Gifts Of The Holy Spirit

At various times in His dealings with men, God has delegated the use of His power ("Holy Spirit") to men. However, this has never been in the form of a "blank cheque", as it were, enabling them to do what they wished; always the use of this Holy Spirit has been for a specific purpose. When it was accomplished, the gift of the Holy Spirit was withdrawn. We must remember that God's spirit acts in a way which forwards the purpose which is in His mind. His purpose often allows short-term suffering in the lives of men in order to bring about His long-term purpose (see Study 6.1), so it is to be expected that His Holy Spirit would not necessarily be used to alleviate human suffering in this life. Any such relief it does achieve will be for a higher purpose of expressing God's mind to us.

This is in marked contrast to popular Christian attitudes to the Holy Spirit today; the impression is given that belief in Christ is worth it because of the physical benefit, e.g. healing from illness, which the Holy Spirit will supposedly give. This would explain why in strife-torn countries like Uganda there has been a marked outbreak of people claiming to possess the spirit gifts of healing and, historically, such claims have often coincided with times of great human need. This in itself places present claims of spirit possession under some suspicion; if someone is looking for experience which transcends the present human plight, it is easy to claim to have found something which fills the bill.

Many 'Christians' today claim to possess miraculous spirit gifts, yet when questioned about what their exact purpose is, there is a significant uncertainty. God has always given His spirit to achieve specific, defined objectives. Because of this, those who truly possessed the gifts of the spirit knew exactly what they were to use them for, and therefore did not achieve only partial success in their use of them. This contrasts with the many failures and partial cures experienced by those who claim to have spirit gifts of healing today.

The following examples all indicate specific reasons and objectives being behind the granting of spirit gifts. In none of these cases was there any subjective element associated with possessing the gifts, nor were the possessors of the gifts able to use them just as they saw fit. Because we are talking of God's spirit, it is inconceivable that men could direct the use of it, seeing that it was given to them in order to perform certain specific desires of God, rather than those of the men who had the temporary use of it (cp. Isa. 40:13).

- Early in Israel's history, they were commanded to make an elaborate tent ("tabernacle") in which the altar and other holy items could be kept; detailed instructions were given concerning how to make all the items which would be necessary for the worship of God. To accomplish this, God gave His spirit to certain men. They were, "filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments..." etc. (Ex. 28:3).

- One of these men, Bezaleel, was "filled with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, in gold cutting of all manner of workmanship" (Ex. 31: 3-5).

Num. 11:14-17 records how some of the spirit/power delegated to Moses was taken from him and given to the elders of Israel, for the purpose of enabling them to correctly judge the people's grievances so that there was less pressure on Moses. Just before Moses' death, the spirit gift was transferred from him to Joshua so that he, too, could properly lead God's people (Deut. 34:9).

- From the time that the people of Israel entered their land until their first king (Saul) they were governed by men called judges. During this period they were often oppressed by their enemies, but the book of Judges records how the spirit of God came upon some of the judges in order to miraculously deliver Israel from their invaders - Othniel (Jud. 3:10), Gideon (Jud. 6:34) and Jephthah (Jud.11:29) exemplify this.

- Another judge, Samson, was given the spirit in order to kill a lion (Jud. 14:5,6); to kill 30 men (Jud. 14:19) and to break apart cords with which he had been tied up (Jud. 15: 14). Such "Holy Spirit" was therefore not possessed by Samson continually - it came upon him to achieve specific things and was then withdrawn.

- When God had a special message for His people, the spirit would inspire someone to speak forth God's word. When the message was ended, the spirit gift of speaking directly on God's behalf was withdrawn, and that person's words would again be his own personal ones, rather than those of God. One of many examples:-

"The Spirit of God came upon Zechariah...and said unto them (the people), Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the Lord...?" (2 Chron. 24:20) See 2 Chron. 15:1,2 and Lk.4:18,19 for other examples.

From this it should be evident that receiving the gift of the use of God's spirit for a particular purpose was not

- A guarantee of salvation

- Something which endured all a person's life

- A mystical force within them

- Something gained by an ecstatic 'personal experience'.

It has to be said that there is much hazy reasoning about gifts of the Holy Spirit. People claim to have 'received the Holy Spirit', and in many a Gospel Hall the preacher dangles the carrot of 'receiving spirit gifts' before those considering 'accepting Jesus'. But the question must be pressed, Which gifts? It is inconceivable that men do not know exactly which gift they possess. Samson was given a spirit gift to kill a lion (Jud. 14:5,6); as he faced the roaring animal he would have known exactly what the spirit had been given him for. There could have been no doubt in his mind. This stands in stark contrast to those today who claim to have received the Holy Spirit, but cannot perform any specific act; nor do they know which gift(s) they are supposed to have.

