I find it extremely sad that the gifts given to Christians are such a source of contention within the church. Whilst any contention is a bad thing the very fact that gifts; those presents given by a loving Heavenly Father freely to His children; should become a battlefield is extremely wrong. Thus as I approach this essay I would like to start by saying that the below is a list and definition of the gifts as I see them. Most in my church would view them similarly. If however you feel the Lord has given you something more, or different, or better. Amen. He may well have given you something better than I. So be it; let us all make sure we use whatever we have been given in His service.
I also think it is important to distinguish the fruits of the spirit from the gifts of the spirit. The former are the works that we should expect the Holy Spirit to perform in each one of us that has the Spirit indwelling. The fruits of the spirit are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. These should be alive and well today and each visible in me.
Spiritual gifts are different. We are expressly told that people will differ in the gifts they are handed and indeed that the distribution of gifts we are given is a primary indicator of our 'calling'. Indeed this overlap of gift and calling leads to some offices such as apostleship where we have not actually been told 'apostleship' is a gift yet there are verses that almost treat it as one. For the purposes here I shall deal with Spiritual gifts such that a calling to a peculiar office (such as apostleship) is deemed to carry with it whatever special gifting is required to render that service possible. I accept that some of the gifts will therefore overlap slightly.
With the above caveats in place I list the spiritual gifts as follows:-
Whilst this term is used in general of a number of sent people we use this term specifically of those that carried the full weight of apostleship. Here is the Eastman's definition:
To me one of the most interesting things under this heading is the direction in Romans 12 that it should be in proportion to faith. Prophecy was something you had to 'step out' and do. You could not learn it or double-check it; it was an ability to tell forth the mind of God, with confidence, in the absence of any external evidence. It is fashionable to say that prophets forthtold and not just foretold. However it is not that simple. A teacher forthtells and an elder does that with authority. A prophet has the ability to tell forth with authority in an area where the Bible has left the subject grey. In the Old Testament the veracity of the forthtelling of a prophet was judged by his ability to foretell.
I do not believe the office of a prophet as a 'sign gift' exists today however the general role of prophet in Israel, and there were schools of them, is now taken by an authoritive teaching elder although he is now validated through teaching and thus the word of God and not the ability to predict.
Apostles generated doctrine, prophets spoke out in areas that doctrine itself did not simply cover and teachers are the ones that make doctrine generally known and understood. The gift of teaching does not, in my opinion, carry any authority with it. I could be a gifted teacher and completely doctrinally unsound.
It is somewhat unfortunate in my opinion that the true gift of teaching; that of the academic that is prepared to spend hours digging out truth and will then spend the time to accurately portray the information in a way that encourages people to learn rather than act has largely been lost. We want our congregations to do things but we don't really want to tell them why.
The gift of teaching is a prerequisite for eldership.
I think it is important in the Co 12 passage that this is listed before healings. This is not a practical gift designed to help people. It was the ability to perform a sign or wonder to validate the spiritual authority of the one performing the miracle. Incidentally this is one of the gifts faked by the Anti Christ during the tribulation.
I do not consider this gift to be necessary in a church where the Bible is usable as an authority. It does occur in third world evangelism where the Word of God is not fully available.
I think it is important to distinguish the gift of healing from supernatural healing. I consider the gift of healing to be a sign gift. If you look at the accounts they always emphasize that the healing was done of all who were sick. This was a way of producing long term visible and memorable and provable cases of the power of God. Most of the recorded instances were amongst the Apostles or the Lord Himself.
Again I consider the usage of this gift to be similar to that of miracles in general. Note however that spiritual healings; through prayer and supplication are as valid today as they were 2000 years ago. It is God's was of intervening to help his people and he love's us as much now as he did then.
This has been discussed at length in a previous essay. To me this is the office of the modern deacon. It is the gift to get logistical work done. Fixing the roof, preparing lunches, driving people around.
Again this has been discussed. To me this is the gift of leadership. It is somewhat distinct from teaching and prophecy in that it implies the ability to make decisions based upon factually available information (so it is not prophecy) but where the decision is not the straightforward reading of scripture. This gift is a prerequisite of the oversight.
Tongues have to be one of the most controversial of all of the gifts. First let us note that the most graphic recorded case of tongues involves normal human languages being spoken but by people that would not ordinarily know the language. Tongues were a sign gift used to validate the message.
To me the gift of tongues as a sign gift is no longer valid. However I do wonder if the diversities of tongues could also refer to an aptitude to speak languages; even if today the aptitude is nurtured through school courses rather than direct spiritual intervention.
Wisdom as a gift was given to Solomon even though he then spent most of proverbs persuading people that if they feared God they could become wise themselves. To me this gift is similar to governments (or leadership) although it lacks the element of authority. Someone with the gift of wisdom is a 'wise counselor' and may well be useful in the nurture of those struggling in the faith.
I believe this gift to have been somewhat similar to the gift of prophecy except that instead of predicting the future or speaking authoritatively on some ambiguous matter it was the ability to bring to light some element of factual truth that might otherwise have stayed hidden. Nathan exhibited this gift when he denounced David's sin with Bathsheba.
Standard teaching in my church would be that this is a sign gift and would thus not be necessary today. However I wonder if this gift isn't actually manifested in those known to 'have a good gut instinct' or an 'uncanny knack of getting to the bottom of things'. If I am correct then this is actually a practical gift that we should expect to see in action today.
This one is a little weird as it is listed as a fruit too. The best explanation I can give is that there are some Saints that have faithfully endured things I could not imagine enduring. It has required faith way beyond what I see in 99% of the Christian I meet. I believe that these Herculean efforts are met by faith sent as a gift in addition to that measure of faith that we should each have home grown. We need this in the church as much today as we have ever done.
We know that the New Testament church had many spiritual gifts manifested and we know too that Satan was busy faking as many of these gifts as possible. Especially as for the sign gifts it is required to have someone that can spot the genuine from the fake. These were the discerners of Spirits. They should only be needed in those situations where the sign gifts are still required.
If the tongue was a sign then the bearer of the tongue had been given Spiritual accreditation through having the tongue. Provided the tongue was genuine. The problem was that if this was a tongue then people might believe what the person had said but they wouldn't know what the person had said. Therefore the gift of interpretation of tongues was given. This was a separate gift from tongues itself because if the same person did both then the element of validation would have been lost.
Whilst this is a practical gift it is only useful where the gift of tongues is present and should thus be manifest at the same times.
These are the gifts as given in 1 Corinthians twelve. As will be seen I deem a number of these to be sign only gifts which should not be manifest in a properly functioning church today although, in my opinion, they are still likely to occur in some gospel outreach where the Bible is not available. Others are practical gifts; many of which had a supernatural 'boost' before scripture was available and which now rest upon the solid rock of the Word of God.
However in closing I would like to restate the opening paragraph. The gifts were given to build the church. They were not given to act as a source of division to rip the church apart. If we are to be dogmatic at all it should be on that fact that we will be judged on the use we have made of our gifts. Thus we should ascertain what our gifting is, accept it as our calling, then go do it!