The Heart of It All: The Holy Spirit

July 30, 2013

by Peter Amsterdam

The Gifts of the Spirit, Part 1

Audio length: 15:01

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

Throughout the Gospels we read about Jesus’ life and ministry being empowered by the Holy Spirit. It was after His baptism in the Jordan River by John, when the heavens opened and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove,[1] that His ministry began. After Jesus left the Jordan River, the Spirit led Him to the wilderness, where He fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the Devil. When those days were over, He returned to Galilee empowered by the Spirit. At that point He began to preach about the kingdom of God and to do miraculous works which manifested God’s power, astonishing many. The powerful works Jesus did, as well as the authority of His words and teachings, proclaimed that the kingdom of God was breaking through.

Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about Him went out through all the surrounding country. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all … and they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority. … And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.[2]

If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.[3]

On Pentecost, ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, His disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, the “promise of the Father.”[4] From that point on, they too healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Through the empowerment of the Spirit, they preached the message, won new converts, and over time spread the faith throughout the world.

As the decades passed and Christianity spread throughout the known world, other aspects of the Holy Spirit’s power were seen in the manifestation of various gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit’s power was manifested not only in the preaching of the Gospel and in healings and other miracles, but also in prophecy, teaching, administration, and many other ways. The Holy Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit, were given to believers both for the preaching of the Gospel and for the edification, strengthening, and building up of the church, the body of believers.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.[5]

Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.[6]

Paul wrote about the gifts of the Spirit in five different places.[7] Peter mentions them once.[8] The various lists by Paul differ somewhat from each other, with some listings including gifts that other lists don’t mention. This would seem to indicate that Paul didn’t intend to give comprehensive lists to the various churches he was writing, but rather was listing some examples of the gifts of the Spirit when mentioning them in his letters to the individual churches he was writing at the time.[9]

A combined list of the gifts noted in Paul’s and Peter’s writings include:

  • Word of wisdom
  • Word of knowledge
  • Faith
  • Gifts of healing
  • Miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Distinguishing between spirits
  • Tongues
  • Interpretation of tongues
  • Administration
  • Helping
  • Serving
  • Contributing
  • Leadership
  • Mercy
  • Teacher/Teaching
  • Evangelist/Evangelism

Some of the gifts are listed as a title or ministry rather than a gift, such as evangelist and teacher.

The listings within the Epistles aren’t complete in the sense that they cover every aspect of each gift. For example, someone with the gift of helping might have a particular gift for a certain type of help—perhaps caring for the elderly, or children, or the sick. The gift of leadership might be manifested in different ways or with different types of people; for example, someone might be a gifted leader of young people, or of outreach teams, or of a men’s or woman’s group, or of an overall work.

There are also some aspects or attributes of the gifts listed above which could be considered subsets of the gifts, or which might be seen as being gifts in their own right—for example, musical gifts and intercessory prayer.[10]

Now we’ll go into a brief description of each of the various gifts spoken of by Paul and Peter.

Word of Wisdom and of Knowledge

These two gifts are mentioned only once within Scripture, and there is no explanation given as to exactly what they are. There are two general interpretations of what these gifts are:

  1. The ability to receive a revelation from the Holy Spirit which allows one to know and share wisdom regarding a specific situation, or to have specific knowledge of a situation which was previously unknown to the person with this gift.
  2. The ability to speak words of wisdom, or the ability to speak with knowledge, in various situations.

The first interpretation speaks of those who receive a direct revelation given by the Spirit. They are shown, for example, that there is someone present who has a certain ailment or disease, or who is planning to or has just left their husband or wife, etc. The person with the gift has no prior knowledge of the situation, but speaks words of wisdom or knowledge in order to provide help to the person who is experiencing these difficulties—such as to encourage them that God is aware of their situation, or to open the door for the person to ask for help or prayer.

The second interpretation refers more to someone having wisdom which they have gained through life experience, or knowledge they have acquired through study or experience, and in whom those natural abilities have clearly been Spirit-enhanced. Some biblical examples of this type of knowledge or wisdom would be the appointment of deacons in Acts chapter 6, or the decision of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15.


The gift of faith is referring to extraordinary faith beyond that of everyday Christian life, a special impartation of faith by the Spirit in certain situations. Some who have gifts of healings or miracles, for example, likely also have this gift of faith. This gift could be understood as being the “mountain-moving” faith that Paul speaks about in the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13.

If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.[11]

This reference to “all faith” would indicate that the gift of faith listed in the chapter before this (1 Corinthians 12) would be a faith which brings about results which could only come from God’s power—faith for something which could not be accomplished unless God’s hand moves to bring it about, faith that moves obstacles which are impossible to overcome in any other way.

Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”[12]

The gift of faith may also be manifested when someone is able to strengthen another’s faith during desperate situations, such as when the apostle Paul comforted all his shipmates in the storm at sea.[13] Someone with the gift of faith can bolster the wavering faith of another through the words he or she speaks.[14]

Gifts of Healing

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about the gifts of healing. When referring to the other gifts of the Spirit, the Greek word used is charisma, which is singular (gift); but with healing he uses charismata, which is plural. So with healing it reads: the gifts of healing. This indicates that a person doesn’t receive a gift of being able to heal people, but rather that they, in a sense, are transferring gifts of God’s healing to others. The person with the gifts of healing can be seen as dispensing God’s gifts of healing to those in need—whether they need to be cured from pain, cancer, or any illness or disorder.

