“Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts…” — Part Two
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“Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts…” — Part Two

What are spiritual gifts? Where do they come from, to whom are they given, and why? Looking to the Bible, Alistair Begg tackles these questions by examining the first three gifts on Paul’s selective list: wisdom, knowledge, and faith. Against the extremes of elitism and defeatism, he notes that God calls each of us to exercise our spiritual gifts not for self-promotion but to draw the world to His Son.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Corinthians, Volume 6

Concerning Spiritual Gifts 1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40 Series ID: 14606

Sermon Transcript: Print

Take your Bible, will you, and turn back to 1 Corinthians 12. Tonight our subject, as you know, is spiritual gifts. If we were giving it a specific title for tonight, we’d call it “Spiritual Gifts: From Where and for What?” “From Where and for What?”

There is no question that the Corinthian believers regarded themselves as spiritual. At the end of chapter 14—indeed, in verse 37—Paul says, “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I[’m] writing to you is the Lord’s command.” And there clearly were quite a number of people in the Corinthian context who regarded themselves as spiritual. And it would appear from what Paul has written here that the way in which they determined their spirituality was very much focused on the manifesting of spiritual gifts and perhaps even, particularly, certain spiritual gifts, thus betraying in themselves an idea that spiritual gifts are the obvious evidence—the key evidence, if you like—of the Spirit’s ministry in and through them.

I need to point out to you tonight on the authority of God’s Word that spiritual gifts are not the key evidence of the work of the Spirit of God in somebody’s life . They may be an evidence of it; they may be an evidence of something else entirely. But they certainly are not to be looked to as the key evidence of it all. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians, Paul makes it clear that the real issue of spirituality has not to do with whatever phenomenal element there may be to the life of a believer but rather has to do with the ethical impact of our lives.

That’s why in the heart of it all, in 1 Corinthians 6, he reminds those to whom he writes, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So speak in tongues.” Uh-uh. “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So heal people.” “You’re not your own; you were bought with a price. So prophesy.” “You[’re] not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”[1] “You want to be spiritual?” says Paul. “You want to display spirituality to your neighbors, your friends, and the watching world? Then the key evidence of spirituality will not be in any phenomenal dimension but will actually be displayed in the ethical norms of our lives.”

The Puritan writer John Owen, writing in, obviously, an earlier generation, pointed out that “there can be gifts” in our lives “without graces[2]—i.e., that we “may be capable of performances that [even] benefit others spiritually and yet [ourselves] be a stranger … to the Spirit-wrought … transformation” which God by his Spirit brings us .[3] In the words of J. I. Packer, “The manifestation of the Spirit in charismatic performance is not the same thing as the fruit of the Spirit in Christlike character.”[4]

So, external expressions of spirituality do not prove either that I am pleasing God, nor do they guarantee my salvation . That’s a sobering thought, loved ones. Because many of us focus very much on what we do as the evidence of what we are . Whether it is that we preach, or teach, or help, or give, or speak, or sing, or create, or touch, or help, or heal, we look to those things as the self-authenticating evidences of our spiritual life. That’s really foolish. That’s really dangerous.

Out of the very mouth of Jesus came a word of correction for all who are tempted to walk that path. And in Matthew chapter 7 it’s recorded for us, by Jesus: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”[5] “Not everybody who attends the evening service and sings ‘He is Lord’ with a great emotional surge will enter the kingdom of heaven. The people who enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do the will of my Father.” And then he goes on to add, “Many”—many, not a few, but many—“will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’”[6] Now, are those dramatic evidences of spiritual giftedness? Yes.

So Jesus says there’re gonna be people that come to him on that day, and they’re gonna say, “We exercised spiritual gifts”—none of your under-the-cover kind of spiritual gifts, none of your in-the-closet spiritual gifts; your real up-front, in-your-face kind of spiritual gifts. And “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never [even] knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”[7] “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, I preached sermons in your name,’ and I will say to them, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you.’”

So keep this in the forefront of your thinking as we go through these studies on spiritual gifts. It’s very, very important. Spiritual gifts are not of value on account of their dramatic impact; they are of divine importance, seen in the framework which displays them as acts of serving and honoring God .

