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How can we discern between a proper and an improper expression of authentic spiritual gifting, between the false and the true?  

Keep in mind that these spiritual giftings are called charismata because they are endowments of God’s grace and pneumatika because they are manifestations of the Spirit. Spiritual giftings are God at work through His people in our world. So, it should come as no surprise that the markers for a genuine expression of these gifts are linked directly to the nature and character of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Before we begin, I encourage you to pause and read 1 Corinthians 12-14. We will be drawing five basic principles from this text to equip us for discerning whether an authentic spiritual gifting is operating correctly or not.

1. Christology 

Listen carefully to what a person says about the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul states:

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

If a person speaks in derogatory terms about Jesus, that is evidence that person is not speaking by the agency of the Holy Spirit. John provides a similar test in 1 John 4:1-3 where the physical incarnation of Jesus Christ is the issue.

Does a person speak about Jesus Christ in ways that affirm (among other things) His deity, the all-sufficiency of His death upon the cross for forgiveness and reconciliation to God, His physical resurrection, and His future return?

I appreciate that a person could use the right words in order to gain acceptance. So, although this type of speaking is not iron-clad proof of genuineness, it is a primary indicator of whether the Spirit is at work in that person’s gifting.

2. Love

In a previous series, we dealt extensively with the 16 qualities of love (agapē) in 1 Corinthians 13. We also demonstrated the necessity for love in the beneficial use of spiritual gifting. If the gifting is not motivated by God’s agapē-love, then that gifting is “useless, devoid of virtue and limited.” 

John tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The qualities of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a are all expressions of God’s love in Christ. By contrast, one Bible commentator surveys the Corinthian behavior as “a boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish and irritating expression of insensitivity to the community.” 

Authentic spiritual gifting is an expression of God’s love in Christ

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 13 carefully and even memorize it so that it is close to your heart.

3. Edification

We have read that gifting is “the manifestation of the Spirit … for the common good” (12:7). The NLT renders this as “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.”

Paul also uses the idea of building each other up in his use of the word oikodomē, a Greek word with the literal meaning of “building a home.” This word appears as “edify” or “edification” in 14:3, 4, 5, 12, 17, 26. Here are two of those occurrences:

seek to abound for the edification of the church. (14:12)

When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (14:26)

Peter affirms this principle when he instructs us to “use whatever gift he [or she] has received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

So, another test is whether a spiritual gift is used to edify or build up others in the community or to tear down.

4. Intelligibility

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul denounces speaking in tongues that are not translated. These are heard as unintelligible babblings. Spiritual giftings, particularly those that are verbal, must engage not only the human spirit but also the human mind. 

Here is what Paul writes (14:14-20):

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.

I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.

When Paul says he speaks in tongues or languages “more than you all,” he probably refers to the fact that he spoke Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and probably other dialects. He was a polyglot, a person who spoke numerous languages.

At 14:21, he quotes Isaiah 28:11-12, which refers to invading Assyrians 700 years earlier. The people of Israel did not understand the invader’s language, which was a sign of judgment.

Paul forbade uninterpreted tongues or unintelligible babblings in the gathering of the Christian community. 

Spiritual giftings must be intelligible to the human mind.

5. Orderly

I will close with a brief examination of two texts. 

First is 14:33, 

for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 

God’s character is the reason for governing the proper use of both tongues and prophecy (14:26-32). God is not about chaos, confusion, or disorder; He is about peace.

Second, in 14:40, we read, 

But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. 

The word “properly” translates the Greek word euschēmonōs. In Romans 13:13, this same word is contrasted with wild parties, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and immoral living, and quarreling and jealousy. I think you get the point. This kind of behavior is incompatible with the character of our holy God and a test for discerning the authenticity of spiritual giftings.

Summing up

Spiritual gifts are expressions of God at work through His people. As such, the operation of spiritual gifts should be consistent with the nature and character of God.

We have identified five practical tests for discerning the proper manifestation of authentic spiritual gifting: 

  • language about Christ,
  • expression of God’s love, 
  • building up others in the Christian community,
  • understanding with the mind, and
  • God-honoring orderliness. 

What other tests can you identify as you read 1 Corinthians 12-14 and other texts about spiritual giftings? Let me know by clicking here

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