Our study of the Holy Spirit and His work must include what He does to graciously give the spiritual abilities for the Lord’s people to carry out the work God has entrusted to them. As we study this subject, we desire  that our consideration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit might be helpful rather than controversial, though there is much controversy regarding spiritual gifts. We want to be scriptural in our understanding and explanation of this aspect of truth against what we perceive to be a background of confusion that seems to be affecting many true believers. We also want to avoid being quarrelsome with those who hold a different view.

We should understand that God did not intend that all the gifts given to the church in its early days should continue indefinitely. Some may think that is a bold statement, but we hope we can substantiate it from the Word of God. It also seems that many professing Christians do not recognize that some of the gifts given to the church by the Spirit of God have served their purpose and have ceased. We do not want to be uncharitable in our protest. However,  we clearly and emphatically believe that to try to reemphasize and practice the specially-given sign gifts of the early church causes confused thinking,  disrupted service and wrong direction in the lives of many sincere people. There is no doubt that we have witnessed a rising tide of every kind of teaching that is connected with “Pentecostalism” and “charismaticism” in later days. The question we must ask is, “Is this truly God’s work and purpose? Does it fit the teaching of His Word?” This is important, for this movement, claiming to be the onward development of God’s work, has gotten many people involved in activities that to our mind do not seem to be a true work of the Holy Spirit of God.

This certainly is a day when we must try to define clearly what we believe to be true and then stand by it with genuine conviction. We cannot influence a younger generation for the truth if we are not fully convinced of it ourselves. A lack of knowledge in this area of spiritual gift has resulted in some believers who do not know what they should believe or where they should stand. We hope this consideration will be helpful to some in this area. Our object is to define spiritual gift, what it is intended for and how it is to be exercised in a scriptural way. We believe that to do so will give help to believers as they seek to exercise the spiritual gift God has given them.


We need to understand first of all what spiritual gifts are and why they are given. There is an important distinction that must be made between natural ability and a spiritual gift. A believer may use a natural ability that the Lord can use for His purposes and honor. However, these abilities are not spiritual gifts. One way to differentiate a natural ability from a spiritual gift is to realize that a natural ability or talent a believer might have is one that an unsaved person might also possess. But a spiritual gift can only be possessed by a person who is saved, for that gift has been imparted by the Spirit of God. Some speak of having a “gift of singing” or a “gift of music” or other abilities of that nature. Even an ability to speak publicly can be mistaken for a spiritual gift. One may have an ability linked with his physical makeup in any area of life, but it is not a spiritual gift. No unsaved person has one of the spiritual gifts spoken of in God’s Word. Every mention of spiritual gift or instruction about its exercise is directed entirely toward those who are saved. Thus we can distinguish between natural abilities and those gifts that are uniquely given by the Holy Spirit.

The possession of spiritual gift is not an indication of that believer’s spirituality. Some make the mistake of equating possession of a spiritual gift with spirituality, especially if that gift is distinguished publicly. The distinction between spiritual gift and spirituality is that the gift is given sovereignly according to the purposes of God while spirituality is dependent on the condition and exercise of the believer. We see the clearest example of this in the assembly in Corinth. It is through instruction to this assembly that we have received most of our information about spiritual gifts and their use, and Paul clearly says that “ye come behind in no gift”; (I Cor.1:7). Their gifts resulted from a genuine work of salvation in that the testimony of Christ had been confirmed in them (v.6).  I Cor. 12-14 shows us that the believers of that assembly had abundant spiritual gift and were seeking to exercise it (though not in the right way). But they were carnal (I Cor. 3:1) and by their behavior they were clearly displaying  every evidence that they were not spiritual. It is sad, and it can be a real problem for the saints, when there is one who has spiritual gift, and because of that gift he is given or takes a prominent place among them, but he is not in a fit spiritual condition to exercise it properly. Much harm can be done because of this, and it should cause every one to seek spiritual fitness for the proper exercise of any gift.

Spiritual gift is one of the expressions of the Holy Spirit’s work through the individual believer. Gift is not just an enabling ability for that person to use according to his own desire or power. It is to be used under the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit and for the purposes which God has intended it to be used. That gift is a “manifestation of the Spirit” (I Cor. 12:7), and He purposes to accomplish some essential work through that gift  for the blessing  of the saints, the building up of the body of Christ, the help and strengthening of the local testimony  of the assembly or the evangelization of the lost (Eph. 4:12-15, I Cor. 14:24-26). We must have spiritual exercise to know His will and use it accordingly.


We have already stated that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gift unto men. However, that statement must be modified in view of the three primary references listing these gifts. In Romans 12:3-8 the gifts listed are distinctly spoken of as being given by God (“according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”) God also gives the gifts that are listed in I Cor.12:28. In Ephesians 4:7-11 the gifts (or gifted men) are given by Christ to the church. But in I Cor.12:7-11,  the sovereign Spirit clearly gives the gifts. What does all this mean, except that God’s united power is exerted to accomplish Divine purposes through gifted human instrumentality? The gifts may take different forms, may have different avenues of expression and may be exercised to various degrees, but behind them all is the “same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” “the same God,” (I Cor.12:4-6).

Gift is not given because an individual believer merits it. It is not because one is greater than another child of God that he receives a specific gift. These gifts are given according to the infinite knowledge, wisdom and purpose of God. I Cor.12:11 supports this statement. The Spirit of God by Himself divides or distributes to every man individually or in particular according to His will alone. This means it is outside the realm of man’s choice or determination altogether. But one might object to this on the grounds of II Tim.1:6 where Paul speaks of the gift of God that was in Timothy by the putting on of Paul’s hands. If this passage teaches that Timothy received a gift by this means, it was because the Holy Spirit chose to work in that way at that time even as He chose to impart the Holy Spirit to the new Samaritan believers in Acts 8 through Peter’s hands. However, the exercise of apostolic power by Paul in no way suggests that anyone has such power now.

