Giver of Good Gifts
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Over the past weeks, as we’ve explored out here in the woods, we’ve talked about some of the greatest themes of the Bible. We’ve talked about the nature of God, of His Son Jesus Christ, and about the mission and work of the Holy Spirit. Last week, we went deep into the forest valley as we studied the thrilling account of that dramatic outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, there in the day of Pentecost. I closed with the thought of how we long to see God’s Holy Spirit manifest in our day, just as He was so many years ago!
Luke’s thrilling record in the Acts of the Apostles doesn’t stop with the day of Pentecost, though. In fact, that is only the opening of the book. As the story continues, in every chapter we see the Holy Spirit giving more and still more gifts to the early church—miracle-working power, supernatural guidance, comfort, hope, and courage in the face of every obstacle! In fact, I’d say the book of Acts could rightly be called the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Because truly, it wasn’t the apostles who were saying and doing so much, as it was the Spirit Who was leading them.
As we explore together some of my favorite quiet spots and scenic vistas, let’s open our Bibles and read about some of these “acts” of the Holy Spirit. Let’s learn about the gifts He gives to His people and His church—how we can identify them, how to spot the counterfeits, and most importantly, how we can receive the blessing God has promised through these gifts!
When I was a very young child, my parents faithfully brought me to church and Sabbath School every week. One of the favorite little songs we would sing tells the story of Acts chapter 3.
Peter and John went to pray—
They met a lame man on the way.
He asked for alms and held out his palms
And this is what Peter did say:
“Silver and gold have I none,
But such as I have give I thee:
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth
Rise up and walk!”
And I always loved the chorus so much:
“He went walking and leaping and praising God…”
Now, it was typical for handicapped individuals to sit and beg at the temple gate. This man had lain there day after day. No doubt Peter and John, and in fact everyone in Jerusalem knew this man. They had all seen him, day after day, begging at the gate of the temple. Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter and John were compelled to action. As they came to the temple, and heard his usual pleas for a bit of money, they stopped. “Look at us” they said. Pay attention—because you’re about to receive the most incredible gift of your life! He looked, but only expected to receive a usual pittance. As he heard that command, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk,” faith sprang up in his heart. He had heard of Jesus. Perhaps he had even seen Jesus in the temple. He knew about the healings Jesus had performed—and if so, no doubt he had wished that he, too, could be healed. But, he never was. And now, Jesus was gone. He no longer came to the temple, and still this lame man sat begging—begging for the pittance that was his only living.
Now, at the words of Peter and John, hope and faith sprang up in his heart. Could it be that these men—Jesus’ disciples—had the power to give him healing? No. They didn’t claim to have such power. But they invoked the name of One who has all power in heaven and earth. And as faith sprang up in this man’s heart, in an instant all the shattered hopes and dreams of his life flashed before his eyes. He longed to be healed by Jesus—and now, at long last, was his opportunity. He tried—he didn’t even know how to stand. But Peter put out his hand and lifted him up, and in that instant he felt the surge of strength and energy down through his ankles and into those lame feet. He didn’t stand to his feet, he jumped up, leaping and praising God, and walked with the apostles into the temple!
I’ve got to stop right here in the story because there’s so much here. This is the power of the gospel, friends! This man, who all his life had been lame, suddenly encounters the grace of God. All his life, he has been living on scraps—living on the pittance that others can give him. He longs to be free from his chains, but there is no one to help him. So he becomes content, in a way, with this humble lot of life. Even when the apostles said, “Look at us,” he has learned not to expect much. He just wants a few coins—that’s all. But God offers him so much more! God offers him a completely new life—a life of freedom—a life of healing through His grace and power. The man can do nothing to get this new life, but when the gift is offered to him, he literally “jumps” at the chance. Even before he stood up, he believed in that name of Jesus. His faith gave him strength, and he acted on that faith, not by slowly pulling himself up. No—in his joy, and in the power of Jesus’ name, this man who had never walked before literally jumped to his feet!
Perhaps today, there’s someone who is reading this message, whose life has been lost in pain and sin. Perhaps someone who has never experienced the joy of forgiveness, or the freedom that Christ can offer. My friend—don’t be content any longer to live of the pittance of this world. Don’t beg for a few coins, when a new life can be yours! Look to Jesus, believe in His name, and then through faith in that name, stand up, and walk!
