Till I come, give attention to reading,
to exhortation, to doctrine.
1 Timothy 4:13
Dictionary.com says this about the word exhortation – “an utterance, discourse, or address conveying urgent advice or recommendations”. The word used in Greek for exhortation is paraklēsis and according to Vines Expository Dictionary it means something slightly different - “a calling to one’s side” (para, “beside,” and kaleo, “to call”) and so it is often translated as comfort, consolation, entreaty or encourage. So what exactly is the “gift” of exhortation and how does one use it?
Biblical exhortation means something far more than conveying urgent advice or recommendations on a particular subject. While those who have been called to teach often use the gift of exhortation in this way. They use it to expound on Scripture, “calling” on those listening to give urgent heed to what the Scriptures are instructing. But it is more than just a gift for teaching. While those who teach do use it to build and edify the church, it is also used to offer words of encouragement, consolation and comfort. So people with this gift often find themselves in the positon of counsellor, pastor, teacher, or even worship leader. They will most certainly be on the visitation committee (if your church has one) to visit those sick and in hospital. For it is their heart’s desire, their passion, to come alongside members of the church body to lend an ear, offer a word of encouragement or advice, and instruct, using Scripture and bringing comfort where it is needed most. Those with the gift of exhortation then, are the “glue” that holds the body of Christ together when it is faltering.
I have a dear friend who, at age seventy-four, seems to have an endless amount of energy, in which she utilizes her gift of exhortation and she does it in several ways. Always the first to lend a hand (or an ear) to those in need, she flits here and there throughout her day visiting friends and family, encouraging and comforting them in their faith. She teaches ESL, and leads a weekly bible study for those ESL students. She loves to “exhort” from the Scriptures. If you are in hospital you can expect a visit that will most certainly brighten your day, her words often leave one feeling comforted. If you are down, she makes it her goal to “build you up” another aspect of the gift of exhortation. On most days, she pushes back her exhaustion because, as she puts it, “I have so many things to do”. In reality, she only has one class a week that she has made a commitment to teach, all the rest she does out of the passion that drives her – her gift of exhortation. She also has the gifts of hospitality, encouragement and helps, which complement her gift of exhortation and make her one of the best friends you could ever hope to have. But she cannot slow down and I think if she was forced to she would be miserable. For she loves to teach from the Word of God and she loves to encourage and comfort everyone she meets in their faith. At our church if you took a poll and asked the ladies who their best friend in the church was – I have no doubt they would all say, “Carol”. For that is how she makes you feel, like you are her best friend – encouraged, comforted, edified and built up in the Lord – rightly making use of her gift of exhortation.
If you find that you love to teach from the Word of God and you seem to have a knack for comforting and encouraging others, you probably have the gift of exhortation!
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Last time we established that a teacher is not a gift and that the “gift of teaching” is a combination of several gifts that give one the ability to teach from Scripture. However, in order to keep things simple I will refer to the act of teaching as a gift, because for all intents and purposes it is a blessing (a gift) God has given to certain people for edification of the church.
Teachers usually have the spiritual gifts of prophecy, exhortation, wisdom, knowledge and discernment, which help them to expound on the Scriptures and in turn helps the church to grow.
2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (NKJV).
The word “dividing” in Greek is orthotomeō. Orthos, meaning “straight,” and temno, meaning “to cut”. Those that teach “cut” a straight line to the heart of the matter. In other words, those with the gift of teaching, will stay true to God’s Word. They will not veer from the truth in order to appease those around them with differing opinions. They will stay focused on context. They will not take one verse and try to make it mean something else.
Teachers will not base their Bible studies on revelations, visions, "words of knowledge", or dreams from God. Especially if those revelations, visions, etc., can’t be backed up with Scripture. Unfortunately, this is a big problem with many celebrity preachers today, who rely heavily on their “revelations” from God over what the Bible actually says. A good teacher will use the Word of God in context and will consider the whole Word of God as counsel when expounding on a particular subject. They do this because Scripture does not contradict Scripture.
Characteristics of a Teacher
Those who teach will often find themselves digging deeper into Scripture and will not be satisfied with meditating only on daily devotionals. They want “meat” and will do everything in their power to find those moments in the day where they can spend time in the Word of God. They will often spend hours (sometimes days) preparing lessons because they are extremely careful with what they teach and how they teach it. The main thing about teachers though is that they can’t wait for Sunday, or Bible study group (or wherever they serve) so that they can share the Word of God. They come “alive” when they can share what God is showing them.
I do want to stress one thing though, teaching the Bible and the gift of teaching is not the same gift as say a school teacher would have. There are many talented school teachers, who have a knack for getting their message across to students. However, you may find that those same teachers when put in the position of teaching the Bible, often flounder. Teaching the Bible is not the same as teaching "reading, writing or arithmetic". A teacher has to know their Bible and been given the spiritual gifts of exhortation, discernment, wisdom, knowledge and prophecy, in order to explain the Scriptures accurately.
I heard the story of a teacher who was pressured into teaching Sunday school by the elders of her church. They “assumed” she would be a great “fit” because she taught the age group they were trying to place her in. But she felt called to serve in different ways – as a greeter, in the kitchen, or in the nursery tending to little ones. She had the spiritual gift of helps and hospitality. Not teaching. When she knew it was her turn to serve in the kitchen serving coffee she came alive! She loved to pour someone a cup of coffee or tea on Sundays and talk to them. Especially if they were new to the church. She also served as a greeter. Her gifts of hospitality and helps fit right in with these types of service. However, someone convinced her that as a teacher she should be teaching Sunday school. In fact they made her feel guilty for not serving that way in her church. So she agreed to serve as a Sunday School teacher, but she soon became miserable. She wasn’t happy teaching all week and then having to prepare more lessons for Sunday. She was frustrated, tired and sad. Where once Sunday was her day of rest and a day to exercise her spiritual gifts, she soon began to hate the thought of going to church. It felt like work to her and she had no joy in serving the Lord in this manner. She was on the verge of quitting church altogether when she took a course on Spiritual Gifts and realized (with a shock) that she did not have the gift of teaching. She laughed with irony at the thought, and after much prayer and discussion with friends, went back to serving as a Greeter and serving coffee.
