This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
In the previous eleven studies in this series we have been dealing with different aspects of the nine supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. By way of a kind of epilogue in this study we’ll deal with the practical question, that is, how can a believer who believes that these gifts are for today enter into the exercise of these gifts in a scriptural way? I want in this study to offer you some practical words of instruction and advice. Of course, the actual doing of it is outside the scope of a study such as this.
The first thing we need to remember is the basis of all service for God can be summed up in one simple word and that word is faith. Let’s look in Hebrews 11:6.
“But without faith it is impossible to please him [that is, God]; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
There’s a very clear statement which is often overlooked by religious people. It does not say without morality it is impossible to please God, it says without faith it is impossible to please God. Of course, God demands morality, but morality by itself does not commend us to God. The only basis on which we can be accepted of God is the basis of faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. He that cometh to God must believe, must exercise faith.
He must believe two things. First of all, that God is, that God exists. Lots of people believe that, but it is not sufficient by itself. Secondly, he must believe that God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. In other words, I must believe, to apply it to me, that if I come to God and seek Him diligently according to His Word, He will reward me according to His Word. If I do not believe that, I do not have the right basis on which to approach Him.
So, here is the basic requirement for any form of service for the Lord. It’s faith. This applies very definitely and specifically to the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The basic requirement is faith. You can look at this stated the other way around in Romans 14:23, just the latter part of the verse.
“... whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
That again is absolutely clear. Anything that is not done in faith is not acceptable to God. It may be a religious activity, it may be going to church, it may be singing hymns. It may be even praying. But if it’s not done in faith it’s sin because God has set this one basic requirement which He will not vary. Any approach to God and any service for God must be based on faith in God.
Seeing that faith is so essential it is reasonable to inquire, How then can I receive the faith that God requires? This is stated in the Scripture in Romans 10:17.
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Let me offer you one beautiful encouraging thought. It lies in the word cometh. Faith comes. If you haven’t got it, you can get it. Don’t sit back in despair, passive and say, “I haven’t got faith. It’s no good.” I learned this lesson in a very personal way lying in a hospital bed during the Second World War for 12 months. I said to myself again and again, “I know if I had faith God would heal me.” And then the next thing I said to myself was, “It doesn’t seem that I have faith.” There I was back again in the “Slough of Despond.”
One day I read a book which contained this Scripture, Romans 10:17: “So then faith cometh by hearing ...” My spirit grasped onto that statement “faith cometh,” and it was a ray of piercing light in the darkness. I realized that if I didn’t have faith I could get it, if I would meet the conditions. I looked at the conditions and I saw the conditions are these. “By hearing the word of God.” Actually, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes from the word of God.” This is important to see. There’s an intermediate stage which is hearing. Many, many people read the Bible or listen to a sermon. The Word of God is there, but they don’t hear it. God showed me all this in experience; I’m not offering you theory. God showed me that faith does not come till we hear what He says in His Word. It’s possible to read the Bible without hearing. It’s possible to hear a sermon and yet not hear it. God showed me that one great obstacle to hearing is that we already know what we think God is going to say and we don’t listen if He says something different.
This was my problem with healing. I needed healing and when I read what the Bible said about healing my response was, “That’s too good to be true; it couldn’t be that way.” God had to show me that I could not receive faith until I would lay down my own opinions, men’s opinions, religious traditions, denomination teachings and listen to what God was saying to me in His Word. When I did, faith began to come.
So, one of the most important things in the Christian life is to cultivate hearing, the ability to hear what God is saying in His Word. This normally takes time. A person that does not take time in God’s presence and in the presence of the Word doesn’t learn to hear. I had plenty of time, I had 12 months. I thank God I learned what it is to hear. I quieted my spirit, I cleared my mind of preconceptions and traditions and prejudices and I just waited for God to speak to my spirit—and He did. Then faith came.
So, this applies also in the receiving and exercising of spiritual gifts. The basic requirement is faith.
How can you receive faith if you don’t have it? By hearing what God says.
Now, of course, you have to hear that part of God’s Word which relates to the exercise of spiritual gifts. So, in the next part of this study I’m going to present to you eight successive truths out of the Word of God which, if you hear, will build your faith for receiving and exercising spiritual gifts. It will only do it if you hear them. And, in many cases to hear what God is saying you have to do the same as I had to do—you have to clear your mind of human traditions, denominational teachings, personal prejudices and be prepared to let God speak to you and teach you.
