What is the purpose of spiritual gifts? Jesus gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the same Holy Spirit who empowered and gifted Him during His sojourn on Earth. Let's look at how the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit can revolutionize our lives and help advance the Kingdom of God.
When a loved one is relocating to another country, we carefully consider their last words and instructions when bidding them goodbye at the airport. So, let's consider the last words and instructions spoken by Jesus to His followers, moments before His ascension into Heaven.
Jesus says, "'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover'" (Mark 16:15-18).
Mark writes, "So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the ACCOMPANYING SIGNS. Amen" (Mark 16:19-20, emphasis added).
Jesus promised his followers that supernatural signs would follow those who believe, so in His Name they shared the good news of Jesus's purpose on Earth to those around them, and the Lord confirmed the Word through accompanying signs.
One main purpose of spiritual gifts is to confirm the spoken Word with accompanying signs. What do signs do? They point people to Jesus, and Jesus is the entrance key to the Kingdom of God. But, can we still count on that happening today?
Yes, you can rest assured that Jesus still works with us to confirm the Word with signs following. Otherwise, He would not have said, "'And these signs will follow those who believe …'" (Mark 16:17).
The key word is BELIEVE.
If you don't believe, and you don't exercise the gifts of the Spirit, there's unlikely to be any signs following you to confirm the Word.
Scripture says, "Then they said to Him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent'" (John 6:28-29).
It's really that simple. BELIEVE in Jesus, exercise the gifts of the Spirit to DO the works of God, and EXPECT that supernatural signs WILL follow you.
There has always been a direct connection between signs and wonders and the Kingdom of God. For instance, the Prophet Daniel reported how the evil King Nebuchadnezzar became convinced of God's supremacy after witnessing the miraculous deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the fiery furnace.
We read in Scripture the words of King Nebuchadnezzar, "How great are His SIGNS, and how mighty His WONDERS! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation" (Daniel 4:3, emphasis added).
Jesus didn't view Himself as a miracle worker. After all, individuals in The Old Testament had also performed miracles. However, whenever Jesus had performed miracles, He was proclaiming Himself the One through whom the promise of the Kingdom had come to pass.
Jesus says, "'But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you'" (Luke 11:20).
Jesus made it clear that He was performing miracles with the finger of God, the unmistakable power of the Holy Spirit, and that neither people nor devils could prevent it.
Moreover, He made the purpose of Spiritual gifts clear. Miracles were a validating sign of the present reality of the Kingdom of God to those believing in Him, and of the future reality of the Kingdom when He would return to Earth and establish God's dominion at the end of this present age.
Jesus says to us, "'And as you go, preach, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give'" (Matthew 10:7-8).
The Greek word κηρύσσω (kēryssō) means to preach, to publish, to proclaim openly something which has been done.
As we exercise the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit — the same Holy Spirit whom Jesus depended on — we can be confident that signs and wonders will follow us, so that the Name of Jesus will be lifted up, and the Kingdom of God will be proclaimed.
This is the purpose of spiritual gifts; they produce signs and wonders that point to Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
Scripture says, "And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, 'Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?'" (Matthew 11:2-3).
John the Baptist had been imprisoned by King Herod and in his confinement he wanted assurances that his cousin Jesus was the promised Messiah. So what "works of Christ" do you think John was expecting to hear about?
Aren't those the "works of Christ" that Christians typically expect at church conferences and Holy Ghost meetings today? Hmm.
What did Jesus do? He exercised the gifts of the Spirit and ministered to the people as the two disciples watched, and then He told them to go back to John and report the supernatural signs (works) they had witnessed.
We read in Scripture, "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me'" (Matthew 11:4-6).
Everything comes down to natural versus supernatural, and God planned it that supernatural signs always capture people's attention and point them to Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
However, the power of God is neither recognized nor present in many of today's church gatherings. God's message of hope for the world is preached, and there's often lively anointed singing, but there are no accompanying signs to confirm the Word.
It's easier to keep services within strict time limits and "decent and in order" when there are no manifestations of the Spirit. However, there's an awful tradeoff: the Shekinah glory of God is no longer present, so church services are left scripted and lukewarm, having very little substance.
Sadly, people in desperate need of life's answers are hungry and thirsty for spiritual truth, and they are increasingly viewing churches as powerless and irrelevant, so they choose to remain at home and seek answers elsewhere.
Meanwhile, exhausted and disillusioned church leaders attend church-growth conferences featuring Christian motivational speakers, popular worship bands, and workshops on how to use today's technology to plant and grow a church.
Afterwards, they return home and on Sunday mornings, like Samson of old, they go though the familiar motions without realizing that the Holy Spirit has departed.