If you are a school teacher and you don’t feel comfortable teaching Sunday school or Bible studies, it is likely because you have not been called by God to teach in that way. Don’t let those who think they know best try to convince you otherwise. However, if you are a school teacher who has also been given the "gift of teaching" – you have (in my humble opinion) been doubly blessed. What a rare treat it would be to have you as a teacher!
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One of the problems that needs to be addressed before we get too deep into our look at Spiritual Gifts, is the issue of what makes a spiritual gift a “gift” rather than a talent, calling, or position. How do we differentiate between them?
First Corinthians 12:28 says, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.” Notice the word “appointed.” In Greek, it is tithēmi and means “to put in place”. Jesus used it in John 15:16 when referring to his disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” The first three gifts Paul talks about here – apostles, prophets and teachers – are, according to Paul, by appointment. These first three appointments were instrumental in building up the church and establishing it in the early years. Jesus himself appointed those we know as apostles. He blessed them and sent them out to establish his church. But were these appointments spiritual gifts as well?
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.”
Paul makes it clear right from the start - whether gift, ministry, or activity – all come from God and He works His will through them all. So why did Paul make a distinction between apostles, prophets and teachers? Are these three positions, or spiritual gifts? If they are positions, how did we come to recognize them as gifts? Can they be both?
Ephesians 4:11 says, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” Here Paul seems to add evangelists and pastors to the list. “Teachers” are those who have the ability to interpret God’s Word and speak forth on it. This is something both evangelists, and pastors do as well. So Paul is not necessarily adding another group to the list, he is just broadening the scope of what teaching can look like and from whom.
The word "pastor" comes from the Greek word poimēn and it means "to shepherd or manage". It is a position, not a spiritual gift. While pastors do preach from the Word they require other spiritual gifts in order to interpret the Word. The actual meaning behind the word “evangelist” is anyone who brings a message of “good news”. For the Christian, that message is that there is forgiveness of sins and salvation in Jesus Christ. So the “position” of evangelist is something all Christians are to be actively engaged in. An evangelist, therefore, is not just a celebrity preacher you see on T.V. who draws huge crowds to hear them speak. An evangelist is anyone who shares the “good news” about Jesus with someone else. Something all Christians are called to do (Matthew 28:18-20). But it is one thing to “share” what you know and quite another to interpret the Scriptures.
James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
In other words, those who teach from the Word of God, must know it and not take it out of context, keeping the full counsel of God close to their hearts as they seek to rightly interpret it. Why? Because those who teach from the Word of God are responsible for the growth and edification of the church body and for ensuring no false doctrine is taught. Ultimately, they will be held accountable by God for what they taught others from His Word. Those who teach from God’s Word do have a “gift” for being able to make things clear to others. But a “teacher” is not a spiritual gift. Rather, the gifts a teacher possesses in order to teach - prophecy, exhortation, wisdom, discernment and knowledge (to name a few) make up the “gift of teaching” in order for teachers to carry out their role.
Previously, we talked about the gift of prophecy. There is a difference between the gift of prophecy and a prophet. One exhorts, edifies and comforts (1 Cor. 14:3), while the other receives direct revelation from the Lord, as relates to the spiritual condition of God’s people or future events. Usually, these prophets herald warnings from God of coming judgment, with promises of blessings if people repent and turn back to Him. So a “prophet” is not a spiritual gift, but the gift of prophecy is.
As for the role of apostle, this too is not a spiritual gift. An apostle was someone who had seen Jesus and was an eye-witness to his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). There are some who believe that anyone who plants a church is an apostle. This would be inaccurate, as an apostle (by Peter’s own definition) is someone who has seen the Lord, talked to him and was a witness to his resurrection. Since those who go out to establish new churches have never seen the Lord, nor eye-witnesses to his resurrection, they are not apostles. They may say they have a “gift” of apostleship to be able to establish a church, but the gifts necessary to establish a church would be the gifts of administration, faith, discernment and wisdom for example. An apostle is not a spiritual gift. It is a position in the early church that was held only by those who had seen and talked to Jesus. Those who call themselves apostles today are using the word falsely, for there is no such position in the church today.
Paul stresses the importance of edification in the church and the purpose behind Spiritual Gifts. With the gift of prophecy we use it to edify the church and likewise, all gifts should be used to edify the church. Paul even says in relation to the gift of tongues, “If I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?” (1 Cor. 14:6). In other words, if the gift you have is not being used to edify the church – what is the point of having it?
The Difference Between a Talent,
A Calling and a Gift
Do our talents or passions dictate our gifts? What is the difference?
A talent is something you are naturally born with. A calling is something you have a passion for and a spiritual gift is how you fulfill that calling.
For example, I had a talent for singing when I was growing up. I was professionally trained and my career as a singer was an open road before me. And right during the middle of it all I accepted Christ as my Saviour. I had a choice to make - sing for God or continue as planned and go for the career in music. I chose to sing for God, much to my instructor's dismay who had dreams of sending me on to Julliard's (her Alma-mater) in New York. She was quite furious with me actually. But God had grabbed me and I wanted to honour Him with the voice He gave me by using it to tell others about Him. In fact, I was compelled to use my voice in that way. As a "teaching" tool. I didn't realize then about the spiritual gifts God had given me, but He knew and He prepared me to use them in a unique way.