I remember so vividly as I lay on that hospital bed and studied the subject of healing I said to myself—I said something like this, I don’t exactly remember. “If the Bible really means what it says then it’s God’s will for me to be healed and to be healthy all my life.” God forgive me for saying “If the Bible really means what it says,” but that was my attitude. Then I thought to myself, “That couldn’t be true, that’s too good to be true,” because I still had the old religious background. Religion is a pretty wearisome business and you have to endure it rather than enjoy it. One day when I was thinking like this it was just as if God spoke to me. I don’t say He did, but it was just like an inner dialogue. I was saying, “Really, that’s too good to be true.” It was as if the Lord said to me, “Just wait a minute. Who is the pupil and who is the Teacher?” I said, “Lord, you’re the teacher, and I’m the pupil.” The Lord said, “Would you mind letting Me teach you?” Then I saw the point.
So, this study that’s coming now will benefit you in this respect of receiving and exercising spiritual gifts if you let the Lord teach you, if you hear what He says in His Word. I’m going to give you eight successive related truths from the Scripture in relation to spiritual gifts. First of all, let’s consider the purpose of spiritual gifts in relation to God. Let’s always put God first. Turn to 1 Peter 4:10–11:
“As every man hath received [a] gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold [or many sided] grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever, Amen.”
Notice that Peter assumes (as we shall see Paul does also in a few moments), that each believer will have a gift. He does not speak about any believer not having a gift. “As every man,” “as each one has received a gift,” even so minister the same. You cannot minister what you do not have. When Peter and John were going up to the Beautiful Gate of the temple and the lame man stretched out his hand for alms Peter said to him, “Silver and gold have I none.” I can’t give you that, because I don’t have it. “But such as I have give I unto thee.” That’s very logical, if you don’t have it, you can’t give it. If you haven’t received the gift, you can’t minister. But, Peter assumed every believer has received a gift. As every man hath received a gift, even so minister the same one to another, be good stewards of God’s many sided grace which is manifested in these grace gifts. If you speak, speak as the mouthpiece of God. If you minister, do it out of the strength or the ability that God gives. With what purpose? “That God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” What’s the supreme purpose of the gifts? That God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. Every time we exercise spiritual gifts in accordance with the Word of God we are bringing glory to God through Jesus Christ. And every time we fail to exercise a spiritual gift when we might have done, we are robbing God of His glory. The exercise of spiritual gifts brings glory to God through Jesus Christ.
Towards man the purpose of the spiritual gift is edification, the building up of the believers. Turn to 1 Corinthians 14 and notice that this word edify is really the key word in the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Actually, either as a verb or a noun it occurs seven times in the chapter. We will not look at each occurrence but we will look at several of them. First Corinthians 14:4:
“He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself [builds himself up]; but he that prophesieth edifieth [builds up] the church [the assembled company of believers].”
“I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.”
And then in verse 12:
“Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.”
And in verse 26:
“How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”
One of the main means by which Christians are enabled to edify themselves and then edify other believers is by the exercise of spiritual gifts. If we do not exercise spiritual gifts we are robbing ourselves and we are robbing others of the means of edification.
This is not purely related to me personally because if I fail to exercise a spiritual gift I could be exercising, not merely am I robbing myself but I’m robbing the church. For instance, let me give an obvious example, this is true of interpretation. If I’m in a group of believers and an utterance is given in an unknown tongue that requires interpretation, and if, because of fear or embarrassment or some other such motive, I receive but refuse to give the interpretation, not only am I robbing myself, I’m robbing the whole group of believers of the blessing that would have come to them, the edification, through that interpretation.
So, really, we are guilty if we do not exercise the spiritual gifts that we could and should be exercising. When we exercise them, what we bring to the whole body of Christ is edification.
Now then, the third fact that I want to bring out, and it’s really implied already in what we have said, is that it’s the will of God for each believer to exercise spiritual gifts. It’s not something that’s confined to a few gifted individuals who are preachers or missionaries or evangelists. The New Testament clearly pictures every congregation of believers being made up of believers, each of whom is able to exercise spiritual gifts. Notice what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7 about these gifts.
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”
Where it says “every man” in King James, it would be better in modern English to say “to each believer to profit withal.” For a useful, profitable purpose.
And, at the end of the list of gifts in verse 11 Paul says again:
“But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”
In modern English: “dividing to each believer individually as He will.” The emphasis is on each individual believer receiving and exercising spiritual gifts.
