Gotta Have Faith: The Gift of Faith in 1 Corinthians 12
Previously we discussed the gifts (or manifestations) of knowledge and wisdom. The next gift is faith, one of the most misunderstood of the nine listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Throughout the Bible, faith has several different definitions depending on the context in which it is used.
Usually faith means trusting in God – especially for salvation. This is what some call “saving faith” and it happens when an unbeliever first believes in Jesus as his/her savior and Lord.
First Corinthians 12, on the other hand, is talking about manifestations of the Holy Spirit among believers. Believers already have saving faith. The gift of faith must then be something extraordinary and obvious to be considered a gift above and beyond saving faith. It is a faith that can move mountains as Paul later describes in 13:2. Since Paul does not describe it in detail for us, we are forced to guess what the gift of faith looked like in action. Gordon Fee’s educated guess is that it “probably refers to a supernatural conviction that God will reveal His power or mercy in a special way in a specific instance.” (NICNT, p. 593, 1987) It is knowing that you know that you know that God will show Himself in a given situation. For instance, before I begin my internship, I have to raise thousands of dollars to support myself. I admit at first I literally woke up in the middle of the night with a jolt covered in sweat at just the thought of trying to raise that much money. Soon afterward, as I was praying, I was overwhelmed by a sense of peace and knowledge that God would show Himself in a mighty way as The LORD my Provider. I knew in that moment that God would miraculously provide the means so that I can begin my internship at my church. Certainly there are moments of doubt, but I have a quiet confidence from this gift of faith that God has given me for my current situation.
Fee also argues that the gifts of healing and miraculous powers that immediately follow the gift of faith “belong together – and indeed would at times seem not quite possible to differentiate.” (p. 593) In other words, it seems these three (faith, healing, and miraculous powers) go hand-in-hand-in-hand (three hands!?) So you gotta have the gift of faith for a miracle to happen and a gift of healing might never occur if the gift of faith did not come first. Anthony Thiselton (NIGTC, 2000, p.947) thinks the one being healed has the gift of faith while the healer has the gift of healing, but he cautions that this is not always the case.
Something strikes me as odd when I read First Corinthians. Is it possible that these gifts were so prevalent that Paul did not need to describe any of them? Did they happen so often that everyone had seen them in action and already knew what they looked like? I suspect the answer is yes. Now, allow me to make the leap of faith…maybe we wouldn’t need written descriptions of these gifts if we really believed that these gifts should happen with the same frequency today as they did in the first century. Maybe it would require the gift of faith to believe this, but I believe that God would show Himself to us in spectacular fashion if we stop making excuses for the lack of healings and miracles and start believing in the only One who could actually perform miracles in our churches, small groups, and families. Then, instead of educated guesses, we might have testimonies of God’s power revealed in our lives.
Paul did not provide vivid descriptions of each gift; I think this omission was his way of saying, “You’ll know it when you see it.” My prayer is that we do see these gifts as our knowledge and expectations for them increase and through them we see Jesus in whole new light.