At one point I might have said singing was my passion or calling. But now, when I look back on my life and can see where God directed my focus, I know that my "passion" is studying His Word and sharing it with others. He has called me to teach and has given me the spiritual gifts to be able to carry that out. When I sang, I would often try to use my songs to teach a lesson about God. In fact, I was so focused on getting that message across that one gentleman said to me once after a concert, that I talked too much during the concert and needed to stop. He said, "People come to hear you sing, not preach." Clearly, my passion or "calling" - my gift - was teaching, not singing and without realizing it at the time, I was trying to use it. My talent was something I could use to honour God, but it was not a spiritual gift. Which is probably why God orchestrated events where I would permanently lose my singing voice (you can read about that here) as I was taking way too long (30 years) to put the gift He gave me (teaching) to good use.
As we journey through the Gifts of the Spirit you might begin to notice that your passions are a reflection of the spiritual gifts you have been given. Yes, our talents may dictate our career options or positions in the church. And they may even point the way to what our underlying gifts really are. But "talents" are not gifts any more than a position in the church such as Pastor, Prophet, or Teacher is a spiritual gift. Keep that in mind as we journey through the Gifts of the Spirit, as it will help you to understand your role in the church body, and what gifts you have been given to fulfill that role.
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One of the greatest wonders concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not in how many gifts are available, but how they are used within the body of Christ. As we learned previously, all gifts are for building up the church. The gift of prophecy being one of the best (according to Paul) in edifying the church. But another gift that is just as important is the gift of ministry or serving.
The word “ministry” comes from the Greek word diakonia and literally means “servant”. You often hear people within church circles say endearingly, “He (or she) has such a servant’s heart” and in truth people with this gift really do! They love to serve others. They take great joy in it. In fact, the first people to be recognized with this gift were those appointed in Acts 6:1-7.
Now this word “ministry” should not be confused with what a pastor does. The gift of “pastor” is different than the gift of “ministry”. While a pastor does “serve” his congregation, his main gifts would be prophecy, teaching and exhortation (although I’m sure they have more). But as the Apostles pointed out in Acts 6:2, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables,” so like the apostles, a pastor would be more concerned in shepherding his flock. He “serves” the congregation better, by exhorting from the Word of God and not having to worry about the administration aspects of running a church.
However, one would usually find that the two go hand in hand. For if the word “ministry” literally means servant, than a pastor could not do his job if he did not also have the gift of ministry. So, to keep things simple and less confusing, for the rest of this post I will refer to the gift of ministry as the gift of servanthood or serving.
In Acts 6:1-7 we see the qualifications for someone with the gift of servanthood as given by the apostles:
• They must have a good reputation.
• They must be full of the Holy Spirit.
• They must be wise.
It is from this passage in Acts 6 that most people believe we get the office of deacon or deaconess. Mainly because this particular office employs the gift of serving. But we must not mistake an “office” or “position” in the church as a gift, as they are two completely different things. Gifts are given directly through and by the Holy Spirit. Whereas an office or position in the church, such as a deacon or elder, is a man-made position which is blessed with the laying on of hands by those with the authority to do so (usually a pastor). While the office of deacon employs the gift of serving, it is not actually a gift of the Holy Spirit. To see a complete list of character traits necessary to become a deacon read 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
Opportunities to Serve
Those with the gift of serving are usually very easy to spot in church circles. They are the ones who are usually right in “the thick of things”. For example, my best friend’s husband is a very good cook and so he is our church “chef” so to speak. He plans meals for hundreds of people and dozens of events each year. He shops regularly for the best deals in town, often travelling to many different places for those deals. And while he has a church budget to use to get all the necessary food items, and is reimbursed for gas, he spends a great deal of his time serving in this way. And from what I’m told, it is a full-time job. He is retired so he doesn’t mind, but he is also very sick and he still goes out to do his weekly shopping runs. He has a true servant’s heart.
There are many opportunities for those with a “servant’s heart” to minister in the church – visiting the sick in hospital, as a deacon or deaconess, in the nursery, or as a Sunday school teacher, to name a few.There are also ways to employ the gift of serving outside the church - helping in the community, volunteering at hospitals or even just reading to children after school.
I have another friend who, many years ago, was our church janitor. He had the qualifications to be an ordained minister. He spoke three languages. Had even received his Master of Divinity degree and more, but instead he chose to serve as our janitor. At the time he served our church, he was more qualified in credentials than our own pastor! But he loved to serve, more than he loved to preach. Why? Because he had the gift of serving. He loved to study the Bible and so he thought his calling was to preach, but he discovered that even with all his degrees, he could not dismiss the gift God had given him – that of serving others. And so he made the decision to use his gift of serving by becoming our janitor, and our church was the better for it. For his gift shined on Sunday mornings when members came into the church and could see how well taken care of it was – and this dear man still managed to serve as a Sunday school teacher and wherever he was needed. He had a true gift of serving.
Are you always looking to the needs of others, putting them before your own? Do you seek to please God, by serving in ways that may be “behind the scenes” where you might not get appreciated or even thanked for what you do? Then you may have the gift of serving.
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The Apostle Paul once said, “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1, NKJV). Why did he stress the importance of the gift of prophecy? He answers in 1 Corinthians 14:3 when he says, “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” From that verse alone we see three important aspects of prophecy that make it an important gift:
The word “edification” comes from the Greek oikos, meaning “a home,” and demo, meaning “to build”. So it literally means to “build up” and is used figuratively in regards to the spiritual body of the church. To prophesy then, is to build up the church body or edify it.
