Lesson 1 - The Ministry of the Holy Spirit





When you think about the Holy Spirit, what mental picture comes to mind?  A ghost? A spirit? An unseen Force?

The Holy Spirit is a PERSON, just like God the Father, and just like God the Son.  He is equally God and he deserves our worship and obedience the same way that God the Father and God the Son deserve our worship and obedience.   There are many things that Christians disagree about concerning the Holy Spirit, but there is one absolute essential that we all must agree upon – the Holy Spirit is God.

In many Christian circles, the Holy Spirit is often taken for granted and ignored relative to God the Father and God the Son.   The reason this is the case is because some may be somewhat cautious about putting too much emphasis on the Holy Spirit due to fears that they may be seen as “Pentecostal” or radical.  However, ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is very dangerous, because the Holy Spirit is the source of our strength and our power as believers.  We are to know and experience the PERSON of the Holy Spirit in the same way that we know and experience the PERSON of God the Father and the PERSON of Jesus Christ.

 In other Christian circles, the Holy Spirit is given a more prominent role – perhaps even given a role that is greater in importance than God intended.  Some may even view the Holy Spirit on a greater level than even God the Father or God the Son.  If we focus too much on the Holy Spirit, we can begin to rely more on the movement of the Holy Spirit within our lives than we do on the actual spoken word of God through scripture.  This can be dangerous because Satan can use that to deceive us.  We may think or feel that the Holy Spirit has impressed upon us a particular thing, but if that thing is contrary to the written word of God, then it most certainly was not the Holy Spirit that put that thing in our minds.   We need to understand that all three persons of the Trinity are equally important to us as God’s children.  We also need to understand that the vast majority of what God the Father has intended to reveal to us has already been given through the scriptures.  We rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us power, but never in such a way that is contrary to what has already been revealed to us through the written word.


There is far more to discuss and teach on the Holy Spirit than can possibly be done in any one lesson.   Essentially, the Holy Spirit is the one who actively carries out the work of God the Father in the world, and he does so at the direction of God the Son.  That makes the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives an immense topic.  For this lesson, however, we want to look at the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer at somewhat of a high level, beginning with a discussion on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, followed by the roles the Holy Spirit plays in our lives every day, and then the gifts of the Holy Spirit.


Baptism of the Holy Spirit


In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist says, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”   When we receive Christ as savior, we are baptized by the Holy Spirit and we view this baptism as very distinct from water baptism.  Depending upon which denomination we belong, we may have very different views on both water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  However, we ought to all recognize that water baptism is not the same as the baptism of the Holy Spirit.


There are a couple of different views on the baptism of the Holy Spirit that are somewhat divided down various denominational lines.  One view, often held by more fundamental evangelicals, is that there is only one baptism of the Holy Spirit and it occurs at the time of salvation.  Others, typically those who are more Pentecostal, believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit comes at some point after salvation – and for some individuals may not come at all.

Those who believe that baptism comes automatically at salvation point to such scriptures as 1 Corinthians 12:13, which says “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” [emphasis added on the word all to reflect and indicate the belief that there are no exceptions – that all receive the Holy Spirit].  They also point to scriptures such as Acts 10:44-45, which says “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.  And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  They also point to the numerous scriptures that describe the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, including the fact that the believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).

By contrast, those who believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit comes after salvation also point to biblical examples to support their view.  Several times in the book of Acts, we find the Holy Spirit falling on those who are supposedly already believers.  At Pentecost in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit comes on those praying in the Upper Room.  In Acts 8:14-17, Peter and John prayed for the Samaritan believers so that they would receive the Holy Spirit.  Finally, in Acts 19:1-6, while Paul is at Ephesus, he finds believers who had not yet received the Holy Spirit.  He then laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

The counter explanation for these three instances is that Acts is a time of transition, where the Holy Spirit is being poured out first on the Jews (Acts 2), then on the Samaritans (Acts 8) and finally on the Gentiles (Acts 10).   In Acts 10, the Holy Spirit came on them as Peter was preaching and they believed, not because of a subsequent act of grace or because Peter laid hands on them.   In Acts 19, Paul asked “didn’t you receive the spirit when you believed?”  In Paul’s understanding, the norm was that the Holy Spirit came upon you when you believed.  In the case of the believers at Ephesus, we find that while they were “believers,” their belief was based on an incomplete gospel message from John the Baptist.  Once the full gospel was explained to them, they were immediately baptized both in the Holy Spirit and also by water.

