of healing was a foundational gift. It was used while the Church was being established.

Remember, we are talking about the gift that God gives to an individual of being able to heal other people. Certainly God heals today. There is a real sense in which medical doctors have the gift of healing. God enables men to have the mental ability to study and learn and retain all the knowledge and work with people's bodies, but this is a specific gift that enabled men who had not studied medicine to simply, in answer to God's power, heal people when and as they chose to. We don't see that kind of healing going on today.

The Gift of Miracles

The fifth gift is in verse 10:

I Corinthians 12

10To another the working of miracles;…

Let me just remind you so I don't have to repeat what I just said about the gift of healing. I believe that God does miracles. I do not want you to say Tim Temple or Abilene Bible Church doesn't teach that God works miracles any longer. I believe God works miracles. I think God works more miracles than we realize. Let me just use this as an example: How often have you seen an accident narrowly averted, and as you watch those cars drive away, you realize that possibly the drivers of the cars didn't even know how close they came. I think that many times God does miracles when, by their very nature, we don't even know they took place. He does something behind us, and we never even knew it happened.

There have been basically three periods of history in the history of the world recorded in Scripture when God gave to individuals the ability to work miracles, the ability to walk into a situation and personally, physically perform a miracle. That was a gift of miracles. Again, tracing through the Scriptures, we do not see that gift being exercised in the way that gift is described in the Scripture. God still works miracles, but this gift of working miracles was always in the Scripture for a specific purpose, and in the last period of time in which God gave the gift of working miracles, it had to do with the foundation of the Church, so it was a foundational gift. God still works miracles, but I believe, on the basis of the description of this gift of miracles, that He is not giving that gift today.

The Gift of Prophecy

The sixth gift is also in verse 10:

I Corinthians 12

10…to another prophecy;…

Again, if we go through the Scripture and look at the examples of prophets, we see that the gift of prophecy, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, was the gift of being able to reveal new information, to be able to reveal previously unrevealed information. Much of the time that information had to do with the future. The reason I make that distinction is that there are fine Christian Bible teachers, with whom I would agree with about 99 per cent of what they say, who say, “The gift of prophecy is the gift of forth-telling. It is the gift of teaching; it is the gift of preaching.” If you look at the Scriptures, it is true that prophets did preach, but the gift of teaching is given for that purpose. The gift of pastor-teacher is given for those purposes. Strictly speaking, the gift of prophecy was the ability to foretell the future and the ability to reveal previously unrevealed information. Because of that, that is another gift that I believe is no longer being given because the canon of Scripture is complete. The Scripture tells us that in it are contained all things that pertain to life and godliness.

So if you are in a church service somewhere and someone stands up and says, “I have a prophecy from the Lord,” you do not need to take that as authoritative in the same way that you would from the Scripture. If you hear a pastor open the Word of God and teach the Word of God, you can obey the authority of the Word of God–not the authority of the pastor, but the authority of the Word of God. But if someone stands up and says, “I have a prophecy,” then you do not need to put that on the same level with the Word of God because God has completed His prophecy now. He has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. What we need now is someone to teach that and to explain it to us, but God is not giving more prophecy. So that is a foundational gift also.

The Gift of Discerning Spirits

In verse 10, we also have the gift of discerning of spirits. The gift of discerning of spirits was that ability, in that first generation, while the Scripture was being written, to judge a speaker as to the truth of his message. In those days, when the Apostle Paul was going around ministering and all they had in written form was the Old Testament, the Apostle Paul might come in and say, “I have a message from God for you today.” There are instances in the book of Acts in which Paul did that. If you were sitting there, and you had never seen the Apostle Paul before, how would you really know whether that was a message from God or not? Anybody could stand up and say that they had a message from God. Here is the answer to that. God gave to some people the gift of prophecy during that first century, but He gave to others the gift of discerning of spirits. He gave some Christians the supernatural ability to discern whether that supposed prophet was saying was really from God or not. Isn't it great how God took care of both of those needs? He gave men the gift of revealing His truth, but He also gave others the gift of being able to affirm that that was His truth so that the average Christian didn't need to worry about whether or not that was God's truth.

