True and False Spiritual Gifts
It was the semester break, and Peter was headed home for the holidays. He was excited about coming home this time, because his Catholic mother, who for years had rejected his own biblical Christianity, had recently joined a prayer group. The experience seemed to have changed her somehow, and Peter keenly anticipated the possibility of Christian fellowship that would at last bury the differences between them.
When Peter arrived at his front door, his mother's hearty "Praise the Lord!" broke like waves of healing around his tired ears. Never had a greeting sounded so sweet! That night even though he was fatigued nothing could have kept him from accompanying her to the meeting.
Peter watched and listened spellbound as his mother and her fellow worshippers alternately sang and shared their testimonies with one another. There were spontaneous homilies on faith and surrender, and confessions of sin and emotional prayers were propelled poignantly heavenward on a sea of uplifted hands. Many of these things Peter recognised as biblical, but what followed caused him deep consternation. Tongues were spoken with the interpretation being given, "Thus saith Mary the mother of God..."
The Supernatural vs. the Divine
Peter's experience graphically illustrates the problem faced by many Christians and Messianics today: they sincerely believe in the validity of spiritual gifts and therefore are not willing merely to write off all supernatural occurrences, be they tongues, prophecies or healings, as false. Yet they also know they cannot accept every manifestation being called a spiritual gift as coming from heaven. A nicely wrapped package may contain a gift or nothing at all. At worst, it could be booby-trapped. Is there a way to discern what lies behind the emotional appeal of such phenomena without getting burned?
In searching for an answer to this very important question, it is essential for us to remember that all of the genuine gifts, or charismata, are administered "by the self same Ruach (Spirit), dividing to every man severally as he will" (1 Cor.12:11, KJV). Christians do not choose which way they will use the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit); rather the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) chooses the best way to use each individual Christian in the work of the besorah (gospel).
Not All Have the Same Gifts
The apostle Paul asked rhetorically, "Are all apostles? are allnevi'im (prophets)? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?" (vv.29-30, KJV). The obvious answer is no. Consequently, never should any apparent gift be made a test or evidence of special favour to a believer. Yah'shua (Jesus) said "by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt.7:20, KJV), and the fruits of the Ruach (Spirit) are "ahavah (love), simcha (joy), shalom (peace), longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, emunah (faith), meekness, temperance" (Gal.5:22-23, KJV). Yet how often do individuals as well as entire congregations judge one another on the basis of what specific gifts may or may not be perceived by the onlooker?!
The Problem of Glossolalia or 'Tongues'
Perhaps no issue demonstrates this tendency more often or more divisively than glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. The irony of this situation is even greater when one realises that spiritual gifts were placed in the messianic community (church) for, among other reasons, "the unity of the emunah (faith)" (Eph.4:13, KJV). Yet today we find some charismatic Christians belittling the emunah (faith) of those who do not speak in tongues, and many other sincere Christians condemning with one broad sweep all who do.
It is plainly wrong to deny that there is a legitimate gift of tongues. Before His ascension Yah'shua (Jesus) promised that "new tongues" would be one of the signs that would "follow them which believe," and this charism was the single most effective gift given to the early messianic community (church) at the firsst Messianic Shavu'ot (Pentecost). The Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) did something for the talmidim (disciples) in one moment which they could not have accomplished for themselves in a lifetime. From that day forth they were enabled to preach the besorah (gospel) abroad, speaking plainly in the languages of the people for whom they were labouring. This miraculous gift was a strong evidence to the world that their commission came from heaven.
The Spiritual Gifts are Essential
Nowhere do the Scriptures imply that the gift of tongues is to be invalidated in the last days (see Cessationism: The Witness of a Continuationist). On the contrary, we are to "come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)" (1 Cor.1:7, KJV). All the spiritual gifts are to work in the messianic community (church) until it is perfectly mature "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah" (Eph.4:13, KJV). In fact, if Messiah's parable of the talents (Matt.25:14-30) has any meaning at all, we should expect these gifts to be multiplied with use.
Beware of Counterfeits!
There is one thing, however, that every Christian/Messianic must never forget when analysing and exercising spiritual gifts. The Bible makes it very clear that in the last days, Satan will seek to counterfeit the work of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) in order to confuse and deceive those who are not firmly anchored in the emet (truth). His working will be marked "with all power and signs and lying wonders" (2 Thess.2:9, KJV). There will be "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Messiah. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into a malak (angel) of light" (2 Cor.11:13-14, KJV).
