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Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Theology Q&A

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Dr. J. Rodman Williams answers theological questions, exclusively on

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11. Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Category Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 QA Index




Does Paul teach in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, that the spiritual gifts would pass away?

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that "If there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away." All of this refers to the future life when we see the Lord "face to face" (verse 12). Any thought of a temporary nature of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge in this life is totally foreign to Paul's teaching. We should therefore rejoice in all these and other gifts available until the face to face beholding of Christ.

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Is it possible to have the gifts of the Holy Spirit without the fruits?

It is important to bear in mind that every true believer should be a channel for the exercise of the spiritual gifts for ministry (1 Corinthians 12:8-10) as well as the fruit of the Spirit for growth in Christian character (Galatians 5:22-23).

So it is not a matter of either/or but of both/and.

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How are we to view the words attributed to Jesus in Mark 16:18: "They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them"?

Reference to picking up serpents and drinking deadly poison should best be understood as protectional statements. Paul, for example, was protected from harm when he accidentally picked up a deadly viper, and it "fastened on his hand" (Acts 28:3). The New Testament records no example of a person protected from the effects of drinking poison; however, Eusebius (The History of the Church, page 151) states that this happened to Joseph Barsabbas (named in Acts 1:23). In any event, the deliberate picking up of snakes or the drinking of poison should not be understood as the demonstration of a miracle. Either would be testing God, and Jesus spoke against this kind of evil when He was tempted by Satan to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12). Thus the activities of snake-handling cults today should be viewed as presumptuous rather than miraculous.

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I have heard it said that Satan and demons cannot understand speaking in tongues. I do not know of any scripture to support that thought, but I thought that you might be able to give some insight on if it is true and if it matters one way or the other.

Paul writes: "The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14 RSV). This lack of understanding and discernment would apply all the more to Satan and his demons. Speech in tongues must cause utter confusion to them!

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Do you have something through the Internet about "speaking in tongues"? We have a friend, she is a "Baptist," and she has raised many questions about this, but I want a good explanation to show her.

Perhaps you would find my article entitled "Why speak in Tongues?" a helpful study and personal witness. It is chapter 9 in my book A Theological Pilgrimage that you may find here on CBN.Com, or on my personal web site.

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Did tongues cease with the completion of the New Testament?

The answer is No. There has been no time in the history of the Church when tongues have not been spoken. Paul writes: ":Love never fails, but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away" (1 Corinthians 13:8). Prophecy, tongues, knowledge all pass away when "the perfect" comes; that is when we see Christ face to face. (see verses 9 through 12). Until then, it is a joy to know that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will function upon the earth.

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What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are found in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10: "To one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues (NASB)."

Then the Scripture adds: "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (verse 11). Thus the spiritual gifts are all supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit through individuals whom He chooses to anoint.

For an extended discussion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, see my Renewal Theology, 2: chapters 12 and 13.

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What is the difference between the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

The fruit of the Holy Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) -- represents qualities of character brought about by the Holy Spirit in a Christian's life. The gifts of the Holy Spirit -- word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, the discernings of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:8-10) -- are manifestations of the Holy Spirit for ministry to others. Accordingly, both fruit and gifts are important in Christian life and ministry (see my Renewal Theology 2: chapters 14 and 15, "The Ninefold Manifestation" and "Christian Living").

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You mentioned in one of your answers the ability to discern spirits-human, evil, and angelic. Please tell me more about the discernment of human spirits. Are human spirits ghosts?

Concerning the discernment of human spirits, I do not refer to disembodied human spirits but to the inward spirits of live individuals. The discernment of a human spirit is not the perception of a ghost at all but of what is directing that person in his or her attitude, actions, words, and the like. Only the Holy Spirit can provide such depth perception of a human spirit.

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Can you give me more information on spiritual gifts, especially the gift of discernment and its purposes/uses?

The gift of the discernings (the Greek is plural) of spirits is one of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). By this gift, one is able to perceive spirits—human, evil, and angelic. This is a supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit. (For a full discussion of this gift and the others, see my Renewal Theology, 2: chapter 14, "The Ninefold Manifestation.")

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Could you please give me Scriptural references permitting the use of tongues as a gift for today and not just during Bible times?

According to Mark 16:17, in reference to all future believers, Jesus said, "And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they willspeak with new tongues." Also, Paul speaks several times of tongues as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the local congregation (1 Corinthians 12-14). There is no suggestion that what Paul says to the Corinthians about speaking in tongues would not continue to apply to today.

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Does Paul teach in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, that the spiritual gifts would pass away?

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that "If there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away." All of this refers to the future life when we see the Lord "face to face" (verse 12). Any thought of a temporary nature of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge in this life is totally foreign to Paul's teaching. We should therefore rejoice in all these and other gifts available until the face to face beholding of Christ.

