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And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:28
1. The gift of apostleship:
This gift should not be confused with the office a limited number of of men chosen by Jesus, including the twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-19) and Paul (Romans 1:1), held. The requirements for the office of Apostle included being a faithful eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry and His resurrection (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Corinthians 9:1), and being called by Jesus Himself (Galatians 1:1). The Apostles were given authority by Jesus to do many different things to establish the church, including writing Scripture and performing miracles (John 14:26, 2 Peter 3:15-16, 2 Corinthians 12:12).
This kind of office is not active anymore today but the gift of apostleship continues to operate in a different sense. Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers at His ascension (Ephesians 4:7-12). These kind of apostles have a different purpose today. They don’t have the authority to write Scripture as the original Apostles did.
These are the tasks that people with the gift of apostleship do:
– planting new ministries and churches
– leading multiple ministries or churches
– going into places where the Gospel is not preached (missionaries)
– reaching across cultures to establish churches in challenging environments
– raising up and developing leaders
– calling out and leading pastors and shepherds
– being entrepreneurs
– taking risks and performing difficult tasks
2. The gift of prophecy:
The word “prophecy” translated from the Greek means “a speaking forth”. It includes the ability to foretell future events but not exclusively as mostly assumed when people come across the word “prophecy”. When you have the Spirit-given gift of prophecy, you declare the will of God, you interpret the purpose of God, you share God’s heart and mind, or you make known the truth of God which will have an impact on other people. The purpose of prophecy is for the exhortation, edification, and comfort of the Church (1 Corinthians 14:1-5).
3. The gift of teaching:
The Greek word for “teacher” is didaskalos, which means master, teacher or doctor. The teacher is one who shares knowledge, guides, makes known or passes on facts. As a teacher you have the Spirit-given ability and desire to serve God by clearly instructing and communicating the truth of God’s Word with accuracy and in the simplest way possible so that anyone can understand it. You are the scholar who makes clear and explains the doctrine and teachings of God’s Word.
4. The working of miracles:
If you have the gift of working of miracles, you have the Spirit-given ability to perform supernatural events in situations or people that can only be attributed to the power of God. It moves beyond the natural realm and its laws to accomplish the will of God.
Here are some of examples of miracles in the Bible:
– John 2 – Jesus turned water into wine
– John 11 – Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead
– Matthew 14:13-21 – Jesus multiplied food
– Exodus – Ten plagues of Egypt and the miracles Moses performed with the power of God
– Matthew 14:22-33 – Jesus walks on water
– Numbers 22:21-39 – Balaam’s donkey speaks
– Luke 24 – Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension
Like the gift of healing, the opinion about whether this gift is still active or not today is divided. While some believe that this gift was one of the sign gifts linked to the apostles of the first century church to affirm that their message was from God and ceased once the New Testament was written, others believe this gift is still operating today and that it strengthens the church and draws the lost to Jesus.
5. The gifts of healing:
If you have the gifts of healing, you have the Spirit-given ability to heal others according to God’s sovereign will. This has nothing to do with medical knowledge and you don’t need to be a doctor to exercise this gift. This gift can’t be exercised by the will of man but only through God’s sovereign will. If you have this gift, you have compassion for the sick and pray over them regularly. There is no guarantee that healing will always be granted. Though the disciples were given the authority to cast out demons, they weren’t always successful. The Apostle Paul was not able to heal himself and was told that God’s grace was sufficient to carry him through his infirmity without removing it from him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). This gift is given at various times and places to reveal the God of heaven to the sick and tormented. If God doesn’t grant healing, then God has a greater plan or wants the person to go through the sickness or infirmity.
There is a big discussion among Christians today about whether this gift is still operating today or not. Some believe that this gift was one of the sign gifts only linked to the apostles of the first century church to affirm that their message was from God. Since the New Testament has been written, the gift of healing together with other sign gifts is not necessary anymore and ceased.
Others believe this gift will be operating until the end of the church age (until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ) and that there are still people today who operate in this supernatural ability.
6. The gift of helping:
If you have the gift of helping, you have the Spirit-given ability to assisting others with needs. These needs may be both practical and spiritual in nature. Practical needs may be related to helping others accomplish their ministry task, while spiritual needs may be related to provide others with a kind word, encouragement, discernment , understanding, and to speak scriptural truth that is both convicting and loving. All Christians are called to help others in need (Luke 10:25-37), but some have a special gift of helping.
7. The gift of administration:
If you have the gift of administration, you have the Spirit-given ability to organize, administer, promote, and lead the various affairs of the church. You lead the church and its ministries, and you preserve order in the body of Christ. Some people are raised by God to become leaders of leaders. They have been in positions of administration or authority over other Christian leaders. You can’t work your way up to become to this position. It is God’s will to put these leaders in these positions.
8. Speaking in tongues:
If you have the gift of speaking in tongues, you have the Spirit-given ability to speak in a language you never learned before. This gift is the most controversial gift of all the spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit. It ranges from denying this gift to exaggerated emphasis on this gift. The controversy starts already with the exact meaning of the gift. Some people think it just means the ability to speak earthly languages not previously learned, while others believe it also means the ability to speak ecstatic utterances, and even a heavenly language. Those that deny the existence of the gift of speaking in tongues believe that it ceased with the death of the apostles. Others think that this gift is still active today and there are those who give this gift a place of importance that is far beyond what the New Testament teaches. They are firmly convinced that the the gift of tongues is “the only” sign that a believer has received the Holy Spirit or the power of the Holy Spirit which is often called the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
The Greek word for speaking in tongues means “glossalia” which consists of the two words “glossa“, meaning tongue or language, and “laleo”, meaning “to speak”. So speaking in tongues can simply be defined as speaking in languages. Example: You have never learned to speak Japanese because your native language is English but one day the Holy Spirit enables you to pray in Japanese. This happens without your mind.
