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The Gifts of Inspiration
The Gift of Prophecy
Paul refers to this as one of the greater gifts of the Spirit (see chapter 14) because of the manner and scope of its effects. It ministers edification, exhortation and comfort to the whole local church simultaneously.
To edify is to build up spiritually, whilst to exhort is to teach and challenge; indeed, the original meaning of the word exhort is ‘a calling near’ (paraklesis). Horton speaks of the ‘balmy words of the Holy Ghost that encouragingly lead us away from the world and its sin and care, and call us near to heaven and God’s sweet presence’. To comfort is to console or solace when in trial or distress. So as Ellicott says, prophecy is meant for ‘building up, stirring up [and] cheering up’. A gift of healing may benefit a person’s body in this life; but prophecy ministers to a person’s spirit and prepares them for the next life. Prophecy helps the church on the heavenly road, imparting the will and mind of God, and strengthening believers for the fight of faith. Its effect is immediate and far reaching, for the gift ministers directly to a person’s spirit.
Prophecy is a divinely inspired and anointed utterance. It is not deliberated, and so is not to be confused with the ministry of preaching. Horton realised this and wrote: ‘as speaking in tongues is a supernatural utterance in an unknown tongue, so prophecy is a supernatural utterance in a known tongue’.
Although prophecy does not originate from the human mind, the prophet is only enabled to prophesy according to the measure of faith. This appears to indicate that as a person matures as a Christian, so they should also mature in their use of this gift. It is not that the gift itself has been improved, but that the Holy Spirit takes hold of whatever measure of faith and spiritual experience is present in the individual’s life, so that those who are more spiritually mature are able to sustain a greater degree of inspiration.
To have the gift of prophecy does not entitle a person to claim the office of a Prophet, although there are some who have been entrusted with this office by Christ for the benefit of His church. Although they are all gifts of grace, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not exactly the same thing as the ministry gifts of Christ, listed in Ephesians 4. The difference is that whilst any believer may possess and use the gift of prophecy (14:5), a Prophet is himself or herself a gift to the church, ordained by Christ perpetually to that office.
The Gift of Tongues
This is a supernatural utterance by the Holy Spirit in a language wholly unknown and unlearned by the speaker. The utterance is never understood by the speaker and generally not by the hearer. It is a manifestation of God by His Spirit speaking through the channel of the human speech organs. In private or personal use, the gift enables the human spirit to pray directly to God without engaging the understanding of the mind (14:14); whereas in public use, these utterances are God speaking to people through human channels in a language not understood by the hearers. It is a miraculous sign (Mark 16:17), but if those present cannot understand what is said then clearly it has no other benefit unless it is accompanied by its companion gift the interpretation of tongues. Hence Paul’s instruction that in public worship, if there is no one present with the gift of interpretation, the person with the message in tongues should not give it (14:28).
There have, of course, been many anecdotal instances of persons being present at the time that a message in tongues was given who understood the language being used. For example; a close friend of mine is a well-known author, and a fluent French speaker. He related how he had scorned the idea of such a gift as tongues being available to believers today until he heard an uneducated young man in his home church in Sheffield speaking in absolutely flawless French; and my friend became even more amazed when the pastor of that church (who was not a French speaker either) gave by way of interpretation a word for word translation of the original message into English. Whilst such an occurrence provides the hearer with a more substantial proof of the gift’s reality; and hence of the reality of the great Source of all gifts; it appears to be the exception rather than the rule.
The Interpretation of Tongues
The person using this gift has not understood the message in tongues as originally given. Nor have they been given the supernatural ability to translate. Rather, they have been given by the Spirit the same message (not necessarily the same form of words but the same burden or meaning) that was given to the person who uttered the tongue. The difference being that this time it is given in the speaker’s own language. So the interpreter does not translate what was originally said, but gives the sense and meaning of what was said. When used together, these two gifts are equivalent to the gift of prophecy in their effect on the body of Christ.
12:11. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things.
How diverse these gifts are! Not every believer has them all, nor do all believers have the same ones, for the Holy Spirit gives to each one according to His own will. Yet in this instance His will is not arbitrary; for God gives His gifts to those who seek and ask for them. All of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available to the whole body of Christ, and all Christians are encouraged to seek and ask that they might receive and thereby be equipped for their involvement in God’s purposes.