When the apostle Paul, not only here but in his other letters, addresses the issue of spiritual gifts, it is clear that he does not view them in terms of human ability to do things well—i.e., what we would refer to as “giftedness.” Nor does he see spiritual gifts in terms of supernatural novelty. But Paul confronts us with the fact that spiritual gifts should be seen in terms of Christ, who is the head of the body,[8] presently working from heaven amongst his people on earth. And indeed, that’s how he began this letter to the Corinthians. In 1:4 he was able to say to them, “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you[’ve] been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus.”

Now, the importance of these introductory statements will become apparent as we go on.

Who Gives Spiritual Gifts?

Four simple questions we’ll tackle tonight. Number one, of spiritual gifts: Who gives them? Who gives them?

Now, the answer to that ought to be obvious and clear. Certainly, if you look at verse 11, we realize that God is the source of all spiritual gifts, and he gives them, as Paul says there at the end of the verse, “just as he determines.” The obvious diversity in the body is grounded in the sovereign purposes of God. He has determined that it is important for his people to be discovering and displaying this rich diversity.

Verse 18: “In fact God has arranged the parts [of] the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Verse 25: “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern.” Verse 28: “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets” and so on, and he goes through the list, reminding us that it is by means of the church that Jesus Christ is uniquely present and distinctively expresses himself in the world .

I wonder, did you hear that? And I wonder, do you believe it? That it is by means of the church—and the only way we can understand “church” is in terms of local assemblies; therefore, it is by means of the local assembly—that Jesus Christ is uniquely present and distinctly expresses himself in the world.

The obvious diversity in the body is grounded in the sovereign purposes of God.

I’m constantly confronted by people coming, asking me to participate in this event and that event and this organization and this parachurch deal and the next sort of thing—many of which are helpful and which I wish I had time to deal with. But I’m often made painfully aware of the fact, as I was this week, as somebody came to me with a plea for some particular area, that really, it wasn’t the prerogative of this individual to be making that plea. And the plea need never be made if local churches would understand and believe that Jesus Christ has chosen to uniquely manifest himself in and through local bodies of believers . That’s where he gives his gifts. That’s where he expects gifts to be discovered. And that is where, primarily, he expects those gifts to be displayed.

In verses 4, 5, and 6, you will notice, perhaps, that there is a kind of Trinitarian formula there: the diversity of what is given is matched by the unity of the one who gives—“different kinds of gifts … same spirit,” “different kinds of service … same Lord,” “different kinds of working … same God”—a reminder to us that in spiritual as well as in physical and in material terms, James is right: “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father above, in whom there is no variableness neither shadow due to turning.”[9] That’s James 1:17.

Who gives them? God gives them.

Who Gets Spiritual Gifts?

Secondly, who gets them? Who gets spiritual gifts?

Well, the wonderful thing—at least it ought to be encouraging to us—is that the gifts of the Spirit are not reserved for a few outstanding individuals. We might be tempted to think that. After all, that’s the way that prize-givings go. That’s the way that graduation goes: there’s some with the hats and some with the things that hang around their neck, and there’s honor rolls, and merit rolls, and all kinds—sausage rolls—and all kinds of rolls, and we watch as the esteemed and the knowledgeable and the bright and the best, as a result of their excellence, are conferred with these special gifts.

And so, many times, since that is the way we often operate in business or in other areas of the world, we assume that, presumably, within the church that would be the same—and so God looks for a few outstanding individuals, and then when he has determined that they have made the mark, he bestows his gifts upon them. Not so.

Notice the phrase in verse 6: “There are different kinds of working[s], but the same God works all of them in all men.” Not some men, not special men, but in all men—and “men” is there used generically of men and women. You find the same thing in verse 7: “Now to each one [is given] the manifestation of the Spirit … for the common good.” And again in verse 11: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one.”