The next fact that I want to bring out, the fourth fact in this list of important spiritual truths about the exercise of spiritual gifts is that there is no conflict between love and gifts. This is one of the most absurd things that has been allowed to grip the minds of millions of professing Christians, that somehow gifts are in opposition to love and if you really want love then you should receive gifts. The attitude of the people that bring this theory is something like this, as a rule. “Well, brother, I’ve got love and you can keep your gift.” I will say from experience I have learned to question just how much love people have that talk like that. They don’t have as much as they think they have. It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that love and the gifts of God are in opposition to one another. It is completely contrary to what the Scripture says.
Let’s look at the words of Paul in two passages here. In 1 Corinthians 12:31 Paul says:
“But covet earnestly the best gifts [“Covet earnestly” is a tremendously strong phrase. And then the King James says:] yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”
I prefer to translate it this way, “And I will show unto you a yet more excellent way.” We all agree that the more excellent way which is spoken of in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is love. Remember that love is not a gift; it is never called a gift. It’s called “fruit,” it’s called “a way,” but it’s never called a “gift.” Some people tell you love is the best gift, but they’re not on scriptural grounds because it isn’t what the Bible says. Paul says, “Covet earnestly the best gifts, and I will show unto you a yet more excellent way.” Now, to my understanding this means that the condition for being shown the more excellent way is coveting earnestly the best gifts. So, far from being in opposition to one another, coveting the best gifts, in a certain sense, is a condition of being shown the more excellent way which is love.
Then, Paul goes on to the beautiful 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, which deals with the nature of the kind of love we are to receive as Christians and immediately going onto the 14th chapter finishing off that 13th chapter and moving on again, Paul says:
“Follow after charity [that is love], and desire spiritual gifts...”
You would think a lot of Christians had in their Bible “or desire spiritual gifts.” In other words, you’ve got to make a choice. If I want love, I can’t have gifts and if I have gifts, I can’t have love. But that’s absolutely contrary. Paul says, “Seek love by all means and desire spiritual gifts.”
This is perfectly logical because actually, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the channels through which divine love flows. If you don’t have any gifts, you seal off love. It has no channel through which to operate. Let me give you a simple, childish example. Imagine a mother with a sick child and the mother sits there by the child’s bed and says, “Honey, I love you” and does nothing. She doesn’t put her hand on the child’s head to pray for it, she doesn’t bring the child a drink of water, she doesn’t offer the child medicine, she doesn’t phone the doctor. Well, really that isn’t love. And if it’s love, it’s love frustrated, that’s all we can say because love must have a means of expression. If that woman is operating on a spiritual plane she says, “Honey, I love you and I’ll pray for you.” If she’s operating on the natural plane she says, “Honey, I’ll phone the doctor.” But she’ll do something. To talk about love but do nothing is contrary to Scripture. The kind of love that Paul speaks about is love that acts, love that ministers, love that edifies. If we love our fellow believers we’ll want to edify them. How do we edify them? With spiritual gifts.
Why does Paul say, “but rather that ye may prophesy” in that first verse of 1 Corinthians 14? Because by prophesying we edify our fellow believers. Edifying them we express our love. If we sit there and do nothing for them, what’s the good of telling them that we love them? As a matter of fact, I would offer this observation. Love should not be spoken about, it should be acted out. I’ve had people come to me and say, “Brother, I love you.” It sounds good, but I wait for action. I tell you, I’ve become somewhat cynical. I’ll tell you something else which will sound very cynical but it’s my experience and I’ve got it the hard way. If a preacher never preaches about anything but love, I always find myself saying, “What’s wrong with his life? or What’s wrong with his doctrine?
You don’t find that the New Testament does nothing but preach about love. Actually, in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul speaks about love for 13 verses. You don’t need to turn there but if you turn to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul speaks about money for 39 verses. Three times as many verses about money as about love. Does that mean that money is more important than love? No. But it means that if we love we’re going to do something. And one of the things we’re going to do is use our money for God and for the people of God. If we keep speaking about love but our money doesn’t follow our love, then we don’t have too much love. Love and money are closely related. I’m not talking now in the material realm of finance tonight, although it’s important. I’m talking about the realm of the gifts. If we have love we will desire to express this love by the exercise of spiritual gifts. To talk about love and do nothing is really to deceive ourselves.
There’s also the aspect of our love towards God. Let’s look at this fifth fact. If we love God we will desire to receive and exercise His gifts. Can you imagine a parent, let me say, a mother baking a beautiful birthday cake for her daughter, putting on the icing and everything, taking hours over it and when the birthday comes the little girl says, “Mommy, I love you, but I don’t want your cake.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a child talk like that! It’s really a denial of love. Or, imagine a young man that saves up for the lady that he loves and wants to marry. He buys her a beautiful diamond ring. She says, “Honey, I love you but I don’t want your ring.” I’ll guarantee they never get married. It isn’t love to reject the gift of the one whom we love. And it is not love for God to refuse God’s gifts. If we talk that way, we’re deceiving ourselves.
