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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 12:9-10 Spiritual gifts

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, May 9, 2023

9 By the same Spirit, a different person is given faith. The same Spirit gives healing gifts to another. 10 To another, powers to do miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, distinguishing between spirits; to another, speaking in different kinds of tongues; and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

Paul’s list continues with another seven gifts. The list is grouped in Paul’s Greek into three lists. First, wisdom and knowledge (v. 8). Second, Faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, and distinguishing of spirits (v. 9-10a). Finally, tongues and interpreting tongues (v. 10b). Almost all of these involve communication of some kind. The list isn’t exhaustive; other gifts could have been added such as David’s remarkable and miraculous gift of music that soothed Saul’s troubled spirit (1 Samuel 16:23), Joseph’s gift for understanding and interpreting dreams (Genesis 41:38), the spirit-given ability of craftsmanship given to Bezalel (Exodus 31:2), or the Spirit’s gift of war and judgeship given to so many of Israel’s judges (Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 13:25). But it’s no accident that Paul lists tongues and interpreting tongues last in the list he gives. Before we touch on this, we can say at least a little about each gift:

Faith. This is not saving faith, since it is listed as a special charismatic gift. Instead, this must be the faith the has the ability to do miracles. In Matthew 17:14-20, the nine apostles are unable to drive out a demon, although they had been given that very gift by Jesus earlier (Matthew 10:8). But in this case their secret doubt or unbelief frustrated their ability and they could not do it, which gave Jesus yet another teaching moment with them about true faith, “a faith that can move mountains” (see 1 Corinthians 13:2).

The next two, healing gifts and miracles, are similar. Paul displayed healing gifts at various times, including his shipwreck on Malta (Acts 28:8-9), and the same is true of other miracles, such as when he was able to shake off a poisonous and deadly viper that had fastened onto his hand (Acts 28:3; Mark 16:18; Luke 10:19).

Prophecy is a gift that was especially common in the Old Testament. There were those prophets who preached God’s word (Exodus 7:1; Jeremiah 23:28; Haggai 1:3), those who prayed (Genesis 20:7), and those who foretold future events (Isaiah 38:1; Acts 2:16-17, 21:10-11).

Distinguishing between spirits is something John warns all Christians to do (1 John 4:1-3), but Paul is talking about the miraculous ability to know a spirit without testing it first, as a mechanic might know what’s wrong with a car without a diagnosis, just by experience.

Speaking in different kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues are discussed more in chapter 14:5-40. Is the gift here something different than the gift displayed by the Twelve Apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2) and again in Ephesus with twelve baptized men (Acts 19:5-7)? There are different ideas about what Paul means by “speaking in different kinds of tongues” here. But if we remain only within the Scriptures for our understanding, we will avoid many errors and notions that, of course, contradict the Bible.

1, There is a question whether the tongues spoken on Pentecost are the same as those mentioned here. Some commentators like Lenski insist that they must be the same. There are no times when a Bible writer goes out of his way to say: “this kind of ‘tongues,’ not that kind.”

2, Paul says (1 Corinthians 14:22) that “tongues are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers.” Professor Joel Gerlach concludes: “Tongues offer an evidence or sign of something objective, not something subjective. God filled individuals with the Spirit and gave them the gift of tongues not so much as a sign to the individual who did the speaking, but rather for those who heard the speaking. In all three instances in Acts (2:4-11; 10:46; 19:6), that makes sense.”

3, The terms used by the holy writers are “other tongues” (heterais glossais, Acts 2:4), “tongues” (glossais, Acts 10, 19, and often in 1 Corinthians), “kinds of tongues” (gene glosson, 1 Corinthians 12:28), “interpretation of tongues” (hermeneia glosson, 1 Corinthians 12:10), and “strange tongues” (heteroglossois, 1 Corinthians 14:21). “There is no textual warrant for the familiar but misleading translation ‘unknown tongues’ in six verses of chapter 14 in the King James Version.”

4, In Mark 16:17, Jesus prophesies “new tongues” (glossais kainais), but since this is a prophecy and not an explanation or description, it seems unwise to set too heavy a meaning on “new” without taking all the other passages above into consideration.

We will have more to say about tongues in chapter 14. Each of these gifts is a special gift of the Holy Spirit. Our culture has a hard time understanding the true nature of a gift, since we tend to ask for presents at Christmastime and at birthdays, fully expecting to get what we ask for. But the gifts that God gives are gifts he knows we need—not gifts we necessarily wish for or ask for. Use whatever gift you have and serve your Savior Jesus. In the end, for anyone to “accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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