God gives spiritual gift to be used for the blessing of others and to further God’s purpose to complete the church. Those gifts are exercised in evangelism as God works to reach the lost. They are put into use toward the assembly and other believers to build up the saints by teaching and personal ministry to them. Through these gifts given to men,  God’s blessing can be displayed and realized. Gift is not exercised privately or toward the individual who has the gift in the sense of using a gift for personal enjoyment or benefit. That gift is to be exercised in ministry toward others. This is a point to recognize because many (such as some who claim to be able to speak in tongues), realizing that the gift they claim to possess cannot be exercised by them in a public way (either because they are not allowed by Scripture to speak publicly or because they realize that the exercise of that gift has passed) claim to exercise the gift privately for their own enjoyment or blessing. We know of those who claim to exercise the gift of speaking in tongues when they are praying in their own home but never in public. This view has no ground in God’s Word. No gift is intended to be used privately or for personal benefit.

In addition, gift is intended to be exercised in relation to a local assembly and its functions. That is not to say that a true believer, not in assembly fellowship, does not possess and cannot exercise a spiritual gift. It is to say that the intent and teaching of God’s Word is that every gift is to be exercised in relation to the activities and fellowship of the assembly. Even the gift of evangelism is an extension of the gospel activity of an assembly, even in an area where there is no assembly yet planted. That gift will be exercised to further the assembly by the salvation of precious souls and their being brought into its fellowship or by anticipating the work God will do in saving souls so that an assembly testimony might be established. If that is not the aim, then we have missed the purpose for the gift. It is NOT ONLY to see souls saved, but to see the great commission of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20) carried out so that the  converts  might be  taught the doctrines of the Lord and enabled to make spiritual progress. That was clearly what the apostles and  early workers were doing when they went everywhere preaching the gospel.

We realize that there are many gifts exercised in this day of religious confusion that involve activities and service not directly linked with an established local assembly. The existence and exercise of gift under those conditions does not mean that this condition (in which believers are in different denominational groups) was ever in God’s mind. We cannot justify the status quo and present condition in Christendom, but we would rather seek to reestablish that what the Word of God teaches should be the practice of all time. To realize this principle of service would hinder those in local assembly fellowship from engaging in work along with those outside assembly fellowship. It would also restrain any who think they can Scripturally serve the Lord in an independent way or apart from fellowship with their assembly.  The local assembly is still the focal point of God’s purposes in  this present age.


A consideration of the three lists of spiritual gifts gives us profitable instruction. First, notice the gifts that are listed in I Cor.12.  In this passage we actually have two lists of gifts, those in verses 7-11 and those in verses 28-30. There are nine gifts listed in the first reference and eight in the second. The first list seems to be divided into three sections, as we understand the word "another" to translate two different original words, one meaning "another of the same kind, just like the one before" and the other meaning "another of a different kind, not like the one before." Based on this observation, the first grouping is in verse eight, particular gifts of knowledge and understanding. The second group is in verse 9 to the middle of verse 10, leaving for the third group "kinds of tongues" and "interpretation of tongues.”

The definition of each gift helps us to understand the need for it and its function. "The (or "a") word of wisdom" seems to indicate an ability to give an utterance from God that would give guidance for a particular need. This would be most needed in those early days when the Word of God was not complete. Men couldn’t turn to the Bible and see what they should do. God provided those who could give guidance to the local assembly (and individuals) so they would know what God’s purposes were for them. The "Word of knowledge" is the instruction that would be given to impart knowledge of the truth for the blessing of the saints when they could not turn to the complete Word of God for instruction. It is evident from these comments that we are making a distinction between these modes of expression and the act of teaching or giving counsel that is based on the proper handling of the Scripture. In the early period of the church when they didn’t have the complete canon of God’s Word, they needed these particular gifts so that the saints of that day could develop spiritually and the local assemblies could be preserved from error. We could consider this first group as the gifts intended to give Divine instruction to the saints. However, in addition, there is a need today for those who have the ability to give a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge from God’s Word. This may be possible without actually possessing the spiritual gift in view in this passage.

In the second group we find the gifts that displayed the power of God over the physical and spirit world. These were the gifts that often astounded the observers when Christ was on earth even though many of those observers never became believers. These five gifts seem linked to a supernatural display of faith, faith beyond the ordinary in relation to the works of God. That kind of faith spoken of here was not exercised by the recipient of the miracle (as is  often  demanded  today in “healing” services). This is the believer’s faith in relation to a work to be accomplished by God through him. It is that kind of confidence in God that produces certainty that the act would be accomplished. That faith was linked to the displays of power that follow, for that faith was seen in the “gifts of healing” such as in Acts 3:1-8, 8:6-7, 9:32-34. These were genuine acts of healing that took place without any of the conditions that often surround such so-called healing services today. They made no attempt to arouse certain conditions in the ones who were to be healed or to create in them some emotional reaction that would be instrumental in their response. Those healings were the simple, plain, direct act of God without any consideration of the environment in which they were being accomplished.