We don't have to worry because it is written down in the Scripture, and we don't have to have someone with the gift of discerning of spirits. Any of us can discern with the work of the Holy Spirit in our own hearts whether the speaker is giving us the truth of what is written down because most of us probably have our own copy of the Scripture. But before that day came, God gave the gift of discerning of spirits.

The Gift of Tongues

In verse 10, we have the gift of tongues also listed. Of course, this is probably the most well known of all the spiritual gifts. In the past two decades particularly, it has been the focal point of much misunderstanding, much disagreement among Christians. I am sure that there are those among us today who have widely different views about the gift of tongues and probably some of these other gifts, too, but the gift of tongues is sort of a tip-of-the-iceberg, the one that sticks out above all the others. Again, my appeal is to the Scripture. If we look to the Scriptures, not through the news magazines, not through the stories of our Christian friends, but look through the Scriptures at the examples that are listed of the gift of tongues, we will find that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak a language which one has not studied. I think that is the simplest definition of the gift of tongues. On the day of Pentecost, God gave men the ability to speak in various kinds of languages which they had never spoken before.

Even when we come to I Corinthians, chapter 13, when Paul first talks about the language of angels, tongues of angels, then in chapter 14, when he talks about men speaking to God in an unknown tongue, if you will be patient with me, I think that I can show you, with God's help, that even those are references to spoken languages. The Greek word for “tongue” is a word that means “languages”. We will talk about that in more detail in chapter 14. You might want look up Isaiah, chapter 28, verse 11 and Isaiah, chapter 33, verse 19; also I Corinthians, chapter 14, verse 22. Those verses say that tongues always have to do with a sign to unrepentant Israel. The gift of tongues is always tied in with the nation of Israel.

Listen carefully to what I am about to say. On the basis of that, I believe that the gift of tongues is given today, if at all, in extremely limited circumstances. I Corinthians, chapter 14, describes very clearly, very exactly, the circumstances in which the gift of tongues is to be exercised. I would say that if it could be demonstrated that it was being done completely in keeping with chapter 14 and if there were unsaved Jews present, I would have to agree possibly that someone had the gift of tongues. However, to make that assertion is to eliminate probably 99 per cent of what is going on today called “speaking in tongues”. So the gift of tongues was the ability to speak a language that one has not studied, and it is always used in the context of unbelieving Jews. We will go into that in more detail in later chapters.

Verse 10 also says that God gave the gift of interpretation of tongues. Chapter 14 will tell us about that also. It is just like the gift of discerning of spirits. Anyone could stand up and spout some gibberish and maybe even believe sincerely in their hearts that they are “speaking with tongues”. How do we know? When God gives the gift of tongues, He also gives the gift of interpretation. I Corinthians, chapter 14, tells us that if someone in a church service begins to speak in tongues, the first thing for the pastor (or whoever is leading the service) to do is to say, “All right, is there an interpretation?” If it is the gift of tongues, there will very likely also be the gift of interpretation. If there is not the gift of interpretation, even if somehow we could know that the gift of tongues which was exercised was legitimate, the tongues speaker is to be silent. The two are to always be exercised together. Again, I say that eliminates a huge percentage of what is being called the gift of tongues today. With the gift of tongues is always given the gift of interpretation of tongues.

That completes verses 8-10. Skip down to verse 28, the second passage that deals with spiritual gifts. In that verse we have listed:

I Corinthians 12

28And God hath set some in the church, first apostles,…

In Acts, chapter 1, verse 22, I Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 1, and I Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 8, we are told that a qualification for the gift of apostleship was one who had seen the Lord Jesus Christ. That gift obviously was foundational. It was not those who had seen the Lord Jesus Christ in a vision, but those who had personally, physically seen the risen Lord Jesus Christ. So that gift was given to a group of men whom God used in the establishment of the Church and the writing of the Scripture.

The Gift of Teaching

The second gift that is listed in I Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 28, is teachers:

I Corinthians 12

28And 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.