Ephesians 2:1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.
As Peter and John stood there, on Solomon’s porch, with this lame man who had been healed, the people crowded around in amazement. They had seen what had happened. They all knew this man, and they couldn’t wait to hear more about the One Who had healed him.
This was the opportunity that Peter and John were looking for. Peter fearlessly proclaimed. Peter preached Jesus there in the temple, declaring that “His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.” (Acts 3:16)
As I look out over the tree-covered valleys and hillsides near our home in Kentucky, I can’t help but wonder at the power of God, Who has shaped this world we live in. Yes, we see a lot of evidence of sin. But here, most of the effects of civilization are behind us, or covered by the canopy of the trees, with the budding leaves of springtime.
Scientists tell me that these rocks have been shaped by wind and water. No doubt it’s true! The Bible tells the story of a great flood that covered the world, and it certainly seems like a good explanation for the things we see here. Look at these cliffs—imagine perhaps a mighty river carving out this gorge as it drained the land of this vast flood!
Wind, and water. It wears down the hardest substances we know about. It carves the very rocks of the earth. But here, we only see a few rocks. Mostly, I see the trees of the forest canopy, and if I look closely, I see a myriad of different living things, from moss and lichens to small shrubs, wildflowers, and greenery of every description. I see the insects—the beetles, the butterflies, the great hawks flying overhead. I hear the woodpeckers in the trees. Everywhere, it seems, is full of life. And what sustains this life? What makes planet earth so much different? Again, scientists have an answer. Air—the atmosphere—and water. Wind and water—the same things that wear down the rocks, along with the warm rays of sunshine, are the physical elements that sustain all the life that we see.
If you remember our previous studies on the Holy Spirit, what are two of the strongest metaphors that are used to describe His work? The wind, and the rain. And, I don’t think it’s by accident.
Every day, in this world, we see how the movements of the wind and water, powered by the warm sunshine, bring life to this world. It’s a beautiful metaphor for how God works through the Holy Spirit. In the physical world, the sunshine warms the ocean, and the water evaporates and gets drawn upward, into the sky.
In Jeremiah 31:3 we read, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”
God draws us by His love, and then through the work of the Holy Spirit, He transforms us into new creatures. Just like the wind—you don’t see it, but you can see it’s work. In the physical world, the wind carries that water vapor from the sea, up over the land, where it rises up to the mountain tops, forms into clouds, and begins to rain.
Isaiah 55:10-11 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Once God has transformed our lives, He commissions us for service. He gives us His Word—the precious message of grace—the Good News, and He sends us to a hurting world to give that word to others.
But He doesn’t send us alone. Again, the Holy Spirit—the same One Who draws us, the same One Who transforms us—He gives to His disciples and to His church all the tools needed to accomplish His mission.
Jesus said in Luke 11:13, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
What mighty power God has demonstrated in our world! And what mighty power God demonstrated in the early church. It seems that every time there was a need, the Holy Spirit was there with another miracle to fulfill that need. On the day of Pentecost, when people were gathered in Jerusalem from every nation and every language, he gave the gift of tongues. There at the temple gate, He gave the apostles the ability to heal a man in Jesus’ name—an action that opened the door to a powerful sermon, and also resulted in Peter and John being arrested and standing in court the next day. This just gave them another chance to proclaim Jesus before the Sanhedrin.
But I want to take a few minutes to focus on these special gifts that the Holy Spirit gave to the early church. What are these spiritual gifts? What was the purpose of these gifts? How can we recognize the true from the counterfeit? And most importantly, how can we receive these gifts?
We’ve already seen several special gifts that the Holy Spirit gave to the early church. The gift of tongues—the ability to speak in many languages—was given at Pentecost. Working miracles, healing, and teaching were all gifts given to Peter and John here in Acts 3. Paul lists many of the special gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:28:
“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.”
Now it’s important to notice that the gifts of the Spirit are different from the fruit of the Spirit, which is mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control…” This is the natural outworking of the Spirit in the individual life. Everyone who has the Spirit will manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
But Spiritual gifts are different. They are given for a different purpose. This purpose is clear already from the story: the purpose of spiritual gifts is to enable God’s people collectively to accomplish the mission God has entrusted to us.
1 Corinthians 12:7 “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.”
Notice: the Spirit gives gifts to individuals, but not for their own benefit. He gives them to one for the benefit of all. They are a corporate blessing.