Along with that gift is the working of miracles, or display of powers. This gift would include that of raising the dead (Acts 9:36-41) and bringing judgment on sinning saints (Acts 5:1-10). Such displays of God’s power in that day caused much fear among those that witnessed them and thus promoted the activity of the Holy Spirit to bring true believers into the church. Prophecy is the gift of the Spirit that makes possible the direct revelation of God’s mind, giving teaching to the saints without the Word of God before them. We can appreciate the fact that without the complete canon of Scripture, we would be at a loss to know what to do and how to be guided. Such was the case then, and God gave men who could stand up in the local assembly and give a revelation of the will and mind of God to the saints for that moment. Prophecy is not the gift of teaching then nor now. Teaching is the ability to take the Word of God and open its truths spiritually for the edification of the believers. Discerning of spirits sees to be the ability to know if a spirit is of God or not, and also the ability to detect definitely if an individual is truly a child of God or only a false professor. We have an example of this when in Acts 8, Philip the evangelist was deceived by Simon’s profession, and baptized him. However, when Peter came down to Samaria,  he recognized that Simon was only an impostor and denounced him as such. When we consider the cost involved for one to be baptized in the early church days along with the ability of the apostles to discern those that were truly believers, we realize why those who professed to be saved were baptized on the day of their profession. To try to continue that practice today would be a gross mistake and would only result in many being identified as true believers who have not had the opportunity to prove themselves.

The last group involves language abilities, both speaking in a foreign language and interpreting languages.  There are those who teach that this language is not a known (to some) foreign language, though unknown to the speaker at that time. There are those who teach that it is a “heavenly language” basing this on I Cor. 13:1, “tongues of men and of angels.” A careful consideration of teaching on this subject makes clear that it is not a heavenly language, for in every instance where men heard angels speak, they heard them in a language the men listening could understand! Possibly one could say that in one sense, angels have the “gift of tongues” for they are always able to speak in a language the listener understands. The repetition of sounds, syllables, or gibberish (that has been proven by linguists to not be a language at all, having no characteristics of language) is not what the apostle is speaking about here. On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God came and formed the Body of Christ. The power of that moment was attested by those disciples speaking every man in the language of those who were present (Acts 2:4-8), and the languages heard were those of their own tongue (literally, dialect). Every instance of speaking in tongues in the Bible involved speaking in an actual language known to some men. The presence of the word “unknown” in our Bible in I Cor. 14:2, etc., is not warranted by the text, as the translators have indicated by putting it into italics.

The subject of speaking in tongues and the actual practice of this early gift will be considered later in an appendix. At this point we simply define this gift in this way. The gift of interpretation is the corresponding gift, that is, it is the ability to take what has been spoken in a foreign language and to properly give a word by word translation so the hearers can understand.

Again in I Cor. 12:28 we read a list of gifts exercised in relation to the local assembly. Here the gifts are put in an order that seems to emphasize the relative value of each gift. Thus apostles are first and the gift of speaking in tongues is last. In fact, in every list that includes tongues (these two only), this gift that is so often emphasized by Charismatics is placed last, not first. That tells us what priority God places on these gifts and where they stand in His estimation.

Apostles are listed here and also in Eph. 4:11. These are not gifts given but God-given gifted men who had their place in the beginning of God’s work to the church. We read that the church is built on the “foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph.2:20), the emphasis there being on the building of the entire body of Christ, not the local assembly. Their responsibility was to bear witness to the resurrection and to commence the work of Christ by going everywhere preaching the gospel. They had been given the truths the Lord had commanded them and were to teach them to others (Matt.28:19-20), so that on the day of Pentecost when 3000 were saved, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine” (Acts 2:42). What was the apostles doctrine (or teaching)? Surely it was the act of conveying to the early believers the truths the Lord had taught them (Acts 1:2-3). Acts 1:21-22 makes clear that to be an apostle, one must have been a witness of the Lord “from the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,”and this along with other passages make clear that there is no succession of apostles. Even Paul was not intended to be one of the twelve apostles. His call  and  work  were  unique  and  he recognized it to be so. His knowledge of Christ and witness of the resurrection didn’t come through human experience in the life of Christ but through Divine revelation in Acts 9. That revelation and Divine call cannot be matched by any experience of salvation by anyone since then. God had definite and specific purposes in relation to Paul’s apostleship.

The “apostles’ doctrine” clearly includes the expanded teaching of truth in the epistles. Particularly to Paul God entrusted the “mysteries” of the church, the body of Christ and teaching concerning the local assembly as well as the large body of truth imparted to the church through special revelation given to him by God (Eph.3:1-11).

Prophets are mentioned next and also in Eph.4:11 and Romans 12:6, and they have part in the foundation of the church (Eph.2:20). Their function likewise has ceased today and there are no prophets because their work was to convey the truth and mind of God to the people directly without benefit of the complete word of God. This may have taken the form of foretelling the future as in Acts 11:27-28. Paul was also acting as a prophet when in such passages as I Timothy 4:1 and II Timothy 3:1 he speaks of events and conditions to come (and already existing at that time). It also took the form of expressing that word that was needed for saints at that particular point of their need. We find in the New Testament days that the office of the prophet was more prominent earlier on but decreased with the passage of time. That was because the written Word of God was becoming available to the saints, and with the completion of the canon of Scripture, the need for the prophet ceased. In I Cor.13:9 we read concerning the assembly then that “we know in part and we prophesy in part.” A fuller consideration of this will be given later, but at this point we point out that the two parts of this verse show that the first condition of “knowing in part” has to do with the part of the written Word completed at  that time to which they  could  turn, and the  latter part is the act of supplementing that written Word with the prophetic utterance.