“Exhortation” comes from the Greek words para, meaning “beside”, and kaleo, meaning “to call”. The meaning being that of “calling to one’s side,” offering words of comfort, encouragement and aid. The NIV translates exhortation into the word encouraging.
The word “comfort” comes from the Greek para, meaning “near”, and muthos, meaning “speech”. It literally means “speaking closely to anyone”. It has the connotation of offering practical comfort and encouragement to another. So it is an “act” of helping or meeting a need.
All three of these aspects of prophecy – edification, exhortation and comfort should be present in those who prophesy. Why? Because the main reason behind prophecy, indeed behind all spiritual gifts, is to build up the church (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Are There Prophets Today?
The word prophecy itself means to speak forth the mind and counsel of God. It comes from the Greek pro meaning “forth” and femi meaning “to speak”. But what does that entail?
In the Old Testament there were many prophets who received messages from God. Some of these messages were given directly to the prophet. Others were given through dreams or visions and still others were used by God as an example, or lesson for the people to learn something from (see the book of Hosea). No matter how the prophets were used, what they had to say usually came with a warning, followed by a promise if the people obeyed. Unfortunately, more often than not, a prophet's warnings were not heeded and the warnings turned into judgements from God.
The book of Jeremiah is an excellent example of a prophet of God who warned his people of God’s coming judgments if they did not repent and return to God. The book of Revelation speaks forth both warnings of judgments to come and promises of a bright future. However, one thing is clear about all the prophets of the Old Testament and the New Testament, not one of them was appointed by man to be a prophet. No individual or organization can enable a man or woman to become a true prophet. A church can ordain and install an evangelist or a pastor, but no one can become a prophet in the full meaning of the word unless God chooses to give him a message with orders to pass it on.
So how do we tell if someone is a prophet? Anyone can say they had a message from God or that they are a prophet of God, but how does one tell if they are speaking the truth or just delusional? The only way to confirm whether or not someone is a true prophet of God, is if their prophecies come true (Deuteronomy 18:22). But what if their prophecies are far into the future, how are people to know if the prophet is really from God? The Lord Himself says that if a person calling himself a prophet of God was not from God – they would die (Deuteronomy 18:20). This would more than likely be a spiritual death or eternal separation from God. That in itself should be a deterrent for people calling themselves prophets of God.
Sadly, the word “prophet” is being abused in the church today to the point where everyone thinks they have a message from God and so they call themselves a prophet of God. I don’t know about you, but when someone introduces themselves to me as a prophet, my Spidey senses kick into high gear, mainly because they are using the term “prophet” as a title worn with pride.
What Are the Traits of a False Prophet?
They will contradict Scripture. The best way to guard yourself against false prophets is to know the Word of God. 2 Timothy 2:15-16 says we need to be diligent so that we are rightly dividing the Word. We are not to listen to idle babblings. Too many people love to say, "The Lord revealed to me..." or "The Lord told me..." and gullible people accept what they are saying as fact. Check everything against Scripture!
They will deny Jesus’ divinity. Anyone who denies that Jesus is God, who downplays His sacrificial death on the cross, or who rejects Jesus’ humanity is a false prophet. 1 John 2:22 says, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.”
They will puff themselves up. They will precede their name with the title of “prophet”, thus making themselves seem important. Galatians 6:3 says, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” And 2 Corinthians 10:17-18 says, “But ‘he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’ For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.”
They will avoid controversy. True prophets of old spoke the truth no matter how harsh and no matter the consequences to their well-being. They would not couch it with half-truths, nor would they be “politically correct”. If the Lord has a word of warning, it will be direct and straight to the point. A true prophet of God will not be able to hold God's message within themselves, but will feel compelled to speak it (Jeremiah 20:9), even if it means persecution for themselves.
They will talk about their dreams, visions and “special revelations” from God. They will concentrate and expound on something that can’t be proven. Staying clear of the Bible. They will say flippant things like televangelist Joyce Meyer said once in one of her broadcasts, “The Bible can’t even find any way to explain this. Not really. That is why you have got to get it by revelation. There are no words to explain what I am telling you. I have got to just trust God that he is putting it into your spirit like he put it into mine.”[i] Meyer puts the onus on the listener, blaming them for not being “spiritual” enough to hear what God has told her.
They will “prophesy” only on what people want to hear.Real prophets of old pointed out sin and preached repentance, obedience and confession to God. Real prophets sounded warnings, followed by blessingsifpeople would repent and turn back to God. Today’s “prophets” preach prosperity, healings, and promises of blessings from God, for no other reason than the famous line we hear all the time, "God wants to give good gifts to His children." This line is used frequently by people like prosperity teacher Joel Osteen. It is Scripture that is twisted into a lie, by leaving out the important aspects of what has to happen before God gives good gifts to His children. Namely, our repentance and confession. 2 Timothy 4:3 says,“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
Their prophecies will not come true! Often they will preface their “prophecies” from God with the line “the Lord has revealed to me…” Benny Hinn does this. A lot. So far, his “prophecies” have yet to come true. To get an idea of some of his “revelations” from God visit this link. Be very sceptical when someone begins a sentence with “The Lord revealed to me” or “The Lord told me” or "I have a word of knowledge from the Lord" especially if what they are saying can’t be backed up with Scripture.
Does the Gift of Prophecy Still Exist?
Jesus confirmed that all Scripture was fulfilled in him (Matthew 5:17-18). With the canon of Scripture complete, we have the advantage of being able to see throughout history where prophecies came true. Even the book of Revelation gives us an advantage on the signs of what to look for in regards to coming judgments and Christ’s return. So, does the gift of prophecy still exist? Is there still a need for it? Yes! It does exist, but in a much simpler form.
Ephesians 4:12 says there are two reasons for spiritual gifts - to equip us for ministry and to edify the body of Christ. And Ephesians 4:13 tells us how long those gifts will be available:
Until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.