Whichever view you may hold, the point is that the goal of the Christian life is to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit so that we may live in the power of the Holy Spirit just as Jesus lived.  The fullness of that indwelling comes when we are filled with that power. 

Jesus promised us that he would never leave us.  He accomplished this by sending us the Holy Spirit (John 15:26), which seals us until the day of our redemption (Ephesians 4:30).  In other words, the Holy Spirit never leaves us.  Peter reinforces this in 2 Peter 1:3 by telling us we always have within us the divine power we need to live out the Christian life.  He was speaking of the Holy Spirit.  However, we are not always fully acting in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We must constantly be filled with the Spirit; and for most of us, there are many fillings of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts, there are at least six different references to believers being filled with the Spirit.

In Ephesians 5:18, Paul commands us to be filled with the Spirit rather than filled with wine.  In the Greek, the verb is continuous, meaning it is an ongoing action, not a single, completed action.  Acts 4:8 and 13:9 are instances where Peter and Paul were being filled with the spirit. The Greek in these instances is a participle of undefined tense.  The Greek, therefore, didn’t say “because they were filled” but rather “being filled” –meaning it was happening at that time.  In Acts 13:52 the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit after leaving the city. Once again, the Greek here is not a completed action in the past, but a continuous action in the present.

This begs the question: What would cause the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives to be diminished?  Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 that we can actually grieve the Holy Spirit of God.  This occurs whenever we have unconfessed sin in our lives.  Isaiah 59:2 tells us that our iniquities separate us from God and our sins hide God’s face from us.  Essentially, this means that sin suppresses the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives until such time as our repentance restores the broken fellowship.  The Holy Spirit never leaves us and our sin doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the relationship.  However, just as a grievance between a man and a wife or a mother and a child does not change the fundamental nature of the relationship, it does negatively impact the relationship.  The same is true of how sin affects our relationship with God, with the result being diminished power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The only way to regain that power is to restore the broken relationship.  As such, we ought always to be in a state of repentance, praying to God that he re-fill us with the Holy Spirit and with power so that we may be effective as Christians.



Role of the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Believer


The Holy Spirit does more than just seal our salvation and indwell us.  Paul asks us in 1 Corinthians 6:19,  “know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”  Think about that!  Living within us is God himself.  Through the Holy Spirit, God – who is greater and above all things in the universe – also dwells within you and me.  The very fact that the Holy Spirit is living within us indicates that he plays an active and direct role in the life of the believer.   It means he is available to us at all times.  The following are some of the roles he serves in our lives.

Even before we are saved and he comes to dwell in us, the Holy Spirit is working towards bringing sinners to faith in Christ.  In John 16:8-11, Jesus says of the Holy Spirit that


“when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.”  


Because we are dead in our sins, we cannot of our own accord recognize our need for the savior.  Only the Holy Spirit can convict us to the point that we come to Jesus. 

But just revealing to us our need for the savior is insufficient.  The Holy Spirit must also reveal the truth of the gospel to us. In John 15:26, Jesus says “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”  Similarly, in 1 John 5:6, the Apostle John writes “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.”  Without the Holy Spirit, we are incapable of understanding the truth of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit moves in us to show us the truth of the gospel so that we are able to place our faith in it.

Even then, the Holy Spirit’s role in salvation is not complete, because it is the Holy Spirit that actually makes us alive in Christ.  Speaking of our new life in Christ, Jesus says in John 6:63 that “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”  Paul speaks of this same “quickening” - or new birth – in Colossians 2:13.  Essentially, the act of regeneration – coming from spiritual death to spiritual life - is performed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Once we have been reborn, the Holy Spirit then ensures our salvation. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:12-13 that once we believe in Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit that seals us in accordance with the promise that we have an inheritance with Christ.  Being marked with a seal by the Holy Spirit is actually a wonderful gift that God has given us to assure us of our salvation.

The way he seals us is to indwell us, which we have already seen in 1 Corinthians 6:19.  But in the process of indwelling us, the Holy Spirit also helps us grow in our understanding about Jesus Christ.  In John 14:26, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach us about Jesus and remind us of Jesus’ teachings.  Then, in John 16:13, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will guide us to all truth, only speaking what he hears from Jesus.