Teachers are mentioned next in I Cor. 12:28 as well as in Romans 12:7 and Eph.4:11. In Eph.4 and I Cor.12:28 it is the teacher who is given, and those gifted men seem to be linked strongly with pastors (shepherds), but in Romans 12 the emphasis seems to be more on the act and gift of teaching. Teaching differs from prophecy in that the teacher does not receive his message and material as a direct revelation from God, but he must study the Word of God and wait on the Lord to get a message and the knowledge to bring before men. The gift of teaching (or the teacher) is not just an ability to understand the Word of God. It is more than personal comprehension; it is the ability to communicate it properly and effectively to others who listen. It is the ability to impart spiritual truth and give the proper sense to the Word of God. Some may be good students (and we all should be!) but yet not be able to express it so the listener can grasp it or gain from it. The teacher can take the hard and difficult things of the Word of God and break them down into material that is suitable for the saints and edifying to their spirits.

Miracles are again mentioned here along with gifts of healings with a sense corresponding to that previously described. Then we find “helps,” a word that in the Greek is only found here in the Bible.  Mr.         W.E. Vine defines it as “a laying hold of, an exchange . . . one of the ministrations in the local church, by way of rendering assistance, perhaps especially of ‘help’ ministered to the weak and needy.” I Thess. 5:14 may be an example of this command, “support the weak.” These are “not official functionaries. . .but rather the functioning of those who, like the household of Stephanas, devote themselves to minister to the saints.” Without doubt we need those today who have this gift as in any day of need. The Lord  makes clear that  the exercise and ability to minister to the suffering, weak and needy is a  manifestation of His own character, and when done to His needy saints, is done unto Him (Matt. 25:31-46). Often it seems that these gifts are disregarded and are not exercised as they should be, possibly because they are not noticed so much publicly. We need to get the principle into our minds that the gifts that are not so obvious may be the most important to the healthy functioning of the body and to the welfare of the local assembly.

The next gift listed is “governments,” a gift defined as “steering a ship,” the pilot standing at the helm of a ship to guide it through the dangerous waters in safety. He has the knowledge and ability along with responsibility that will ensure the ship maintains the proper direction according to the map and compass so that no harm comes to it or its contents. Transferring this to the assembly, we see this as a gift linked with and needed for the proper government of the assembly. There are gifts needed for overseers and elders so they can function properly and guide the assembly according to the Word of God and preserve it intact for the Lord. The Spirit Who makes men overseers of an assembly (Acts 20:28) also gives them the gifts needed to function properly in that capacity. There is a sore need in any day for such men in an assembly, and the assembly that does not have these men suffers because of their lack. In fact, any man who has not been put into the elderhood by the Spirit of God and doesn’t have the spiritual gift and qualities to fulfill that work (not office) is a detriment to the assembly rather than a help. We should pray that God will raise such men in our day and give them ability to function in a spiritual way for His honor and the blessing of the saints. A man who has this gift will know the Word of God and its teachings regarding the assembly. An elder in an assembly once said that the biggest problem we have today is that there are some men in the oversight of assemblies who don’t know the Word of God nor how to handle it properly.  The overseer also  will have a  spiritual sense and ability to know the  problems of the saints, the direction the Spirit of God is leading, and he will know what to do to preserve the saints in a proper spiritual condition in every difficulty. This gift is not, as some seem to think, an ability to organize, make plans, direct men, etc., as in a business capacity. It is a spiritual gift that would be strange to any business executive. The assembly is not to be run like a corporation.

Another list that partially overlaps with these previously mentioned is in Romans 12. These gifts include some that function out of sight but are also essential in an assembly. We find “ministry” in verse 7, a word closely linked with “deacon” and meaning service. It indicates personal service done to another, possibly in the administration having to do with material and physical needs but not excluding the ability to serve in a spiritual fashion by ministering the Word of God (possibly personally and privately) to the blessing and encouragement of the saints. To see that it involves a ministry of the Word seems clear as well in that it is linked with the gift following, that of teaching. But perhaps it is wide enough to take in all ministry to the assembly and the saints of God. This word does not indicate some official capacity or office (there are no “offices” in the assembly) but rather the ability and exercise to act as the Lord directs one believer toward others. One could hardly fail to recognize the need for this gift in every day of testimony for God. The proper exercise in this gift would be a voice speaking to the lost or outside the assembly concerning the reality of the work of God in the midst of His own people.

The gift of ministry links naturally with those that follow in Romans 12:8 where we find “exhorting,” “giving,” “ruling,” and “showing mercy.” Perhaps we could say that ministry can find its avenues of particular exercise in these five ways (including teaching, verse 7). The gift of the Spirit gives one the ability to teach the saints, that is, to so handle the Word of God that the saints are edified or built up. It will be seen in the ability to exhort the saints, or to stir them up to action, admonishing them, entreating them and urging them on to some course of action or conduct. Teaching should pave the way for exhortation, and perhaps there is no properly given teaching that does not result in some exhortation; likewise, there is no exhortation that can be truly given without proper teaching first so that the teaching gives the reason for the saints to be stirred to some response. We need both of these in any day of testimony for Christ.

The gift of giving is an aspect of ministry as well. All saints should and are expected to give to the Lord, to needy saints and to others as the Lord directs them. What we have is not our own (I Cor.6:19-20, II Cor.8:5, 9:8-13); it all belongs to the Lord and we are stewards of those possessions with the opportunity to use them for Him and His purposes. But the gift of giving may be a form of this exercise that goes beyond that kind of giving seen in most believers.We have heard of those who seemed to have an ability to give sacrificially, beyond others. Perhaps this form of giving should be more characteristic of all of us and those exceptional cases would not seem so exceptional!