Until we are perfected.
Until we measure up to stature of the fullness of Christ.
Until we are no longer children who are tossed to and fro with every kind of doctrine.
Until we speak the truth in love, growing up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.
Clearly, the gift of prophecy is still available and needed today, but it is only available as a means to edify, exhort and comfort the body of Christ. If the purpose of a prophet in Biblical times was to reveal truth from God, why would we need prophets today when we have the completed revelation of God in the form of the Bible? All the warnings to repent are in Scripture, followed by the promises of God to those who turn to Him. All the prophecies in regards to future events are also found in the Bible. But, those who teach or exhort from the Word of God, who seek to edify the church and who encourage the lost to repent, using Scripture as their foundation, would qualify today as those having the “gift of prophecy”. They are not “prophets” in the sense that they have something new to say that God has not revealed to anyone else. He no longer needs to do this because we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth (John 14:26; John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10). However, God does still use prophets to expound on His warnings written in Scripture. He uses them to edify the church (from Scripture) and He uses them to encourage and comfort the church through His promises. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:39, “desire earnestly to prophesy” for the plain and simple reason that it is to help the church grow.
Today God uses those with the gift of prophecy by showing them, through Scripture, insights and wisdom that they share with the rest of the body of Christ to build them up and encourage them. And what greater gift could one give back to the church than to build them up in the Lord?
I don't usually like to pick one topic and expound on it. I much prefer reading an entire book of the Bible and going through it verse by verse. You learn so much more that way. However, there are several topics within the Bible that deserve our attention. One of these is the subject of Spiritual Gifts. So for the next little while we will be looking closely at the gifts God gives us. We will examine how they are supposed to work within the body of Christ and since so many new Christians (and sometimes older ones) question whether they have any gifts at all, I think it is important to have a proper understanding of not only what gifts God has given us, but how we are to use them. And we will also examine the touchy subject of whether or not some gifts no longer exist. While some say they all currently exist, others say they don't. So I hope you will join me on this journey as we look at what the Bible has to say about Spiritual Gifts.
Let us start by listing all the Spiritual Gifts available to us as listed in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians and 2 Peter.
If I have left any out, please let me know! But this is a very good list to start with, don't you think? And aren't you amazed when you look at this list, over all that God gives us to carry out His mission here on earth? I don't know about you but it absolutely boggles my mind! We are so blessed.
Now, you may be wondering which gift you have and if you have more than one. Be assured that every Christian has at least one or more of the gifts above. What gifts do you think you have? I'd love to know and perhaps throughout this study you will learn if you have more than you thought!
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And so we come to the end of our study on Ephesians. Throughout the book of Ephesians Paul has encouraged and warned the new pagan converts on several issues. He has shown them the spiritual blessings they now have in Christ and the meaning of spiritual wisdom. He has explained to them why good works will not save them, and how Jesus' sacrifice unites humanity. He showed them how they should live in light of their salvation. He also explained to them the importance of Spiritual Gifts and what it means tosubmit to one another. So far, it would seem, everything Paul has shared in this letter is to help the Ephesians understand who they are now in Christ and what their lives should look like in light of that. But he has one final word of warning for them.
To put on the full armor of God.
And like a commander calling his soldiers to war, Paul uses a Roman soldier's armor as a tool to help them remember how important it is to always be on their guard, ready to do battle with the evil one.
With that in mind, the first thing Paul exhorts the Ephesians (and us) to do, is to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." What does that mean exactly? Being "strong in the Lord" is all about how much we trust Him and how much we will obey Him and resist the devil. Taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) to make it obedient to Christ. Without that basic trust and obedience we have no armor to put on! Being strong in the Lord means our faith and obedience to God reside solely in His power, His might, and the knowledge that He is God. He is our strength. He is our power. He is our Saviour. He is the one who is most trustworthy in all the universe, who deserves our allegiance - our obedience. So we are to be strong in Him. Rest and abide in Him. Trust Him!
So the first important step for the Ephesians and us is to remember who we have placed our trust in and why. The why, Paul explains, is so that we can "stand against the wiles of the devil." Keep in mind who Paul is talking to - Gentile converts from the idol capital of the ancient world. Where the dreaded Nicolaitans (Revelations 2:6) had snuck in and were preaching a false doctrine that promoted the belief that you could worship God and idols at the same time. Keeping the entire letter of Ephesians in context we see that once again Paul is emphasizing the struggle the Ephesians had to face in regards to their new faith in Christ - the lure of idol worship and the temptation to sin.
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12, KJV).
In the NIV the above verse takes on a completely different meaning and reads: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." In the NIV the reader is lead to believe that our battle is with evil spiritual forces in the heavenly realms. This idea of doing battle with invisible evil forces is where we get the concept of Spiritual Warfare. A topic I will not touch here today as it needs its own book! But if we take the above verse in context with the rest of Ephesians and the Torah (Old Testament), it is my belief that the "high places" (Leviticus 26:30; Numbers 22:41; Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 3:3) referred to here are more likely not in reference to anything in heaven, but are instead in reference to the places of idol worship that were scattered throughout Ephesus and around the ancient world. In fact, most temples sat in high places where they could be seen by the populace. The temple of Artemis (Diana) was one such place in Ephesus. It's structure was large enough and high enough that it could be seen from any vantage point in Ephesus. Even the temple of God in Jerusalem was built in this manner - on a high place for all to see. So in my opinion the verse above is not in reference to evil forces in heaven, but in reference to the wickedness that took place in the high places. This makes even more sense when we think of the temple in Jerusalem and the wicked acts of the Roman emperors who tried to install their own idols there, as Caligula did when he tried to install a statue of himself in the temple in 40 A.D.