This will be no ordinary sleight-of-hand fakery. Satan's "spiritual gifts" will so closely resemble the real thing that Yah'shua (Jesus) repeatedly warned, "Take heed that no man deceive you" (Matt.24:4, KJV). "For there shall arise false messiahs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (v.24, KJV). The very elect, it should be noted, are not ordinary people. Committed believers will be the primary target of Satan's deceptive designs.
Sincere but Mistaken People
Some people think only demons in disguise will perform the "great signs and wonders" that Yah'shua (Jesus) foretold, but such is not the case. More than a few of these supernatural works will be wrought by people who believe themselves to be Christians, but are in fact false apostles. "Many will say to me in that day, Master, Master, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt.7:22-23, KJV).
In the verses immediately before and after this passage, we find that these unfortunate souls did not do the will of the Master. "Many wonderful works" will be no substitute for obedience in the day of judgment, and Yah'shua (Jesus) clearly implied that the works themselves would impart a false sense of security to those practicing them.
How will such a great number (for Yah'shua/Jesus said there would be many) of professing Christians and Messianics end up being so misled that they will at last find themselves actually working along with Satan to deceive others? This is a disturbing question that should cause deep soul-searching for every follower of Messiah today. In order to answer it we must examine two concepts, emet (truth) and experience, whose relationship to each other is vital for every believer to understand.
Truth Before Experience
Yah'shua (Jesus) said, "I am the Derech (Way), the Emet (Truth), and the Chayim (Life)" (John 14:6, KJV). The whole emet (truth) as it is in Yah'shua (Jesus) will always lead to a validating experience, and such an experience will always confirm the emet (truth). But emet (truth) and experience are not equal, and when they are removed from their proper places they often become mutually destructive.
Why is this so? Because emet (truth) defines reality. Emet (truth) is by nature authoritative and not subject to contradiction; consequently it is the judge of experience. Moreover, emet (truth) is eternal and unchanging for Yah'shua (Jesus), who is Emet (Truth)-in-the-flesh, is "the same yesterday, today, and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8, KJV). "For I am Yahweh, I change not" (Malachi 3:6, KJV).
Mere human experiences, on the other hand, define nothing. We say that people learn by experience, but in fact experiences only have meaning in the context of knowledge. That is why two different people can both observe the same event and yet each experience it in a completely unique way. Furthermore, our understanding of any given experience will be imperfect unless we have ample facts at hand by which to evaluate it, and even then it will be coloured by our preconceived ideas, personalities and prejudices.
Perhaps the most relevant criticism leveled at the charismatic movement is that many of its enthusiasts seem to reason from experience to truth, rather than from truth to experience. The process goes something like this:
The problem with this is that no person can know on the basis of the experience alone just what significance it has. Apparent similarities with the experiences of the early messianic community (Christian church) are, of themselves, no guarantee of authenticity. Remember that Satan has the power both to counterfeit the work of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) and to manipulate human emotions. For this reason, people to whom "experience" means everything are the very ones to whom "truth" may eventually mean nothing. Paul spoke about those who "received not the love of the emet (truth)" saying, "for this cause Elohim (God) shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (2 Thess.2:10-11, KJV).
- a. I have had this wonderful experience;
- b. I find experiences similar to mine recorded in the New Testament;
- c. Therefore my experience is true.
Charismatic Christian Churches
There are many churches that now gather under the banner of charismatic Christianity. More than once Yah'shua (Jesus) was heard to say, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt.20:16; 22:14, KJV), and Paul noted that there are "many which corrupt the Davar Elohim (Word of God)" (2 Cor.2:17, KJV). Does this mean that all charismatic churches should be categorically shunned? By no means. Rather, we must test every church, every religious experience and every spiritual manifestation by the Davar Elohim (Word of God). "Prove all things," wrote Paul, "hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess.5:21, KJV). If a church and its teachings conform in every particular to the truths of Scripture, we may rest our confidence in its authenticity and have no fear of being deceived. If, on the other hand, a group is so deeply enmeshed in spiritual manifestations and emotional experiences that it measures the validity of Scripture by what "the spirit" says, beware. Elohim's (God's) Davar (Word) is emet (truth) (John 17:17, KJV), and we may be sure that any spirit which would contradict His Davar (Word) does not come from Elohim (God).
