The Heart of It All: The Holy Spirit

August 13, 2013

by Peter Amsterdam

The Gifts of the Spirit, Part 2

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

This article is a continuation of the brief explanations of the various gifts of the Spirit which began in Part 1.

Distinguishing Between Spirits

Distinguishing between spirits is a gift of the Spirit which is mentioned only once in the New Testament. This gift is the ability to recognize the presence or influence of the Holy Spirit, or of a demonic spirit, in a person’s life.[1] In 1 John we are told to test the spirits to see if they are from God or not.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.[2]

Besides distinguishing between good and evil spirits, this gift can also be used to distinguish between types of evil spirits. Biblical examples include spirits of disability, divination, deafness and muteness, and of error.[3]

He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.[4]

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling … Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.[5]

When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.[6]

Tongues and Interpretation

The gift of tongues was first manifested on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles—all Jews, and mostly Galileans—were filled with the Spirit and spoke in other tongues. There is no scriptural evidence that speaking in tongues occurred before the day of Pentecost.

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.[7]

In this instance, the apostles were speaking in tongues, and those present, who were from all over the known world, heard what the apostles were saying in their own language. Generally speaking, this manner of speaking in tongues and others understanding what was being spoken was rare. While throughout history there may have been other instances similar to this one, from what we know of recorded history, it was not a normal occurrence.

Paul had and wrote about the gift of tongues. He used this gift often and expressed that point by saying he used it more than all the members of the Corinthian church to whom he was writing. At the same time he counselled the believers about their use of tongues in their meetings, due to the fact that when one speaks in tongues, others do not understand what is being said.

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.[8]

One who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.[9]

Paul writes about the use of tongues in a united praise or worship session with other believers, and about its use by individuals in private prayer.

When used in a praise or worship setting, Paul explains that it’s best to not speak in tongues unless there is someone present who can interpret them; because with an interpretation of what is being said, the assembly is edified, whereas if there is no interpretation of the tongues, those listening aren’t.

Author Wayne Grudem defines speaking in tongues as follows:

Speaking in tongues is prayer or praise spoken in syllables not understood by the speaker.[10]

As the verse quoted above says, the person who speaks in tongues usually speaks to God, which would mean that tongues is most often a means of prayer or praise to the Lord. When one prays in tongues, their spirit prays and communicates directly with God, even though the individual doesn’t understand what is being said, as they are bypassing their mind and understanding.

If I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don't understand what I am saying.[11]

When we pray and praise in tongues, we are personally edified.

One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.[12]

I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.[13]

Praying in tongues individually edifies those who use this gift, and it edifies the church when there is someone to interpret the tongues. The apostle Paul obviously thought it was important and encouraged its use.

Now I want you all to speak in tongues …[14]


The gift of teaching is the ability to explain Scripture and the godly principles, knowledge, and wisdom found in Scripture, and help people apply these to their lives.[15] In the New Testament there are examples of people teaching others God’s Word, and exhortations to do so.

Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.[16]

[Paul] stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.[17]

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.[18]

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.[19]

Teaching the Word and its application in one’s life is a key element in making disciples. When speaking of going into the world and making disciples, Jesus spoke of teaching them. After the day of Pentecost, we see that the apostles were teaching the new converts, in obedience to what Jesus had said.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.[20]

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.[21]

The gift of teaching is crucial to sharing the faith with those we win to the Lord, to grounding them in their faith and helping them to become disciples. It’s important to have knowledge and understanding regarding one’s faith, and those with the Spirit-given ability to read and study, and then to teach, offer a great service to those who are hungry to learn and become disciples. Teaching helps change lives as it brings better understanding of the Bible and how to apply it.

Not much is said about the following gifts, but they are mentioned in the various lists given in the New Testament.


The gift of administration is included in the list of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28. Various translations render the original Greek word as governments, managing, administrating, or forms of leadership. This gift can be seen as the ability and anointing to govern or manage the affairs of the church, to plan, organize, and implement the work that needs to be done so as to accomplish tasks and reach goals.


The gift of helps is the ability to help others in a variety of ways. In a church, fellowship group, or witnessing ministry, it is often seen in those who are especially gifted in offering assistance in a variety of practical ways. People with this gift are invaluable and are often the unsung heroes, those who do the hands-on, behind-the-scenes work that is the backbone of every work of God. They have a joy in doing whatever is necessary to assist in the Lord’s work.


Every Christian is called to share the Gospel with others and is empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit, so every Christian is equipped to evangelize to some extent.

While all Christians can and should evangelize, some are called to make evangelization their ministry and are given the gift of evangelizing or specific power and effectiveness in sharing the message of salvation with others. In the early church, when a great deal of preaching the Gospel was being done, those who were especially gifted by the Holy Spirit to evangelize were seen as evangelists.