Scripture says, "And she said, 'The Philistines are upon you, Samson!' So he awoke from his sleep, and said, 'I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!' But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him" (Judges 16:20).
How can you tell whether the presence of God has departed from your church? That's easy. You won't see supernatural signs confirming the spoken Word nor will you see signs and wonders following the people in the pews!
Signs and wonders burst into our comfortable world and confront us with the awesome evidence of God's Kingdom.
The Shekinah glory of the Lord MUST return to churches with accompanying signs and wonders. That's the purpose of spiritual gifts. Otherwise, we can never expect to complete the Great Commission and advance the Kingdom of God!
The Apostle Paul writes, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own SPECIAL PEOPLE, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14, emphasis added).
We are called to be Jesus's own "special people." Special in the Greek περιούσιος (periousios) also means "peculiar" and "being beyond usual."
So what's "peculiar" and "beyond usual" about the Christians attending many of today's churches?
Do Christians act "beyond usual" in their neighborhood? Not so much that anyone would notice these days, they enjoy the same entertainment, and they attend the same protests.
However, many believers do attend church regularly or on occasion, but then Jews attend synagogues and Muslims attend mosques.
My wife and I once attended a Charismatic house church that grew increasingly legalistic before we left it. The leader suggested that the women and girls wear ankle-length skirts and dresses, never jeans, slacks, or shorts; no bright colors, no jewelry, no makeup, and no short hairstyles.
Is that what it means to be beyond usual, or peculiar? Hardly. We might look peculiar, but that's not what God had in mind.
Jesus didn't appear different or "beyond usual" from other men around him when He walked the streets of Jerusalem. If His appearance had been in any way remarkable, The New Testament writers would have mentioned it.
That said, whenever Jesus ministered the gifts of the Spirit, He DID appear "beyond usual" for He performed miracles, and He spoke with accompanying signs and wonders.
And guess what? Jesus wants us to appear "beyond usual" too by doing the same works that He did! Again, that's the purpose of spiritual gifts.
Jesus says, "'Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it'" (John 14:12-14).
When Jesus had said, "most assuredly," He was strongly declaring that if we believe in Him, we will do the SAME works that He did! So what were the "works" that Jesus was referring to?
Did He lead worship services, organize food banks for the hungry, hold fund raising events for charity, collect clothing for foreign missions, build housing for the homeless, or help to convene fellowship suppers?
No, but we know from the Scriptures that Jesus cared for the hungry since He fed them, and it's inferred by Judas that funds from their common purse were sometimes given to the poor.
And the Early Church didn't neglect what we call charitable good works either. Paul writes, "But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things" (Romans 15:25-27).
Note the debtor relationship in verse 27: "For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things."
James, brother of Jesus writes, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
It's a given that followers of Christ should be doing good works as part of their faith and lifestyle. So, let's not neglect good works. BUT, those are NOT the "works" that Jesus was referring to when He said in John 14, verse 12, "the works that I do [you] will do also …."
For instance, a woman poured an expensive flask of perfume on Jesus's head at the house of Simon the leper, and some criticized her, saying that it should have been sold and the money gave to the poor.
But read what Jesus said: "'Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always'" (Mark 14:6-7).
The point Jesus made concerns priority and timing. We can choose to volunteer and do good works whenever we wish, but we won't always have an opportunity to manifest a supernatural ability (work) to advance the Kingdom. We must seize every opportunity when prompted by the Holy Spirit!
Jesus demonstrated a ministry that was "peculiar" and "beyond usual" with signs and wonders following, and He has made it possible for us to do the same works.
Are you doing the works that Jesus did? You can, by activating the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and He manifested the supernatural abilities (gifts) of the Spirit, so how could He expect us to do the SAME works without equipping us with the SAME supernatural abilities (gifts) that He had?
As we closely examine the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we will see that often several gifts will work in concert to meet a specific need, so Jesus had expected us to exercise ALL nine gifts.
Frankly, it's IMPOSSIBLE for us to do the works of Jesus without exercising ALL nine gifts! Don't worry, it will all become crystal clear once we dig deeper into the supporting Scriptures.
People have often wondered what Jesus meant by "greater works," and there are many opinions, and it's not something that we need to get sidetracked with.
However, I believe that He might have been prophesying about the multiplying effect of numerous believers exercising the nine gifts of the Spirit and pointing people to Himself and the Kingdom.
For instance, after Pentecost and the manifestation of tongues, about 3000 people were added to the original 120 who had met in the Upper Room (Acts 2:41).
And later, after Peter and John had healed the lame man at the temple, Peter shared the Word of God to the crowd that had gathered, and the Scriptures record that about 5000 men were added, and likely several thousand women as well (Acts 3:1-26; 4:1-4).