Let’s look at what the Scripture says. Matthew 7:11:
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
And, in the parallel passage in Luke 11:13 you’ll find that instead of “good things” the text reads “the Holy Spirit.” Luke 11:13:
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
It’s exactly parallel. Imagine the little girl whose mother has baked the beautiful cake coming to mother and saying, “Well, mother, I’m not sure that that cake is any good. Maybe you put something in it which will upset my stomach.” See? What kind of a relationship is that? If Christians talk to God and say, “Well, God, these gifts of the Holy Spirit that are written about in Your Word, I really don’t think they’re of much use.” Really, it’s almost being irreverent.
I’ve heard about people—and funny enough, they were Episcopalians—who said, “I’ll have the baptism in the Holy Spirit even if it means talking in tongues.” I said for me to speak that way about something that God gives is irreverent. If God gives speaking in tongues then I’m not saying evil about it. I’m not criticizing anything that my heavenly Father has prepared from eternity for my benefit. If I do, I’m a very wayward child.
Look also in James 1:16–17.
“Do not err, my beloved brethren. [I always wondered why that was there till I read the next verse. I couldn’t make up my mind what it had to do with, you know? Do not err, my beloved brethren. Then I saw one day how it goes with the next verse.] Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
God never gives you anything that isn’t perfect. Don’t be under any misapprehension. If it comes from God, it’s good. If you’re questioning the value of the worth of God’s gift, you have a wrong picture of God. Don’t err, my beloved brethren. This is what James is saying. God’s gifts are eminently to be desired; they’re to be coveted; they’re to be sought after. To refuse them is not to show love for God but the very opposite. The more we love God the more we’ll appreciate His gifts. If we turn down the gifts which have cost God so dearly, the blood of His Son shed on the cross, we’re grieving the Father’s heart. We’re grieving the Savior’s heart, too.
Of course, we’ve heard so many times—some of us, I suppose most of us—that the gifts ended with the early church. I haven’t found one suggestion of this in all Scripture. I tell you, I’ve read the Bible through a good many times. I read it every day and I’ve read it every day for something like thirty years. I have never found one text in Scripture that even suggests that the gifts ended with the apostolic age. As a matter of fact, when did the apostolic age end? If the apostolic age lasts as long as there are apostles, then as far as I understand Scripture the apostolic age is going to last till the end of this age. That’s another question we won’t go into tonight. At any rate, let’s look at what the Scripture says. First Corinthians 1:7. We have to read from verse 4 to get the context.
“I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ...”
Some of you will recall that at the beginning of this series of studies I said there was a direct relationship between the word grace and the word gift. Charis: grace, charisma: grace gift. Paul is in line with this thought here. I thank God for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ, which is manifested in His grace gifts.
“... that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift [charisma]; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ...”
So, how long are the gifts to continue in the church? Until our Lord Jesus comes. And the church that’s waiting for the Lord Jesus is not to be lacking in any of the gifts.
Notice what Paul says the gifts do. “In every thing ye are enriched by him.” A church without gifts is an impoverished church. “In all utterance”—there are the gifts of utterance. “And in all knowledge”— there are the gifts of revelation. “Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you”—the gifts confirmed the testimony of Jesus Christ. When the gifts are in operation, people know that Jesus is there, they know He’s still alive, they know He’s not a theory, He’s not a remote figure from the past, but He’s still alive. When the lame walk and the blind see and gifts of revelation are in operation, people know that Jesus is alive and He’s in the midst of the church. The testimony of Christ is confirmed.
Paul goes on in verse 8 definitely with reference to the close of the age:
“... who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Those two verses, 7 and 8 of 1 Corinthians 1, emphasize the fact that these gifts are to continue in the church right up to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the end of the age.
As a matter of fact, the suggestion in the New Testament is not that the gifts will be withdrawn but rather that they’ll become increasingly manifest as the age comes to its close. Turn to Acts 2 and just read verses 17–18:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy...”
Then it says in verse 20:
“... the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come...”
We know that this is the day of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory and in power.
