We began our study of spiritual gifts last week by examining how spiritual gifts were given to Christians. We noticed in that study that the scriptures repeatedly describe Christians receiving spiritual gifts only by an apostle laying his hands on a Christian (Acts 8:15-18; Romans 1:9-11; 2 Timothy 1:6-7). Paul writes this section concerning spiritual gifts to the Corinthians so that they would not be led astray or uninformed about these gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1). In the same way, we want to have our faith built on a firm foundation so that we are not uninformed or led astray by false teaching.
Sometimes people claim that there are apostles today and therefore the gifts can continue. However, we noticed the qualifications for being an apostle of Christ and these qualifications cannot be met today. To prove this point even further, Wayne Grudem, a noted and respected Bible scholar who has written many books and is a continuationist (believes that miraculous spiritual gifts are still continuing today) states, “Since no one today can meet the qualification of having seen the risen Christ with his own eyes, there are no apostles today (Systematic Theology, 911)
So Paul did not want the Corinthians to be led astray. This concern is seen in 1 Corinthians 12:2-3. Paul wants Christians to know that their former experience as pagans may have poorly informed them to understand the realities concerning spiritual gifts. What God does through the Spirit is not the same as the idol worship these people had experienced before coming to Christ. Particularly, Paul reminds Christians that so-called inspired utterances are not necessary inspired by the Holy Spirit. There may be people claiming to be speaking from the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean that they really are. Paul uses an extreme illustration to make his point. Obviously, a person who is speaking from the Holy Spirit is not going to say, “Jesus is accursed.” A person who is speaking with the Holy Spirit will only speak the truth. No one who is speaking in the Holy Spirit will speak false things.
Describing Spiritual Gifts
In verse 4 Paul states that there are many different spiritual gifts. A listing of some of the gifts are given by Paul in verses 8-10. Some were given the gift of speaking wisdom. Some were given the spiritual gift of healing. Some were given the gift of working miracles. Some were given the spiritual gift of prophecy. Some were given the gift of speaking in tongues. Some were given the gift of interpreting tongues. The point is that there are all kinds of spiritual gifts. These gifts are given “for the common good” (12:7). These gifts are not given for boasting or a person to use for himself. I hope you will consider that this is different than what we see in the religious world today. Many try to claim to have spiritual gifts to draw attention to themselves. They claim to have gifts so that they will seem to have some kind of spirituality. But I want us to notice Paul’s instruction that these spiritual gifts were not used for self but for the common good. These things were given so that other Christians would be benefited. These gifts are not for self-indulgence but for the community of Christ. These gifts were used to serve others, not serve self. These gifts were not to be a badge of spirituality, but an outflow of God’s grace.
I want us to notice something else about the listing of these spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are not talents. Natural talents, skills, and abilities are certainly granted by God but these are not spiritual gifts that we see in the scriptures nor are not the gifts that Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Unbelievers can have gifts of generosity or kindness or compassion. Spiritual gifts are supernaturally given by God to believers by the apostles laying their hands on a Christian. So when we speak about spiritual gifts, do not think that you have the “gift of gab” or something like that. All the gifts listed in verses 8-10 are gifts given by the Holy Spirit when an apostle laid his hands on an individual.
But notice something even more important. Notice that Paul does not merely say that God gives the gift. Look at verse 6. God empowers the gift. Other translations read that God “works” (NASB, NKJV, NIV, NLT) or “activates” (HCSB, NRSV) the gift. God is the one who makes the gift work. The gift was activated or started by God. These people did not activate their own gifts. A person did not exercise the gift on their own power. Now consider how different this is from what we see in the religious world that tries to exercise “spiritual gifts.” They will activate their gift themselves. They will “heal” on their own power. They will “prophesy” from their own will. I have never seen or heard of a person who claimed to have a gift of tongues or prophecy or healing say, “God is not working in me right now.” They all activate the gift themselves. Paul says that this is not possible. The true spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit through an apostle laying his hands on a Christian were only activated and exercised by God. We can see all kinds of examples of this truth in the New Testament. But notice one instance that really shows this:
And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. (Acts 5:14–15 ESV)
Did Peter activate his gift of healing so that his shadow healed people? Did Peter will this to happen? Not at all! Of course not! God empowered this healing so that wherever Peter walked, people were healed even when his shadow passed over them. Here is the point we learn by the apostle Paul: If you are causing your “gift,” then you do not have a spiritual gift.