The gift of ruling may correspond somewhat to the gift of governments in I Cor.12:28. Both have to do with the aspect of leading the assembly according to God’s Word and the mind of the Spirit. Ruling indicates one standing before, leading, and attending to, and thus it makes us think of the shepherd in his responsibility to lead the sheep into green pastures, still waters, to direct them and care for them so that they are supplied and saved from harm or danger. The shepherd goes before the sheep, the captain goes before his soldiers and both of them lead the ones that follow. The elders of an assembly are required to be able to lead the saints by properly using the Word of God, by showing them an  example in  personal life, character and spiritual exercise. This gift is to be exercised with diligence, or in earnestness. It is no light thing to have the responsibility for the care of an assembly upon a man. One who has proper earnestness in the exercise of this work will not be found in his easy chair, enjoying life and pleasure. We read of such godly men of old who wore hollows into the boards by their beds because of their extended times of prayer night and day for the people of God. One who is properly exercising the work of elderhood will find it is a work that takes every available moment of his life that can be spared for it, and the importance of it cannot be stressed too much. It is to be feared that some try to drive the saints and use the Bible as a club to beat them. That is not the gift of ruling or government. It is a happy and healthy assembly when spiritual elders are giving direction and leading the assembly into a condition of peace, health and happy fruitfulness for God. 

The last gift, but not least in its need, is the gift of mercy. It is to be exercised with (or in) cheerfulness. Cheerfulness is a word closely linked with that of II Cor.9:7, a word suggesting complete readiness of mind with joyfulness. Nothing for God should ever be done with the sense of obligation or necessity, nor with the attitude of drudgery. An attitude like that indicates a wrong condition of the soul, a lack of appreciation for what He is and has done in love for us. Even showing mercy to others should be done with a cheerful attitude and a ready mind. Mercy is the expression of pity or compassion on others; it is linked with the helps of I Cor.12:28. In some ways these are the basic gifts of every believer in some measure; God has produced that response in the heart because the “love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 5:5). It is the normal state for a believer to feel compassion and bowels of mercies toward others in need;  we should all be able to display a certain degree of that compassion toward others. This gift indicates an ability in this direction (that we have discerned in some saints) far greater than that found in every child of God.

The list of gifted men in Eph.4:11 includes some that we have discussed already, but also speaks of the evangelist. The gift of the evangelist is not just the ability to preach the gospel. The evangelist is one who, having been sent forth of God, goes forth proclaiming the glad tidings of the gospel of Christ, warning sinners to flee from the wrath to come. It is a gift, the only one exercised toward the unsaved exclusively. The saints enjoy hearing the gospel, but the lost are the objects of the evangelist’s exercise. The evangelist can properly take his pattern from the movements of the apostle Paul. In him we see a man who went with a burning zeal in his heart for his God and a longing for the lost so that he was willing to journey far from home and suffer the loss of all things for the sake of Christ. Many men have followed in his steps. Evangelism is the gift involved for one to go into the world to preach the gospel to every creature, although this is also the responsibility of every believer, gifted or not. It is a gift exercised outside the assembly. It may be that some who claim to be evangelists are not laboring according to the Scriptural pattern when they simply move from one assembly to another. Mr. J.J. Rouse said, "In the Gospels we have the commission or authority to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. In Acts we have the history of the disciples going, and in the Epistles we have instructions as to how to carry on this work. And I notice in I Cor.12 where you have the local assembly and the gifts, there is no mention of evangelists. I take it to mean that the place for evangelists is out in the world and not in the assembly, but in this day you would think the Scriptures said go ye into all the assemblies." We still need, even in our day, those who have the exercise to go forth into places where there is no assembly established. Scripturally, there is no record of a gospel meeting series in the assembly itself. That activity was engaged outside, in the place where the people were found and if such a work were a part of the assembly, it would rightly be maintained by the gifted men in that assembly instead of depending on "evangelists." Perhaps if we were more evangelistic in our outlook and more energetic in our Gospel efforts  we would see more assemblies planted in our own day. We often look back on the activities and fervent service of men in the past, whether it be David Rae, Donald Ross, Frank Knox, Oliver Smith or many others of like character, and we see the period of their labors as a time of fruitful ingathering of souls and upbuilding of assemblies. The need today is the same, and what we need are men of the same character today.

The last two gifted men listed are pastors and teachers. We must emphatically note that these are always in the plural. This cannot be stressed too much today as over the centuries the practice of  having “the, (or “a”) pastor” has arisen, contrary to the teaching and example of the New Testament. This is only a return to Judaism, a system that God superseded with the reality of Christ. Pastors are shepherds, the ones whom God has raised up to be overseers and elders in the local assembly. Peter links them all in I Peter 5:1-4, addressing the “elders which are among you” and telling them to “feed the flock of God” (the same word as “shepherd”), “taking the oversight thereof” an expression closely corresponding to “overseer” or “bishop.” The minds of many believers are confused when they make distinctions between these men. They are the same men, but in these cases they are seen in different functions. The elders are spiritually mature men with the respect of the saints, overseers recognize their responsibility toward the assembly to lead and maintain the assembly for God and the welfare of His people, and shepherds care for and tend to the saints to preserve them from spiritual ruin and to nourish them in their lives for God. We need all these functions today; it is well known that the great lack in assemblies today is true shepherds, and we thank God for every one who is truly fulfilling his responsibility in this way. God’s people need care, and a healthy assembly is one that has been blessed with godly and spiritual men who are laboring among the saints, seeking to lead them on to greater spiritual maturity. May God work to raise up more of these valuable men in our day!