So, the conclusion is clear—that these supernatural gifts spoken about here: prophesy, tongues, revelation, the whole picture of the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit is to continue and become increasingly manifest in the church as the age comes to its close. “In the last days, saith God, I’ll pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.” If they were already in the last days when Peter stood up and spoke on the Day of Pentecost, how much more are we in the last days nearly two thousand years later? So, if the gifts are to be manifested in the church in the last days (and we believe we’re right at the close of this age, as I believe myself), then we should look for more and more of the gifts. And, that is precisely what is happening. The gifts are being restored in an ever-increasing measure almost daily in the days in which we are now living.
And, there’s another reason for this. Because, Satan’s power is going to increase. The closer we come to the end of the age, the more Satan is going to fight back, the more he’s going to seek to use and manifest his supernatural power through those who are the channels and the instruments of what he seeks to do. Let’s just look at two passages in the epistles to Timothy. First Timothy 4:1:
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of [demons]...”
Notice there’s going to be an increasing activity of seducing religious spirits and demons bringing false doctrines within the church at the close of this age. How unreasonable it would be if God were to allow Satan to increase the power that he manifests through his servants and decrease the power that God offers to His. That would be altogether illogical.
Then again, in 2 Timothy 3:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
See? There’s going to be a great moral decline which we see all around us at the close of this age. Some of the people that are going to experience this moral decline are religious people who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. The power of true godliness is the power of the Holy Spirit. So, we’re warned against denying the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the church at the close of this age because Satan’s power is becoming increasingly manifest.
And in 2 Timothy 3:13, again with reference to the close of the age, we’re told this:
“Evil men and seducers [but the Greek word is magicians or those that deliberately cultivate satanic powers] ... Evil men and [magicians] shall wax worse and worse [as the age closes], deceiving, and being deceived.”
How much more then should the Christians be endued with greater and greater power by the Holy Spirit?
The seventh fact which I want to draw your attention to is this, that Jesus did not allow His own apostles to go out and to begin to minister or to preach or to take on any kind of service for Him until they’d been supernaturally endued with the power of the Holy Spirit. Notice what He said right at the close of His earthly ministry in Luke 24:49:
“And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”
Don’t go out and start preaching but wait in the city of Jerusalem till the promise of the Holy Spirit comes upon you.
And in Acts 1:8 He gave the same warning again about the same time right at the close of His ministry. In fact, the words in Acts 1:8 are the last words He spoke on earth before He was taken up into heaven. He said:
“Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy [Spirit has] come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”
He envisaged the gospel going forth to the utmost part of the earth always being propagated by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.
Then the eighth fact, and this is the last in the series of truths that can build our faith, I want to point out to you that God has ordained that the gospel should be preached with signs following. Let’s read the words in Mark 16 and some other Scriptures that go with them. Mark 16:15–20:
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. [Verse 17:] And these signs shall follow them that believe...”
And He gives five supernatural signs that will follow the preaching of the gospel by believers and to believers.
... In my name shall they cast out [demons]; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. This is God’s pattern. Preach, and He will confirm the Word with signs following and this is to go on until every creature has heard and the gospel has been preached to the whole world—which has never yet happened. So, the reason for it has never yet ceased to be in effect.
Notice how the early church did it. Let’s look at the ministry of Philip in Acts 8:5–7:
“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.”
Notice the attestation of Philip’s message were the supernatural signs that accompanied his preaching. Notice the incident when Paul and his company were shipwrecked on the island of Malta in Acts 28, just looking at a few verses there. Beginning at verse 3. They were gathering sticks to light a fire and it says:
“And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”
Now they were prepared for the message he had. What prepared them? Not a lot of seminary training but one supernatural demonstration of the power of God.
Then we read:
“In the same quarters [there] were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously. And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him. So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed: who also honoured us with many honors; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary.”
Notice, two supernatural signs arrested the attention of all those barbarians, heathens, pagans in that area and opened them up to the preaching of the gospel, made them friendly to that company, and were the instruments for supplying the needs of those people.
The same needs, the same situations exist in the world today. Romans 15:18–19, Paul says this:
“For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the [Holy] Spirit ...: so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
What does it mean to “fully preach the gospel of Christ”? It means supernatural attestation by the power of the Holy Spirit with signs and wonders. What is the result of this supernatural attestation? It is to make the Gentiles obedient. I say this with a considerable amount of missionary experience. You only get a certain measure of obedience, you get outward compliance with ceremonies and forms and requirements of a religious type but the real submission of the heart does not come till people experience the supernatural power of God. That’s what changes people and makes them real disciples. I’ve seen both and I know what I’m talking about. You can get the heathen to go through forms, you can get them baptized, you can get them to join the church, you can get them to put on clothes, you can get them to go to school just as you can in other countries. But, the real obedience of the heart doesn’t come until they have supernatural attestation that they’re dealing with a real living God. That makes them obedient. That’s God’s way.
