I CORINTHIANS 12:10-11
And to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (NASB).
In the Old Testament times the nation of Israel rejected God and went after false gods, and that resulted in idolatry. In the New Testament the Israelites rejected Jesus Christ and that produced empty religion. Today, you and I stand in danger of similar idolatry, if we reject the person of the Holy Spirit to worship spiritual gifts or deify humans. We are living in the days of the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit came to glorify Jesus Christ. Therefore, you are to be careful not to worship any person other than Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
I. DIVERSITY IN UNITY VV. 10-11
To another the Holy Spirit gives the gift of miracles. The word miracle used in this context literally means “workings of powers.” A miracle is an event that is beyond the power of any known physical law to produce. A miracle is a spiritual occurrence produced by the power of God, marvel and a wonder. The plural wording suggests that each miracle is a special gift, given as needs and occasions arise. Neither Jesus nor the apostles exercised this gift as a spectacle, merely for the purpose of drawing attention to Himself/themselves. In the New Testament miracles were sometimes used to draw people to a commitment to Christ (Acts 13:11-12); and sometimes they were used to meet human needs (Matt. 14:14-21). In His earthly ministry Jesus performed many miracles. He turned water into wine (John 2). He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43-44). He brought Jairus daughter from death to life (Mark 5:41-43). The apostle Peter raised Dorcas or Tabitha from death to life (Acts 9:40). The apostle Paul smote Elymas with blindness when he tried to hinder Sergius Paulus from coming to faith in Christ (Acts 13:11).
There are many miracles recorded in both the Old and New Testaments. However, in all honesty and sincerity you and I must confess that instances of water being turned into wine, persons walking on the water, or physical resurrections from the dead are not common occurrences in our time. Doubtless God is able to work such miracles in our time and among us; but it is safe to say that we do not regularly experience the sort of miracles which occurred in the book of Acts. The miracles that Jesus and the apostles performed authenticated their claim of authority and gave credibility to their message. You should realize that people asked Jesus and the apostles, “How do we know that you are who you say you are, and that your words are true?” At strategic moments God repeatedly manifested Himself to people by miracles so they had outward, confirming evidence that the words they heard from God’s servants were true. One notable example is Elijah versus the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). The apostle Paul challenged his opponents that they could know he was an apostle when he said, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12).
Why don’t we witness miracles frequently today? For one thing, we have the tendency to offer scientific explanations for everything. We have over-reacted against those who called everything that happened a miracle. Our naturalistic view of reality has produced a secular mentality. This anti-supernatural bias doubtless hinders God’s miraculous working in our time. Another reason is that Christians are not to walk by sight but by faith. The Christian life is not dependent on whether God works miracles or not. Basically, you and I do not rely upon what God does, but who He is. God continues to work miracles today, but miracles are not required to validate the Christian message. John the Baptist was a great prophet of God but he did not perform any miracles. John 10:41-42 states, “And many came to Him (Jesus) and were saying, while John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true. And many believed in Him there.” Though John did not perform any miracle, he exalted the Lord Jesus Christ whom many then received. Recall that Jesus said of John, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). Miracles are not frequent occurrence today because the church itself has become God’s sign to our age. Transformed lives remain the greatest demonstrations of God’s miraculous working in our world.
When God touches and transforms a sinner, a prostitute, a murderer, an alcoholic, a drug addict, a homosexual, a lesbian, a witch doctor, a Hindu or a Moslem that is a miracle. It is a miracle of a transformed life. God continues to work miracles in the context of an unevangelized mission fields. At the same time, you and I are not to rely too much on miracles, because in many cases in the New Testament miracles did not produce faith in Christ. In fact, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, people conspired to kill Him. Few converts were won in biblical times through miracles. Moreover, the NT does not urge Christians to seek miracles or signs and wonders. Remember that Satan also performs miracles. The prophets of Pharaoh challenged Moses and Aaron for a while. Paul says that in the latter days some will give heed to the doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Paul says again that the Anti-Christ will work with all power and signs and false wonders (2 Thess. 2:9). I understand that some self-appointed prophets from Africa are now going to India to get powers for their ministries. A transformed life is the greatest of all miracles.
There is the gift of prophecy. This is the third time we are dealing with prophecy. Prophecy means basically to speak God’s word with divine anointing. In the Bible prophecy has more to do with proclamation than predicting the future. Sometimes telling the future was part of prophecy. However, the relevant presentation of God’s word to the immediate situation dominates the greater share of NT prophecy. Effective prophecy communicates God’s word to people in the midst of their current situation. When Jeremiah was prophesying, he was speaking to his generation about their need for repentance in view of God’s impending judgment of the nation. Apostle Paul gives us the guideline for evaluating prophecy: (1) prophecy will edify or build up the congregation. (2) Prophecy will encourage and impart life. (3) Prophecy will console believers and draw them toward God in Christian unity (1 Cor. 14:3).
