Spiritual Gifts

by Randy Hurst

The Holy Spirit led our founders to form the Assemblies of God during the Pentecostal revival early in the 20th century. Most of the reasons they gave for forming the Fellowship related to reaching the world with the gospel. Unlike many church bodies, whose missions focused on just certain parts of the world, our early leaders were compelled by the Spirit to obey our Lord’s command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15, NKJV1).

The boldness of our forefathers’ unreserved response to our Lord’s command is astounding. How could such a small group of Christians even consider attempting the task of preaching the gospel in all the world? Because they were truly Pentecostal. They believed both Jesus’ command to reach the whole world and also His promise that they would receive the Holy Spirit’s power to do it (Acts 1:8).

From birth, this Fellowship has depended on God to do supernatural works. An essential part of the Pentecostal Movement in this century has been a fresh emphasis on spiritual gifts. The manifestation of spiritual gifts is at the heart of God’s working in and through His people.

Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). Our Lord did not just lay the foundation for the Church; He is still actively building it. He fulfilled His promise and sent the Holy Spirit to empower us. Jesus Christ is the Baptizer. In the hymn “A Mighty Fortress,” Martin Luther expressed it well: “The Spirit and the gifts are ours, thro’ Him.”

The most extensive New Testament passage concerning spiritual gifts is 1 Corinthians 12–14. The apostle Paul was responding to the Corinthian church’s emphasis on certain gifts (particularly tongues), while they neglected more essential gifts. Though he was dealing with a specific problem in a particular time and place, the truths he taught to help the Corinthian church apply in all times and places and provide insight for other issues concerning spiritual gifts.

Power of the Gifts

Paul mentions all three members of the Trinity working through spiritual gifts: “Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God works all things in all persons” (12:4–6). God calls us not merely to work for Him … but to work with Him (Mark 16:20). He is working in and through us. God empowers through the gifts.

In chapter 12, are two powerful ways we manifest the gifts. First, we see the power of the gifts in their unity. Paul uses the human body as an example of the church. The body is not merely an illustration of the church; it is a divinely inspired representation of what God intends the church to be. God designed both the physical human body and the spiritual body (the church). A body cannot function if its parts do not work together.

The Early Church was a living example of the power of spiritual unity. After the first Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit, they “were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). Paul says God has so composed the body that “there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all the others suffer with it, and if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (12:24–26).

Second, we see the power of the gifts in their variety. God has a purpose for each gift. The Corinthian church focused on a few gifts (especially tongues), and consequently the building up of the church suffered because they did not fully appreciate all the gifts. The very nature of the church is that it is “not one member, but many” (1 Corinthians 12:14). God knows what the church needs. Each part of the body and each spiritual gift has an important purpose. If we do not recognize the beauty and power in the variety God has provided, we might devalue our own place in the body (verses 15,16). Or we might devalue someone else’s place in the body (verse 21).

Placement of the Gifts

Twice in chapter 12 Paul emphasizes that spiritual gifts and ministries are in the church by the will and action of God himself. Spiritual gifts are not imparted by the will and action of man. God acts through people, but by His own will. Paul mentions that a gift was within Timothy through the laying on of Paul’s hands (2 Timothy 1:6), and also through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the presbytery (1 Timothy 4:14). But he clearly shows that God has placed each gift in the body “as He desired” (1 Corinthians 12:18). He also shows that “God has appointed” the various ministries in the church (verse 28).

We are to “earnestly desire” spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1). But we are not to pursue them. Spiritual gifts are not rewards or achievements. They are gifts or graces that are undeserved and imparted by God’s will for the good of the whole church. We are to pursue love, but only to desire spiritual gifts (14:1). Spiritual gifts are not trophies of spirituality, but gifts God has placed in the church to work His purposes.

Perspective on the Gifts

Paul never intended 1 Corinthians 13 to stand alone as a beautiful piece of prose about love. He did not write it to be framed in flowers to hang on a wall. Rather, it is the center of Paul’s teaching concerning spiritual gifts to provide perspective. To understand this passage, remember what the Corinthian church was like. Their problem was not the spiritual gifts; the problem was their wrong attitude toward the gifts.

