Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Spiritual Gifts Today?

Most of us have not experienced any supernatural activity in our lives which would lead us to believe the Spirit's miraculous workings still occur. And as we tend to be very experience-influenced (it's natural to walk by sight, "unnatural" to walk by faith), we tend to think if we don't see it happening, it must not happen.

Totally understandable viewpoint.

But the question is not, "What do we experience?"; the question is, "What do the Scriptures say?".

The "Scriptural objections" that miraculous powers have ceased comes from three lines of reasoning:

1) We see that the purpose of miracles in the New Testament was to confirm the Word, which has since been completed and confirmed, thus ending the need for that purpose any more.

2) We see that miraculous powers were given by the laying on of the apostles' hands, and since the apostles have now all died out, that source of power is no longer available to us.

3) 1 Cor 13:8-13 says that miraculous powers will cease when the perfect knowledge/prophecy has arrived, and now that the Bible has been completed, that condition is fulfilled.

Let's look more closely at those three "Scriptural objections":

1) The Purpose of Miracles Has Been Fulfilled

Reason #1 is based on the false notion that the only purpose of miracles was to confirm the message of the apostles. Confirmation of the apostles' message is indeed a purpose of "signs and wonders":
HCSB Heb 2:3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. 4 At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will.
1 Cor 1:4 I always thank my God for you because of God’s grace given to you in Christ Jesus, 5 that by Him you were enriched in everything—in all speech and all knowledge. 6 In this way, the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you, 7 so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
HCSB Mark 16:20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the accompanying signs.
In the above passages, we see that the Lord's message was established by the "mouth" of two witnesses (2 Cor 13:1):
 - that of the apostles, and
 - that of miraculous workings from God

However, confirmation of the apostles' message is not the only purpose of miraculous spiritual gifts. As is evident from the following passage, miraculous gifts were not merely for those who needed the word confirmed, but also for those who had already believed the word and no longer needed it confirmed:
HCSB 1 Cor 14:22 It follows that speaking in other languages is intended as a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers. But prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers.
So we begin to see that there are other purposes for miracles other than only confirming the message of the apostles. What, then, are some of those purposes?
HCSB 1 Cor 14:3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation.
In this passage above we see three additional purposes for prophecy (for a total of four, so far):
 - Building up (edification)
 - Encouragement
 - Consolation (I would think things such as healing a sick person, just for the sake of improving their life, would fit into this category)

Still another purpose for miracles is revealed by the following Scripture (bringing our total to five):
HCSB 1 Cor 14:24 But if all are prophesying and some unbeliever or uninformed person comes in, he is convicted by all and is judged by all. 25 The secrets of his heart will be revealed, and as a result he will fall facedown and worship God, proclaiming, “God is really among you.”
Here we see that prophecy is not a sign for confirmation of the word, but for convicting and judging an unbeliever of the secrets of his heart to lead to his praise of God.

And here's a sixth purpose given by Scripture:
HCSB Acts 11:28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world. This took place during the time of Claudius. 29 So each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea.
HCSB Acts 21:10 While we were staying there many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into Gentile hands.’”
Here in these two passages we see that a purpose of prophecy is to provide practical information to the church so that the believers might then take action based on that information.

So, using these Scriptures, we see that there are at least six purposes of miraculous Spiritual gifts:

 - confirming the message of the apostles
 - building up (edification)
 - encouraging
 - consolation
 - conviction/judgment of the unbeliever
 - practical information useful to the church

Of these six purposes, only one, that of confirming the apostles' message, is no longer necessary, since we no longer have apostles giving a message needing confirmation. We still have the other five needs however, so there may be room for miracles to fill those needs.

2) The Gifts are No Longer Available Because the Apostles Can No Longer Give the Gifts

Like Reason #1, this Reason #2 is also based on a false notion, that the only way to receive such Spiritual gifts is through the laying on of the Apostle's hands. But the Scriptures demonstrate that there are at least three methods for acquiring such Spiritual gifts:

 - through the laying on of the apostles' hands:
HCSB Acts 8:18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”
 - at God's whim:
HCSB Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of God.
 - by eager desire and prayer
HCSB 1 Cor 14:1 Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy.  ...  13 Therefore the person who speaks in another language should pray that he can interpret.... 39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in other languages.

3) 1 Cor 13 Says Miracles Will Cease When the Bible is Completed

As shown above, of the three purported "Scriptural objections" to miracles in the present day, the first two fail to stand up to scrutiny. This leaves 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 as the sole "Scriptural" objection to miracles in the present day.

