May I begin by saying that as a Christian I have had a satisfying, delightful experience through the years in the gifts of the Spirit. From nearly the very first I have realized that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit did not make me spiritual, but they could certainly prove to be channels of God's power.
I knew enough about the gifts of the Holy Spirit to expect that when He filled me with the Holy Spirit for the first time, some gift would sooner or later be manifested. And I certainly was not disappointed.
Over the years I have realized a need in my life and ministry for certain gifts. After submitting to our Lord who divides severally as He wills, I have on a number of occasions coveted earnestly and actually received spiritual gifts which then began to function effectively. In each case there was a definite time and place in God's loving plan for my life for the manifestation of spiritual gifts. On one occasion a very useful and supernatural gift came without even asking or coveting. All praise to the Lord.
Gifts are for believers, of course. I see little biblical warrant for believing that anyone apart from bona-fide Christians might receive gifts of the Holy Spirit. And all Paul's comments on the matter are set in a church context.
Spiritual gifts may be expected to follow the initial infilling of the Holy Spirit. This is a biblical pattern that holds true today. There may be a time lapse between the filling of the Spirit and the manifestation of the spiritual gift God has chosen to give. It is important to remember that the Bible stops short of showing by example that all who are filled with the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues, and it also makes it clear, "Do all speak with tongues?" "No."
Spiritual gifts may also come into the life of a believer through the laying on of hands and prophecy. Many Christian groups set apart young men for the ministry with the laying on of hands. And it is a most appropriate time to believe God for spiritual gifts, as He wills.
Paul's experience with Timothy was followed by this exhortation: "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery" (1 Tim. 4:14).
Evidently there had been prophecy and the reception of a spiritual gift when Timothy was set apart for God's work.
In this present time, one group known to me in the United States apparently has a balanced practice of the spiritual gifts which often function when hands are publicly laid upon the missionaries to be sent out to the fields of the world.
I could certainly sense, as one of their leaders related this to me, just how deeply moved and touched he had been by prophecy, given with the laying on of hands.
I want to make clear that such a wonderful experience is not limited to His ministering servants. All of God's children may receive spiritual gifts, "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal."
And that brings us to another concept. Spiritual gifts engender spiritual gifts. They are divisible, something like the widow's oil in Elijah's time. And if you will pardon the negative connotation - spiritual gifts are contagious.
Spiritual gifts may come into the life through contact with and the sharing of another brother. "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Pet. 4:10).
The significance of the laying on of hands can be underestimated at this point. (See Appendix B.)
Also, when certain spiritual gifts are functioning, they are the ones which will be communicated to others, in the will of God. For example, there may be a flow of gifts of healings in one group of God's children, of prophecy in another, and tongues in yet another. Many but not all of those in each group will receive the dominant gift, while lesser numbers will receive other gifts. We are assuming Christ-adorning behavior and constant submission to the will of God in all of this.
A word of warning here: a person should not lightly submit to the laying on of hands. If there is any reason at all to be concerned that the spiritual operations are carnal, false, or even demonic, stay away. A fair percentage of Christians under occult bondage and even victims of demon invasion have gotten into that bondage through allowing unholy hands to be laid upon them.
This warning, though, is not intended to stop anyone from coveting earnestly in the will of God any true spiritual gift. The banquet table is loaded with goodness. There will be no problems to those who stay on biblical ground. But once off biblical ground, Jesus' blood does not cover you.
Satan must not, by deceptions and false gifts, divert the church from the reality which exists. A counterfeit five dollar bill would never exist were it not that the genuine exists also. Society never discards the money system because of the counterfeits. Instead, it deals with the counterfeiters and then proceeds with the business of the nation.
For too long the church of Jesus Christ has been saying, "It's all counterfeit," or, "There's no such thing as money," or, "There's no such thing as counterfeit." Isn't it time to be truly discerning, to get on with God's business? And in this context that business is to follow after love and desire spiritual gifts.
The gifts of the Spirit come in answer to prayer and faith. "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24).
Desire spiritual gifts. Covet earnestly the best gifts. Do not forget the more excellent way. This is God's plan for the experiencing of the spiritual gifts.
When a new manifestation of the Holy Spirit comes into your life, the best advice is to hold your peace and give yourself six months or a year to cope with the initial excitement of a wholly new spiritual operation.
Make yourself remember that gifts are not marks of spirituality; instead, they are new indications of usefulness to Christ. Dead trees can carry gifts in their branches, but only live trees can bear fruit. Remember too that spiritual gifts are weapons, tools, to do the work of Christ.
Finally, love is more powerful, more effective, and more important than all of these gifts. If God had said that we must choose love or gifts, our choice would beyond question be love.
However, God does not say that. Instead He says, "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:1).