There is surely no alternative but to conclude that such people have had a dramatic emotional experience connected with Christianity, and the subsequent U-turn in their attitude to life has left them with a strange feeling of newness within themselves. Being aware of this, they have seized on the Bible passages concerning Holy Spirit gifts, and concluded, 'This must be what I'm experiencing!' and their gleeful Pastor taps them under the chin and says, 'Dead right! Praise God!' and uses such cases as 'proof' when trying to convince others to receive the Holy Spirit. The root cause of this travesty lies in the lack of Biblical understanding which the person had before their supposed 'conversion'.

As we struggle against the deceptiveness of our own feelings (Jer. 17:9), we must keep our feet on the solid rock of Bible principles. In nothing is this need more apparent than in a study of how God's spirit works. We all like to think that God's power is working with us in our lives. But how and why is He doing so? Do we really possess the spirit gifts as men did in the Bible record? If we wish to truly know God and have a living relationship with Him, we will recognize the urgency of properly understanding these things.

Reasons For The Gifts In The First Century

Remembering the basic principles which we have already learnt about the gifts of God's spirit, we now come to the New Testament record of the spirit gifts which were possessed in the early church (i.e. the groups of believers who lived in the generation after the time of Jesus).

Christ's last command was for the apostles to go throughout the world preaching the Gospel (Mark 16:15,16) . This they did, with the theme of

Christ's death and resurrection foremost in their message. But remember that then there was no New Testament as we know it. As they stood in market places and synagogues speaking about this man Jesus of Nazareth, their story could have sounded bizarre - a carpenter from Israel who was perfect, who died and was then resurrected in accurate fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, and who was now asking them to be baptized and follow His example.

In those days, other men were also trying to develop cult followings. There had to be some way of proving to the world that the message preached by the Christians was from God Himself, rather than being the philosophy of a band of fishermen from Northern Israel.

In our day we appeal to the New Testament records of the work and doctrine of Jesus in order to prove that our message is from God; but in those days, before it was written down and available, God allowed the preachers the use of His Holy Spirit in order to underline the truth of what they were saying. This was the specific reason for the use of the gifts in the sight of the world; the absence of the written New Testament would have also made it difficult for the new groups of believers to grow in their faith. The numerous practical problems which arose amongst them would have had no clear solution; there would have been little means of guidance for them to grow in their faith in Christ. So for these reasons the gifts of the Holy Spirit were made available for the guidance of the early believers through inspired messages, until the New Testament record of these messages and the teaching of Jesus was written and circulated.

As ever, these reasons for the granting of the Holy Spirit were made abundantly plain:- "When he (Jesus) ascended up on high (to heaven) , he...gave (spirit) gifts unto men...for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the (preaching) ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ", i.e. the believers (Eph. 4:8,12).

- So Paul wrote to the believers at Rome, "I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established" (Rom. 1:11).

Concerning the use of the gifts to confirm the preaching of the Gospel, we read:-

- "Our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance" through the miracles wrought (1 Thess. 1:5 cp. 1 Cor. 1: 5,6).

- Paul could speak of "those things which Christ hath wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient by word and (miraculous) deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God" (Rom. 15:18,19)).

- Concerning the preachers of the Gospel, we read, "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers of the Holy Spirit" (Heb. 2:4).

- A Gospel preaching campaign in Cyprus was backed up by miracles, so that "the deputy (governor), when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine" (Acts 13:12).

Thus the miracles led him to really respect the doctrines being taught. At Iconium also, "the

Lord...gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done" (Acts 14:3).

All this is summarized by the comment on the apostles' obedience to the command to preach: "They went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following" (Mark 16:20).

Specific Things At Specific Times

These gifts of the spirit were therefore given in order to perform specific things at specific times. This shows the error of claiming that the miraculous possession of the gift is a permanent experience throughout a person's life. The apostles, including Peter, were "filled with the Holy Spirit" at the feast of Pentecost, soon after

Jesus' ascension (Acts 2:4). They were therefore able to speak in foreign languages in order to launch the preaching of the Christian Gospel in a spectacular way. When the authorities tried to clamp down on them, "Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit" was thereby able to convincingly answer them (Acts 4:8). On their release from prison they were enabled by the gifts to go on preaching -"they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31).

The watchful reader will spot that it does not say that "they, being already full of the spirit", did those things. They were filled with spirit to perform certain things, but had to be re-filled to achieve the next objective in God's plan. Paul likewise was "filled with the Holy Spirit" at his baptism, but years later he was to again be "filled with the Holy Spirit" in order to punish a wicked man with blindness (Acts 9:17: 13:9).

In speaking of the miraculous gifts, Paul wrote that the early believers possessed them "according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Eph. 4:7) . The Greek word for "measure" means "a limited portion or degree" (Strong's Concordance). Only Jesus had the gifts without measure, i.e. with total freedom to use them as He wished (John 3:34).

We will now define those spirit gifts which seem to have most mention as being possessed in the first century.

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