The Gifts Pt 2 – the purpose and the definition.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12- 13


  1. It is the Holy Spirit who works amongst us for his purposes.

  2. Our ‘paganism’ can influence our ‘Christian’ thinking – so we need to think carefully what attitudes we bring to the subject of Gifts.

  3. Gifts are not ours to possess nor to manipulate – we never own them. They always remain the distribution of the Holy Spirit for His purposes.

Ethical issues to cover:

  1. When we claim an enablement as our possession we steal from God. It is His enabling not ours to steal and own. What the Holy Spirit wants is always for the common good, not for our materialistic attitudes.

  2. If we claim to have gifts that neither glorify God, or serve the saints in a maturing way that brings glory to God, is it a real gift, or is it a Babel experience of human bricks and mortar, sham and delusion?


Last week we covered the two times God used His miraculous nature to cause the ‘gift’ of tongues to occur in human history. The first time was at Babel where people built by bricks and mortar a temple to elevate themselves towards self-deification. That age-old demand that humanity has to be their own god. The second time at Pentecost and the birth of the Church where God reversed the confusion of Babel to the unity of a new nationhood.

At Babel, we saw dispersion, confusion and alienation from the ‘gift’ of languages God gave. And this gift was given to stop humanity from idolatry and evil – remember in previous chapters we had Noah and the flood?

At Pentecost, we have God enabling language or hearing language to unify and bring order. Here the gift of language/hearing was used by God to bring Jew and Gentile into one new nation in Jesus Christ – the birth of a new nation.

I established with you that Pentecost sets the standard by which we know God is working and not human façades and deceptions – the declaration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the exaltation of God. (Acts 2:11)

Tonight, I want to examine 1 Corinthians 12 – 13 and ask what do we learn about:

  1. The issue of taking our modern world view into understanding the gifts.

  2. The ethics Paul speaks of to define the usage and outworking of the gifts.

  3. The principal attitudes that will always be produced if the gift is real.

  4. Understanding the gifts and their functioning within the Church.

Let me start by saying two things:

  1. I do believe God still enables people to do special things by His Spirit.

  2. I do not think the current definitions define accurately the extent of how the gifts manifest themselves in a lot of churches because of the basic failure of people claiming the gifts, and the modern mysticism embedded in the church.

Point 1: The issue of taking our modern world view into understanding the gifts.

Like last week this is a fly over of our scripture refences so I will put up the verse or section I would like to concentrate on and leave you to reread at your convenience the whole section if you have not yet done this.

1 Corinthians 12 (NIV) 1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Paul is responding to a question asked by the Corinthian church about the gifts and their usage. He starts the answer to their question by stating the obvious “I don’t want you to be uninformed”, this immediately brings to us the issue we have for today – most people in the church do not study the Bible, at best they might read it as a verse and then do a devotion, and so they stay uninformed. Here is a letter Paul writes while inspired by God, teaching about the use and function of the Gifts. How many people even bother to read and understand this?

People remain often uninformed as if God, by some secret mystical osmoses, sprinkles us with truth without studying the Bible and we get it. Paul, here calls the church to get informed – to think, study and learn about how the gifts work and what they are all about.

His next concern is the reason why we cannot afford to be uninformed. Without this learning and rethinking we take our none-Christian world view into our faith and expect God to function in this fleshly selfish mode of thought.

The modern world view is a baggage we all have to deal with when we come to faith, and when it comes to understanding God and how he empowers us to serve Him. Let me suggest some modern world views that corrupt the gifts and their usage in the church:

  1. Individualism – it’s all about me and what God wants for me. God has given this gift too me for me and it gives me a sense of significance.

  2. Self-importance driven – similar to the above, but the self-validation of it – God gives me a gift so I might have a purpose and value.

  3. Materialism – the belief that stuff is to be accumulated. We often talk about what “our” gift is as if it our property.

  4. Privatizing – we are closing gifts off from their real purpose, putting them behind closed doors where they are only for the few or the elite. Gifts were designed to engage community, society and the church, as in Pentecost.