This gift is often linked with that which follows, namely teachers, and it may well be suggested that they are closely connected though not necessarily referring to the same person. It may be that in many cases one person would be both a pastor and a teacher. We surely believe that a shepherd must be able to teach the saints if he is to fulfill his work, and likewise a teacher needs to have the heart and care of a shepherd if his ministry is to have the spiritual value it should. It has often been rightly said, we believe, that the evangelist has souls in his heart, the shepherd has the saints in his heart and the teacher has the Word of God in his heart.

The purpose of these gifts given by the risen Head of the Church follows in the chapter. God has in view the maturing of the saints, the building of that body to completion, so that through the ministry of these men it becomes more solid and strong over time. The gifted men should always keep in mind the purpose for which God has raised them up and equipped them. It is not for selfish position and love of prominence, but rather to spend and be spent for the saints of God and the honor of the Lord Jesus. Having a gift with its heavy responsibility should make us have and increasingly develop more exercise to use it properly and fully in the time we are allowed for our ministry.


An examination of these lists along with the observation of the record in Acts and the following history would show that not all gifts were intended to continue permanently. The listed gifts can be divided into three groups: Foundational gifts, those essential at the very beginning of the church; Temporary or sign gifts that were exercised in those days of transition when the direction of the gospel was yet primarily toward the Jewish people; and  Permanent gifts, or those gifts that were intended to continue over the entire period of the church. It seems clear that if we can see that God didn’t intend  foundational gifts to continue, neither did He purpose that every one of the other gifts would continue.

Consider the foundational gifts first. Only a few religious groups question the fact that there are no apostles today. The criteria required for them precludes their continuance. It also is clear that there is no provision in the New Testament for “apostolic succession.” There is no successor for Peter or Paul or any other of the apostles. They had a unique work that Peter recognized in Acts 1:22,25 primarily toward the nation of Israel. They were also responsible to transmit the teachings of the Lord Jesus to the early believers (Acts 2:42, Matt.28:19-20) and to establish spiritual authority among the early believers before the completion of the Scriptures. Those needs have passed and are no longer required today. It is true that in some passages there are others who are called “apostles” who were not officially designated in this way (Rom.16:7, Gal.1:19, Phil.2:25, Acts 14:4, 14, II Cor.8:23, I Thess 2:6), but these men do not qualify as apostles in an official sense in the New Testament. Perhaps in their function they continued the work and were identified with the apostles, but it is notable that Timothy or Titus were never designated “apostles” though in many ways they functioned with authority as “apostolic delegates.” They were charged with particular functions by Paul with relation to the assemblies where they labored.

The gift of a prophet has also ceased, even though there are some who claim to have such a gift. The only need for the prophet was that the saints might receive direct revelations from God to meet the need of that day before the Scriptures were completed. To say that we need a prophet today is to say that the Scriptures are not complete or are not sufficient for the need of our souls. We do not need a prophet to tell us of the future, for the Word of God has revealed the future as God intends us to know it. Those who try to function as prophets today err in that what they pretend to bring as a word from  God often  conflicts  with the  teaching of the Scriptures, and quite often what they predict fails to come to pass. In addition, many of those who claim this gift and seek to exercise it publicly are women, thus contradicting the Scriptural pattern for the local assembly (I Cor.14:34, I Tim.4:11-12). We do read of women in the New Testament who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9). They functioned in this way for the time so that the younger women and sisters might be taught privately (Titus 2:3-5). There were no complete Scriptures to use for this purpose at the time. But since the Scriptures do not contradict themselves, we believe they would have exercised this gift  in a capacity and a setting consistent with the limitations on their speaking in public, such as in the home. It is also significant that in that case, God chose to send a prophet from Jerusalem to deliver a message to Paul rather than use Philip’s daughters.

Ephesians 2:20  teaches that the church is built on the foundation of these men. The foundation is not carried upward to the top of a structure, but it is laid at the beginning and at the base, holding it up and establishing it solidly. The church has been built on the teaching and authority given by the apostles and prophets so that unto the coming of the Lord it can continue with no need for an additional basis.

What about temporary gifts? What authority do we have to say they have ceased? Without looking at this in detail, consider the historical proof. In Acts, such gifts (speaking in tongues along with interpretation, healings, miracles, etc.) were more prominent in the early days, but as time went on, and toward the latter chapters of that historical book these occurrences were less frequent. We believe this shows that in relation to the functioning of these gifts, there was less need for them and the Spirit of God ceased to raise up those who had that gift and also did not exercise those who had those gifts to use them.  The miraculous sign gifts were directed toward the Jews rather than to the Gentiles. It is always the Jews who require a sign (I Cor. 1:22) and a careful examination of “signs” in Scripture will reveal that they are always seen in connection with the Jewish people. In I Cor.14:23 where the apostle says that when an unbelieving Gentile (note context) came in while they were speaking in tongues, he would say they were mad, the contrary result of what would be seen if an unbelieving Jew entered (verse 21-22). So as the gospel went toward the Gentiles without being to “the Jew first,” we likewise find a fading out and final ending of  those sign-gifts that were more prominent at the beginning.