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 The question of speaking in tongues has been bashed around forever it seems. Why are people so afraid of such an honor? If I can communicate with the Father in a special language He gives me, why in the world wouldn't I relish the opportunity to do so? Also, if tongues were of the devil, wouldn't more of the devil's people speak with them?

Well said. You are surely on target! I will let the question stand as its own answer.

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 Some say that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not in operation for today. I believe they are not only in operation for today but are very important for one's spiritual life. What do you say on this subject?

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are or should be operational today among all true believers. They are very important, not so much for one's spiritual life as for one's ministry. We should distinguish between the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit: fruit such as love, joy, and peace which have to do with one's spiritual life; and gifts of the Spirit such as word of wisdom, word of knowledge, and prophecy which have to do with ministry. Fruit and gifts are both essential for a full-orbed Christian life.

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   I would like to know how to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, gifts like the word of knowledge.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinithians 12:7-11) are "the manifestation of the Spirit." By His gifts, the Holy Spirit openly shows Himself in word and deed. He is in charge of the gifts and distributes them as well. At the same time, we may and indeed should ask the Holy Spirit to move through each one of us as He carries forward His work. We may, of course, ask for any one of these gifts recognizing that the Holy Spirit is sovereign.

(For a detailed study of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, see Renewal Theology, 2, chapter 14, "The Ninefold Manifestation.")

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   Mark 16:17-18. Do these signs spoken about in Scripture apply to Christians today, or was Jesus just addressing Jews of that day?

The words of Mark 16:17-18--"These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover"--are clearly addressed to believers in Christ of every day and generation.

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   Do the gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues, prophecy, etc.) exist today for use by Christians or did they cease at the closing of the canon?

There is no reason to assume that the gifts of the Spirit ceased at the closing of the canon of Scripture. First Corinthians 12:8-10 gives a list of the spiritual gifts beginning with the declaration of "is given." No hint is there that they will be taken away. Incidentally, if the gifts were withdrawn at the closing of the canon, the gift of salvation could also have been taken away at the same time.

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  Should the gifts of the Spirit be operating in the church, at most every service?

For Scripture on the gifts of the Holy Spirit see 1 Corinthians 12-14. Paul is writing to the whole church and expects all the gifts to be operational. For example, he says, "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (12:7). Thereafter Paul lists nine gifts, all of which relate to the regular meetings of the church in Corinth for worship and ministry. (See Renewal Theology, 2: chapter 13, "The Gifts of the Holy Spirit.")

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  What is the biblical basis for the spiritual gift of "the word of knowledge"? A friend of mine who does not believe in this gift says that the Bible is the only revelation of God, and that God doesn't give us anything else. What do you think?

The Bible is God's special and unique revelation of truth. Nothing can be added to or taken from it. However, God also gives subordinate revelation to His people. Note, for example, Ephesians 1:17 where Paul prays "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him." Also Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:26, "When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation." The word of knowledge is a gift given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8), and thus is a revelation from God. The Bible remains the ultimate authority in all truth. (See
Renewal Theology, 2: pages 354-58.)

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   When a person gives a message in tongues in a church, and no one interprets that message, does that mean it is not of God?

Although a tongues message may be of God, those who hear are not edified unless there is interpretation following. In Paul's words, "Seek to abound for the edification of the church" (1 Corinthians. 14:12).

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   Did the gift of speaking in tongues end when Christ was born?

Being a Baptist all my life, I was taught that tongues ended when Christ was born. I believe that the verse that talks about tongues ending-"If there are tongues, they will cease" (1 Corinthians 13:8)-really means when He comes the second time. Am I right or wrong about this?

In the same verse, Paul added immediately that "knowledge will be done away." Knowledge surely did not cease when Christ came the first time, nor now by implication did tongues cease. Knowledge and tongues (as well as prophecy-same verse) belong to the whole present era until Christ returns. When we shall see Christ "face to face" (verse 13), knowledge becomes total sight and tongues become perfect praise! You are entirely correct. (See Renewal Theology, 2: pages 343-344.)

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   Why do you think we do not see miracles in America?

God who worked miracles in Bible times is the living God who does not change. He still works miracles whenever there is faith to see them and receive them. Surely that includes America!

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  I am currently a member of a small church group in Australia that believes you must speak in tongues to be saved. Please reply.

Such a view is unbiblical. Speaking in tongues first occurred on the Day of Pentecost among believers ( i.e., those already saved) in connection with the baptism or filling with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). It is important that this distinction be maintained lest you have people wrongly questioning their salvation.

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  Could you receive the gift of tongues without the baptism in the Holy Spirit?