The NT consistently teaches that Christian prophecy will be orderly, positive in orientation and edifying to the church. True prophets are not arrogant. Every prophecy must be examined in the light of the Bible (A prophet who took a church member’s wife). Our criterion for judging the validity of prophecy is the Bible. Current prophecy will not result in a new revelation because the Bible remains normative for the church’s doctrine. This is what some of the Charismatics have not learned. Misunderstanding and abuse of prophecy and tongues are what brought a split among the Pentecostals (Assemblies of God and other extreme Pentecostals).
Distinguishing of spirits or discernment is another gift of the Spirit. The gift of discernment is the spiritual ability to distinguish between spirits, whether they are divine, human, or demonic (1 Thess. 5:20-21). This gift does not enable you to determine who is a Christian and who is not. That determination belongs exclusively to God. However, this gift equips you to discern a Christian spirit or a non-Christian spirit in order to prevent confusion and false teachings from infiltrating the church. Satan often appears as the counterfeit agent of truth (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Today thousands of astrologers are plying their trade, many newspapers carry horoscopes, and some people in the church are tempted to dabble in the occult practices, in séances, and the New Age movement teachings. There are some who commune with other spirits including the spirits of the dead. God commanded the Israelites to kill people who practiced such things. Those of you who want to see visions and revelations are vulnerable to those evil forces. For some Christians, walking by faith is not enough. The problem is that if walking by faith is not enough for you, then you cannot be a follower of Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:24). The fact of the matter is that supernatural activity does not necessarily originate with God. Satan too can perform great wonders through those who are under his influence.
Dr. Billy Graham writes, “I am convinced that hundreds of religious leaders throughout the world today are servants not of God, but of the Anti-Christ. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing; they are tares instead of wheat.” He wrote this book in 1978, so you can imagine that the number of these false prophets have increased tremendously. The question is, “How can we know the false from the true? This is why we need the spirit of discernment. Without a gift of discernment in the church, Christians are open to all sorts of odd teachings and false doctrines. Today there are some who are teaching that Christians can be possessed by demons. This is false teaching. Even when a Christian falls into a sin, this by no means suggests that he/she is demon possessed. We must make a clear distinction between being tempted or oppressed by demons, and being possessed by a demon. There is a vast difference. Don’t make a blanket statement that all mental illnesses are the work of demons. The fact that a Christian is depressed does not mean that he/she is demon possessed. A great deal of harm has been done to sincere Christians who have been told that the problems in their lives stem from their being possessed with demons. Thank God for Christians who have the gift of discernment. The gift of discernment enables you not only to discern evil but also to discern good (John 1:47). Jesus discerned good in Nathanael. Barnabas discerned good in John Mark (Acts 15:36-39). However, Peter discerned evil intent in Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3-5).
There are also the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues. The gift of tongues is the problem child; it is the controversial gift then and now. It has divided churches and denominations more than any other gift. The Corinthians were infatuated with the gift of tongues. It was the favorite gift of the Corinthians that had created a whole lot of controversy in the church. There are two improper attitudes applied to the gift of tongues. They are charisphobia and charismania. I have been to a church where one of the leaders was going around looking for those who were praying in tongues and those who were not. That was an unbiblical practice and I pointed it out to the pastor and the leaders and they have changed that. Some Christians fear speaking in tongues and oppose any form of it. Others elevate speaking in tongues to a place of undue prominence. They regard the gift of tongues as the sign of one’s having the Holy Spirit. This is farther from the truth. In the book of Acts there are several accounts of people being filled with the Holy Spirit. In some instances they spoke in tongues as the evidence of having received the Holy Spirit. In some instances they were filled with the Holy Spirit but did not speak in tongues. However, you and I have no biblical basis for rejecting the gift of tongues. Tongues are a biblical charisma. There are four kinds of speaking in tongues today: (1) Speaking in a language unknown to the speaker but known to those who speak the language (Acts 2). (2) Speaking in an unknown language, unless God gives the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 14). (3) Speaking under demonic influence. (4) Speaking in a non-rational verbiage; that is psychological and human response to a religious emotion (testimony of a former member of our church). Some speaking in tongues are of God and are valid. Some are not of God and not valid. In fact, some are demonic. Witch doctors and pagan priests often speak in tongues in their ritual frenzy. I believe many of the tongues that are spoken today are psychological. Some speak in tongues so that they may be accepted in the group. It is like peer pressure. During the Wesleyan revival some who attended the meetings of John Wesley jerked and fell down claiming that they were slain in the Spirit. John Wesley declared that anyone who would do that would be expelled from the meetings and the slaying stopped. In the NT nobody was slain in the Spirit. Those who were slain by the Spirit died (Ananias, Sapphira, and Herod Agrippa I). The apostle Paul gives the instruction for the use of tongues in a worship setting in 1 Corinthians chapter 14; that is when the interpretation of tongues comes in. The gift of discernment is given to test prophecy, teaching, tongues and interpretation of tongues. One clear test of the validity of these gifts is the lifestyle of a person who exercises them. If the lifestyle is inconsistent with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the character of Christ, the person has failed the test of validity.