We have been talking about the gifts of the Spirit in our Seek the Gifts series. Last time we discussed the power gifts of faith, healings, and miracles. Now we turn to some of the most controversial gifts, the utterance gifts.
Of all the gifts, people are least likely to engage in these three gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpretation. They remain misunderstood and misused in today’s culture. So let’s dive in and take a closer look at these gifts.
The Context of the Gifts
These gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpretation are so misused by the Corinthian church that Paul spends an extra chapter, 1 Corinthians 14, on these gifts and how to use them. He did not tell the Corinthians not to use them because they misused them.
Instead, Paul gave extra attention and teaching on their proper use. We will take another look at prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpretation in more detail in the next couple of posts. But I want to introduce these gifts and talk about them generally as an introduction.
These utterance gifts are called that because they are gifts involving speaking into the heart and mind of the local body of Christ. The Holy Spirit uses them among us in our gatherings and services. These are not to be used outside the Church. Unbelievers would misunderstand them if we did so.
Prophecy belongs to the Church. It is a rudder that guides the ship of everything we do. Speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues belong to the Church. They have no use outside our gatherings. Unbelievers would see them as a gimmick.
These are vital to the Church today. They guide us and show us the steady hand of the Spirit as long as we listen to His leading. For all the misuse possible with these gifts, we must not throw them away.
To Use or Not to Use These Gifts
The utterance gifts minister to the Church in huge ways. In our day and age, with translation apps and translators, with the Bible finished, many people don’t understand why these are still necessary for the Church today.
Among most churches today, these gifts, if not others, go unused. Many pastors and leaders of the church cannot understand their use. Often, they think if they were used, they would bring confusion among their church members, just like they did in the Corinthian church.
They unfortunately choose to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because they don’t understand how to use them, and don’t develop the ministerial leadership qualities of following the Spirit to know when they are misused, they simply don’t use them at all.
They argue against their use today, saying like cessationists that they ran out of use when the Bible was completed, or that they don’t appear to be used throughout most of Church history. But these are not good arguments.
These are not the only things found in Scripture that are no longer practiced throughout Church history today. You would find Christians hard-pressed to sell their properties and give the money to the Church to give to the needy among us.
One of my favorite illustrations of this is a Pope who read Acts 3 and, reading Peter say, “Silver and gold have I done” turned to a theologian and said, “The Church no longer needs to say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.” The theologian replied, “Neither can it say, ‘Rise up and walk.’”
Have we exchanged the purse for the power? Just because we don’t completely understand these gifts or how the Spirit wishes to use them among us today, should we give up on them? God’s Word prescribes these gifts
The Bible doesn’t indicate we should not use these gifts or that they were only four a certain amount of time. They don’t appear as the history of the Church for just that time. Paul’s extended teaching on these three gifts specifically suggests we should still be practicing them.
Paul is clear that these gifts will end with the coming of “the perfect” (1 Corinthians 13:8). But as I have argued elsewhere, the Perfect most fits the return of Christ. For the entire church age, these gifts must be in use like all the other gifts.
Those who don’t want to use these gifts may choose which gifts to use. None of them would say that the pastoral or teaching gifts have also ceased. They would not say that evangelists are no longer needed. They choose the gifts they want to practice, as some choose which parts of the Bible to keep and which to discard.
The gifts are part of Scripture, and therefore must continue to be believed and practiced as the rest of Scripture. God gave no indication otherwise. The gifts will be messy at times for the Church and its leadership to navigate. People can misuse the gifts, as we will talk about later.
But it behooves us to learn how to use them, to listen to the Spirit as we do, and to be grateful to the Spirit forgiving these gifts. Should we who pride ourselves on spiritual leadership not gain the spiritual leadership and ability to navigate these gifts?
Without these gifts operating among us, we would tie the hands of the Spirit and incur His wrath. We would be blind to His working and ineffective as a body seeking to address the public square.
Gifts Working Together
I have talked about some gifts that come to work together, like the gift of faith working with the gifts of healings and miracles. We have another pair of gifts that work together as we talk about the utterance gifts.
The gifts of speaking in tongues and interpretation must work together in the local assembly. When we hear a message in tongues in our services, we expect the gift of interpretation to follow. As Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14, no one understands a message in tongues without interpretation.