Additionally, the Holy Spirit works with us to sanctify us.  We learn this through Paul, who tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 that it is the Holy Spirit that accomplishes our sanctification.   The Apostle Peter tells us essentially the same thing in his greeting to the church in 1 Peter 1:1-2, which says


“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” 


While the believer also works towards his/her sanctification, that progress could not be made without the Holy Spirit, because it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are transformed into Christ-likeness.

As part of that sanctification process, the Holy Spirit produces spiritual fruit in us.  Galatians 5:22-23 gives us what Paul calls the Fruit of the Spirit. We are all familiar with these - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are characteristics that reflect the character of Jesus Christ.  As such, the growing presence of these qualities in the life of the believer is actually the evidence of the Spirit’s sanctifying work in our lives.


With all of these wonderful works that the Holy Spirit performs in our lives, perhaps the most amazing is that while he is living within us, the Holy Spirit is also interceding on our behalf to the Father.  Romans 8:26 tells us that even when we do not even know how to pray, it is the Holy Spirit that is praying and interceding for us before the Father.  What an amazing thing to know.  Most of us have had times where no matter how hard we tried, we simply did not know how to pray.  How wonderful it is to know that God himself – via the person of the Holy Spirit – knows us well enough that he interprets our inmost groaning and thoughts into meaningful petitions to the Father.  This verse testifies not only to how much God cares about what we feel, but how he knows us better than we know ourselves.  Even when we don’t know how/what to pray, the Holy Spirit knows precisely how to pray for us.



Gifts of the Holy Spirit


There is one more aspect of the Holy Spirit’s role in the life of the believer that we want to discuss in this lesson and that is his gifts to those of us who are believers.  1 Corinthians 12:7 tells us that “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  We have all been given gifts by the Holy Spirit.


God the Father has called all of us to do good works in service for him.  Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  The way in which you are personally empowered to do those works is the spiritual gifts that have been given to you by the Holy Spirit.

The gifts that are given by the Holy Spirit are many, but they are all for the purpose of building up the church and carrying out its mission.  There is no one gift that is more important than another and there is no one gift that should be desired above another.  Each gift has its own important role in the life of the church.  Some of the scriptures that discuss the gifts of the Holy Spirit include Ephesians 4:10-13; Romans 12:6-8; and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10,28-30.  From these passages, we can come up with a good starting list of the gifts of the spirit.  However, it would be presumptuous of us to say that this list is complete, because we would expect that the Spirit would give the church whatever gifts were necessary to meet the needs of the time.

The discussion below of the gifts listed in these passages should not be considered comprehensive.   This is merely intended to be a short and brief overview of this specific list of gifts as written in those scriptures.

Apostleship.  There are some scholars who think that the gift of apostleship only applied to the original 12 apostles and Paul and that no further gifting of apostleship has occurred.  The Roman Catholics have a slightly modified version of that view, believing that the line of apostleship has survived only through the office of the papacy.  In the original Greek, however, the word Apostle (apostalos) means “one who is sent.”  As such, one could also make the argument that the Holy Spirit gifts certain missionaries with the gift of apostleship.  This is not to say that only missionaries have the gift of apostleship or even that all missionaries have the gift of apostleship.  It is only to say that one view of the gift of apostleship is that it is a missionary gifting.  Therefore, the gift of apostleship has two possible meanings – the first being that only the original Apostles had the gift and the second being that those specifically gifted by the Holy Spirit to go and be sent messengers have the gift – in other words, missionaries (or at least some missionaries).  When you consider that all of the original apostles – Judas excepted – became missionaries, then perhaps the two views are not as far apart as one might think.  If you feel the call on your life to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth, then perhaps you too have this gift.

Pastoring - more specifically, shepherding.  The word pastor, in fact, means shepherd.   People with the gift of pastoring are those who are supernaturally gifted by the Holy Spirit take care of the church the way a shepherd takes care of his flock.   While it is both the ideal and the goal for someone with this gift to hold the office of pastor at a church, having the gift of pastoring does not necessarily mean that you will become an actual pastor.  You might be greatly gifted at nurturing the flock (i.e. being a pastor) and for whatever reason never actually hold the church office of pastor, but you can still put that gifting to great use in the body of Christ.  Similarly, many who hold the position of pastor do not actually have the gift of pastoring, but they have hopefully surrounded themselves with people who help fill in those gaps.  The gift itself is specifically about the ministry of leading and taking care of the flock, not the specific office in the church.  When the two come together, however, there is much that can be accomplished.

