What is meant by the phrase “gifts of the Holy Spirit?”
The controversial issue of the gifts of the Holy Spirit has divided the Body of Christ through the centuries. Whole denominations have been formed around this very question. Paul himself dealt with the controversy when excessive emphasis on spiritual gifts arose in the church at Corinth. He said he did not want them to be ignorant of spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12:1) but he did caution them to understand God’s purpose for spiritual gifts to build up the Church in love and service. On the Holy Spirit and His spiritual gifts, here are the basics:
The Holy Spirit himself is a gift. Jesus promised that the Father would send the Spirit of truth as a divine counselor, the presence of God indwelling in the hearts of his people (John 14:16-18): Among others, the Spirit’s tasks include:
· taking what belongs to Christ and making it known to his disciples (John 16:15)
· convicting the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: (John 16:8)
· sealing believers as God’s possession; a down payment guaranteeing our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14)
The Holy Spirit does give specific gifts to the Body of Christ, which empower every believer to minister for the common good. Paul saw church leadership is a gift of God who calls apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers to serve and train believers about the essentials of the Christian life. (Ephesians 4:7-8)
Other spiritual gifts are given to every believer for use in the work of ministry, for the edification of the entire Church, never for selfish ambitions. These gifts have been loosely categorized as verbal gifts (prophecy, wisdom, tongues, and interpretation of tongues), miraculous gifts (miracles, faith, discernment, healings), and helping gifts (administration, giving, mercy, helping). (I Corinthians 11-14 and Romans 12:4-8)
The controversy today debates whether the miraculous gifts, prophecies and tongues are genuine expressions of the Holy Spirit or whether they are demonic or psychological counterfeits. The confusion wrought by unbiblical expression of these gifts has frightened many from the healthy dependence on the Holy Spirit as taught in the Scriptures. Paul’s exhortation for order in public worship seems to take a back seat in groups that emphasize the spiritual gifts. At the same time, it is wrong to stifle a divine visitation of the Holy Spirit should He decide to interrupt a public worship service with a spontaneous demonstration of His power (I Thessalonians 5:19-22).
The biblical solution to this controversy is probably not to be found in the “all or nothing” approach. Christians need both order and power. The controlled power of the Holy Spirit focuses on promoting holy living among His people and may at times demonstrate His presence powerfully in supernatural ways as a testimony to the truth of the Gospel (Hebrews 2:3b-4).