He begins the passage with two powerful arguments. First, he shows that as great as spiritual gifts are, love is even greater. Second, he shows that as wonderful as the gifts are, without love the gifts become ineffective.

He is not in any way depreciating spiritual gifts. Before he begins his instruction concerning love, he says, “I show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). The gifts are excellent. But love is “more excellent.” Love is not in competition with the gifts. Love is what makes the gifts effective.

Purpose of the Gifts

The purpose of the gifts is to edify, which simply means to build up. It is related to the same word Paul uses in chapter 3 when he tells the Christians that we are God’s building. Jesus is building His church, and He graciously uses us in His work.

He shows that the gifts build up in two ways. We are spiritually built up as individuals and the church is built up as a group (1 Corinthians 14:4).

Both are needed. The church is people. Individual people in the church need building up for the church as a whole to be built up.

Because tongues was a major issue in the Corinthian church, Paul uses tongues as an example. He makes a distinction between tongues that are interpreted in church gatherings and tongues that are only for personal edification. In church gatherings, tongues result in the building up of the church only if they are interpreted. Paul uses a strong argument to show that, when believers assemble together, the priority should be the building up of the whole church. To ensure the Corinthians do not think he is depreciating the value of tongues for personal edification, he says, “I thank God I speak with tongues more than you all” (1 Corinthians 14:18), but then says that in the church he would rather speak five words that are understood and instruct others than 10,000 in a language that people could not understand (1 Corinthians 14:19). He is not devaluing tongues. He is establishing a priority.

At the close of the passage concerning spiritual gifts, to make sure again he is not misunderstood, he says, “Do not forbid to speak in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39). The priority is found in 1 Corinthians 14:12, “Seek to abound for the edification of the church.”

Propriety of the Gifts

God chose to manifest His gifts through people. But it is possible for people to misuse the gifts. Divinely directed order is needed for their proper use.

The purpose of the gifts (edification or building up) is the foundation for determining the propriety of the gifts. Paul says, “Let all things be done for edification” (verse 26). He then gives practical teaching concerning the proper exercise of the gifts in church. Paul’s last instruction concerning spiritual gifts is, “All things be must done properly and in an orderly manner” (verse 40).

God does not control us as though we are puppets. We have a will. God’s Spirit is working in us, but our own human spirit is still active and is subject to us (verse 32). We can choose to control our spirit. The perspective of godly selfless love in chapter 13 requires that each person submit to the common good of the rest of the church.

There is a proper time and place for each manifestation. God has not given us a complete list of exactly what is proper in each situation. What is proper and orderly in a prayer meeting might not be in a Sunday morning service. And what is in order at one time in a particular service might not be at another time in the same service. There is a time for personal edification and a time for edification of the whole church. Leaders who are accountable to God must make these judgments.

God has appointed “administrations” in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28). This word originally was used concerning steering a ship. It meant to govern by active guidance and direction. Leadership involves making judgments. When the leader of a service decides concerning the propriety of a manifestation, that decision is under the guidance of the Spirit and is just as necessary as a message of prophecy or other gifts. And because the nature of administrations is “governing,” the leader’s judgment has authority over the exercise of other gifts. The leader is accountable to God to be sensitive to what the Spirit wants to accomplish in a service and to be responsible that everything be proper and orderly.

Propriety in the use of the gifts is essential to their ongoing effectiveness because, tragically, misuse of spiritual gifts eventually results in disuse of the gifts. And the gifts are essential to the building of Christ’s church. They are not merely intended for intermittent use, but as an ongoing means of empowering the church to accomplish God’s purposes. When Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to “be filled with the Spirit,” the Greek verb he uses means to keep choosing to be filled (Ephesians 5:18). The infilling of the Spirit was not intended to be just an event; it should be a way of living.

A theme Scripture of our Fellowship appears on every cover of the Pentecostal Evangel: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to Zechariah, he was given a vision of seven lamps on a lampstand. The fuel for the lamps was not in a vessel but in two living olive trees on either side of the lampstand, which provided a continual supply of oil.

The trees can be an illustration of God’s unlimited living resources for building the church. Among those means are spiritual gifts. We need to do what Paul exhorted the Corinthian church twice in this passage, “Earnestly desire spiritual gifts.”


1. Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.