This is the gift of being able to reveal God's truth. This is a gift that is still being given today, the ability to take the Word of God and to cause others to understand the Word of God. Think carefully about this. This is not the gift of knowledge. It does not necessarily mean that person with the gift of teaching has more knowledge of the Word than other people do, but he has the ability to understand the Word. He has the ability to assimilate the tools necessary to study the Word of God, and he is able to explain that to other people in a way that the average person can't do. It is not that he is any smarter. Sometimes the listener is much smarter than the teacher, so it doesn't have anything to do with mental ability. God obviously uses mental facilities in this, but what I am saying is that this is not a gift of extra knowledge, of extra brilliance. It is just the gift of being able to understand the Scriptures and explain them to other people. Don't put a person on a pedestal just because he has the gift of teaching. Thank God for that gift. Be appreciative of that gift. Pay attention to that gift, but do not exalt the guy who has the gift because it is a gift from God. Obviously, that is a functional gift.

The Gift of Helps

Verse 28 also refers to the gift of miracles, but we have already talked about that and also the gift of healing. That brings us to the gift of helps. the gift of helps is the capacity to assist other believers, the ability and willingness to help other people. Did you know that not everyone can do that? There are even many Christians who see someone else in need, and they don't have the foggiest idea of what to do about it, and they probably don't even have any real desire to do anything about it. There are many people who have some desire, but they really don't know how to do it. But there are among us, scattered among the Body of Christ, people who can see a need and who immediately have an idea of what to do about it, who have the willingness to get it done. That is the gift of helps. These people show up when a lady has a baby and they get meals to her family while she recuperates the first few days after giving birth. The ones with the gift of helps are the ones who usually say, “Hey, we need to get some food over there. Let me fix up a sign-up list, and let's get it in the bulletin.” That just doesn't occur to many people. They may hear that someone has a new baby, and they say, “Oh, great, a new baby!” People with the gift of helps will say, “How can we help that family?” The same thing when someone dies. God has set it up that way.

The Gift of Governments

There is also the gift of governments. This gift is referred to in the book of Romans as the gift of ruling. The Greek word is a word that means “to pilot a ship”. I believe that this is a gift that God gives to elders and to other people who are in those kinds of capacities. This ability might carry over into the business world, but we are talking about particularly in the church. This is the ability to set goals and to direct other people in reaching those goals and to see to it that they stay on track in the process of reaching those goals. The New American Standard version translates this “administration”, and I think that is a good term because we are familiar with it in other contexts. It is a functional gift which is still being given today.

We are going to stop at this point, and in our next lesson, we will pick up with Romans, chapter 12, and look at the gifts listed there and in Ephesians, chapter 4. There are still a number of gifts left to discuss.

The Function of Gifts Within the Body of Christ

As we draw our thinking to a conclusion, let me ask you something: Aren't you glad that God gives the spiritual gifts? As we work our way through this list of gifts, think about all of the kinds of things that God has thought of and provided for us as Christians. God has seen to it that we have people who can understand the Scripture and explain it to us. God has seen to it that there are people who are going to be especially sensitive to us when we are sick and in need. God has gifted people with the ideas of how to meet those needs. God has seen to it that there are people among us who can envision the future and who can set some goals and who can encourage us to reach those goals as a church and as individuals. Think about the spiritual gifts not just from the standpoint of the gifts that you have, but of all the gifts that God has provided for His Body.

One last thing—the reason we are going through these details is that you might better understand what your gift might be. I hope that even in this discussion today when we are only about halfway through the list, perhaps you have already seen something that you really never even thought of as a spiritual gift, you never really even thought of as a way of serving the Lord. My encouragement to you is to get busy. Do what you find to do. Do what you see to do. Do what you respond to. Just recently I heard about an individual in a church who is extremely active within the lives of people in our congregation. Hardly a week goes by that I don't hear about something that this individual has done to serve the Body of Christ and to help other Christians. This week I heard that some time ago that individual was going through a time of loneliness and a time of feeling useless and that individual said, “Lord, I need some attention from some of Your people.” God spoke to that person and said, “If you pay attention to My people, if you reach out to others, you will find what you are looking for.” That individual got busy and is actively involved in almost every different age level and almost every different social strata of our church, and there is a wide range of all those things. That is my encouragement to you today. If you want to see God work, look for ways that you might do something.

That is the way God operates. He has designed it so that His function is not through the church staff primarily. His function is not through the elders and deacons only. It is a body–the finger, the toe, the knee, the elbow which work together with the brain and the eye and the hand. All of these things together do the work of God.

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