Evangelism.  People with the gift of evangelism are those who have a natural ability to lead people to Christ.  There is a significant difference between the command to evangelize and the spiritual gift of evangelism.  Both the Great Commission and Acts 1:8 call every Christian to be a witness for Christ, evangelize the lost, and make disciples.  Not everyone, however, has the specific spiritual gift of evangelism.  Likewise, just because you have a passion for evangelism doesn’t mean you necessarily have the gift of evangelism. 

The person who has the gift of evangelism does so without effort and with what often appears to be miraculous results.  They have a supernatural ability to recognize divine appointments with lost souls, boldly engage those lost souls with the gospel of Christ, and see the results of those efforts.  Certainly the Apostle Paul had the gift of evangelism as have many great church leaders down through the ages.  Most recently, we would probably universally recognize Rev. Billy Graham as having the gift of evangelism.  Can you think of anyone that you know that has the gift of evangelism?

Prophecy.  Based on what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:8, there are many who believe the gift of prophecy has ceased.  Others, however, take the position that 1 Corinthians 13:8 refers to some time in the future – perhaps after the return of Christ – when such gifts will no longer be needed.   Regardless of which you believe to be true, the gift of prophecy should not be understood simply as the miraculous “foretelling” of the future.  Prophecy also incorporates the concept of “forthtelling” or discerning a word from God.  In fact, if the gift of prophecy has not ceased today, it is in this mode of forthtelling that it is most likely to be manifested in our times.

Prophecy almost always involves preaching the word of God that has already been declared – even if it does also include a more mysterious element along with it.  In Biblical days, that word was declared to the prophet by God himself or from the Torah. Today, we have God’s word revealed to us.  People with the gift of prophecy today are those who read God’s word, understand what it says, understand how it applies to current life conditions, and can communicate that in a way that others understand it as well.   In some cases, this can be a miraculously discerned word – something that applies to a very specific situation.  In most cases, however, it is simply the spirit-filled proclamation of truth.  Because it is so similar, many people confuse the gift of prophecy and the gift of teaching.  As a distinction, prophecy carries with it a sense of revelation as well as application.  Someone with the gift of prophecy might say something like “Based on this scripture and our situation, I believe God wants us to…”  That is not the way a teacher would approach the situation.

Teaching.    The bible says that all elders and deacons should be able to teach.  Anyone who knows how to study God’s word can ultimately teach God’s word.  However, there are those who are able to teach with great and natural ease.  They do so in such a way that complicated messages are presented in a clear and understandable fashion.  These are people who likely have the spiritual gift of teaching.  The spiritually gifted teacher cannot help but teach.  Even when he is not specifically teaching an organized class, he will be using everyday and ordinary circumstances to relay Godly truth.  There is a close relationship between prophecy and teaching, but they are different.  As a distinction from prophecy, the teacher will not try to supernaturally discern a particular course of action from scripture that is not explicitly stated in the scripture.  Rather, he will merely strive to explain the scripture clearly and precisely.  The teacher will take a passage of scripture and say “this is what God’s word says and means, and here is how we can apply it to our lives.”

Wisdom. Very often, wisdom and knowledge go hand in hand with prophecy and teaching.  However, we need to be careful not to confuse wisdom or knowledge with prophecy or teaching.  Where the gift of prophecy carries with it elements of revelation as it applies to application and decision-making, and where teaching carries with it elements of interpreting, communicating and applying scripture, wisdom has neither a revelatory nor an interpretive element.  Rather – as the name implies – a person with the gift of wisdom has the supernatural ability to use scripture to speak wisely about situations and events. 

Knowledge.  Similarly, the person with the gift of knowledge has the supernatural ability to know and recall what scripture says about situations and events.  A person with the spiritual gift of knowledge often also has the spiritual gift of teaching – or can be mistaken to have the spiritual gift of teaching.  This is because the purpose of having such knowledge is to use it for the building up of the body of Christ – including the biblical and spiritual education of the believers.  However, just because a person has the gift of knowledge does not mean he has the gift of teaching. 