It should be noted at the outset that this passage does not say, "Miracles will cease when the Bible is completed." That is a meaning placed upon the text which may or may not be there. I easily grant that some people understand this text to mean that, but it must be acknowledged that the text does not say that.

This passage has been interpreted as a prophecy of the end of prophecy. But looking at the context, that's not what Paul was trying to get at. What is the theme of his overall discussion in these few chapters?

His theme is Love, and it starts way back in chapter 11, when he discusses the abuses going on at their assemblies.

The Corinthians claimed to be meeting together to honor the Lord in the Lord's Supper, but Paul says that's not what they were actually doing (11:20). It seems that in the early days, the Lord's Supper was intertwined with a full meal, just as the Last Supper was an intertwining of specific parts of the Passover meal with the full meal of the Passover.

However, the Corinthians had lost sight of the fact that this meal was about honoring Jesus' death (11:23-26), and about being united (11:17-22; 33-34). They were selfishly filling up their plates and scarfing their food without concern for anyone behind them in line, which left some folks hungry while others were gorging and imbibing to the point of getting drunk (11:21).

Paul made it clear that this meal was not about satisfying your hunger; that can be done at home (11:22; 34). Instead, this meal is about honoring the death of Jesus (11:26), and recognizing that this is not an act designed for the individual, but for the whole body (11:21;33); if they eat and drink without recognizing the body, they're eating and drinking judgment to themselves (11:29). So they need to wait on one another, so that they won't come under judgment (11:33-34).

The focus here is love for each other, as opposed to selfishness.

Then we move to chapter 12, where we see hints that the same selfishness we saw in chapter 11 in regards to eating the Lord's Supper is also going on with spiritual gifts, with the members thinking "my gift is better than yours". Paul says there are different gifts, given to each person by the same Spirit according to the Spirit's will (12:4-11). Just because you're not an "eye", that doesn't mean you're not part of the body; you may be an "ear", serving just as valid of a role (12:16-21). And even the less-mentionable roles are needed (12:22-25). He starts to wind down this section by saying that God intended there to be no division in the body, but that each member would have the same concern for each other (12:25). He finalizes this section with an appeal to desire the greater gifts, but that the better way is yet to be explained (12:31).

In chapter 13, Paul explains that the better way is love. Some day, the "greater gifts" of prophecy and supernatural knowledge will cease (13:8-11), when we have all the answers (13:12), but even then, faith, hope, and love continues, with the greatest of these being love (12:13).

He then finishes up his discourse on Spiritual gifts by giving practical guidelines for how those gifts should be used (all of chapter 14), finishing up with a command to be eager for the types of gifts that better foster love such as prophecy, while not forbidding the other gifts such as speaking in tongues (14:39).

Throughout these chapters, love is Paul's overall theme.

Notice that Paul is not concerned with teaching his readers when prophecy and supernatural knowledge would cease. Instead, his concern is to say that our focus should not be on the gee-whiz special effects of Spiritual gifts like prophecy and supernatural knowledge, which will cease when they've finished their job, but rather on faith, hope, and love, which will remain, with love being the greatest.

The question is, have these special-effects gifts finished their job?

Many Christians would answer "Yes", equating the finishing of their job with the completion of the New Testament, largely based on their understanding of these gifts as only having the purpose of confirming the apostles' message which we now find in the New Testament.

But as mentioned above, that's not the only purpose for the gifts. We still have at least five other needs which would be enhanced via miraculous spiritual gifts.

Not to mention that I don't see clearly, face-to-face, knowing fully as I am fully known (1 Cor 13:12).


The arguments that miracles have ceased are two: 1) we don't witness them, making us think they must not happen, and 2) Scriptural objections.

Of the three recognized Scriptural objections, the first two are invalid, and the third is questionable.

In conjunction with the New Testament indicating that the Spirit gives gifts to each believer for the Spirit's purposes, it is reasonable to be cautious of using the questionable third objection to those gifts as being the final word on the matter.


Kent West said...

In addition to confirming the currently-being-delivered message of the apostles, direct action from God also confirms previously-delivered messages from God:
So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed (2 Peter 1:19, referring to when God spoke from Heaven about Jesus being His son).

Kent West said...

And here's an eighth:
To provide guidance about where to focus your resources - Acts 9:10; 16:6-10.

And a ninth:
To overcome a person's preconceptions - Acts 10.