Let’s look at Hebrews 2 and we’ll finish with this section of our study. Hebrews 2:3–4. The writer of Hebrews gives various reasons why we should attend with great reverence to the gospel message.
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy [Spirit], according to his own will?”
There are three reasons why the gospel commands the attention of the human race. First of all, it began to be declared by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Secondly, it was recorded and handed down by those who heard Him personally, by those who were eyewitnesses. Thirdly, God bears testimony to His Word with supernatural signs and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those are the three reasons why the human race is required to give serious attention to God’s Word in the gospel. We have still the same obligation to present a gospel which is supernaturally attested by God if we demand the complete obedience of those to whom we preach.
Now I’d like to take a little while in this study, giving you some practical directions, as to how to move out in this realm of exercising spiritual gifts. I happen to have eight suggestions corresponding, I suppose, to the eight truths that we looked at first in the first part of the study. First of all, let’s look in Matthew 5:15 for a moment.
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”
I think anywhere in the Scripture that you read about a candlestick it’s a type of a church. Revelation 1:20 says the seven candlesticks are the seven churches. In the old days, lamps were lit, they were filled with oil and ignited. Then they were placed on a lampstand, which is the correct translation rather than a candlestick. If a lighted lamp was going to do any real good, it had to be placed on a lampstand. If you put it under a bed or under a vessel of some kind, though it was lighted, it would give no light to the rest of the house. So, it was not enough just to light the individual lamp, it had to be placed in its correct position on the lampstand.
The Scripture says in Proverbs 20:27 that the spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord. The baptism in the Holy Spirit ignited the spirit of man and sets it burning. But, that is not sufficient. That ignited lamp which is the individual believer, must then be put in its correct place on the lampstand, which is the church, the congregation, the body of Christ functioning together. I will tell you this, that there will be a very definite limit to the measure in which you will exercise spiritual gifts if you’re not rightly united to a group of believers who believe in and accept and exercise the gifts. You can go back to your church, whichever that may be and it matters to me not the least bit which one it is. But if your church doesn’t preach the gospel, doesn’t preach the baptism, doesn’t exercise spiritual gifts, you will have very little opportunity to exercise spiritual gifts there. You will be frustrated and eventually the probability is you’ll be quenched and you’ll become just a kind of smoky vessel that once had fire. The correct place for the lamp is on the lampstand. You must get into fellowship with other believers that have received the same experiences and stand for the same truth. Then, the combined light of those individual lamps put together on the stand will really give light to all that are in the house. This is an essential requirement for correctly functioning with the gifts of the Spirit; it’s to be in fellowship with other believers that are likewise exercising these gifts.
The second point that I want to make is a very important point of order and it’s brought out in Romans 12, reading just from verses 4–8.
“For as we have any members in one body, and all members have not the same office [I prefer to say “function”]: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry...”
Paul gives various different kinds of gifts that we may operate. But, I want you to see that there’s a logical order. The first thing you have to find is not what gifts you have, but what is your function in the body. Are you to be a foot, are you to be an ear, are you to be a hand, are you to be a toe? What are you to be? Because, God has got a specific place for you in the body of Christ, a specific function for you to fulfill and He’s not going to change His mind. If God has ordained you to be a hand it’s no good trying to operate as a foot because you’ll always be frustrated and you’ll never really be effective. If God intends you to be a hand He’ll give you the faith needed to operate as a hand. But, He will not give you the faith needed to operate as a foot.
You see, people that are always struggling for faith are really advertising the fact that they’re not in the right place in the body. My hand has no problem operating as a hand. It does it without a lot of bother or fuss. I don’t have to think about it, it’s not a conscious effort; it just does it. But, if I were to try to make my hand act like a foot there would be effort all the time. There would be strain, there would be bother, there would be frustration because my hand wasn’t intended to do that. And where Christians are straining and ill at ease and continually struggling for faith, you can be sure of one thing, they’re not in the place in the body where they should be. They’re not fulfilling their divinely appointed function.
If you find your right function in the body you will find that God has given you the proportion (or measure) of faith that is necessary to do that particular function. And out of that measure of faith you will find there will begin to appear the gifts that are needed to make you effective. You see, there’s one kind of gift needed to make you a hand, another kind of gift needed to make you a foot. If God has designed you to be a hand don’t seek the gifts that will make you a foot because there will always be conflict.
