Understanding Spiritual Gifts 04

3. Manifestations

These gifts are: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, word of faith, healing, miracles, word of prophecy, word of discernment, glossolalia, and interpretation of tongues. These are ecstatic utterances of the mouth accompanying various miraculous effects in others. I note in passing that some who are deaf/mute and use sign language have experienced these gifts, as well.

We need to take a moment to debunk a pernicious heresy. These gifts are not somehow proof that one is “spirit-filled,” as if it were something separate and secondary to being spiritually born. Manifestation gifts are not a graduate degree of faith, as it were. It makes the mythology of “getting saved” even worse. The whole image is wild nonsense that has done great damage to Christian religion. The expression “spirit filled” in the Bible is best understood in the context where it occurs.

The following list of gifts are contextual manifestations of God showing His power among His people to bless His people. We become conduits of mercy and grace to each other. The Spirit of God provokes you to communicate and achieve an effect you cannot normally do, bypassing your human limitations. Each is a miracle in itself. The occurrence may be a one-time event, an occasional repeat, or a common exercise for the person experiencing it. In all cases, the believer remains in control in the sense of doing it or not. It is not squelching the Spirit to withhold the exercise of this gift; it’s yours to use for His glory. You are expected to follow all the same customs and habits of being polite and orderly in the fellowship. However, you have no control over the content, which is the whole point.

Because this is a rather pure expression of the Holy Spirit, it tends to create ecstasy in the believer. It can be addictive in that sense. It can also be abused, and a great many people do so in actual practice. It can become an excuse to draw attention to the self, which is an insult to God, since the whole point is drawing attention to Him. Even without the mass fakery that takes place, we can safely say it is more often abused than not. This was the case with the Corinthian church to which Paul addressed this teaching.

Word of Wisdom is when the Spirit gives you an insight beyond your normal capabilities. It is seldom the words precisely, but something you are provoked to put into words. It comes as a flash of inspiration that, to you, is obviously beyond your understanding. It serves to help someone else discern what path they should take.

The word of knowledge is revelation of a fact you cannot otherwise know. In current practice this is often confused with a word of healing or miracle. This gift offers precise factual information that is needed, but would be virtually impossible for you to find out in a timely manner, or is beyond your intellectual capacity at the moment. It offers a clue so someone can act appropriately.

When someone receives a word of faith, it’s supposed to pull someone up from a weak position. This is a little harder to explain in that God alone knows what the recipient needs to provoke a stronger faith, so a word of faith could be any number of things about which the speaker has no clue. However, in some contexts, it can also be something they do understand, and they are pressed to affirm that God will answer a shared prayer request in one manner or another.

A word of healing is just what it sounds like. One person receives an impression from the Holy Spirit to affirm something can or will be healed. This business of random pronunciations that “someone is being healed from this or that” is quite likely fake, because this is not what Paul describes. It’s more personal in nature, and the target is seldom unknown.

Word of miracle is similar to healing, but covers all the other miraculous provisions people might need. Scripture is loaded with examples, so there is little need to try to explain. People pray together for all sorts of things, and a word of miracle is one possible way God answers. A much bigger problem is learning how to define what a miracle is, because the definition includes the element of plausible deniability — any actual witness can still choose to explain it away. It requires faith to receive any miraculous gift.

A word of prophecy is a manifestation that doesn’t necessarily require a prophet, but is consistent with prophetic ministry. It’s more about the testimony of God’s authority than it is about the people involved. Since most Western Christians have a poor grasp of how prophecy works, current practice tends to miss the point. At its root, it’s an insight into how God does things. It typically leads to a prediction of how things will go based on that insight into God’s moral character. Most prophesies are conditional in that sense.

If discernment is recognizing the evidence of moral influences good or evil, then a word of discernment is a spontaneous message from God about some particular thing over which people are praying and seeking God’s face. We should expect such a manifestation will defy common sense; otherwise it’s not much of a miracle. This is particularly useful when you simply don’t know how to pray about some issue. Sometimes there’s a fine line between one thing and another within a complex issue.

The gift of tongues is the most controversial, simply because Pentecostals of all stripes insist this is the gateway, the proof of your graduate degree of faith. This is a lie of Satan that comes from abusing the gift itself. While glossolalia can include a private prayer language, that is hardly the main purpose. The whole point is being able to express divine revelation to someone in a language the hearer understands naturally, but the speaker does not. It bridges the gap between someone with a mission to share, who faces a language barrier with their audience. One might naturally expect this gift to see significant use in Corinth, a town where sailors from all over the world might visit.

Sometimes it helps the rest of the congregation when a message in tongues is translated, and that can also require a word of interpretation. However, most of the time this gift is simply moving things back the other direction from glossolalia. Someone who doesn’t speak the common language of the church body needs to say something they should hear, so the gift of interpretation can work that way. If God needs people to communicate and there’s no natural interpreter, these two gifts can solve the problem.

This is most certainly not a closed list, but it covers things Paul experienced in his apostolic ministry. Would it surprise you that something similar can happen while someone is writing, and not just speaking? The normative use of these gifts is when believers are seeking God for something, even if they don’t quite know what. Less often we could expect them to manifest when the need isn’t known to the whole group. They aren’t for putting on a show; they aren’t meant to bring attention to the person who expresses the gift. They aren’t an excuse for throwing off all sensible restraints in public behavior, but some gifts are sure to provoke offense with people who aren’t used to how God works.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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5 Responses to Understanding Spiritual Gifts 04

  1. Jay DiNitto says:

    This was a good series. I’m going to cross-post this on the forum, I think. 🙂


  2. Iain says:

    The way Holy Rollers go nuts in church is an escape valve from their daily white knuckle Holiness. Without the ecstatic release in church, they might explode in public like a hand grenade. Spontaneous Human Explosion.


  3. Ed Hurst says:

    One more piece of it coming, Jay.


  4. Ed Hurst says:

    I think I’ve seen the results of one of those explosions, Iain. It’s not where you want to be. 😉


  5. Iain says:

    I concur with your assessment.


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