“To another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers…” (1Cor 12:9-10)
We have been looking at “spiritual things.” Paul tells the Corinthians he does not want them to be ignorant of them. I think it is safe to say that we should not be ignorant of them either. Because the goal of this passage is to alleviate our ignorance, these next two messages or so will seem very informational in style. Even so, as you read this, pray that the Lord not only informs you, but also inspires you and fills you. We don’t want to only know about spiritual things – we want these things of the Holy Spirit to be active and real in our own lives.
A gift of faith. When Paul includes faith among his examples of the workings of the Holy Spirit, he clearly does not mean saving faith in Jesus Christ. The faith we place in Jesus, the faith we exercise in giving Jesus control of our entire life, is indeed a gift of God, and it is a gift which is given to all who will receive it. In other words, if you are a Christian, you already have the gift of saving faith – faith that trusts everything to Jesus alone. The point Paul is illustrating is that God gives many different kinds of gifts, and they are all given to the church as whole. No single individual exhibits every possible gift of God for touching lives. Therefore, here, Paul is speaking about a gift of faith that some Christians do not possess – a faith that blesses the Church in a unique way beyond the faith that entrusts one’s life to Jesus. Perhaps the best way to describe this gift of faith is to offer some examples of Christians who possessed it.
James Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China in the nineteenth century, who clearly possessed the gift of faith. Hudson Taylor founded one of the world’s largest and most effective missionary societies in the face of a complete absence of financial backing, while holding to a principle that forbade members of the society to ask for any kind of material support. Taylor had only a firm conviction (a gift of faith) about God’s desire for the China Inland Mission to be formed – while all of common sense, and past history suggested that his goal was impossible. The gift of faith through J. Hudson Taylor was used by God to bless the church at large in mighty ways. Many Chinese met Jesus through the work of the China Inland Mission (CIM); many new missionary organizations were formed, inspired by God’s provision for CIM; glory was given to God as He was given opportunity to show how He provides for his children. The work of the China Inland Mission continues today, though under a different name. The gift God gave the church was one of faith to lay hold of something beyond human vision, and the result was that lives were touched!
George Müller was another through whom God gave the church at large the gift of faith. Müller founded and maintained a large orphanage, depending on God in prayer alone, for the resources to build buildings, maintain facilities and operate from day to day. The orphanages he founded, provided for and ministered to literally thousands of children in Müller’s lifetime, and the work has been continued (albeit in different form) to this day.
We can see then, that the gift of faith is given by God to his Church, to touch lives by trusting God for things that may seem impossible, perhaps even things that have never been done before. The gift of faith may be given to someone in the church for the salvation of someone who seems absolutely beyond hope. The gift of faith is exercised in starting new churches and ministries. It is a powerful gift.
“Graces of healings”. The next “grace” mentioned is healing. It is interesting to note that in the Greek, both “graces” and “healings” are plural. The implication is that rather than giving one individual a certain “gift of healing,” God considers each time a person is miraculously healed to be a gift. There are some individuals through whom the gift of healing seems to be given fairly often. However the emphasis seems to be on the incidence the healing itself, rather than the person through whom it comes. Though some people clearly have “healing ministries,” any Christian might be used to bring this gift to another as they lay hands on, and pray for, a sick person.
When I pray for others to be healed, I usually do it in a small group. The Lord has healed a few of people I have prayed for in this way. Once we prayed for a lady with Crohn’s disease, the night before she was to have surgery. The next day, the doctors sent her home, saying she didn’t need surgery any more. I once prayed for a friend who was trying to quit smoking, but couldn’t seem to do it. That was 15 years ago, and he hasn’t had a cigarette since that prayer.
There is just one time in my life when I am positive I experienced miraculous healing myself. Some of you were there – it was at a church retreat a few years ago, and I was immediately healed from a kidney stone.
But quite often, when I pray for people to be healed, I don’t see anything happen. The same is usually true when others pray for healing for me. I am not alone in my mixed experiences. You could fill a library with books written about this subject. Some people claim that the problem is lack of faith. I don’t buy it. I had no faith that my friend would quit smoking when I prayed for him. I didn’t even ask for prayer about my kidney stone – I asked for pain meds (some of you can testify to this). At other times I have felt tremendous faith, either in praying for others, or in being prayed for – and nothing has happened.