"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Ephesians 6:13, NKJV).
The word "day" in Greek is hēmera and is a reference to time as opposed to a specific day. So it could be translated as "hour, time or season". Again, this makes sense when we look at the surrounding context. Paul is urging the Ephesians to be ready for those times when the adversary will deceive, tempt them to sin, or try to destroy their trust and faith in God.
How to Dress for War
With each piece of armor Paul reminds the Ephesians what he has discussed with them and why. The first piece of armor he encourages them to take up is the belt of truth.
"Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness" (Ephesians 6:14).
A Roman soldier strapped a belt around his waist that was sometimes made of leather and sometimes made of metal. It protected his lower regions, but it was also used to hold his sword and other weapons. Basically, this belt held everything in place. This is an excellent analogy Paul uses for the Ephesians because it drives home the point that they must "gird" themselves with the truth. If their faith is not founded on the truth that eternal life and salvation can be found in no one else but Jesus Christ, then they will falter in their faith. That basic truth holds all the other pieces of armor in place.
It is followed with the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate protected the heart and internal organs of the soldier. This piece of armor was crucial to staying alive and because of its weight and how it was put together, Roman soldiers had to help each other put these breastplates on.
Our righteousness comes from Jesus Christ and Him alone. We cannot be good enough, or do good enough to attain this righteousness on our own. The analogy of the breastplate is crucial then as it helped to cement in the mind of the Ephesians that they were forgiven of their sins and were now made righteous in God's sight - but only because of Jesus. His "armor" now protected them from a life separated from God.
'...and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Ephesians 6:15).
Hetoimasia means preparation or readiness in Greek, but it also has the meaning of "firm footing" as in foundation. What an excellent example Paul uses here, to show the Ephesians once again how to withstand the wiles of the devil - by being prepared - at the ready - with the Gospel of peace. Giving the believer a firm footing that he (or she) might walk in a worthy manner.
"...above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one" (Ephesians 6:16).
A Roman soldier's shield was about four feet long and two feet wide. When held in front of their body it protected them a great deal. It was their first source of protection against actual fiery arrows. Likewise, our faith in Jesus is our first line of defence against fiery darts from the evil one.
"And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17)
Each piece of armor had a purpose in protecting the soldier and Paul uses them to show us how to protect ourselves from the enemy. The helmet of salvation protects our minds from deceit, temptation, worry and doubt that the devil loves to throw at us. We bear it like a crown or seal upon our heads that we receive because of Jesus. Without it our minds are unprotected. When we put on the helmet of salvation it reminds us to "take every thought captive" (2 Corinthians 10:5).
The Sword of the Spirit, Paul points out, is the Word of God. And it is the Word of God that Jesus used against any arrows the devil flung at him, so we should always be learning it.
Paul finishes by reminding the Ephesians of the importance of prayer.
"...praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18)
Supplication means making your needs known and we do this for not only ourselves but for the needs of others as well. When we pray, we are conversing with God and so our entire being is insulated and protected from head to foot as we clothe ourselves in Christ, ready to face the day.
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And now we come to the last chapter of Ephesians. After instilling in the Ephesians the importance of submission and what that looks like for married couples, Paul then continues to instruct these new Christians on how they should treat their children and their servants, and how children and servants should respond to those in authority over them.
Interesting to note is that Paul's underlying theme of submission can still be seen in his instructions by three little words, "in the Lord." For it is in the Lord we abide and it is through our reverence for Him that we submit to one another and learn to live in peace with each other.
For children, this meant obeying their parents and it came with a promise from God, "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." Their act of submission in the Lord, was by obeying their parents. But there was an added warning from Paul when dealing with children. It is specifically addressed to the fathers, "Do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." In the pagan world of Paul's day most men ruled their families with rigid and domineering authority. The feelings of wives and children were seldom considered. But Paul is showing them a new way to raise children. The word "admonition" is nouthesia and means "the training by word," whether of encouragement, or, if necessary, by reproof, so Paul is showing the fathers the importance once again of being the spiritual head of the home. For it is through the Word of God that we find our peace. This act of putting God first above all in the home had a "trickle down" affect. Women would submit to their husbands, out of reverence for God and children would obey their parents out of reverence for God.
The same principle was put into practice for those with servants. Servants were to serve their masters as they would serve Christ and masters were to do the same thing. The only exception being in regard to a command that involves clear disobedience of God’s Word as illustrated in Acts 4:19, 20.
In today's world we are to serve our bosses (however disagreeable they may be) as we would serve Christ and vice-versa. Submission to each other "in the fear of the Lord" (reverence for God) is how peace within the body of Christ is established and the only way the church will survive in this turbulent world.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. - Colossians 3:15
This is going to be a long post but stick with me because in the end you will never have a problem with the word "submission" again.
Today we will carefully examine a section of Scripture that most women have struggled with for centuries. The modern woman of today finds it extremely offensive and some Christian men who have misinterpreted it, use it as an abusive form of control over their wives. It all stems from this one verse: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." Let's look into the Word of God and find out exactly what it means to submit to our husbands.
Before we begin, please grab a coloured pencil or highlighter and open your Bibles to Ephesians 5:22-33. Every time you see the word "own" colour it in, or underline it. Do something to make it stand out. You will see why in a minute. Don't have your Bible handy? Visit Biblegateway.com and highlight the word "own" there. It is an excellent site for Bible study as they not only allow you to highlight, but you can take notes that are saved for you as well. So, go highlight the word "own" and then come back here. I'll wait...I'm not going anywhere.