Now, the commonality of this wasn’t as important amongst the family of God. Because the family of God is prone to two peculiar extremes. On the one hand, elitism, whereby—and I think it was a sad feature of the Corinthian context—we create a spiritual aristocracy within the church. We determine, untaught by our Bibles and unguided by the Spirit, that the people who really count are the people who possess certain gifts—whatever those gifts might be, in whatever given context. I don’t have a particular gift in mind. It may be the gift of teaching; it may be the gift of public administration; it probably will be a gift that carries with it some measure of external prominence. And we’re tempted to believe that the key people in the church are those who possess such gifts. And so it forms an elitist factor.

The flip side of elitism is defeatism, so much so that people who, having determined that those are the key gifts and the key people, since they neither have those gifts nor are those people, they tend in their minds to sideline themselves and say, “There’s nothing that I can really do that’s worthwhile here. I don’t have a contribution to make.”

So we need to be very clear on these basic facts. Who gives them? God. Who gets them? All men. Spiritual gifts are not the prerequisite or the prerogative of the chosen few; they are the privilege of the Christian family . When you as a parent or I as a parent give gifts to our children, we give gifts to all of our children, right? We’re probably not gonna give them all the same gifts, because they’re at different stages and they have different aptitudes and things they like, but we’re certainly not going to give to one and deprive the others. If we care for our children and love our children indiscriminately, we will give to all our children.

And in the same way our heavenly Father operates. He doesn’t look upon us in the way that we’re tempted to look at one another and say, “Well, you’ve been good, and therefore…” or “You’ve been bad and so…,” but he gives gifts to his people—generously, lavishly, and purposefully.

Our gifts differ, but we all have them. And that is made clear each time you find a list of the gifts, which comes largely in three places in the New Testament. But in Romans 12:6, Paul says, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” And in 1 Peter 4:10, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received.”

Do you know how much time is wasted as a result of churches failing to apply such fundamental principles of practicality? First Peter 4:10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received.” Instead of sitting around wondering about the ones we haven’t received, or being jealous of what someone else has been given, or wanting to take our gift back for an exchange, the Bible says, “Whatever you got given, use it.” It’s real simple. And it’s not a magical mystery tour to it to find out what it is.

Spiritual gifts are not the prerequisite or the prerogative of the chosen few; they are the privilege of the Christian family.

You know, if I sit you down at a piano, it’s gonna be pretty obvious pretty quickly whether you got the gift of music. You may claim that you can play with all your fingers, but when you play, you play like this. That’s not music; that’s chaos. If I ask you to help in the organizing of something in this church, it’s going to become quickly apparent whether you have the gift of administration or whether you don’t. If we come to you and ask if you’d come alongside us and teach a Sunday school class for three-year-old children, and we come in and observe you, it’s gonna be real obvious real fast whether you’ve got the gift of getting on the floor with three-year-old children. I mean, it’s not any great, wonderful mystery. It’s not something you have to sit around hour after hour having private prayer meetings and great, major counseling sessions trying to wrestle out. Just ask your wife, ask your husband, ask your best friend. It’s fairly obvious what you’re good at, what God has gifted you with. It’s no great mystery. Some of us are intensely practical; some of us are practically useless. It’s obvious!

Do you know how many organs are played in churches by some well-meaning lady that should never have been allowed within fifty yards of an organ? Or some well-meaning man; it’s the same. ’Cause his wife or her husband or his friend or his pastor said, you know, “We’re stuck. I mean, can you bump out a tune?” “Yeah, I can bump out a tune.” “Good, you’re gifted—let’s go.” People walk out and say, “I don’t know why that joker plays the organ.” The person who said “I don’t know why he plays the organ” goes home and after lunch sits down and plays the organ unbelievably well. It’s because he decided his gift was given so he could amuse himself in his family room, when in point of fact it was given so that the church could be edified and encouraged. It’s really pretty straightforward.

Who gives them? God. To whom does he give them? To everybody.

Why Are Spiritual Gifts Given?

Why are they given? Why are they given? Well, the answer is right there in the verse that I was quoting from in 1 Peter chapter 4 as well as here in 1 Corinthians.

In 1 Peter 4, Peter makes it clear. He says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.” “To serve others.” In 1 Corinthians 12—coming back to where we’re supposed to be—and in verse 7, you will notice that Paul says that these gifts were “given for the common good.” “To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” The word in Greek is sumpheron. It has a multivarious meaning: to bring together, to confer a benefit upon, to be advantageous, to be profitable, to be useful.

