The Jewish Talmud tells the story of a king who sent his jesters on an errand. “Foolish Simon, go and bring me the best thing in the world, and you, Silly John, go and find me the worst thing in the world.” Each jester was back soon carrying a package in his arms. Simon bowed low and said, “Behold, Sire, the best thing in the world.” His package contained a tongue. Silly John giggled and unwrapped his bundle. “Behold, the worst thing in the world, Sire.” It was another tongue!
Both jokers were right! The tongue is the best and worst thing in the world. With it we can bless God and encourage others or we can curse God and destroy their reputations. My prayer is that we will use our tongues for the good purpose God has given them. Referring to spiritual gifts, 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Peter divides the spiritual gifts into two general categories: speaking gifts and serving gifts. In this study we’ll look at several speaking gifts and how to use them for God’s glory.
1) Prophecy is the greatest speaking gift. The Old Testament word means a mouth or mouthpiece. Moses exemplified it when he stood before Pharaoh and declared, “The Lord says, ‘Let My people go!'” Later he used the gift to deliver the 10 commandments to God’s people. Sometimes it was predictive and used to foretell the future, but usually it involved the forth-telling of God’s will. Leslie Flynn writes: “Prophets are God’s loudspeakers” proclaiming His Word to men. The caution, if you have this gift, is to keep from becoming overly negative and condemning, for as Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 14:3, “Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.”
2) Evangelism like prophecy involves preaching God’s truth but in a targeted sense. Evangelists are gifted (Eph. 4:11) to preach the good news that the work of salvation is finished and we can enter Christ’s kingdom by faith in His grace. Like prophecy, it can be used to reach multitudes as Billy Graham has done for over 60 years or one-on-one like Philip the evangelist’s conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. Those with this gift must remember that it’s good news they’re proclaiming and do so in the love and joy of Jesus Christ.
3) Teaching is the explanation of God’s Word as opposed to its proclamation. Priscilla and Aquila used this gift in Acts 18:26 when they met Apollos, a young man who loved Jesus and faithfully preached His Word, but he hadn’t yet heard of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” The evangelist is the obstetrician who delivers spiritual babies; the teacher is the pediatrician who makes sure they get the right diet to help them grow. Because this gift is so influential, the Bible warns that those of us who have it will face a stricter judgment when we stand before the Lord. (James 3:1)
4) Exhortation comes from the same word Jesus used for the Holy Spirit in John 14:15, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever.” It means to come alongside to encourage and support. Joseph of Cyprus, nicknamed Barnabas (“son of encouragement”) epitomized this gift. (Acts 4:36) When Saul, the church’s persecutor, was converted, the believers feared to embrace him as a brother until Barnabas came alongside him to support him. Later, he did the same thing for Mark, the future Gospel writer, even though he’d deserted them on their missionary journey. Paul objected so strongly that he departed for Syria with Silas. And yet, he later admitted that Barnabas’ ministry had done its work, for he wrote, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11)
5) Wisdom differs from knowledge in that knowledge involves the acquisition of information, whereas wisdom involves the practical application of the truth. James, the half-brother of our Lord, displayed this gift at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. The issue at stake was huge: Do Gentiles need to be circumcised in order to be saved? After listening to Barnabas and Paul describe their ministry to the Gentiles, James stood up and shared a word of wisdom from the Lord. No, they do not need to be circumcised. Since the Holy Spirit has fallen on them as well as us because of their faith in Christ, we must require nothing more from them but to abstain from sexual immorality and food sacrificed to idols. So it is today. Those who have this gift can listen to a problem and hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit giving them His judgment or solution to the problem.
6) Faith like wisdom is the ability to look beyond the problem to the solution in God. Paul alludes to it in 1 Cor. 13:2, “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Roy Martin used this gift to great effect in my life as a new believer. When I faced a problem as a youth pastor or our church was going through hard times, Roy would challenge us, “What’s wrong with you people? God is still on His throne ruling and overruling all things to accomplish His will! He won’t let us down. Let’s trust Him together.” And we would. We’d turn away from our trials and fix our eyes on Jesus our ever-faithful Lord.
So let me challenge you. If you have one of the speaking gifts, use it with all the faith you can muster as if speaking the very words of God. Goethe, the German philosopher, put it well: “Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any, but pray keep your doubts to yourself; I already have enough of my own.”