The Bible indicates that God gives Christians special help through His Spirit to serve His Church and to accomplish His work. The New Testament mentions numerous gifts, some that helped the ministry in their tasks and some that helped the lay members of the Church in their Christian service. One of many helpful scriptures on the subject is 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I would not have you ignorant.
2 You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, even as you were led.
3 Why I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which works all in all.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit with.
8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
11 But all these works that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
American King James Version×.
The Bible addresses the gift of “tongues” (the ability to speak in different known languages of the day) in the books of Acts and 1 Corinthians. What many churches call “speaking in tongues” today is nothing like what the Bible records. The miracle that occurred on the Day of Pentecost in A.D. 31 (Acts 2:4-8 Acts 2:4-8 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
7 And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
American King James Version×) was one of communication—apparently both in the speaking and the hearing. The Greek word translated “tongues” is glossa and means “languages.” The miracle of speaking in tongues meant that every member of the audience could hear in his or her native tongue (language, see Acts 2:9-11 Acts 2:9-11 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
American King James Version×).
Also, some in the early Church, particularly in Corinth, had the ability to speak in different languages. In that case, it seems that people were showing off their abilities, speaking every language they could, regardless of whether the people who heard them could understand. They were caught up in their vanity, having lost sight of the fact that one should always use spiritual gifts to serve others. Paul wrote chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians specifically to deal with this problem. He pointed out that the proper use of the gift of languages would be to speak the language or languages that the congregation could understand. It would be like speaking Spanish to a Spanish-speaking audience or French to a French-speaking audience.
Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth that speaking different languages was of no real value if an audience could not understand the words. He admonished them to concentrate more on understandable communication than on their linguistic abilities.
All biblical examples of speaking in tongues stand in stark contrast to the type of “speaking in tongues” done in some churches today, where the speaker utters a “language” that sounds like gibberish, not an actual human language.
We see that spiritual gifts did not control the person who had them, forcing themselves to the fore. Rather, every individual was responsible for how he or she used those gifts (1 Corinthians 14:32 1 Corinthians 14:32And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
American King James Version×).
A genuine spiritual gift aids a Christian in the service of the Church.
A lesson we learn from the mistakes of the Corinthians is that Christians should be on guard against becoming vain over their individual abilities. Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing.
American King James Version×that godly love must inspire the person using a gift. That is, an authentic spiritual gift is not for the sake of enhancing one’s personal standing or reputation.
How can we know and use what gifts we have? Most should be self-evident. Others may become apparent by looking into our natural abilities. Matthew 25:15 Matthew 25:15And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
American King James Version×indicates that God enhances our innate abilities with His power. The principal point is that, as we become aware of our gifts, we should seek God’s help to use those talents to serve others.