As we begin to realize the importance and purpose of spiritual gifts, it's no wonder the Early Church experienced exponential growth as a growing number of believers began to do the works of Jesus and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being delivered from despair.
As redeemed believers, we are all called to do our part in advancing the Kingdom of God. We can exercise the gifts of the Spirit and do the works of Jesus in our family, in our neighborhood, in our workplace, and in our gatherings of believers.
God in His wisdom has designed it so ordinary believers — that's us — can do extraordinary things and be His own "special" people.
Paul writes, "For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
And Luke writes in Acts, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. AND THEY REALIZED THAT THEY HAD BEEN WITH JESUS" (Acts 4:13 emphasis added).
Unlike today's non-biblical ministry requirements, Peter and John had NO university degrees, NO Bible college diplomas, and NO ordination papers, but just like us, they DID have the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they DID have the nine gifts of the Spirit, and signs and wonders followed them.
And what was the people's reaction? They marveled, and they realized that they had been with Jesus!
Seriously. As we consider the purpose of spiritual gifts, we need to ask ourselves this question: Do people realize that we have been with Jesus?
Spiritual gifts in the church are necessary if you would like to see believers come together in unity and the Body of Christ built up in faith. Allow the Holy Spirit to have His way, and His anointing will flow in tremendous blessing.
Before listing the nine gifts (abilities) of the Spirit, the Apostle Paul wanted to make it absolutely clear that the gifts are given to EACH ONE OF US, and not just to some.
Paul writes, "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all" (1 Corinthians 12:7).
The Greek word συμφέρω (sympherō) means for the profit of all. It also means to bring together, to contribute in order to help.
Paul also wanted to make it clear that the purpose of spiritual gifts in the church setting is to bring believers together and build up of the Body of Christ.
For far too long believers have been reduced to a spectator role and the work of the ministry left to a professional clergy. That was NEVER God's intention!
Paul also writes, "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, FOR THE EQUIPPING OF THE SAINTS FOR THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12, emphasis added).
Believers need to be equipped for the work of ministry and part of the equipping process involves bringing them into a position of competence in the operation of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Then and only then will believers be seen to come alive so souls will be delivered from despair, and the Kingdom advanced.
Paul goes on to say, "Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel" (1 Corinthians 14:12).
The Greek word οἰκοδομή (oikodomē) means edification, building up, the act of one who promotes another's growth.
Paul affirms that it's okay to be zealous and passionate about spiritual gifts in the church when our focus is on edifying the Body of Christ in love.
Paul writes, "But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men" (1 Corinthians 14:3).
Edification, exhortation, and comfort are three basic characteristics of prophecy and by implication each of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, any manifestation of a gift must meet at least one of these three characteristics to be a genuine gift of the Holy Spirit. The manifestation of a gift must always leave the individual or group physically, mentally, or spiritually better off than before.
Paul writes, "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (1 Corinthians 14:26).
When you get right down to it, we should always arrive at meetings with our faith built up and ready to minister the nine gifts of the Spirit in love to meet the needs of the Body of Christ.
When we make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit, He can use us to meet someone's need whenever the occasion arises. And when we're speaking His truths, He will back up our words with His anointing.
Paul writes, "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established — that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me" (Romans 1:11-12).
In the scriptural context, I believe that Paul is saying, "For I long to see you, that I may manifest (exercise) my spiritual gifts, so that you may be encouraged, strengthened, and built up." That should also be our motivation and purpose when attending believer meetings.
The Apostle Peter says, "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:10-11).
Paul writes, "But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church" (1 Corinthians 14:3-4).
Paul is saying that while the gift of prophecy offers edification, exhortation, and comfort to the Body of Christ, the gift of tongues only edifies the one who's speaking the unknown tongue since no one else can understand what's been said, unless it has been interpreted.
So, how does the gift of tongues edify the speaker of the unknown tongue? The Apostle Jude writes, "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit" (Jude 1:20).
As we'll discover when we have closely examined the gift of different tongues in the Bible, praying in the Holy Spirit is the same as speaking in tongues.
While Romans 10, verse 17 says, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," we can also build up our faith by praying in tongues.
Actually, praying in the Holy Spirit (tongues) is the most expedient way to build faith so that we can be prepared for any circumstance.
Paul says, "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all" (1 Corinthians 14:18). As our daily practice, we should follow Paul's example and spend time speaking in tongues so that our reservoir of faith is always built up.
And while the remaining gifts of the Spirit are designed like prophecy for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the Body of Christ, it's impossible to exercise them without simultaneously increasing one's measure of faith; that's the twofold purpose of spiritual gifts.
When exercising spiritual gifts, you become a conduit for the power of the Holy Spirit and, similar to a fire hose, you cannot help getting wet (edified and blessed) as God's anointing flows through you to bless others.