The Book of Acts supports tongues as initial evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit, but is it the only evidence? Could you be baptized in the Spirit with a different accompanying charism? And could you receive the gift of tongues without the baptism in the Holy Spirit?

You are correct in saying that in the Book of Acts the initial evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. There was other evidence such as exalting God (Acts 10:46) and prophesying (Acts 19:6). Thus there may be other accompaniments of Spirit baptism, but the continuing evidence is glossolalia. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the background for the gift of tongues: the latter cannot occur without the former. Speaking in tongues is the supernatural overflow of baptism in the Spirit.

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  Why speak in tongues?

Not too long after my first experience of speaking in tongues, I recall a friend saying something like this: "I don't deny that such a phenomenon exists, but actually I see no reason for it, no value in it." In other words, why should one want to speak in tongues? What need is there for it, what worth to it?

The basic reason for such questioning, I am convinced, is the failure to comprehend the essential nature of speaking in tongues, which is transcendent praise of God. Speaking in tongues--glossolalia--is an expression of that praise of God wherein there is the breakthrough of usual speech limitations of one's native tongue into a higher and fuller realm of praise, blessing, adoration, and thanksgiving. It is to go beyond the most elevated of earthly expressions--even "Hallelujahs: or "Hosannas"--into spiritual utterance. To put it directly: it is the praise of God in language given by the Holy Spirit.

If such transcendent praise is possible, would one not want to share in it? Would one not want to speak in tongues, yes to sing in tongues, that is, to speak and sing by the Holy Spirit's inspiration? Would one not want to transcend the limits of earthly language in the high praises of God? Why speak in tongues? The answer is not far off: because it is the vehicle of praise par excellence for glorifying and extolling God. If there is little desire to praise God, then tongues are of little significance; but if the worship, the praise, the adoration of Almighty God is the chief concern of one's life, then tongues have unlimited value as a supernatural avenue of that transcendent praise.

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  Why speak in tongues? Part 2

The praise of God, of course, should also sound forth as fully as possible in the native speech of man. One's mother tongue-whether it be English, French, German, or something else-is so much a part of one's whole being that it is the most natural vehicle of worship. Hence there are hymns, anthems, prayers which, whether sung liturgically or spontaneously, may in human language declare the glory of God. And surely those who are enamored of God will ever seek ways of fuller worship in the speech of their own place and time. However, there comes-or may come-a moment when the level of natural speech is left behind and one enters upon the extraordinary praise of God in the language of the Spirit.

A word of personal testimony may be helpful. My attitude concerning tongues formerly was much like that expressed at the outset by my friend (Part 1). I could see no value in it. Indeed, the whole matter was a bit repugnant to my sensibilities. However, there came a day and hour when all this suddenly changed. And what brought it about? Namely, there came a sudden intensity of desire to praise God more totally and completely. It was in the context of saying the opening words of Psalm 103-"Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits"-that my spirit, full of joy, yearned to express this totally-"all…within me" to break forth in heavenly blessing. Then came the gracious gift of a new tongue, a spiritual language-an extraordinary, even shocking event. But now at last I was praising God with my whole being-body, soul, and spirit. Truly this was transcendent praise!

(For more on transcendent praise, see my Renewal Theology, 2: pages 226-228.)

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  Why speak in tongues? Part 3

It is important to add that situations vary among people who first speak in tongues. Some filled with the Holy Spirit are so flooded with the reality of God's presence and power that they can scarcely contain themselves; thus speaking in tongues, or transcendent speech, quickly occurs. They sense deep within their spirit a great yearning and urge to break forth in fresh praise to God, and so they allow the Holy Spirit to provide the language. Others likewise Spirit-filled, through ignorance, fear, and uncertainty, may seek to hold things in check and thus do not immediately speak in tongues. However, the possibility is now present, and with the proper conditions and a willingness to venture forth, they will soon be speaking a new language of the Spirit.

This is not always easy. There is so much resistance to the whole matter of speaking in tongues--as being irrational, hyper-emotional, even a bit shameful--that it takes some courage for many even to contemplate it. Furthermore, when people speak in tongues they often burn their bridges behind them. They may now be labeled a "tongues-speaker" (with all the negative images usually associated). Reputation, respect, and position may be forfeited. Thus it is not easy for some to take the step. However, on the other hand, it may be that what is folly in the sight of others is wisdom in the eyes of God and that God has established this strange, and often despised, way as a channel for His praise and glory.

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  Do you believe a teen as young as 13 can receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit and a spiritual gift such as prophecy?

Age has no bearing in regard to receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit and such a gift as prophecy. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared that "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Acts 2:17). Freshness of youth has a special place in things spiritual. Praise the Lord!

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