What is the lesson? It’s this. There are three successive phases. First, find your function in the body. Second, you’ll begin to find that you’ve got the faith that is needed. God has dealt you a measure of faith, it’s already done. But, if you don’t have enough faith the reason is you’re not in the place where you should be. Find the place and you’ll find the faith that goes with it. And, out of the faith will come forth the gifts that are appropriate to your function. For instance, if a man is called to be an evangelist he needs probably certain kinds of gifts. Maybe the gift of healing, the gift of miracles. But, if a man is called to be a prophet he may need different types of gifts: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, discernings of spirits. So, the gifts go with the function. If you don’t find the right function there will never be the right operation of the gifts in your life.
I trust that’s clear and I’m going to say it once again. This is the order. Find your function. You’ll find the faith, and out of the faith will develop the operation of the appropriate gifts that you need to function effectively.
Let’s look at the third point which is stated there: signs follow those who go. We’ve already read Mark 16, I don’t think we need to read it again. Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world.” He didn’t say sit in church. Then it says, “They went and the Lord confirmed the word with signs following.” You see, I put there: You cannot follow a parked car! If you park your car in the church parking lot and sit there for the rest of your life, how can anything follow you? You can only follow something that’s moving. See, people have said to me many times, “Brother Prince, what shall I do to have spiritual gifts?” I say, “Are you sure you need them? Because, if all you want to do is sit in church and sing hymns, you don’t need any spiritual gifts for that. So, don’t seek them. If that’s your idea of Christianity, well, you don’t need gifts.” People have been going on century after century sitting in church singing hymns without any gifts.
As a matter of fact, many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit will never operate in the ordinary institutional type church service—even if people are baptized in the Holy Spirit. You consider the Pentecostal movement that operates within the framework of the institutional church. The only gifts that they ever really see in operation are tongues, interpretation and prophecy. They never see gifts of healing, they never see a word of wisdom, they never see a word of knowledge. I’ve been in Pentecostal churches where people have been baptized in the Spirit twenty and thirty years and never once operated any of those gifts. You know the reason why? Because they don’t fit in in an institutional type of church service. You can’t really operate the word of wisdom at the back of somebody else’s neck. See? Which is all you really see of people in a church setting.
I’ve seen young people have the gumption to go out and travel around the world, maybe Youth With a Mission is a good example. Young people that are in their teens go out and begin to evangelize in remote islands. Remarkable miracles follow. Did they go to a Bible school and learn how to get miracles? No. They began to go, and before they knew what was happening the signs began to follow. The signs follow those that go. If you want signs following, get ready to go.
The next thing we have to remember is the distribution of the gifts is according to the will of God.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 12:11:
“All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he [the Spirit] will.”
And Hebrews 2:4 says: God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy [Spirit], according to his own will?
So, we cannot set our will up in opposition to the will of God and say, “I will have this or that spirit.” Romans 8:14 says as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. If we want to live as sons of God we have to cultivate being led by the Holy Spirit. This is a basic requirement of all Christian living. It applies to the operation of spiritual gifts as much as to anything else. They will not operate if we are not being led continually by the Holy Spirit.
Now then, some people have this attitude: “If God wills, then He’ll give it to me.” That’s not logical. You see, some people have this attitude about praying for the sick. “Well, if it’s God’s will, God will heal this man.” I say, if you’re only saved a few weeks God will listen to that. But if you’ve been saved several years and you pray that prayer, it’s the result of laziness because at the end of several years you should know the will of God so far as it’s revealed in His word. You shouldn’t have to say, “God, if it’s your will” when God’s will is revealed in the word. That’s not reverence; that’s laziness.
And, there are certain gifts of the Holy Spirit which are revealed in the Word of God to be the Word of God for all believers. I want to show you three, the three vocal gifts. Tongues, interpretation, and prophecy. Look in 1 Corinthians 14:5. Paul says:
“I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied...”
How many does he say should speak with tongues? All. But, better still, if you all prophesy. You say, “Brother Prince, that’s just what Paul said.” But I want you to see what he said in verse 37 of the same chapter in relation to the things that he has said.
“If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
He was not writing his personal opinion, he was writing by divine revelation with divine authority and he said, “I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesy.” So, that puts speaking with tongues and prophesying within the revealed will of God for all believers. If you’ll move out into it, God has shown you it’s His will.
Let’s look in 1 Corinthians 14:13.
“Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.”
God says, “If you’re in the situation where you speak in an unknown tongue, there’s no other interpreter, you can pray to interpret.” God’s Word would not tell you to pray for something that it is not His will for you to have. That’s logical, isn’t it? So, if God says, “Pray for it,” that means it’s His will for you to have it.