You get the picture? The gifts are given in order that we may make a contribution to a sphere beyond ourselves in a way that would confer benefit and be advantageous. In other words, we would be missed if we were absent, because God gifted us in a unique way at a unique point in time to be uniquely useful in a unique group of people to fulfill a unique purpose. It’s the children’s song, loved ones: “There’s a work for Jesus none but you can do.”[10]

How many of us are sitting around waiting to be ministered to when the thrust of Scripture is to minister? How many of us are disappointed with and disgruntled by the absence of ministry to us when the Scriptures are about ministering through us? And neither a sense of spiritual defeatism nor elitism should prevent us from the kind of discovery that God wants us to make. So, the gifts are given “for the common good.”

When we think about this in relationship to “manifestation,” which is a word that is used here in verse 7, it becomes obvious that these gifts are used in a public way: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

Spiritual gifts are not something that we take home to enjoy by ourselves or to use as for our own benefits. A number of people like to speak of spiritual gifts in this way: “Well, I have a special spiritual gift, and, you know, it’s just a very private thing, it’s a very personal thing, and I just use it for myself.” Well, isn’t that very interesting? Because “the manifestation” of the spiritual gifts has been given “for the common good.” So I don’t know that there even exists any spiritual gift that has been given that is present in any individual’s life so that it may be of impact and import to myself alone. If you think you have one, you’d better check it out against the backdrop of Scripture.

So, when we exercise our gifts, not only do we minister to others, but we in turn encourage them to be involved in ministry. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m exercising the spiritual gift of teaching, of exhorting, of encouraging. It’s Ephesians 4. God has given me the gift of bringing the Scriptures to bear with clarity—with relative clarity—on the lives of people, the result of which ought to be that you say, “Hey, I can do that! I can understand the Bible. I would like, in turn, to teach the Bible.”

It’s a tremendous encouragement to me to have a young man come to me after I have had the opportunity to exercise my spiritual gift, or a spiritual gift, and come to me and say, “That is what I want to be able to do. I want your help to be able to minister in that way.” Well, if God has gifted him in that way, then I’ll sure be glad to help him.

If you have the gift of encouragement and you exercise encouragement to another person, it creates, oftentimes, a chain reaction. You received a note. You said, “That is a wonderful thing. What a Barnabas that fellow is. What a Mrs. Barnabas that girl is.” And then you say to yourself, “You know, I have to write someone a note.” And so you do. And so the exercise of the gift was “for the common good”—a simple word of encouragement, a simple note. You say, “Well, I didn’t know that was a spiritual gift.” You bet your life it’s a spiritual gift! The gift of encouragement.

By the same token, when we fail to minister our gifts, not only does it affect ourselves, but it affects the wider body of Christ. Because the body of Christ, as Ephesians 4, as I’ve referred to it, points out—the only way that the body of Christ is built up is as a result of each part doing its work. You can find that in Ephesians chapter 4 and at the end of verse 16: “From [Jesus] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Not “as a part burns itself out,” not “as six parts carry the can,” but “as each part does its work.”

I shared briefly at the prayer time this evening that the future of this church—and I may have said this to you before, because it’s heavy on my heart at the moment—the future of this church is tied up in this phrase, “as each part does its work.” The future effectiveness, significance, development, growth, impact of the people of God in this place is grounded in this whole notion. That’s why it’s so timely.

Nothing much is going to change as far as Sundays are concerned in this church. What I mean by that is not that we don’t want the Spirit of God to come upon us in a unique and fresh way, to give to us unction and anointing and enablement, to stir up our worship, to shake us up a little bit, ’cause frankly, many is the time we’re doing less than we might. But in terms of the framework of what we’re doing, we’re not gonna change much. We’re committed to teaching the Scriptures, we’re committed to worshiping together, we’re committed to the fellowship opportunities and the study, etc., that takes place in this building. We’ve got that pretty well set. But the church is not about the Lord’s Day alone, is it? We’ve also got Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and we’ve got myriad people in multiple places.