Now, that you have done that, let's look at these verses in context. At the beginning of Ephesians chapter five, Paul encourages the Ephesian converts to be "imitators of God" and so he lays out several keys and examples on how a Christian should live and what is expected of them. Last week, we looked at the Eight Keys to Godly Living and one of the last keys precedes the verses for today. But before we look at that, let's look at the entire section which says:
17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:17-21, NKJV).
As you can see, Paul is setting the context on how we should live for the Lord, and what that should look like in how we relate to each other as members of Christ's body. Last week I shared the meaning on what it meant to submit to one another "in the fear of God". Here it is again: "The word fear in Hebrew is yirah and means "awe or reverence". The "fear of the Lord" means to have an overwhelming sense of His glory or worth.Submitting to one another in the "fear of God" therefore, means we submit out of reverence for God and His holiness. This kind of submission means we do not try to use our wealth, gender or position to "bulldoze" someone into doing what we want. Instead, this kind of submission is done with respect and love for each other and our unity in Christ, out of reverence for God."
Now, with that in mind, let's look at the first few verses and the word "own" that I had you highlight.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Ever wonder why that word "own" is there? Or why Paul had to make such a big deal about wives submitting to their own husbands? The Ephesian converts were a particular concern for the Apostle Paul because Ephesus was the capital of idol worship in the Roman world. It is here where most idols were made and sold. And it is here where the acts of idol worship involved prostitution, orgies, and other sexually immoral acts. This is the culture the Ephesian converts came out of, but it still went on around them every day. These immoral acts did not stop because some became Christians. Every day they struggled with reverting back to their old ways. But, the early believers were torn because of two false doctrines that were sweeping through the church.
The first false doctrine spread was antinomianism. Antinomianism is the belief that you could sin all you want and still be saved because of grace This doctrine, is something that is still promoted today in churches, through leaders like Joseph Prince. The other false doctrine being spread was by the Nicolaitans. They put themselves forward as believers in Jesus Christ and, at the same time, practiced black magic, offered sacrifices to numerous idols and were sexually immoral, all while teaching new believers that all these things were okay with God. In Revelation 2:6 Jesus commended the Ephesians for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans.
Despite that, these false doctrines were spreading throughout the early church because of the practice of idol worship. This is why Paul stressed in Ephesians 5:11, "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." He was earnestly trying to help the Ephesians understand what life in Christ was supposed to look like - and it didn't involve the occult and sexually immoral practices of idol worship. Keep this bit of history in mind as you read this section of Ephesians.
Getting back to the word "own" - because of the sexual immorality involved in idol worship, Ephesian wives (and their husbands) thought nothing about sleeping with other people, hence the reason why Paul needed to stress the importance of wives submitting to their own husbands, as to the Lord.
Now, did you notice that last part - as to the Lord? It goes back to submitting to one another (Eph. 5:21) in the fear of God. So we submit to our husbands because we have reverence (fear - yirah) for God. Why? Because the husband is the head, as Christ is the head of the church and Jesus is the Saviour of that church. So the church as a whole is subject to Christ. We are under his authority. Not in a dogmatic "you do what I say" way, but because His ways (His authority) are for our benefit, that we might become like Him, sanctified, ready to serve Him not only in this world but in the one to come.
Now here is the kicker - we submit to our husbands not because they are superior in any way, but because God has placed upon them a huge responsibility for our spiritual welfare.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.(Ephesians 5:25-27, NKJV).
Again, keep the history of Ephesus in mind. As wives are to be subject to their own husbands (no longer submitting to other men), husbands were to love their own wives. How? As Christ loved the church. And how did Jesus love the church? He gave Himself up for her! And this is what husbands must do for their wives. Why? For one purpose - to sanctify and cleanse them. Jesus is counting on husbands to see that their wives are properly loved and washed (the Greek word is "loutron" and means bathed) in the Word, so that when Jesus comes again, both husband and wife will stand before Him holy and without blemish.
Submission therefore, has nothing to do with women meekly doing whatever they are told, or being subject to the whims of other men. Submission is solely in relation to the husband and wife partnership that is entered upon marriage. Women submit to their husbands out of reverence for God, with the knowledge that the husband is responsible to do everything in his power (give himself up for her) to ensure she will be loved and washed (or bathed) in the Word of God.
Ultimately, we are each responsible for our relationship with the Lord. Single women answer to Jesus alone. He is their head. But those who are married enter into a unique covenant with God. The two become one (Ephesians 5:31) just as Christ and the church are one. And their relationship as Christians is made stronger because of this.
I want to make one thing very clear before I finish. This doesn't always mean the man is right in every circumstance. It also doesn't mean the woman is always right. God's Holy Spirit resides in each of us and He leads and guides each of us equally. So a husband and wife who read the Bible together and pray together will be so much stronger in the Lord and in hearing His voice, then they would be if they ignored this aspect of their marriage. Therefore, if you keep Christ as your head in your marriage submission will come easily.
“The woman was made out of Adam’s side. She was not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.” - Matthew Henry
Paul has been laying out the basics for the converted Ephesians on how a Christian should live and behave. Today he instills in them again who they are now in Christ. He seems to be really trying to get this concept of who they are now across to them. It must have been very hard for the Ephesians converts because their former lifestyles were so completely and utterly dark. Yet, Paul assures them again and again, that's not who they are now.
Sometimes I think we all need to be reminded that what we were is not who we are now. Some new Christians are so hard on themselves that they find forgiveness for their former lifestyle a hard thing to accept. They have a hard time forgiving themselves, so they reason Jesus must have a hard time doing it as well. We come out of the darkness, yet it somehow still clings to us in the form of regrets. Paul's words in today's verses remind us and encourage us to not only walk in the light of Christ, but to walk in reverence of Him.