The manner in which prophecy, teaching, wisdom, and knowledge work together is an amazing testimony to the beauty of the body of Christ working together in unison.  For example, imagine a situation that may arise whereby a decision needs to be made.  A person with the gift of knowledge will be able to recall and discuss what scripture says about that situation.  A person with the gift of teaching will be able to explain how that scripture is applied in the local context.  A person with the gift of wisdom will be able to use that scripture to recommend a wise course of action regarding that situation.  Finally, a person with the gift of prophecy will be able to discern whether or not that course of action is the will of God or whether God desires a different course of action to be taken.  This can happen so seamlessly and with such unity that no one even recognizes how or why it has happened.  Rather, it just seemed as if the whole body was in unison regarding the course of action to be taken.  It is a beautiful act of the Holy Spirit working through the body of Christ.

Often, the Holy Spirit will grace an individual with more than one of these gifts.  Such an individual, particularly if that individual also has the gift of leadership, will often rise be a respected leader within the church.

Leading.  We may not think about leadership as a gift of the Holy Spirit.  However, if you have ever served or worshipped under a pastor who did not know how to lead, you can understand how important this gift can be.  A pastor can cast a great vision for the church, but if he cannot lead – or partner with someone in the church who can lead - then that vision will remain unrealized.  The person with the gift of leadership has the supernatural ability to bring people together towards the accomplishment of a common vision.  People are often drawn towards those who have the spiritual gift of leading and willingly submit themselves to their leadership.  If you look around and find that people just tend to follow you, then perhaps you have the gift of leadership.  If you think you have the gift of leadership, but no one seems to be following you, then you probably do not have the gift of leadership.

Serving/Helping.  Everyone cannot be a “leader” but that does not mean that everyone does not have an important role in the church.  Those with the gift of serving and helping find great joy and fulfillment in doing the work others may find mundane or difficult.  They usually do not need to be in the spotlight and often shy away from such recognition.  These people are the hands and feet of the body of Christ – going about doing the things that need to be done.  They take care of buildings and property.  They take care of babies.  They make sure everything is ready for church services.  They simply do what needs to be done – and they do so without complaining or grumbling.

Encouraging.  Like Barnabas, some people are gifted with the supernatural ability to encourage others regardless of the circumstances.  If you have ever met one of these people, then you probably want to be around them as much as possible because they always make you feel better.  When you are down, they help lift you up.  When you are upset, they help you calm down and see the bigger picture.  When you are joyful, they celebrate and rejoice with you.  Because of this, the encouragers are pretty easy to spot.  You probably have someone in mind right now that you are thinking of that you know has the gift of encouragement.  These gifted individuals are essential to the emotional health of the church.

Giving.  We are all commanded to be generous, but to some, the Holy Spirit has given a supernatural ability to live a generous life.  These people can give sacrificially of their time and resources to others without fear or begrudging.

Mercy.  The gift of mercy is related to but different than helping/serving.  The distinction is in the object of their service.  Both have the discernment of what needs to be done and the desire to make sure it gets accomplished.  The one with the gift of mercy, however, is drawn towards the needs of and ministry to people. Compare that to the one with the gift of service/helps, who is drawn towards things that need to get done rather than needs of people.  Certainly the person with the gift of service/helps can minister to people as well, but it is the person with the gift of mercy who has a supernatural ability to discern these personal needs and meet them – even amongst the most unlovable. 

Faith.  We are all called to walk by faith, and it is only through faith that any of us can please God.  However, some people have a measure of faith that simply goes above and beyond that of others.  A person with the gift of faith has the supernatural ability to depend and rely upon God when others may fall away or waiver.  This gift is incredibly important during difficult times in the church.  When others doubt and begin to question, the person with the gift of faith remains steadfast – and can encourage others to remain steadfast as well.  People with the gift of faith are often called upon to take actions that involve great personal risk.  They are able to do so without crippling fear of failure.   A person with this gift can accomplish through his/her faith what others cannot.

Discernment of Spirits.  The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:1 to test every spirit.  We all need to study God’s word and have a sufficient knowledge of the truth to be able to do this in most circumstances.  However, a person with the gift of discernment has the supernatural ability to recognize the influence of the Holy Spirit or of demonic spirits in a given situation or within a person.  This gift is especially important in recognizing false prophets within the church.