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.[22]

A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures … he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.[23]

The gift of evangelism isn’t limited to those whose calling is to become an evangelist or a full-time witness. It is seen in those who have a Spirit-given ability to share the Gospel in specific types of situations or in different or unusual ways—such as witnessing to large crowds, or through music or skits. Some excel in witnessing one on one to the people they meet. Some have a particular gift for witnessing to certain types of people, such as young people, gang members, or the elderly. For some, this gift is seen in their desire to minister to those of other cultures, to be missionaries in foreign lands. The gift of evangelizing goes hand in hand with the Great Commission of winning others to the Lord.


Serving can be understood in different ways. One is in showing hospitality to others, such as in opening your home to those in need of lodging, food, or fellowship. It’s showing love through making others feel welcomed, valued, and cared about. People with this gift can cause others to feel at ease, to feel loved and secure. They have the ability to make newcomers to a fellowship or community feel comfortable and accepted.

Another way to see this gift is being in or putting oneself into a role of serving others in God’s work. It is the gift of a willingness to gladly accept a role that isn’t at the forefront, but rather is one that serves in a behind-the-scenes manner. One’s desire is to serve rather than be served, to help in any way necessary; there is a willingness to do the humble but crucial jobs.

Contributing or Giving

In Romans 12:8, when writing about the gifts, Paul mentions “the one who contributes.” This gift of the Spirit is a gift of giving, of generosity. It is the motivation to share your material resources with others in order to further God’s work. It has to do with giving beyond a tithe by giving gifts and offerings, by helping fellow Christians and others who are in need, such as the poor and needy. It’s giving unselfishly, often anonymously, in a manner that helps others and glorifies the Lord.


The gift of leadership enables men and women to lead others through the setting of goals which are in alignment with God’s desires, and to communicate these goals in a manner which motivates others to work together toward reaching them. Leaders inspire through articulating a vision; they stir the hearts of those who feel called to serve the Lord. They are able to inspire others to do their best in God’s service, to work hard to achieve the collective goals.


The gift of mercy is the ability to feel compassion and empathy for those who suffer and to take action to relieve their suffering. Those with this gift often feel called to minister by visiting the sick, the elderly, those in prisons, the shut-ins. They are often able to comfort the grieving, those who have lost loved ones. They minister to those in need through their help and love, by transforming their compassion into action as they work to alleviate the pain others suffer. They are a good reflection of the love and compassion of God.

Closing Points

The degree to which a person exercises the gifts of the Spirit can grow stronger or weaker over a person’s lifetime. Once a gift is given, it often takes time for the recipient to develop it and strengthen it by using it. When speaking of the gift of prophecy, Paul referred to using it in proportion to our faith.[24] This indicates that spiritual gifts can be more or less developed in different individuals.[25] Paul also wrote about not neglecting one’s gift,[26] and about rekindling the gift,[27] which shows that a gift can weaken through disuse.

The gifts are given to each one according to how the Spirit wills.[28] Therefore, not everyone has the same gifts. This was expressed by the apostle Paul, who wrote:

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?[29]

The way the Greek text is written, the expectation is that each question will be answered with a no. Not all have the gifts of healing, or speak with tongues, or are prophets, etc. The gifts are given according to the will of the Holy Spirit.

The gifts of the Spirit are given to us as Christians to help in our witness, in our spiritual lives, and in the strengthening of the spiritual community—the church, fellowship, or mission work to which we belong. The Holy Spirit dwells in believers, and the gifts are a manifestation of the Spirit in our lives. They are the Spirit of God working within us for our benefit and that of others. Having been given such precious gifts, it is up to us to allow God’s Spirit to be manifested in our lives. We should use them, stir them up within ourselves, and not neglect them.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1082.

[2] 1 John 4:1.

[3] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1082.

[4] Luke 13:10–12.

[5] Acts 16:16–18.

[6] Mark 9:25.

[7] Acts 2:4.

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:18.

[9] 1 Corinthians 14:2.

[10] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1070.

[11] 1 Corinthians 14:14 NLT.

[12] 1 Corinthians 14:4 NAU.

[13] 1 Corinthians 14:15.

[14] 1 Corinthians 14:5.

[15] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1061.

[16] Acts 15:35.

[17] Acts 18:11.

[18] Romans 15:4.

[19] 2 Timothy 3:16.

[20] Matthew 28:19–20.

[21] Acts 2:42.

[22] Acts 21:8.

[23] Acts 18:24, 27–28.

[24] 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).

[25] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1022.

[26] 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).

[27] For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands (2 Timothy 1:6 NASB).

[28] All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Corinthians 12:11).

[29] 1 Corinthians 12:29–30.