Then in 1 Corinthians 14:31 Paul says:
“Ye may all prophesy ...”
How many may prophesy? All. How many may speak with tongues? All. If anybody speaks with tongues what may he pray for? To interpret. As I understand the Scriptures, speaking with tongues, interpreting and prophesying are within the will of God revealed for all believers, revealed in the supreme authority which is the Word of God.
Now then, let’s come to the point of receiving. Asking and receiving. Luke 11:9–13. I want to read these words to you and I want you to see the context.
“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
In the parallel passage, Matthew 7:11, Jesus says:
“... how much more shall your [heavenly] Father ... give good things to them that ask him? If you ask God for something good will He give you something evil? The answer is never. If you ask for an egg will He give you a scorpion? Never. If you ask for a fish will He give you a snake? Never. If you ask for bread will He give you a stone? Never. If you ask for bread, what will He give you? Bread. If you ask for an egg, what will He give you? An egg. If you ask for a fish, what will He give you? A fish. And, if you ask for interpretation, what will He give you? Interpretation. If you ask for prophecy, what will He give you? Prophecy. This is the written guarantee in the Word of God that if you ask for a good thing according to the Word of God you will receive precisely what you ask for. Above all, remember that if you ask for that which is good you will never receive that which is evil. This is God’s written guarantee.”
If you bought an appliance from Sears—let’s say, an electric washing machine—and there was a written warranty with it, there’s not one of you ladies here tonight that would doubt for one moment that you could go back to Sears and claim the fulfillment of that warranty. Every one of us, I would say tonight, has that much measure of faith in Sears. Here we have a written warranty in the Word of God about asking for the gifts of the Spirit. If you have half as much faith in God as you have in Sears, you’d be moving into the realm of the gifts right now. It is just taking God at His Word.
You say ask and when do I receive? What’s the answer? When you ask. Mark 11:24. The time factor in this is vital. I’ll tell you one thing about the devil, he always has a tomorrow. But, the Bible says about God, “Now is God’s time: Now is the day of salvation; now is the accepted time.” God says now, the devil says tomorrow. If you listen to the devil’s tomorrow, you’ll never enter into God’s now. Mark 11:24:
“Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”
When do you receive them? When you pray. The Greek says “believe that you receive them.” You got them when you prayed.
You asked for interpretation, you received it. What do you do? You interpret. You say, “I’ve never done it before. How would it happen if I didn’t do the right thing?” Well, did you ask for the right thing or did you ask for the wrong thing? I asked for the right thing. Do you believe you received it? So, if you do it, what will come? The right thing. How do you know? Because God promised. Not by what you feel, not by what somebody else says, but because God’s Word declares that if you ask for the right thing you’ll get the right thing when you ask for it. All you have to do after that is do it.
Let’s also look in 1 John 5:14–15. I just want quickly to deal with this:
“And this is the confidence that we have in him [God], that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
You spoke in tongues; you ask for interpretation; it was according to the will of God. What do you know? You know that He heard you. If you know that He heard you, what else do you know? You know that you have it. So, if you have interpretation what do you do? Interpret. You can’t go wrong. It’s the same with prophecy and it’s the same with anything that you know to be within the revealed will of God according to His Word. When you ask for it, you receive it. After that, you have it, then you use it. If you don’t use it, you won’t have it. This is the order of faith.
You say, “I might make some mistakes.” You might, and you wouldn’t be the first one. Almost everybody begins as a beginner in the exercise of spiritual gifts. Nobody begins perfect. If you want to begin perfect you know what will happen? You’ll never begin at all. That’s why many people never begin, because they’re afraid they might make a mistake. You might, but that’s all right. God will pick you up. The Bible says about the righteous man: “He falls seven times but God picks him up eight.” So, you’ll notice he doesn’t remain on the ground, he remains up. You might fall seven times but God will pick you up the eighth.
First Corinthians 14:31:
“For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be [encouraged]. There is such a thing as learning the exercise of spiritual gifts.”
Hebrews 5:14 tells us that maturity comes by having our senses exercised. If we never exercise we’ll never mature. You want to be in a group of believers that love you, are patient with you, do not quench you, do not suppress you; but encourage you. Then it says you may all prophesy one by one—not all at the same time—that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
Finally, when you’ve come this far, one more thing, check your motives. What are they? Because, the right motive is that the church may be edified. Let me read this and close. First Corinthians 14:12:
“Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.”
Let me leave that with you. The motive is important.