Of the remaining gifts, which most would consider “miraculous sign gifts,” many believe these gifts no longer exist in the body of Christ, but rather were reserved for the 1st Century Church as a sign of the authenticity of the gospel.  Others, however, would argue that these gifts are still very much alive and – especially with respect to tongues – are a clear sign of baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Still others would say that, depending upon the need and circumstances, the Spirit would still grant these gifts as required.

Healing.  A person with this gift would have the supernatural ability to heal others.  However, even in biblical days, not every person was healed.  Paul had his thorn in the flesh that was never healed even though he miraculously healed many others.  There are certainly modern instances of miraculous healing.  Likewise, we are commanded to pray for healing and even to lay hands on the sick and infirmed.   As such, we should all believe in God’s healing power.  As a spiritual gift, however, we all have to decide for ourselves whether this gift still exists as a permanent manifestation in any particular believer’s life.

Miracles.  The same can be said about the gift of miracles.  There is no question that God still performs miraculous signs every day.  God is a God of miracles.  However, as to whether this is a gift that still exists as a permanent manifestation in any particular believer’s life is a matter that we each must decide for ourselves.

Finally, and perhaps most controversial – are the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues.  Even since the days of Paul, these have been the most controversial and debated gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are so controversial, in fact,  that Paul specifically addresses this controversy in 1 Corinthians 14.  And yet, even with Paul’s explicit directions in that passage, there are still today significant differences of opinion – and conviction – regarding the use of tongues in the church.

Tongues.  As with prophecy, there are many who believe that the gift of tongues has ceased based on 1 Corinthians 13:8.  Many prominent Christians of the past have essentially taken this view, including Chrysostem and St. Augustine.  However, there were just as many who took the opposing view and acknowledged the existence and use of tongues in the church.

The issue of tongues is honestly too complex to really speak to all of the nuances, beliefs, justifications, or arguments for and against in this lesson.  Rather, the intent here is to give a brief overview.  Among those who believe tongues still exist, there are three primary ways that people believe the gift of tongues is manifested.

The listener hears in his native language.  This happened on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:5-13, when the believers were speaking and everyone was hearing in their own language.  Some scholars believe they were speaking in their own language and the hearers were hearing in their own language. 

The speaker speaks in a foreign language.  The alternative view is that some were speaking in one language, while others were speaking in another language, so that – at least from an outsider’s perspective – it did look like mass chaos.  And yet, the words that were spoken were understood by those who needed to hear them.  This same thing happened in Acts 10 and again in Acts 19.

The speaker speaks in a completely unknown (i.e., angelic) language.  Paul references this version of the gift in 1 Corinthians 14:2 and again in 14:9, pointing out specifically that this kind of speaking in tongues benefits no one but the speaker.  As such, he forbid the exercise of this gift as part of public worship and reserved it for use in one’s private prayers.

Interpretation of Tongues.   Because of the potential confusion that tongues can cause in the church, Paul commanded in 1 Corinthians 14 that all manifestations of tongues should be accompanied by an interpretation.  In the case where public use of tongues is required, the Holy Spirit will grace someone with the gift of interpretation.  This is how to distinguish legitimate exercises of tongues from illegitimate ones.

It should be noted that some believe that speaking in tongues is a definitive sign of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In response to that, others would point out that not all gifts are given to all Christians (1 Cor 12:7-10, 29-20).  Beliefs on this issue typically fall along denominational lines.


Knowing Your Spiritual Gift


Knowing how to determine your spiritual gift is really outside the intent of this particular course, but there are resources available on the internet as well as in the Designs For Hope pastor training reference materials to help you determine what your spiritual gifts are.  As you use such resources, keep in mind that not all tests look specifically for all of the gifts above and may actually include other gifts as well.  Knowing one’s spiritual gift is not an exact science.  The biggest confirmation of one’s spiritual gifts, however, is the observation of other believers.  By observing how effective each of us are as we do the work of Christ within the church, it can usually be fairly obvious how different people are gifted by the Holy Spirit.


In Conclusion, although the object of our salvation is Jesus Christ, the truth is that the Holy Spirit is the one who is continually active and at work in our lives to help us mature in Christ, to be obedient to the commands of Christ, and to become like Christ.  As believers we need to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and tap into that power, being regularly filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.