Paul begins by reminding us that we "were once darkness". Notice that he doesn't say "we once walked in darkness", he says we were darkness. Think about that for a minute. We didn't walk or live in darkness - we were darkness. This is why it is so easy for Christians to fall into sin. Our sin nature (that darkness) will never leave us. Yes, we've been forgiven of our sins because of Jesus, but the ability to sin, the desire to sin will always be there. This is why it is so important for Christians to be in the Word daily. When we abide in the Word, Jesus abides in us, because He is the Word!
But notice what Paul says now of those who have Jesus - "You are light in the Lord." He doesn't say "you are light" for that would be impossible in and of ourselves. No. He says, "You are light in the Lord." We are cleansed, forgiven, and we have been filled with God's Shekinah glory - His Holy Spirit. We are light only because of Jesus. Our bodies house His Holy Spirit, therefore we must do everything in our power to walk and live for His glory.
So how do we do that? How do we walk in the light? What are the eight keys to Godly living? Paul tells us:
Find out what is acceptable to the Lord (Ephesians 5:10). You will know immediately when you have done something wrong or are entertaining the idea of doing something that goes against God's Word, for the Holy Spirit that lives within you will convict you of your sin. When we listen to the Holy Spirit and stay true to the Word of God, our walk with the Lord will be strong and steady. For the fruit of the Spirit is found in goodness, righteousness and truth. When we keep those three attributes central in our lives, we will know what is acceptable to God.
Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). When I was a teenager I joined a church after accepting Jesus as my Saviour. It was my hope that the youth group I was involved in would teach me how to live as a Christian. I did not grow up in a Christian home so I had no idea how to live as one. Unfortunately, I saw no difference in the lifestyles and choices of these "Christian" kids than my unsaved friends. These Christians (and their youth leaders) continued to drink until they were drunk, they had premarital sex (one even got pregnant), they took drugs, smoked, swore like sailors and basically acted no different then my unsaved friends. So because the youth leaders at that church encouraged this type of behaviour, with the line "everything is acceptable in Christ" it would be many, many years before I would be mature enough in my faith to realize they were not honouring God at all and that most of them never knew God in the first place. They were still living in darkness. Jesus was not abiding in them (or me) because He was not Lord of our lives. When we have fellowship with "the unfruitful works of darkness" there is no light in our lives at all. We have effectively doused the flame of the Holy Spirit. Paul warned the Ephesians (and us) not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). There has to come a time when we make a choice to continue to live in darkness or to live in the light of the Lord. It is one thing to reach out to those still trapped in darkness to bring them to Jesus. It is another thing entirely to join them in the darkness to try to reach them. Trust me. As someone who lived it, It doesn't work.
Expose the darkness. If someone had simply said to me as a young teenage Christian, "You should not be swearing or drinking now that you are a Christian and here is why..." I might have learned to walk in the light a lot sooner. But no one pointed out my sins to me, except one man, who cringed everytime I took God's name in vain. He called me out on it and explained very clearly why it was wrong and I had a lightbulb moment from that day forward. It kept me from using God's name inappropriately, or as a swear word ever again. He exposed the darkness in me and guided me toward the light of Christ and how to abide in Jesus. Something no other church leader or Christian had ever done for me. To this day I am so incredibly thankful God cared enough about me to bring someone into my life, who honestly and lovingly showed me how I was sinning and why. So if you see a fellow Christian walking in darkness, don't be afraid to say something to them. You may be bringing them to the light of the Lord for the very first time.
Redeem your time. The NKJV says to walk "circumspectly". The word in Greek is akribōs and means to walk "exactly, accurately, or diligently." In other words, mind how you live, not as a fool, but with wisdom, because the days are evil. Examine your life - how are you spending your days?
Understand the Lord's will. The best way to understand God's will is by reading His Word. It is our handbook for life. Use it.
Be filled with the Spirit. How? Paul tells us: by, "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19-21). Does this mean we are to go around quoting Scripture at each other and singing all the time? Of course not! Remember who Paul is talking to - former idol worshippers, whose deeds were very dark indeed. He is contrasting their former lifestyle to their new one. And the same applies to us. When we lift each other up we are edifying the entire church. Come out of the darkness and rejoice in the light of Jesus!
Give thanks for all things. Ephesians 5:20 reminds us to be thankful for all things to God the Father in the name of Jesus. The Greek word used for "all things" is pas and it actually means "every" so we are to be thankful for everything that comes our way. Yep, even the bad stuff. Why? Because none of it gets past God. And while we may think what's happening to us is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to us, we must trust that God has a plan. I've had skin cancer, a 22-pound tumour in my stomach, an emergency surgery that resulted in the permanent loss of my singing voice (aka my career); a fall down a flight of stairs that left me partially disabled, and to top it all off I was diagnosed with an incurable disease that will one day kill me. Did God know all this was going to happen to me? Yes. Should I be thankful? Yes! Why? Because He is working all these things into my life for my good. For example, I would never have taken up writing as a career choice or even as a ministry if I was still singing. But being forced to sit all day because I can't get up and move like I used to keeps me in my Bible, studying it and sharing what I learn with you. And so I am very thankful to be able to have the time to do that.
Submit to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:21), What does that mean? Does it mean we submit to each other because we're afraid of what God will do if we don't? Not at all! In fact, the word fear in Hebrew is yirah and means "awe or reverence". The "fear of the Lord" means to have an overwhelming sense of His glory or worth. Much like you would experience if you were seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. That "wow" feeling. Submitting to one another in the "fear of God" therefore, means we submit out of reverence for God and His holiness. This kind of submission means we do not try to use our wealth, gender or position to "bulldoze" someone into doing what we want. Instead, this kind of submission is done with respect and love for each other and our unity in Christ out of reverence for God.
We all were once darkness, but now we are light in Jesus Christ. Meditate on that and rejoice, for you are part of the body of Christ.