Adhering to the Spirit of Truth
Yah'shua (Jesus) repeatedly referred to the Comforter which was to come as "the Ruach Emet (Spirit of Truth)" (John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13, KJV). One of its express purposes was to guide the messianic community (church) "into all emet (truth)" (Jn.16:13, KJV); in other words, into all of Elohim's (God's) Davar (Word). "All scripture is given by inspiration of Elohim (God)" (2 Timothy 3:16. KJV).
Isaiah also admonished Yahweh's people to judge every spirit by the Davar Elohim (Word of God): "To the Torah (Law) and to the testimony [the then-existing Scriptures]: if they speak not according to this davar (word), it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20, KJV). John added a further criterion to this - that the spirit confesses Messiah (1 John 4:1-3, KJV). It is highly significant that Yahweh's remnant, the true messianic community (church) of the end-time, is twice identified in Revelation by the exact same criteria: they "keep the mitzvot (commandments) of Elohim (God), and have the testimony of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)" (Revelation 12:17; 14:12, KJV).
Charismatics vs. the Law of Elohim
Strangely, many charismatic Christians believe that the law of Elohim (God) was abolished at Calvary. Love seems to be the universal replacement for commandment-keeping in most churches today. Yet Yah'shua (Jesus) prefaced His promise of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) with a condition that bound ahavah (agapé love) and obedience inextricably together: "If ye love Me, keep My mitzvot (commandments). And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter . . . Even the Ruach haEmet (Spirit of truth)" (John 14:15-17). Peter understood Yah'shua (Jesus) well; he clearly preached that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Ghost) is "given to them that obey Him" (Acts 5:32). Yah'shua's (Jesus') most beloved talmid (disciple) wrote, "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his mitzvot (commandments), is a liar, and the emet (truth) is not in him" (1 John 2:4, KJV).
True Love and the Commandments
Some charismatics believe that these commandments are not the ten that were spoken by Elohim (God) at Sinai, but rather a new abbreviated law saying only "love one another" (John 13:34, KJV). In reality, this mitzvah (commandment) of ahavah (love) was always at the very heart of the ten commandments, but the people had failed to understand it. The "new commandment" was not an abrogation of the ten at all; it was given as a light to shine upon them (1 John 2:3-8). Further, James made it clear that to break even one of the ten commandments would be a transgression of the whole Torah (Law) (James 2:10,11) - a law that was still plainly in effect long after the first messianic Shavu'ot (Pentecost).
Why is Elohim (God) so careful about bestowing the gifts of the Ruach (Spirit) only on commandment-keepers? Because spiritual gifts give power to a person's witness. Just before His ascension, Yah'shua (Jesus) told His talmidim (disciples), "But ye shall receive power, after that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Ghost) is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me...unto the uttermost parts of the earth" (Acts 1:8, KJV). Why would Yah'shua (Jesus) want to empower the witness of a sinful life? That is Satan's work, not Messiah's. Yet there are many thousands of professing Christians who openly shun those portions of the Scripture which uplift Elohim's (God's) Torah (Law) and convict of sin, while presumptuously claiming to exercise the gifts of the Ruach (Spirit).
When God Withdraws His Ruach
Over and over in the Tanakh (Old Testament) we can read of times when prophetic guidance was removed from Elohim's (God's) people. In every instance, it was because they had refused to walk in His Torah (Law). When the Torah (Law) perished from the talmidim (priests), counsel perished from the ancients (Ezekiel 7:26, KJV). Yahweh said, "I will not be inquired of by you" because you "rebelled against Me" and "polluted my sabbaths" (ch.20, KJV). "The Torah (Law) is no more," consequently the "nevi'im (prophets) also find no vision from Yahweh" (Lamentations 2:9, KJV). If we are willing to believe that "all these things happened unto them for examples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Cor.10:11, KJV), then we can easily see that "He that turneth away His ear from hearing the Torah (Law), even his prayer shall be an abomination" (Prov.28:9).