We believe that I Cor.12-14 teaches that those sign gifts were of  lesser importance, even in that day when they still existed. Notice that they are deemphasized rather than emphasized. The saints in Corinth were exalting them; Paul down-grades them and shows they were of lesser importance in comparison with the rest. In addition, in I Cor.13:8-11, (though this is a difficult passage and many have various opinions on it) we believe we are taught that these gifts were going to cease. Some teach that it means they were going to cease at the coming of the Lord (linking “that which is perfect” with the Lord’s coming), but a careful consideration seems to show that this ceasing was to be an event before that coming. That which is “in part” is not the exercise of those miraculous gifts, but rather the partial knowledge of verse 9. In verse 8 we find that while love never fails (and verse 13 makes clear it is the greatest of all), prophecies would fail, tongues shall cease, and knowledge would vanish away. Look at these in order. When we read that “prophecies shall fail,” the Spirit of God is using a word that indicates the gift of prophecy would be reduced to inactivity, it would be rendered inoperative, made ineffective or useless, not needed. This word is also used concerning knowledge in the same verse. The word is in a tense that teaches the ceasing would take place over a period of time, not suddenly.  It also indicates  that its end would be  complete  and it  would  not  be needed  again.   This  gradual decrease was exactly what we observe as the Word of God (we believe that is what is referred to as “that which is perfect”) was completed by the Spirit of God. “That which is perfect” must correspond with “that which is in part.” What is referred to by the last phrase? Is it not the condition referred to in the previous verse where there was in part knowledge and in part prophecy? That condition cannot exist today because the gift of prophecy does not exist and there is no need for it. It was a condition that existed then, when inpart they received direct revelations from God and in part they were able to turn to the manuscripts they possessed, the written Word of God. What he was looking forward to was the completion of the Scripture, at which point the prophecies and special knowledge would be done away.

Concerning “tongues, they shall cease,” a different word is used. Here it is a word that means an end that is automatic, it will cease of itself, and the tense of it shows it would not be over a period of time, but a sudden cessation. Examine all the references to this gift and one should come to the conclusion that when the need for this gift ceased, the gift and its exercise ceased. Possibly this ceasing took place at the point when in Acts 28:28, Paul told the elders of Israel in Rome that from that time he would turn to the Gentiles. The national blindness and hardness of the nation caused the point to be reached when the special privilege of the nation would cease for this time, and the gospel would be offered to Gentiles primarily, though Jews are also included on the same ground. Possibly at that moment, if in an assembly elsewhere one was speaking in tongues, he would have ceased to do so; it was a gift that was to cease spontaneously and suddenly.

Because tongues are listed along with prophecy and knowledge in verse 8 but not in verse 9, it seems that it would cease to be exercised before the  other two ceased. Again this corresponds to the historical record in that tongues seems to have ceased at the end of Acts (or earlier) while the other two would have continued until the Word of God was completed. A more complete consideration of the particular gift of tongues is in the appendix at the end for any who desire more detail.

It is interesting and important to notice that these three gifts give us one from each group in I Cor. 12:8-11 as noticed previously. If God listed one from each group and that listed gift was going to cease or gradually stop, it seems to follow that all the gifts in that particular group also would cease. Some may not see this view, but a careful examination of each gift would indicate that they all are gifts that were intended to be temporary, gifts needed to meet the need of that early day before the completion of Scripture and during the time when the Jews were primarily in view. No doubt some aspects of faith, wisdom, and other exercises are needed today, but the actual gift as needed and indicated here has ceased.

What gifts remain for us today? There are many gifts in I Cor. 12:28 as well as in Romans 12:6-8 that continue. We believe that the remaining gifts continue until the completion of the church age.


Many ask an important question, “What is my gift and how can I know how to use it?” Some may be discouraged so that as a result they do not seek to know what their gift is. Some have been told that they don’t have a spiritual gift, though we are clearly told that those gifts are given to every man (including sisters) for mutual profit (I Cor.12:7). That is not to say that the Spirit of God would give a gift to a person if they could not Scripturally exercise it. The illustrative portion that follows  has to do with the physical body (12:14-26) and shows that even as every member of the physical body has its unique place and ability corresponding to it, even so is it true for every believer. This would lead us to believe that God has so equipped every believer that they can contribute to the well-being and advancement of the assembly where God has placed them through the gift God has given them.

So how does one ascertain what their spiritual gift is? There is little in the Scripture that would give us a clear answer to this question. It would almost seem that such silence shows that a believer, if exercised before the Lord, would have an intuitive understanding of what gift they have received. That is, that the Holy Spirit indwelling each saint can ably work with and toward each one so as to make that believer know what work He has fitted him for. It may be that the believer will recognize a particular inclination toward an aspect of the work needed in the assembly and be able to discern a corresponding ability needed for that work or service.

Possibly one might discern his gift by seeking to understand what each gift listed involves, and from that point carefully and prayerfully seek to learn what the Spirit of God has equipped him to do. We can encourage believers to exercise themselves in various activities of service for the Lord within their particular spheres, and shortly they will recognize if they are fitted for it or not. That is not to say that the God-given ability will be seen in its fully-developed condition; every gift has to be developed in some way by its use, and through that exercise it will be more clear over time what gift has been given.

In the Old Testament, men with gift were pointed out to others by God as having been particularly raised up by Him. Notice in Num.27:15-23 how God pointed out Joshua to Moses in relation to leading His people after Moses’ death (Deut.34:9). In the same way, God made clear to Moses that He had raised up Bezaleel and Aholiab for the work of the tabernacle (Ex. 31:1,6) as well as other wise-hearted men of the camp of Israel. Could we draw from this the conclusion that men who have spiritual discernment, the elders of an assembly, should be concerned to help younger believers recognize the particular gift God has given them? It would be a healthy condition for an assembly if younger saints had confidence in older brethren so that they could freely express their exercise to them and have assurance that they could receive spiritual counsel in these things.

