The Beginning of Gifts

Acts 1.4-5, 12-14, 2.1-6

Andrew was still praying aloud when he heard a rushing sound in his ears. As he glanced across the room he caught Philips eye. He had heard something too. Both instantly shot their eyes over the group. Everyone was wide-eyed and the sound was now around them. Was it in the room or just their ears; they weren’t quite sure. But the air had thickened and there was a pleasant weight upon them. Peter was at the front. He had been kneeling, but as he stood to full height he looked around. There was a fire-like glow on each person, even the ladies at the back. But he could not stare long for the fire was on him too and he felt a driving passion building inside. Oh, it was strong; he wanted to shout. He took a deep breath and gave it voice. What on earth was that? He did it again. Was that language? Could the others hear? This was crazy, but it felt good. He wanted to do it again and again; but was he shouting? It seemed they all were. Yes he could see everyone was. Wow, even Mary…
Though the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was expected, what happened at Pentecost must have taken the group by surprise. Who could have guessed they would speak out in unlearnt languages? We don’t find the phenomenon in the Old Testament or Jesus’ ministry, yet the disciples were convinced it was God. They had just two things to go on: Jesus promised the Spirit (Ac1.5), and the tongue talking that day declared the right things: ‘the wonders of God’ (2.11). Pentecost helps us to judge supernatural phenomenon: We do not judge them by how odd they are or whether they have happened before, we judge them by the fruits they produce. This is important; after Pentecost we cannot say God doesn’t do odd things or new things, because he does both! The test is fruit and the tongue talkers at Pentecost produced good fruit; both that day and in the years following.
There are many gifts, but the first gift manifested was unlearnt languages; or ‘tongues.’ It was also the first gift expressed when the gentiles (Ac 10.44-46) and disciples of John (19.1-6) received the Spirit; though in the case of John’s disciples they also prophesied. This does not mean that everyone who receives the Spirit must speak in tongues but it does indicate that tongues is often present when people are filled with the Spirit for the first time. This has certainly been my experience; most who prophecy or get divine messages do speak in tongues, but a few don’t. And the New Testament does not insist that tongues be present. I think we should expect it but not insist on it. Nicki Gumbel of Alpha Course fame describes tongues as ‘beginner’s gift’ and I think he may be right. Paul seems to reinforce this idea by repeatedly placing tongues at the end of his gift lists and telling people to excel in the greater gifts (1 Co 12.29-31).
Paul devotes a whole chapter to this ‘beginner’s gift’ (1 Co 14). He says tongues is speaking to God not man (2, 16) and I think this should show when it’s being interpreted. He says that uninterpreted tongues involves the human spirit but not the human mind (14). He says that some tongues is for private use (4) and others are for public use (27). These may even be different giftings. The one that is public (addressing a group) should be interpreted if it’s in an unknown language (27). Tongues can involve unlearnt human languages or angelic languages (13.1). Angelic languages need interpretation (13).
Though Paul sees private tongues as less important than a public gift like prophecy (5), he thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than most (18) and he tells us not to forbid speaking in tongues (39).
What about all the other gifts? I will just mention a few briefly. 1 Co 12.8-10 labels seven gifts besides tongues and interpretation. These are ‘the message of wisdom’ which is probably a divine solution to a problem , ‘the message of knowledge’ which is probably divine knowledge of something hidden, ‘faith’ which is probably a sudden divine ability to believe when circumstances are against you, ‘gifts of healing’ which seem to be many, perhaps spiritual and emotional healing are included, ‘miraculous powers’ which must be like the ability to still the wind and turn water to wine, ‘prophecy’ which can be foretelling the future or proclamation under inspiration, and ‘distinguishing between spirits’ which is probably the ability to know if the source of something is divine or evil.
Do the gifts of the Holy Spirit still operate today? I think we have every reason to believe they do. They have been documented as occurring right through church history, and we are experiencing them in our local church right now. Also Paul is quite clear about when they will stop. He says it will happen when we are ‘face to face’ with God, when we ‘know fully’ just as we are ‘fully known’ (1 Co 13.8-12). This will happen when Christ returns with the fullness of his kingdom. Until then we can only know and prophecy what the Spirit gives us (9).
Finally a word on God’s presence and power: It’s helpful to realize that God’s presence and power is the same thing. When the Holy Spirit was present at Pentecost there was power. Often we get caught up in the enjoyment of God’s presence and forget that it’s not just for enjoyment, it’s also for ministry. We should enjoy his presence, but we should also ask “What do I do with the power that’s on me?” If your hands tingle it’s a sign they should be laid on someone. If you feel like bursting you may be ready to prophecy. God gives us such signs to communicate what he is doing so that we can get involved. These signals are his permission to do signs and wonders; its then time to hop out the boat and take some risks.

Words to Vineyard Mombasa: Come, ‘all who are thirsty’; for more, His anointing, filling, empowering.

Illustrations: The Nairobi begins (photo & story), A girl: tongues without knowledge of it, Uniting an Orchestra, A birthday Divinely remembered.

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