You see, I saw a thing in the paper this week—did you?—that you could become a pen pal of someone with AIDS. Even as I speak, I remember that I put the newspaper somewhere, and I can’t even remember where I put it, because I said, “I think I’d like to do that.” And my secretary would probably say, “Yeah, just like you need another letter to write or someone else to write to,” but that’s a separate issue; that’s none of her business. But the issue is, there was a response in my heart.

Now, how about in your heart? You see, I wonder who will write to those AIDS people at that number there in the Plain Dealer. I bet it’ll be a bunch of well-meaning social types, bunch of well-meaning liberals. I bet there won’t be hardly any conservative evangelical Christians. Did God give to you the gift of compassion? So what’re you doing with it? And who knows you’ve got it apart from Jesus and yourself?

I want that every time you walk out of here, as we go through 1 Corinthians 12, particularly, that you go away completely dissatisfied until you settle in your mind between you and the Lord your place, your part, your contribution in this body. We’ll help you as best we can. I’m not sure we can do all that we need to. I’m frighten even to make these statements, for fear that we let you down, as it were, at the level of leadership. But I think if we’re honest with one another and open with one another, we can enter into new dimensions of ministry that are vital to us and that we haven’t even conceived of yet.

Has God given you the gift of evangelism? Well, where in the world are you using it? I spoke with somebody this week. We were driving down the street, and they pointed out as we came within about four or five hundred yards of Solon High School auditorium, they said, “You know, I lived down this street for two and a half years.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah.” “When was that?” “Hmm, in the last few years and, well, certainly in the last six, in a period of time.” I said, “Well, you know, that’s interesting. You could just have walked up to the auditorium and joined us in worship.” And the individual replied, “I never knew you existed.”

Do you think this crummy little spire sticking up in the air is some kind of magnetic draw for Mr. and Mrs. America, who are right now tuned into their TV? Do you think a concert with GLAD is gonna draw the unchurched world in here? It’s not gonna happen. If we were in any other context—if we were in Hong Kong, if we were in Nepal, if we were in Bolivia, and we had this number of people, or even a twentieth of this number of people, the all-consuming passion of our hearts would be “How may we get the good news of Christ into the minds and hearts of those who have never heard?”

And not everybody will immediately respond to that, but some will. And then the responsibility—to whom gifts have been given[11]—is to discover the way in which those gifts might be expressed.

What Are the Spiritual Gifts?

Well, the fourth and final question to which we come is, What are these gifts? We’ll just go as far as we can now, because we only have a brief time left, and then we’ll pick it up again next time.

First of all, we need to notice that the gifts are diverse. Paul says this in three different ways between verses 4 and 6. The word which is used in verse 4 is the plural form of charisma, charismátōn. “There are different kinds of [charisma], but the same [kind of] Spirit.” This word simply means a free gift or a gift of grace. It’s not a natural talent. It’s not something that a man or a woman had before coming to faith in Jesus Christ. There are many talented people in the world who don’t know Jesus and don’t know the fullness of the Spirit in their lives. They have tons of talents. You and I have talents, natural talents that had nothing to do with our conversion. We had them before we were converted; the Spirit of God may have baptized them into usefulness since conversion, but they were there before.

When the word is used here, it refers not simply to a natural talent but to a gift given by the Holy Spirit and given in a diverse way for a unique purpose . Different kinds of gifts. If everyone in the orchestra played a tuba, the sound would be awesome but rather dull. In the same way, God has not given the same gift to everyone within the church, because the sound would be incredible, for example, if everybody believed themselves to have the gift of teaching.

The lists which are given are here in 1 Corinthians 12, and then in Romans 12, and also in 1 Peter 4. If you take the list and add them all together, you will find that they’re not identical. The fact that they’re not identical probably helps us to assume that God didn’t intend for us to have an exhaustive list but rather to provide for us, if you like, some indications of selective, descriptive indications—categories, if you like—of areas of giftedness that he gives to his people. The list, in other words, is not exhaustive. I don’t think you have to choose from Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, or 1 Peter 4. It’s selective, not exhaustive.