If someone gives a message in tongues, the interpretation must follow for the body to understand what the Spirit speaks to the Church. This is a rule for using the gift of speaking in tongues in service.
Paul mentions the leadership, or ministry, gift of prophets in Ephesians 4:11. There, the gift of prophets to the Church is the person who functions as a prophet regularly. But the gift of prophecy is different.
The Spirit can regularly use a person to prophesy to the Church with this gift. But He can use other people to prophesy. It is not like the Old Testament office of the prophet. Like every other gift of the Spirit, people prophesy when the Holy Spirit prompts them.
Some people understand prediction as the gift of prophecy. But this is not the case. Prediction can accompany the prophetic gift as a sign to be fulfilled. But the prophetic gift is not about predicting the future.
The prophetic gift in the Church addresses the culture of the church. When we begin to look like the world, we will surely hear the prophetic gift. If our practices in the Church take on the practices of the world, the business solutions, numeric growth over spiritual growth, and such, the Spirit will speak prophetically to correct us.
Prophets speak to the church to encourage, exhort, and correct. They encourage us with words from the Spirit when we have forgotten what the Scriptures tell us. I’ve been in services where the Spirit encouraged through prophecy that we were moving in the right direction.
The Spirit uses prophecy when the Church goes in the wrong direction. If we are not moving the direction the Spirit wishes us to go, He will let us know, as long as we listen to Him. He exhorts us with the emotion of Jesus when we have the wrong facts or feelings toward God.
These are just some of the ways the Spirit ministers through the prophetic gift. We will discuss in the next post how the prophetic gift operates in the body. Paul set out principles on how to use this gift to glorify Jesus.
Speaking in Tongues
I am so glad I am covering speaking in tongues in greater detail in another post. There is not enough space in this post to fully develop the gift of speaking in tongues. This is the Spirit-given ability to speak in another language, human or angelic.
When used in the local assembly service, it must be interpreted for people to understand what the Spirit is saying to them. There is another use of speaking in tongues in a private prayer language. But we will expound on this in a couple of posts.
People have postulated several reasons for this gift. Sometimes it grabs your attention more than just a prophecy or a word of knowledge or wisdom. Tongues edifies the Church (1 Corinthians 14:4). It is evidence of the infilling of the Spirit. There are examples of this in Acts.
Tongues is your personal prayer language, but that is different than using it in a church service. You magnify God with tongues (Acts 10:46). Tongues brings spiritual refreshment (Isaiah 28:11-12). It’s a way of speaking in a deep, intimate way with God.
Paul says we can speak in various kinds of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10). Because the Spirit gives this gift supernaturally, and it is not a learn the language, He can give you whatever language He wishes. Elsewhere, Paul talks about the tongues of men and of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).
This can be a reason why some tongues do not sound human or have a grammar and syntax like we are used to hearing. We will further discuss tongues in depth a couple of posts.
Along with the gift of tongues in a church service, you must hear its interpretation to respond to God’s word to the congregation. So the gift of interpretation is always used in conjunction with the gift of tongues.
The gift of interpretation is down to earth, practical, and useful. The person giving the message in tongues can use the gift of interpretation. Other times, another person will have the gift of interpretation to interpret the message in tongues.
The gift of interpretation illuminates the word given in tongues to the congregation. It shows us what God has spoken through the message in tongues. If the interpretation does not follow the message in tongues, the person speaking in tongues may have been loudly praying in their personal prayer language.
Every once in a while a person has spoken in tongues out of turn and the leadership should correct the situation.
You can see the power of these utterance gifts within the Church. We need to hear from the Spirit regularly. And this is how He often chooses to speak to us. Through prophecy, he exhorts and encourages us.
Through the gifts of speaking in tongues and interpretation, He empowers us with a word that builds us up and magnifies God. We must not be afraid to use these gifts. I will clarify these gifts in the coming posts. Do you have any questions about these gifts?
We have discussed the utterance gifts briefly here, but I want to go into more depth on them in the next couple of posts. Paul goes into more detail on prophecy, the place of speaking in tongues, and gifts of speaking in tongues and interpretation in 1 Corinthians 14, and we will look at them next,