Action and Profession of Faith
Does Elohim (God) deal any differently with His people today? Listen to James: "Every good gift and every perfect gift [spiritual gift] . . . cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17, KJV). Let us not be deceived. Yahweh's requirements are the same as they have always been - loyalty springing forth from ahavah (love), and bearing fruit in obedience. Yah'shua (Jesus) could not have made it any plainer when He admonished, "Not every one that saith unto me, Master, Master, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21, KJV). His words faithfully echoed the Ruach's (Spirit's) instruction through Solomon: "Whoso despiseth the Davar (Word) shall be destroyed, but he that feareth the mitzvah (commandment) shall be rewarded" (Prov.13:13, KJV).
The Righteousness of Jesus
In all our zeal to "magnify the Torah (Law), and make it honourable" (Isaiah 42:21, KJV) however, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is really Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and His righteousness that is to be exalted. The Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) speaks not of itself, but glorifies Messiah (John 16:14). Likewise, it is not we who produce our works of obedience, but Messiah in us (Colossians 1:27, KJV). If we expect to receive the Ruach's (Spirit's) power in our own lives, our entire being must be attuned to the glory of Messiah. There is no more perfect way to glorify Him than to allow His perfect character to permeate our lives. "For this is the [new] covenant," says the Spirit of emet (truth), "I will put my torot (laws) into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them an Elohim (God), and they shall be to me a people (Hebrews 8:10, KJV).
When this happens, there will be no more striving to produce something that looks like a gift, lest we be scorned by those who look upon us. "Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain" (Prov.25:14, KJV). Rather, there will be a diligent use of the resources, however modest, that Elohim (God) has placed within our reach, and a patient confidence that the best gifts will come when they are needed. As we pray for the baptism of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) and its power in our lives, we should not limit its operation by the narrowness of our own understanding. Many people exercising genuine gifts of the Ruach (Spirit) may be doing so unawares. Other gifts may be manifested in obscure places, in situations where the need exists for supernatural help in resolving problems or transcending communication barriers. Miracles will be wrought, but they will be neither common nor sensational, as Satan's will be. They will, if wrought by heavenly power, glorify Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and conform to every emet (truth) of Scripture.
Deep, Deep Love
Finally, there will be ahavah (love) - deep, spiritual, self-sacrificing love (in Hebrew called ahavah, in Greek, agapé). Indeed, every fruit of the Ruach (Spirit) will be present when the genuine gifts are working in the messianic community (church). Ahavah (love), simcha (joy), shalom (peace), longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, emunah (faith), meekness and temperance will characterise that remnant "which keep the mitzvot (commandments) of Elohim (God), and have the testimony of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)" (Rev.12:17, KJV).
How Do Christians Go Wrong?
Let's look back for a moment at the true story that begins this article. Where did Peter's mother go wrong? It seemed that she had the fruits of the Ruach (Spirit), and surely her fellow worshippers had the gifts - or did they? Just what was the "spirit" claiming to say? Perhaps the tongues and the interpretation were both only well-intentioned human attempts to "read the mind of Elohim (God(," from a Catholic perspective. If so, we can at least forgive those who were involved and acknowledge their sincerity. But it should be obvious that such a form of worship invites abuse. If false gifts are introduced by the enemy of souls, who will recognise them, and how?
A Lesson from Ancient Troy
The inhabitants of Troy rejoiced at the gift of peace that was left at their gates. It was only after the huge wooden horse had been taken within the city walls that the Greek soldiers poured out of it and took the city by storm. The Trojans had received gifts before, and on the basis of appearances they welcomed this handsome new gift as a great blessing. Unfortunately, they had underestimated the cunning of their enemy and were destroyed by their gift as a result.
Unlike the Trojans, we have not been left without ample warning. "Three unclean spirits like frogs," we are told, will issue forth "out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false navi (prophet). For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of Elohim (God) Almighty" (Rev.16:13-14, KJV). Why out of the mouth, and why frogs? It is hard to imagine any other reason than the frog's mode of catching prey - by its tongue.
Babylon and the Confusion of Tongues
A confusion of tongues gave Babylon both its name and its spiritual legacy, which remains with us to the present day. This confusion of tongues resulted from the rebellion of Yahweh's people in attempting to build a monument unto themselves (Genesis 11:4-9). Their rebellion still bears fruit today in a profusion of erroneous doctrines including, not surprisingly, a confusion of tongues. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen," sounds the warning cry, "and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird...Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Rev.18:2,4, KJV). In this day will Yahweh's people hear? Will they heed the warning?