The diversity of what he has given in these different kinds of gifts is emphasized in the next phrase there in verse [5]: “There are different kinds of service,” he says. Individuals may share the same gift, but they will often use it in ministry differently. Five of us may be gifted in teaching; not all of us will be given a task such as this. Some of us will teach girls. Some of us maybe teach women. Some of us may teach children. Some of us may teach in another context altogether. There are different gifts. There’s a diversity there, and there’s a diversity in the way in which those different gifts are used.

A spiritual gift is not a natural talent but a gift given by the Holy Spirit for a unique purpose.

And the third phrase is helpful as well, because there are not only “different kinds of service” from “the same Lord,” but “there are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” What does that mean? I think it means this: that the way in which God chooses to work through certain gifts he has given will also differ.

So God has given the gift of teaching to an individual, given to them the ability to do this. And in the same way, he’s given that to someone else here and someone else there. And over here, as a result of this guy teaching (and he doesn’t even seem to be that great at teaching!), all manner of stuff is going on. Hundreds and thousands of people are coming. And when we grade him on our top five, he doesn’t even get there, but God gifted him and made him a teacher. And we wonder why it is that if that is happening there, why it’s not happening here. Because God sovereignly gives gifts, he chooses that the gifts would be used in a variety of services, and he is the one who determines what will happen as a result of the exercise of spiritual gifts. One can plant, another can water, but only God can make things grow.[12]

So we don’t have to sit around worrying about how good our gift is or how well it’s being used. We just have to exercise it. Let us take care of the depth of the ministry that God has given us and then allow the Lord Jesus to take care of the breadth of any ministry that he chooses to give us.

Well, let me at least dip into the list, because I know you’re sorely disappointed that I’ve taken so long to get here; I can tell it on your faces. And you know now that tongues is certainly next week, and that’s a great disappointment to many of you. Shame on those of you who came only because of that. But anyway. I’m glad you’re here.

The Corinthians were badly in need of this instruction, because they were apparently paying more attention to dramatic things than they were to recognize the diversity which God intended. Well, first of all, he says, there is the gift of wisdom: “To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom.” This word of wisdom, in the context in which Paul is using it, would seem to have been, particularly, a gift granted to the unlearned in view of situations in which they were called to preach the Word and to defend the gospel.

“That’s a bit of a mouthful. What do you mean?” Well, turn to Acts chapter 4 and I’ll show you what I mean. You remember it was said that the people listened to Peter and John and they were amazed at what came out of their mouths because they were “unlearned”[13] and “unschooled.”[14] They were “[untaught],” as the King James Version says it: “[untaught] and ignorant men.” And yet there was an immense power in the proclamation that came from their lips. I believe that God gave to them this great gift of wisdom.

You remember, in the context of Acts chapter 4, they have been seized—that is, Peter and John. They’ve been put in jail. There’s just this amazing thing going on where five thousand people now are believers. The three thousand has almost doubled itself. The thing is out of control. The religious people are going, “Goodness’ sake, we thought with the death of Jesus of Nazareth we’d have this thing buttoned down! We can’t keep it under control at all.”

And in verse 7: “They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” And he runs out a sermon that would knock your socks off! If ever in a moment a man needed the gift of wisdom, he needed it in that moment. And he got it.

What about two chapters later, in Acts chapter 6, where you have Stephen called to give an account? Acts chapter 6: “Now Stephen, a man”—this is verse 8—“full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from [the] members of the Synagogue …. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.”

So Paul says there has been given the gift of wisdom to some. I think the difference between the kind of special enduement of power that we find in Acts 4 and Acts 6 amongst the apostles and what we find today is simply a matter of degree. I do not believe that a message of wisdom is some esoteric little kind of ex cathedra red-telephone ditty that comes through from who knows where, but I believe that the gift of wisdom is the ability to be able to understand and apply God’s Word to the express circumstances of God’s people and those who do not know God .

In the same way, I believe knowledge to be much along the same lines. In the time of the apostles, there can be little doubt that there was a revelatory dimension to this message or this gift of knowledge. “To one there is given … the Spirit [of] wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit.”