We can be sure that if there is spiritual exercise on the part of a believer to know what gift God has given, coupled with a willingness to fulfill the service connected with that gift, there will be an understanding communicated to him. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that in our busy lives we don’t spend the time waiting on God and earnestly seeking His will as we should, so that we might know clearly from Him the answers in this area.


There is a great need for every believer to understand how gifts are to be exercised in the assembly. There should be room for the exercise of every scriptural gift in an assembly. Properly, one of the criticisms of the practices of Christendom is that there is no room or opportunity for believers to exercise the gifts God has given them. Certainly this is a form of “quenching the Spirit” (I Thess. 5:19) and is the prominent sin against the Holy Spirit today. In fact, so far as we know, assemblies of believers that gather in scriptural simplicity to the Name of the Lord Jesus alone are the only places where spiritual gifts can be exercised in a Scriptural manner. This is one precious aspect of our heritage; a great privilege to be enjoyed. But along with that privilege, saints must recognize that there comes a responsibility to exercise that God-given gift in a spiritual manner according to the Word of God that gives instructions for its exercise. This is essential for the proper functioning of a local assembly.

The best portion that tells us how spiritual gifts are to be exercised is in I Cor.12-14. In a brief way, let us observe the following principles that are given us in that section.

Gifts are to be exercised harmoniously, in fellowship with others, working together with the saints of that assembly (I Cor.12:14-17). It is an abnormal condition in any body when the members don’t function together for the good of the entire body; in that case, we call it a disease. Every member with its unique ability works in perfect harmony with others who are also a part of that body. The assembly is not the Body of Christ, but it is to function like a body in this aspect of having members working in harmony together. What a blessing when this is the case! Then we see that there is not to be any envy of others or disparaging or belittling of others in the assembly as they exercise themselves for God and His glory. All gifts are important, and it seems that the ones that are not seen are the more important ones. It is of the flesh when we fail to appreciate the different aspects of service which every saint is seeking to contribute to the well-being of the assembly. If we recognize that gifts are given sovereignly by the Spirit of God (12:4-7,11), we  will appreciate every one who has been so equipped by God for the work He has given them. That principle lies on the surface of 12:18-26. God has set the members in the body, placing them where He will so that all might be tempered together, that there might not be any schism in the body. All suffer if one suffers; all rejoice if one rejoices. May the Lord give us grace to express  our appreciation freely for the helpful contribution of every saint in the assembly!

Gifts should be exercised with an earnest desire that God would raise up in the assembly the “better gifts” (12:31). No doubt in the context of this passage, he is referring to the gifts  that  the Corinthian believers were not emphasizing, and instead of the gifts such as tongues, they should have been seeking the gifts that would edify the assembly. But cannot we also have an exercise before the Lord so that we can discern when there is a need because of the lack of gift that is required? For example, when there is a lack of sound teaching because there are no teachers in that assembly, it should cause the saints to pray earnestly that God would raise up such gift in the assembly, however He might choose to do it. There are times when gifts  are lacking in an assembly and the assembly suffers because of that lack. That lack may be due to various reasons, some of which may be that there are believers in fellowship in that assembly who are not exercising the gift God has given them. Perhaps, also, there are those whom God intended to place (12:18) in that assembly, but for one reason or another they never came into that assembly or are no longer there. Whatever the reason, we need the discernment and exercise to pray that whatever gift may be needed in the assembly might be given, so that the assembly might prosper.

I Cor.13 unmistakably tells us that all gift is to be exercised in love. This is the ingredient that makes the assembly function smoothly, it is the ‘oil’ that enables the ‘machinery’ to work together as it should. More than all else, that includes love for the Lord, then love for all those who will be affected by that service. Evidently this was lacking in Corinth (as is often the case). In relation to the exercise of the gifted men in Eph.4, they are exhorted to speak “the truth in love” (4:15) so that the body might make increase of itself unto the “edifying of itself in love” (4:16). We all know of times when the exercise of gift has not been controlled by love for the saints, the assembly, or the Lord, and much harm can be and has been the result.

All gift is to be exercised so that the assembly might be edified, or built up. That is the teaching of I Cor.14. Many gifts, including speaking in tongues, were being exercised in the assembly in Corinth then, but the exercise of them under certain circumstances was futile for there was no blessing imparted to the hearers. We should always keep this before us when we are exercising a gift God has given. The object of using it or doing anything for God is that the result of that exercise might be the blessing of the saints, their building up and strengthening, and also that the lost might be reached. Ultimately its purpose is that God might be glorified and Christ exalted. Reasons stemming only from selfish desires, desires for prominence or place, or that show a disregard for the effect that would come from that exercise should be judged and avoided.

We would suggest from 14:26 that gift is to be the result of  personal exercise with regard to the assembly. All believers should come prepared to participate in the manner for which God has enabled them. We must keep in mind that praying, expressing worship, and some other aspects of assembly gathering do not depend on gift, but there are other functions listed here that do. Proper function of an assembly depends on every saint being exercised to uphold the responsibility that the Lord has entrusted to them. Fellowship in an assembly is a privilege that brings with it a corresponding responsibility.

Gift is exercised under the control of the believer, guided by the Spirit of God and in subjection to other brethren (14:29-33). What was being practiced in Corinth was an outrage against the orderly, Spirit-guided exercise of spiritual gift. We are not free to simply let our imagination run loose and think that we can do whatever we like without any control. The closing principle of the chapter is that scriptural order is to be maintained (14:34-40). Since God’s Word forbids our sisters from speaking publicly in an assembly, it would be contrary to Scriptural order or the mind of God to do so. They have gift, but it is to be exercised in the sphere God has given them. In the same way, all brethren must seek to maintain the order th