How Should I Relate to my Charismatic Christian Friends?
Most charismatic churches today teach that ecstatic (unknown) tongues were one of the original gifts of the Ruach (Spirit) to the early messianic community (Christian church), and cite 1 Corinthians 14 as evidence that, though they were abused in Corinth, there is a legitimate place for them in the congregations of today. There has been much discussion between churches over the years as to just whether or not this view is correct (see A Question of Tongues).
Though we may never really know everything that took place in Corinth, the general scenario is clear. These newborn believers had received remarkable spiritual gifts, commensurate with the needs of the time. They were but a handful of men and women against the world, and Yahweh equipped them with powerful tools of communication for the work of spreading the Besorah (Gospel) far and wide. Yet in their childish enthusiasm to make the most of their newfound linguistic capabilities, these not-yet-mature Christians may have tried to impress the pagans around them with a display that would appeal to them, steeped as they were in the mystery religions of the day.
Today we have some Christian fellowships that teach people how to speak in tongues - one meaningless syllable at a time. When the learner is finally able to freely vocalize with a minimum of conscious effort, the "gift" has been realised. Such an initiate will find himself or herself at home at almost any modern charismatic gathering. When the worship service reaches a peak of emotional intensity, the tongue has been conditioned to respond spontaneously.
In both situations, we can see a basic misunderstanding of what spiritual gifts are all about. Perhaps Paul was tempted to throw up his hands and call the whole Corinthian assembly a loss to Satan, but he did not. Patiently, kindly and clearly he instructed them and laboured with them - and they matured. Likewise, it is the responsibility of the mature believer to love, nurture and instruct the growing one into all the truths of Scripture.
To say that all modern tongues are of Satan is both incorrect and counter-productive in Christian witness. Though Satan is fully able to inspire and commandeer the unguided speech that often passes for tongues today, Yahweh knows those who are earnestly seeking Him and will safeguard them. Modern day apostles are needed who will carefully seek out such souls and, as Paul did with the Corinthians, patiently help them along. Many of these individuals are only babes in Messiah, and He holds His followers accountable for the way they are treated. "Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea" (Mark 9:42, KJV).
Examine your own life. Does it manifest the fruit of the Ruach (Spirit)? Has your witness been anointed with the Ruach's (Spirit's) power? Unless these things are realised, there is work to be done in your own house. "How wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye?" (Matt.7:4, KJV). For as surely as the Ruach (Spirit) leads into emet (truth), the Ruach's (Spirit's) presence must actuate the emet (truth). "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in emet (truth): for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. Elohim (God) is spiritual: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in emet (truth)" (John 4:23-24, KJV).
Did You Know?
The use of ecstatic language in religious worship has its historical roots in paganism, centuries before the formation of the messianic community (Christian church). Plato revealed knowledge of ecstatic religious utterances in both the Phaedrus and the Ion. In the Aenid, Virgil described the Sybilline priestess on the isle of Delos, whose ecstatic speech originated in a haunted cave. Heraclitus wrote that the oracles of the 'lord' of the Shrine of Delphi were revelations of the gods' will through ecstasy, not through sensible words. Priests and priestesses were seized by sudden trances of the spirit and uttered mystic sayings which were held to be all the more divine as they were less rational or articulate.
Ecstatic utterances have survived the ages and are still a staple in such diverse religions as Hinduism, Buddhism, Satanism and a variety of spiritualistic cults. The repetitious chanting of meaningless syllables often induces in the speaker a trancelike, pre-hypnotic state in which he or she becomes highly suggestible and vulnerable to mental manipulation.
Is it any wonder that the wise man wrote, "Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles" (Prov.21:23, KJV)?
 Numerous articles on our Tongues sub-site - see especially Tongues of Contention
 The Way of Yahweh - Concisely Showing the Plan of Salvation
 Numerous articles on the true Besorah (Gospel) on the main website
Adapted from an article by Amazing Facts with added sub-titles and cosmetic changes to reflect messianic terminology.
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This page was created on 12 October 1997
Last updated on 18 December 2016