All these views find their place in the worlds system, not the church.

Paul, challenging the Roman church told them to move from the thinking of this world towards renewed thinking, the way God sees things.

Romans 12:2 (NIV) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Without the challenge Paul makes to the Corinthian Church when he reminds them to remember their thinking when they were pagans or unbelievers, he could not help them see an alternative view of how they ought to work together for the better good. To understand the gifts and how they are to be used one first has to choose to reject useless and selfish thinking about the ‘gifts’.

Point 2: The ethics Paul speaks of to define the usage and outworking of the gifts.

With this new way of thinking we are required to move towards the constant call of Christ to be mature, driven by care and concern for others.

In this 1 Corinthians section Paul lists the ethics we are required to have in claiming we are working with the Gifts and abilities God has given us. And what do I mean by the word ethics?

To act ethically is to act in a way that holds integrity in what you do and why you do it. It is the way we treat others in a beneficial and not exploitive manner. Paul certainly gives some clear ethics in how the gifts and all our engagement in the church ought to be.

  • Verse 3: All gifts and abilities claimed to originate from God promote the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Not theology, not denomination, not Babel – all gifts reflect ‘Pentecost’, they glorify God and declare the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

  • Verse 4;11: All gifts and abilities claimed to come from God must always be understood as distributed by the Holy Spirit, according to His choosing not our demands.

  • Verse 5 – 7: All gifts bring service and effectualness to the church – the common good not the individual good. The word “work” means that which brings the desired effect – so all gifts claimed to come from God are always effective and always benefit the “church” in growing people into maturity. They are and do what they claim to be.

  • Verse 12: We are all part of the same body, we are in Christ and therefore no one is more important than the other. God works within the body not the individual’s self-importance but always for the common good.

  • Verse 31; 13:1-13: Ours is the pursuit of care and concern for others, we don’t pursue Gifts but Love. Here is where a bit of controversy in translation occurs. Note verse 31 and how some translations deal with this complicated Greek phrase:

  • (NIV) 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

  • (NETFull) 31 But you should be eager for the greater gifts. And now I will show you a way that is beyond comparison.

  • (ESV) 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Paul encourages the church to seek out the usage of the greater gifts of verse 28 with the most important gifts being the emphasis of teaching, declaring and exhorting. He talks of these gifts being of more value to the building up of the church and engaging the society we live in, but yet there is something far more important that ought to be our priority.

In this day and age, one might think that miracles, signs and wonders were the most important things to God, but it is simply not true.

Paul declares what we ought to elevate, exaggerate and desire that is even more excellent than 10,000 words spoken in tongues or 10 resurrections from the dead. Love.

Paul places love – that is care and concern for others, above all signs and all wonders. This is the ethical principal that drives us as Christians.

In fact, 13:13 places love above faith, but we often hear people say in the church “You don’t have enough faith”, maybe we ought to be asking “Do we have enough care and concern towards God and for each other?”

So, as you can see the teaching in 1 Corinthians we have covered is not about gifts as the emphasis but about the ethics and call to love others. Paul is telling us that there is a call to do what we do in the church with a higher perspective than merely asking “What gift do you have?”

Point 3: The principal attitudes that will always be produced if the gift is real.

From this list, we can now define what we ought to expect if someone is claiming to work enabled by the Holy Spirit in a special way in the church.

Straight away it should be clear that just because someone claims a miracle or a gift does not mean it is from God, or that it is real. Nor can we claim someone is from God just because they promote a special ability – all gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit at His discretion, therefore anyone who minimises the Lordship of Jesus, and fails to bring glory to God without requirement for the royal pat on the back is ‘Babel’ and not ‘Pentecost’.

So, then, what is the principal attitudes that will always be produced if the gift is real:

  • It will stand against the worlds attitudes in self-promotion and self-importance.

  • It will be in service of others, and will be effective in what it claims to do. It is real and not a sham or deceptive.