Paul continues (1 Corinthians 12:8-11): “for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”
Spiritual gifts are given in the church as they are needed for God’s mission—both to edify and strengthen the church, and as a testimony to the unbelieving world. Not every member receives all the spiritual gifts, but the Bible is clear that the church in every age will see the manifestation of spiritual gifts. Paul expressed how thankful he was to see these spiritual gifts manifest in the Corinthian church, as he says in 1 Corinthians 1:7 “so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But, for everything good and true, the devil also has a counterfeit. The same is true even for the Holy Spirit.
The aged apostle John warned the believers, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
With so much at stake, when we see spiritual manifestations, how can we know whether it is from God, or from the enemy?
John continues: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” (1 John 4:2-3)
First of all, any Spirit who denies Jesus is obviously false. We can look at history and see many who have claimed to have the gift of the Spirit—yet they don’t acknowledge Jesus. This is a clear sign that we need to beware!
Paul says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 12:3: “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
Isaiah gives another important principle in Isaiah 8:19: “And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?”
Anyone who attempts to speak with the dead isn’t following God. Every kind of witchcraft, seances, or anything like that is not inspired by the Holy Spirit. The same goes for astrology and many other ancient pagan practices that are contrary to God’s word.
Do you want to know what IS the surest way to tell the difference between the Holy Spirit, and an evil Spirit? It’s found in the pages of this book. Rather, I should say, it IS the pages of this book—the written word of God.
Isaiah the prophet continues in this same passage in Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
This is the most basic test of the gifts of the Spirit. There are others, too, but this is where it starts: every gift of the spirit must be subject to the written word of God. Is what the spirit does in harmony with the Bible?
Jesus himself said in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”
Often throughout the book of Acts, it is the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit that arrests the attention of the multitude. But even then, the apostles did not rely on miracles and signs to establish faith in their message. Every time the apostles spoke of Jesus, they grounded their hearer’s faith in the word of God. They quoted the scripture, and demonstrated that Jesus’ mission was a fulfillment of every prophecy of the Old Testament.
The Berean believers were commended in Acts 17:11 with these words, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
So, since we have the Scriptures, that’s all we need, right? After all, why risk believing a false spirit, if we must test everything by the Scriptures? Because without the Spirit, we may be missing an important aspect of what God wants us to understand. Remember Jesus’ words, “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth”? (John 16:13) Truth is progressive. This was essentially the argument of the Jews in the days of the early church: “We have the Scripture—we don’t need Jesus.” But they missed the point—because the whole message of scripture pointed to Jesus, and in rejecting Him, they showed that they really didn’t understand the Bible.
And so, today, we have the Bible—Old and New Testaments. But we also have the promise and reality of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who not only transforms our lives individually, but who promises to give special gifts to His church, in order to accomplish God’s mission. The Holy Spirit cannot and will not ever contradict the Bible, but He may open to our minds truths that we have never seen before. He will manifest himself in supernatural ways to arrest the attention of the world. He will bring messages to our hearts in ways that will bring conviction. And if the Bible record is true, He will give messages of warning and guidance to His church today in the same way that He did in the days of the apostles.
How do I know? Because the word of God says so.
So I want to ask you, my friend: where do you and I fit into this picture? Do you understand God’s word well enough that, if you encountered a supernatural experience, that you could tell the difference between the true and the false? I asked many weeks ago, “What is real?” How can we know? In this world of falsehood and deception, we have to rely on more than our feelings. We must rely solely on God’s word.
I really believe it comes down to that individual and personal relationship God wants to have with every one of us. Because as we build that relationship—grounded daily on God’s word—He will fortify our minds against the deceptions of the enemy. He will teach us to listen to His voice.
But he will do more than this—He will guide us into a body of believers in which are manifested the gifts of the Spirit, so that not just individually, but corporately, we can experience the full measure of His perfect plan for us, and be co-laborers together with Him in spreading the Good News of His word.
Friend, have you received God’s Holy Spirit? Does your life manifest the fruit of the Spirit? Then I will ask you the next logical question: what gift has He given you? What gift has he entrusted to you, that you must use for the building up of His Kingdom? Maybe you don’t know what your gift is. Ask Him to show you. He may use someone else to show you what that gift is. But once you discover the gifts He has entrusted to you, use them for His kingdom!