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May Specific Gifts of God be Desired and Requested?

The Scriptures suggest that, while God gives spiritual gifts as he wills, we may request and receive specific gifts. In I Corinthians 14:1, Paul instructs us to earnestly desire spiritual gifts in general, but especially the gift of prophecy. He goes on to explain that one who prophesies strengthens, encourages and comforts the hearers of the message, where, by contrast, one who speaks in tongues without an interpreter edifies only himself. Then once again, in verse 12, the Apostle states that, if we are zealous for spiritual gifts, we should seek to abound in gifts for the edification of the church. "Wherefore," Paul says, "let him that speaketh in a tongue pray that he may interpret." I Corinthians 14:13 (ASV). While these verses do not strictly establish the proposition that the gift of tongues may properly be requested from God and received in response to prayer, they do clearly establish that spiritual gifts in general may be earnestly desired and requested from God and that the gifts of prophecy and interpretation of tongues, specifically, may be given by the Spirit in response to prayer.

Moreover, during his earthly ministry, Jesus stated the general promise that God would give the Holy Spirit and his gifts to those who ask for them. On at least two separate occasions, Jesus taught on prayer using the following words (Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-10):

Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened.

On both of these occasions, Jesus went on to compare God to an earthly father who, when his children ask for food, will give them something good and not something useless (e.g., a stone) or harmful (e.g., a snake or a scorpion). Matthew 7:9-10; Luke 11: 11-12. On the occasion recorded in Matthew, he then drew the following conclusion (Matthew 7:11):

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

In this passage, the single Greek word translated "good things" (agatha) is clearly a plural noun form and is a reference to the plural "good gifts" (domata agatha) in the preceding clause. In Matthew, more than one "good gift" is plainly contemplated. By contrast, in concluding the parallel teaching in Luke, Jesus says (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?

Thus, the most prominent of the good gifts God will give to those who ask is the gift of the Holy Spirit — the gift of God himself dwelling within us. But the gift of the Holy Spirit is only the beginning, and there are other "good gifts" God will give to those who ask. The gift of tongues is a gift given by the Holy Spirit. Whenever, therefore, and to whatever degree it is a "good gift," God can be expected to give it to those who ask.

However, this concept that God may give the gift of tongues to people in response to their prayers requesting it suggests an interesting alternate explanation for the events which occurred at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas on January 1, 1901 and subsequently in the modern Pentecostal movement. God clearly desires his children to be baptized in the Holy Spirit — that is, to live under the Spirit's control and enablement. Charles Parham and his students had come to the correct conclusion that God wanted this, even though they believed that this baptism would leave them sinlessly perfect (and, thus, did not quite correctly understand the purpose of Spirit baptism). God also wanted his people collectively to exercise all of the gifts of the Spirit, including tongues. But assume, for the sake of argument, that Parham and his disciples made a mistake when they identified speaking in tongues as the only, invariable initial evidence of Spirit baptism. Then, based on that mistake, they came before God praying for both the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of tongues as evidence that they had received it, telling God, in essence, that they would not believe they had the baptism until they heard the tongues.

Faced with this situation, what was God to do? He wanted them to have both the Spirit in control and his gifts in manifestation. Was he going to deny their prayer for two things he wanted them to have because they had drawn a faulty conclusion that one of those things is the only acceptable evidence of the other one? Or was he going to give them both of the things they requested, so that they could have confidence that they really had received the Spirit? The answer is nearly so obvious that it doesn't need to be stated. It is God's nature to give good gifts to his children when they ask for them. Thus, the observable fact that God will give a gift of tongues to those of His children who ask for it as evidence that they have the Holy Spirit does not necessarily imply that this is the only acceptable evidence of the Spirit's control or that every believer needs this same evidence.

NEXT PAGE: Some Personal Experiences

Ian Johnson & Jonathan Brickman
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For Ian: ian4christ41@yahoo.com
For Jonathan: jeb@joshuacorps.org

Related material

Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the spiritual gifts.

God is love, and his nature is to give.

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