By Philip Cottraux
In his book The Untold Story of the New Testament Church (which has been a helpful resource in this series), Frank Viola wrote “Christianity is first and foremost an urban movement.”
This explains Paul’s strategy in where he planted churches. Cities were his primary targets, and the more immoral and degraded, the brighter the gospel light could shine. International traffic could provide hotspots where Christian could reach travelers from around the world, who would then take the message of Jesus back with them to their home countries.
Five years after he wrote Galatians, in 51 AD, Paul traveled to Corinth, the capital of Southern Greece (Achaia), and planted a church. At the time, Corinth was referred to as the city that connected the eastern and western worlds. It was a decadent metropolis of trade and a melting pot of different cultures. But it was also a cesspool of immorality. Diversity meant the city was littered with a vast array of temples to idol gods. History shows that prostitutes stood outside of the temple of Aphrodite, inviting random passersby to come inside and commit fornication. Wild parties and drunkenness went hand-in-hand with many cults. And against all odds, Paul decided to take the gospel here.
Not surprisingly, the church was immediately plagued with problems. Only five years later, Paul received a horrifying report on their status. The pressure from the sinful world around them was proving too much for them. Many were giving up and going back to idolatry. Worse still, some were accepting a doctrine that declared sin was permissible. Called “Hellenistic dualism,” this strange mixture of theologies stated that one’s soul was untouchable and already in a state of heaven, and what happened to the body didn’t matter. Therefore, the body could commit whatever sins imaginable, and the soul was still bound for heaven (sound familiar?).
Many other problems abounded. Some Christians were choosing which disciple they were loyal to: Apollos, Paul, or Peter; and this was causing great division. Pagan worshipers were disrupting the services, bringing confusion. Women were openly defying their husbands and refusing to wear wedding veils (in ancient times, a veil was a sign that a woman was married and not to be pursued romantically, similar to the ring today). Worshipers who hated each other were standing up and shouting competing messages in tongues, causing services to descend into chaos.
Combatting confusion is the theme of Paul’s urgent letter to the church in Corinth, which is why he wrote Let all things be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). In each chapter, he specifically addresses each problem, with the hopes of restoring order, , re-establishing standards of holiness, and encouraging the faithful in Christ.
In chapter 12, Paul begins to explain the importance of spiritual gifts. Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant (verse 1). Remember last week that I said that the Holy Spirit is crucial in producing the nine fruits of the Spirit in your life; you can’t have an apple without an apple tree. The spiritual gifts are the same way; first and foremost, you must have the Holy Ghost to have any of them. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit (verse 4). Furthermore, I also believe that each gift can only come through much prayer and fasting. Far too many people in the church claim to have one of the nine gifts but have never fasted, and this can easily lead to fanaticism. Matthew 17:21: Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
The difference between the nine fruits and the nine gifts is that the fruits are for the individual Christian to produce in their lives on a daily basis: love, joy, peace, etc. The nine gifts, however, are not for every believer. They are for every church, and all churches should have all nine gifts of the Spirit in operation to effectively win souls. Unfortunately, the gifts are lacking sorely in the Christian church today and that is why we are spiritually anemic.
The nine gifts will bring clarity, but now we have many different denominations because we are experiencing the same kind of chaos that tore apart the church in Corinth. Any fanatical preacher can proclaim anything unscriptural and Christians around America will swallow it up. Just like the Corinthians were troubled by Hellenistic dualism, far too many of God’s children believe false doctrine in this hour. Restoring the nine gifts in churches will correct this, just as Paul explained.
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Each of the nine gifts is for certain people, depending on what ministry they are called to. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Let’s start by examining the first two: wisdom and knowledge. These are very special gifts that are most useful for preachers and teachers. As a teacher and writer, I fasted and prayed for these long ago (I leave it up to my students and readers to decide whether the Lord answered this prayer or not). With this gift, God is able to use one for supernatural revelations of the Word. They can read and study the Bible and the Spirit will open their eyes mysteries of God.
The first two gifts seem to go hand-in-hand, and so do the next three: faith, healing, and miracles. With divine, supernatural faith comes the gift of healing, as miracles can only happen through absolute faith. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole (Luke 17:19). Praying for the sick is one of the biggest responsibilities a child of God can take on. Mark 16:17-18: And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues…they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
The gift of healing was an important part of Jesus’ ministry as well as the Early Church. After he received the Holy Ghost, Peter was so anointed that people were healed merely by touching his shadow. Paul too had this gift and miracles took place from handkerchiefs he wore while preaching. Acts 19:11-12: And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.
Without the gift of healing, the church today can still see miracles. In its place, we can use anointing oil and pray over blankets for the sick (I have seen miracles in my own church through this method). However, we will be more effective if more people will seek the gift.
Prophecy and discernment are the next two spiritual gifts. I am not entirely persuaded that all nine gifts are for the laity; some are for church leaders or evangelists only. True prophecy is sorely missing from today’s church. Prophets played an important role in the Old Testament as well as the Early Church. But today, this is perhaps the most commonly counterfeited of the nine spiritual gifts, as people want to claim to be prophets but never fast or pray for it. They’ll give personal prophecies in services, bringing the same kind of fanaticism that Paul was trying to stop in the church at Corinth.
(For more on the gift of prophecy, read my three-part series, “Despise Not Prophesyings,” found here, here, and here).
Discernment is important for children of God on a regular basis, and the lack of our ability to discern false doctrine from truth is having catastrophic effects on the church. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).
However, the divine spiritual gift of discernment is something else altogether. With it comes the ability to have visions and actually see demons and angels. If more pastors and evangelists had it they would be better equipped to put a stop to demonic spirits entering their churches, through false doctrines or wolves in sheep’s clothing. The gift of discernment operated stronger in Paul than perhaps any other Christian who ever lived, as he was able to use it to straighten out churches throughout the New Testament. It also brought him the vision of being transported into the Third Heaven (II Corinthians 2:12).
Divers tongues and interpretations is unfortunately another neglected gift in the church today. Most denominations outside of Pentecost have taken I Corinthians 14 to mean that no tongues should be allowed in church without an interpreter, but then themselves never have messages in tongues or interpretations. This is how God speaks directly to each church; the Holy Spirit falls on one with a message in tongues and gives the interpretation to the other. The lack of working together is like static in our communication with the Lord; He is not able to clearly reach us with His Word or prophecies.
(For more on the gift of divers tongues and interpretations, as well as the difference between that and the Holy Ghost baptism, read here).
It is rare, and in most cases unnecessary, for one person to have all nine gifts of the Spirit. But did Paul? I think so. Study his life and you’ll find examples of each one operating in his ministry. My challenge for every church member is to ask the Lord which of the nine gifts He would have you to seek. If you are a pastor or teacher, I highly recommend the wisdom and knowledge. Preachers and evangelists should seek the gifts of healing, miracles, prophecies, and discernment. Our members are starving for tongues and interpretations.
We also need to have great respect and reverence for these nine gifts and not fall into the same trap of chaos and confusion as the Corinthian church. These gifts require the baptism of the Holy Ghost as well as much prayer and fasting before they are granted by God; He does not freely give them out to anyone. Which is also why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:33: For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.