  • It never promotes itself above another – it always promotes the Body of Christ.

  • It is driven by care and concern for others.

With this in mind let’s define the gifts listed by Paul, and see if there can be further depths to their meaning than the “Pentecostal influenced” we are now so accustomed too.

Point 4: Understanding the gifts and their functioning within the Church.

From verses 8 – 10 Paul gives a list of the gifts he experienced God’s people engaged with. I would like to list them, give a definition and then add a thought:

  1. The ability to speak wisdom:

  2. Definition: The ability to think, understand, interpret, define and impart Scriptural principles and insights to others to enable them to become mature in the faith.

  3. To speak knowledge:

  4. Definition: Has the ability and skill to study, grasp the deeper knowledge of scripture and life. They bring to light the deeper truths of scripture to bring substance, focus, doctrine and truth to the Church and the unchurched. The intellectual ability to learn, understand and teach.

  5. Faith:

  6. Definition: a conviction and trust in God. They have the ability to inspire us to trust God and walk forward with Him. They hold that God can and should be trusted, and when others buckle they inspire – they remind us to hold fast even in darkest moments.

  7. Gifts of healing:

  8. Definition: The Greek word is plural, so implies many types of skills and abilities from God to bring wellbeing and wholeness. Linked to this word is the idea of remedies, cures and medicine. What is a Christian doctor then?

  9. Miraculous powers:

  10. Definition: here the term can be interpreted “effective and operational ability or skill” to do what does not naturally come to them in an effectual manner. It can be the enabling of a young person to stand their ground and hold to faith when they are bullied, or the ability to hold fast where most would buckle and bend.

  11. Prophecy:

  12. Definition: the enabling to declare to society and the church what God would have said for the day they are in. One inspired to declare the word of God into a specific situation or age.

  13. Distinguishing spirits:

  14. Definition: the enabling and ability to evaluate and decide if an influence is evil or from God. Not just demonic influences, but the influences of evil in thinking, ideals, philosophy etc

  15. Speaking in different kinds of tongues:

  16. Definition: Again, notice their ability is to speaks in many languages. They are enabled to learn and communicate in many human languages. The Greek allows two interpretations. Either the ability to learn quickly and with unusual ease other human languages, or to open one’s mouth and speak to another person in a way they understand and can engage.

  17. Interpretation of tongues:

  18. Definition: One who can by enablement or ability easily understand another language spoken and explain what is said.

Notice I use the words enabling and ability. This is because the start of this section Paul says in Greek:

“(AGNT) Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν” (Verse 1)

In the NIV “With regards to spiritual gifts” is not the exact translation, rather more accurately “Now concerning those things originating from and belonging to the Spirit.” What originates and belongs to the Spirit enables and empowers for service in love.


What does all this mean to us today?

We have to answer the ethical questions regarding gifts and their usage in the church today as this section lays out ethic practices and ideas about enabling’s and abilities from the Spirit.

  1. When we claim an enablement as our possession we steal from God. It is His enabling not ours to steal and own. What the Holy Spirit wants is always for the common good, not for our materialistic attitudes.

  2. If we claim to have gifts that neither glorify God, or serve the saints in a maturing way that brings glory to God, is it a real gift, or is it a Babel experience of human bricks and mortar, sham and delusion?

When God enables us to work in special ways for Him they will always:

  • Be acts moving from immature Christianity towards maturity in faith and godliness.

  • Because they are enablement’s from God they will be exactly what they claim to be without sham, deception and guess work. They are never ‘Babel’ and always ‘Pentecost’ – real and exposed to others for evaluation (Remember we are to “test and approve all things” 1 Thess. 5:21).

  • They will always be motivated by care and concern for others, this is our zeal and motivation for all we do – it’s the nature of the giver and inherent in the purpose of the ability – to express Love.

All God enables in the church is for our common good, our maturation and in the cause of Divine Love and Human Improvement. Never ‘Babel’ always ‘Pentecost’, never chaos and sham, always order and reality.

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