There are examples in Scripture showing different methods used in healings. Sometimes the person laid their hands on the one in need of healing; there is reference to anointing the person with oil; there were other times when the person with the gifts of healing simply spoke, with no touch, and the healing occurred. There isn’t one specific method that must be followed when using the gifts of healing. The key to the healing is that it is a work of God, not of man. The focus is on the power of God to heal. The individual used as the conduit is a channel for the healing, but the power lies in the Lord giving the healing to the person in need.


Many of the miracles within the New Testament were healing miracles, but since the gifts of healing are listed separately, this is most likely speaking of other kinds of miracles. The Greek word Paul used when writing about the gift of miracles is dynamis, which within the Epistles is translated 77 times as power, 11 times as might, and 7 times as miracle. There is no definition given by Paul which explains exactly what the gift of miracles covers, but it can be seen as any kind of activity where God’s mighty power is evident. This could include deliverance from danger, deliverance from injury—such as when Paul was bitten by a viper[15]—the casting out of demons, miracles of supply, or any working of the power of God to further His purpose in a situation.[16]


The gift of prophecy is the gift that is mentioned most often in Paul’s letters.[17] The manner in which Paul wrote about it makes it clear that it was a normal experience in the churches that he planted. It is also clear that both men and women prophesied.[18] The purpose of prophecy within the body of believers is for edification or building up, exhortation, and consolation. Prophecies are edifying messages which strengthen people’s faith and help them in their walk with the Lord. At times a prophecy might include an admonition to change or to move in a more positive direction. Prophecy may also at times give revelation, such as Agabus prophesying about the coming famine, and about Paul being imprisoned in Jerusalem.[19]

Prophecy in the New Testament differs from prophecy given in the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament there were specific individuals who were called by God as prophets who spoke God’s messages to Israel and others. God’s Spirit spoke through these prophets alone, as the Holy Spirit wasn’t present in all believers in those days. It was only after Jesus had ascended that the Spirit fell upon all those who believed, and the gift of prophecy became available to all.

In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit, and they shall prophesy.[20]

The Old Testament prophets spoke God’s words unilaterally to the nation of Israel and others, and were the mouthpieces of God during that time. The Old Testament prophets exercised an important role of spiritual authority to the nation, a role that New Testament prophets do not have. While in New Testament times there were some people who were called prophets and seemed to have a prophetic ministry,[21] the implication of 1 Corinthians 14:30–31 is that the gift is available, at least potentially, to all, as opposed to only specific individuals who have a prophetic ministry.[22]

If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.[23]

Prophecy within the New Testament is not given the same authority as in the Old Testament, but rather is to be discerned and judged by the community. Paul taught that after two or three prophecies are given, others should weigh what is given.

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.[24]

The weighing of prophecies given within a community or church is both to determine that what is said is from the Lord and to discern the significance and relevance of the prophecy. True prophecy will be harmonious with Scripture; it will not speak contrary to Scripture. It will build up and edify the faith of the community. It will glorify the Lord, not the one giving the prophecy.

Prophecies received, either in community with others or in personal prophecy, should be seen as God speaking through imperfect human channels, and thus allowance must be made for human error. Prophecy is subject to our fallible spirits and should not be seen as perfect or inerrant; nevertheless, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit intended to help us in our lives as Christians, in our fellowship and prayer together, in our ministries, and as a means of hearing God’s words of comfort, edification, and exhortation.

Continued in Part 2.

[1] When Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him (Matthew 3:16).
     When He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove (Mark 1:10).
     When all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21–22).
     John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (John 1:32–33).

[2] Luke 4:14–15, 32, 36–37.

[3] Matthew 12:28.

[4] Behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49).

[5] Acts 1:8.

[6] 1 Corinthians 14:12.

[7] 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:6–8, 1 Corinthians 7:7.

[8] 1 Peter 4:11.

[9] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1020.

[10] Ibid., 1022.

[11] 1 Corinthians 13:2.

[12] Mark 11:22–23.

[13] This very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island (Acts 27:23–26).

[14] These points are taken from J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 358–60.

[15] When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god (Acts 28:3–6).

[16] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1062.

[17] Do not despise prophecies (1 Thessalonians 5:20).
     Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1).
     The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation (1 Corinthians 14:3).
     Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? (1 Corinthians 14:5–6).
     So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:39–40).
     Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith (Romans 12:6).
     He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–12).
     This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:18–19).
     Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you (1 Timothy 4:14).

[18] On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied (Acts 21:8–9).

[19] One of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius) (Acts 11:28).
     While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:10–11).

[20] Acts 2:17–18.

[21] Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:1–2).
     Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius) (Acts 11:27–28).
     Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words (Acts 15:32).
     While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea (Acts 21:10).

[22] Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 346.

[23] 1 Corinthians 14:30–31.

[24] 1 Corinthians 14:29.