Within the charismatic movement, there is a belief that speaking in tongues means to speak or pray to God in an unknown language, which can be an ecstatic utterance or a heavenly language that sounds like an unintelligible language or “gibberish”. They think that every Christian can somehow learn how to speak in tongues. The Bible, however, teaches that all spiritual gifts “are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” 1 Corinthians 12:11. It means that the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts to each believer as He sees fit. You can’t learn how to speak in tongues as you can’t learn how to prophesy or any of the other spiritual gifts. Another misconception is that people who speak in tongues somehow possess more spiritual power than those that don’t. Nowhere in Scripture can you find that people who spoke in tongues where able to accomplish more than those who didn’t speak in tongues.
Is speaking in tongues just speaking in an earthly language you don’t previously know or is it a heavenly language? Let’s study Scripture.
Here is a Bible verse that describes speaking of tongues as speaking in earthly languages.
3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Acts 2:3-11
Conclusion: In this Bible passage, there is no speak of a heavenly or unintelligible language but real earthly languages that people could understand.
In the following Bible verses it is not clear if the people who spoke in tongues spoke in earthly languages or heavenly languages.
For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, Acts 10:46
And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. Acts 19:6
Conclusion: There is no mention of unintelligible language or heavenly language in these passages. It just says that people spoke in tongues as the Holy Spirit enabled them to do so.
However, there are several Bible verses where Paul indicates the tongues were not known earthly languages but rather heavenly languages.
First, he mentioned speaking in angelic languages.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
This Bible verse seems to indicate the possibility of speaking in languages, which are non-human.
Then Paul wrote that when we speak in tongues, we don’t speak to other people but to God and no human could understand what we are saying.
For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 14:2
This statement indicates that Paul is not talking about earthly languages here. Paul clearly says that only God understands the person speaking in tongues. So this can’t be an earthly language. If it is an earthly language, somebody who is familiar with this language would understand it.
The next statement makes it clearer.
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 1 Corinthians 14:14
Speaking in tongues is not something you do with your mind. If you pray in a tongue, it’s the Holy Spirit who speaks in you and through your spirit. It’s not something you can do by your own will or understanding.
For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Matthew 10:20
Now let’s study another Bible verse that talks about speaking in tongues.
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 1 Corinthians 14:1-6
This Bible passage teaches us the following:
Compared to the gift of prophecy speaking in tongues is mainly speaking to God rather than to men, and this speaking would be mysteries to the congregation because they can’t understand the language. For this reason, speaking in tongues is edifying for the speaker but not for the church, unless there is someone who has the spiritual gift of interpreting what is said in the unknown language. The gift of prophecy is superior to the gift of tongues because it speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort, and since everyone understands what is said, it edifies the church.
Let’s look more Bible passages where Paul speaks about the gift of tongues.
If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. 1 Corinthians 14:7-12
This passage means that speaking in tongues inside the congregation is like speaking into the air because nobody will understand them. Paul says that there are many different languages in the world but they all have a meaning. However, if you don’t know the meaning of a language, you will be a foreigner to the speaker and vice versa. The purpose of this gift is to build up the church.
Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 1 Corinthians 14:13-19
Since the purpose of speaking in tongues is to edify the church with what they say, Paul advises the Corinthian congregation with the gift of tongues to pray that they can interpret what they say, as others should be able to understand what is said and the gift should edify the congregation. Paul who had the gift of speaking in tongues himself explains that he would rather speak five words with his mind in oder to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 1 Corinthians 14:20-25
Here Paul points out that speaking in tongues is meant to be a sign for unbelievers, not for believers while prophecy is meant to be a sign for believers, not unbelievers. If the whole church would come together and all speak in tongues, outsiders or unbelievers who would hear that would think they all might be mad. And again he compares prophecy as a more treasured gift which would rather draw the fellow Corinthian unbeliever towards God.
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. 1 Corinthians 14:26-33
In order for everything to be edifying to the church, Paul lays out a system for how to properly speak in tongues. Only two or three people with the gift of tongues are allowed to speak with interpretation provided or to be quiet if there is no interpretation available. He explains that there should be no confusion inside the congregation, when the gifts of tongues or prophecy are exercised.
34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:34-40
In verse 34 Paul addressed another problem which the Corinthian Church had. Some wives superseded and ruled over their husbands inside the congregation. Therefore Paul gave advice to the wives to subject themselves to their husbands and voice their concerns at home rather than in the presence of the congregation, as to be seen respectful. Then he ends by asking the leaders to desire to prophesy and to not forbid speaking in tongues but to do all things decently and in order.
- The gift of tongues is the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak in earthly and heavenly languages never learned before.
- “The gift of tongues” was given as a sign for unbelievers to see the power of God.
- In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul makes clear that that love supersedes such gifts.
- 1 Corinthians 14:2 explains that speaking in tongues inside a congregation is of no use because they don’t understand the language and wouldn’t be edified through this gift without an interpretation.
- In this way the speaker utters a mystery that he himself does not understand, nor does the congregation; being spoken to God through the Spirit.
- Speaking in tongues should not be forbidden. It is both a personal prayer language between God and man and a sign for unbelievers to see the power of God.
- This gift should only be used inside the church when there is an interpretation available so that the church can be edified through interpretation of what is uttered. It should also be used in an orderly manner and not bring confusion.
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