I don’t think we can boil it down to a formula that always works. That is the nature of our faith-relationship with Jesus. If we had a formula for healing, then who needs Jesus? Jesus told us many times to keep praying and not give up. So I keep praying, and though sometimes people are not healed, sometimes they are.
It is important also to remember that any healing that takes place during our life on earth, (whether supernatural or “normal”) is always temporary. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but eventually, years later, Lazarus died again. The judgment of sin on our physical bodies is death, and death’s effects will always be manifested sooner or later. There is no such thing as truly complete physical healing until Jesus gives us new bodies when he comes again. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Jesus did not devote his full energy to healing while he was on earth.
Miraculous powers. The Greek term describing this action of the Holy Spirit conveys the sense of dynamic power in operation. Since the term is distinguished from healing, we must assume that Paul is speaking of supernatural power manifested in some way other than healing. The New Testament brings to mind several incidences of such power. After a shipwreck, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and suffered no ill effects. On the island of Cyprus, Paul caused the “magician” Elymas to be struck blind. But the most pervasive New Testament example of the Spirit’s dynamic power (apart from healings and conversions) is exorcism. Jesus dramatically and unequivocally demonstrated his power by casting out evil spirits. He himself connects the exorcism of demons with the life changing activity of the Holy Spirit saying, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). The apostles, at Jesus’ command, made exorcism a significant part of their ministry, both before and after his death and resurrection. There can be no doubt that the Lord wants to continue the offensive against the powers of evil, and that he wants to do so by power of the Holy Spirit through His Church. He may indeed want to bless us with miracles of many kinds, but it is also safe to say that he wants gifts of exorcism (power) to be part of the pattern of a church that touches lives.
My former professor and mentor, Dr. Eugene Bunkowske, was a missionary in Nigeria for 22 years. When he first went there, he moved in among a tribe which had no Christians. The most prominent witch doctor of the area heard they were coming. He said, “I will put a curse on this man’s wife and his children, they will get sick and they will die, and then the missionary will go back to where he came from.”
Shortly after Bunkowske arrived, the witch doctor got sick; and then he died. Many people came to Jesus as a result of seeing the power of God manifested in this way. My friend only found out about the witch-doctor’s words later, but he believes firmly that it was the Lord, demonstrating his power and relevance to people who had been trapped in animistic religion.
More needs to be said about using the gift of powers, particularly exorcism. Jesus gives all of those who know him, spiritual authority over evil spirits. The principle is simply that Jesus is in us, and His power is greater than that of the devil (1 John 4:4). Our power is not sufficient to drive out Satan or demons, as the sons of Sceva found out (Acts 19:13-16). Jesus does promise us the power to overcome evil (Luke 10:18-20), but he cautions that if we simply drive out an evil spirit and do not see that the Holy Spirit enters in afterward, the individual will be no better off than before (Luke 11:24-26). We must also use discernment (that gift will be discussed later) in determining whether the problem is truly caused by the presence of demonic power, or something else.
There are some individuals who have a special calling to help others address demonic strongholds. It is an exhausting ministry, but also intensely rewarding. Our neighbors a few years ago were people with that calling. Some other friends of ours were struggling with their adopted son. He was diagnosed with reactive-detachment disorder, a traumatic and violent psychological syndrome that is very difficult to treat. Our friends were in despair over their son, and were on the verge of placing him permanently in an institution. I suggested that before they did that, we should take him to our neighbors who had the gift of dealing with demonic issues. We spent about three hours with boy. I can’t say it was a comfortable time. But when we were done, he no longer had the disorder. A psychaitrist later confirmed that he no longer had it. The boy’s life, and the lives of his parents, were completely changed. This is a wonderful gift for the body of Christ!
Years ago, I preached through this passage of 1 Corinthians with the goal that the church I was leading at that time should learn about these “things of the Holy Spirit.” The church was full of ordinary people. They weren’t super-Christians. They had jobs, and rent payments and car trouble and kids, just like most people. But we all agreed that we wanted the Lord to be doing these “spiritual things” among us, just as he did in the early church. And so, when someone wondered once if just maybe God wanted to say something, he spoke up, and it turned out to be a message of wisdom from the Lord. Another person was physically ill, and we laid hands on him, and prayed for him, and he was healed. Over time, the Lord did all kinds of amazing things in that church because the people were informed about these spiritual things, and they asked God to do them among us, and they were willing to take risks and possibly look foolish in order to learn.
The Lord can do that anywhere, if he has people who are willing. I pray that you are willing.