Understanding the Gift of Prophecy
With the remainder of our time we are going to consider one gift in particular: the spiritual gift of prophecy. We see that this is one of the gifts listed by Paul in verse 10. Many claim today to possess the gift of prophecy. The scriptures are very clear as to what the gift of prophecy is. Listen to how the apostle Peter describes prophecy.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21 ESV)
In short, Peter says that prophecy is the speaking the very words of God. The person does not decide what to say. The Holy Spirit caused the person to speak God’s word. The person with the gift of prophecy, when the gift was exercised, did not speak his own words.
Now listen to how different the gift of prophecy is defined today. Sam Storms is a noted Bible author and preacher in Oklahoma City. He is one of the leading evangelical teachers who also considered himself a charismatic and believes miraculous spiritual gifts are still being exercised today. He exercises the gift as well as many in his church. He defined prophecy in one of his sermons as, “The speaking forth in merely human words what God has brought to mind.” Because of this, Sam Storms goes on to say that Christians must test what comes to mind with the scriptures. He continued, “My guess, in fact I’m absolutely certain of it, that everyone who has ever been blessed to exercise this gift [of prophecy] has in some measure here or there gotten something wrong. That doesn’t make them a false prophet.” If this was not enough, listen to how Sam Storms further describes the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is “a mixture of the infallible divine word of God and the fallible, oftentimes errant interpretation and application of men and women like you and me.” Please consider how different this is from how Peter described prophecy. The true gift of prophecy was to speak the very words of God. This is why God could give this powerful declaration:
20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:20–22 ESV)
God commanded that people who claimed to speak in God’s name but did not truly speak the words of God were to be killed. The people would want to know how they would be able to discern if a person truly had the gift of prophecy (18:21). The test is if his words came true or not. If a person claimed to speak as a prophet but his words are not true or do not come to pass, that person was to be killed. Consider that this is different from how Sam Storms describes prophecy. He says that every person who ever had the gift of prophecy got something wrong. But God says that whoever truly has the gift of prophecy never said anything wrong because they spoke the very words of God. Prophecy was not left to the interpretation or application of the prophet. They were activated and empowered by God, not themselves, and said the words that the Holy Spirit carried them along to say.
Just as a note, as I listened to these online sermons by Sam Storms, they had people who claimed to have the gift of prophecy get on the microphone and exercise their gift. Every “prophecy” was non-specific and useless. For example, one person prophesied, “God wants to build you up.” Please read through the scriptures and try to find that kind of broad, non-specific prophecy. That is not a prophecy at all. Prophecy is always presented as the infallible, authoritative declaration of God’s inerrant revelation. It was not an impression of the mind, whether clear or vague. Prophecy is a verbal declaration, using words the prophecy vocalized audibly or wrote legibly in the presence of others who could hear or read them. We cannot define prophecy more broadly than the scriptures give.
All spiritual gifts are given by God through an apostle laying hands on a Christian. Therefore there are no spiritual gifts given today because all the apostles died. All spiritual gifts were activated and empowered by God. No person exercised their gift by their own will or power. The gift of prophecy was speaking the very words of God, which are without error and fully trustworthy. Anyone who claimed to prophesy but was wrong was declared a false prophet that no one was to listen to or follow. We must employ these same tests today. Here is the great thing that God has given us. We do not need prophets today because the apostles and prophets wrote down the very words of God for us which we hold in our hands today. When we read, we are reading the very words of God so that we can come to Christ and be saved (cf. Ephesians 3:3-5; Revelation 1:3).