For example, was it not a gift of knowledge that allowed Peter to address Ananias and Sapphira in the way that he did? How else would he have known that Ananias and Sapphira were monkeying around with their finances, were pretending in their hearts that what they were doing was reality when, in point of fact, what they were saying and what they were doing, there was a big gap? And Peter is able to look them in the eye and say to Ananias, “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received [from] the land?”[15] And then when his wife comes in, he hits her with the same information. It was, if you like, that he was granted a gift of knowledge.

Now, I do not believe… And I might as well just tell you this up front so that there’s no confusion in your minds. The fact that I do not believe it does not make it infallible, but I want you to know where I stand. I’m neither impressed by nor do I believe that so-called charismatic “words of knowledge” have any relationship whatsoever to this spiritual gift defined here in 1 Corinthians 12—i.e., that I would stand up and say to a group like this, “There is a lady out here who has a stiff neck, and I believe God wants to heal her.” Loved ones, that’s a long way from “Ananias, who has moved in your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?”

That was an apostle putting himself on the line, was it not? For after all, if Ananias had not lied to the Holy Spirit, it would’ve become apparent not only to the apostle but to everyone, including Ananias and Sapphira, who would’ve written letters for a long time to the apostle accusing him of really bad behavior in front of the larger group.

What, then, is this knowledge? The gift of knowledge as it exists today in whatever capacity seems to me the gift of being able to grasp the meaning of God’s present revelation in the Scripture, which is a mystery to the natural mind . And it is a gift which is basic to all Christian preaching and teaching. I don’t believe it’s possible for you to have the gift of being a pastor and teacher without that God has granted to you the gift of wisdom and of knowledge.

The ultimate purpose of God in giving gifts to his people is in order that God’s world might be drawn to God’s Son.

Faith is clearly not the faith of justifying faith or saving faith. It’s a special enduement, a special something from God. It’s a peculiar confidence, a peculiar boldness, an assurance in advance of the gospel. It has been seen not only in apostolic times, but it is seen down through history. For example, do you not think that Hudson Taylor either was the most presumptuous of men or was granted such a gift of faith to believe that the unreached nation of China could be touched with the cause of the gospel? Do you not think that Müller, in the founding of his orphanages, was granted a unique gift of faith to trust God for resources that were apparently beyond the human imaginations of men?

And what, then, of the issue of healing? Well, in fairness, we do have to stop, and so I must. I’ll be glad and I’m looking forward to coming back to this, and I value your prayers as we come to the issue of healing and then to the question of prophecy, certainly to the question of tongues.

But loved ones, don’t get stuck on all that stuff. Because irrespective of what people believe—and sincere people believe differently concerning the dramatic and the apparently spectacular—the ultimate purpose of God in giving gifts to his people is in order that God’s world might be drawn to God’s Son . For our friends and our neighbors, they’ve never read 1 Corinthians 12. They would be confused and bemused by such apparently persnickety attention to detail. But they will understand the compassionate heart. They will respond to the spirit of care. They will be open to the word of concern. And they are probably far more open to the claims of the gospel than we are actually open to be brave enough to go and tell them.

Life is short. The worst thing that would come from a study of spiritual gifts would be a dreadful, inward, self-defeating focus that fell foul of the idea that God gave us these gifts so that we could all sit around and show them to each other rather than that we were all granted them in order that we could go out and show Jesus to those who’ve never met him.

[1] 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (paraphrased).

[2] Attributed by J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God, rev. and enlarged ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 30.

[3] Packer, 30.

[4] Packer, 30.

[5] Matthew 7:21 (NIV 1984).

[6] Matthew 7:22 (NIV 1984).

[7] Matthew 7:23 (NIV 1984).

[8] See Colossians 1:18.

[9] James 1:17 (paraphrased).

[10] Elsie Duncan Yale, “There’s a Work for Jesus” (1912).

[11] See Luke 12:48.

[12] See 1 Corinthians 3:6–8.

[13] Acts 4:13 (KJV).

[14] Acts 4:13 (NIV 1984).

[15] Acts 5:3 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.