Spiritual Gifts (III): Gifts of Faith and Miraculous Power
Bruce Edwards, Jr.
The Gift of Faith
The next three gifts in Paul's catalogue in 1 Cor. 12:811 are faith, gifts of healing, and workings of miracles. These are interrelated and thus we shall examine them as a group. Some denominationalists have a field day with the apostle's mention of faith in his list of charismata, searching for a "proof-text" that "saving faith" is a gift of God. That Paul places this "faith" in a list of supernatural endowments which no believer possessed in full is a clear indication that something other than "saving faith" is under consideration. There are at least three uses of the word faith (pistis) in the New Testament; one is the use our text makes of it; a second is that "faith" which "was once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3) referring to that body of Divinely revealed beliefs by which the saints are to conduct their lives; the third usage is that "faith" without which "it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto Him" (Heb. 11:6). This latter usage is "saving faith," a faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind, the Son of God. This saving faith "is a complete commitment-intellectual, volitional, and emotional-to the Lord through obedience to His word."(1) This faith occurs not through a special, personal supernatural endowment, but rather "comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). Though all of these "faiths" may in some generic sense be called "gifts from God" since they are all made possible by Him, it is quite apparent that Paul has something more distinctive in mind when he lists "faith" among the charismata.
The most reasonable understanding of "faith" in 1 Cor. 12, in view of its link with other miraculous powers in the text, is that it refers to a particular degree of faith which enables the possessor to perform tremendous feats. Jesus referred to this "mountain-moving" degree of faith (1 Cor. 13:2) during His earthly ministry, "Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be done" (Matt. 21:21) and it evidently was a prerequisite to the working of any kind of miracles requiring tremendous power (see also Lk. 17:6; Mk. 11:23). McGarvey pointed out that no amount of faith ever enabled one to perform a miracle to whom such power had not been given. The Spirit distributed the gifts through the agency of the laying on of the apostles' hands (Acts 8:18; 2 Tim. 1:6). The "miracle-working" faith made the gifts operative. Hence, no amount of faith, devotion or prayer can unleash the Divine energy which works miracles unless one possesses the gifts. Since there are no living apostles, it is impossible for believers to possess such gifts in our day and time.
Gifts of Healings
New Testament healings are distinguished by their completeness and instantaneousness. Unlike modern-day "faith-healers" whose "miracles" take years and years to "take effect" and then only with the assistance of physicians (!), the healings of Scripture occur immediately-truly miraculously: "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. And he took him by the right hand, and raised him up: and immediately his feet and his ankle-bones received strength" (Acts 3:6,7; see also 5:15ff.; 8:7; 19:12). Gifts of healings impowered the possessor to effect complete and instantaneous recovery-without a period of "convalescence." In New Testament days, God healed through specific persons endowed with this special gift; these were granted primarily for the purpose of confirming the word (Jn. 20:30, 31). God still heals the sick today and the fact that He does so is no less "divine;" however the manner in which He accomplishes this is quite different. God now works providentially through natural means to effect His will.
Lenski makes a significant point of which we should take note: "We should not think that healings and miracles were wrought at will by the person concerned. In each instance a specific intimation came to them from the Spirit that the act should be performed, and not until that moment did it occur, but then it always took place without fail."(2) The evidence is that the men equipped to perform such healings did not do so indiscriminately; in each instance the power or energy was bestowed from above for that case alone. Peter. was called to Joppa by the disciples to deal with the.death of Dorcas; when he arrived he prayed (Acts 9:40) and then turned and raised her from the dead. On another occasion in Philippi, Paul endured the soothsaying maiden for several days and then suddenly cast the demon but of her (Acts 16:16-18). These incidents indicate that the possessors of these gifts were under the direction of the Spirit, healing at His command.
We might digress here and notice the admittedly difficult passage regarding healing in James. 5:13-15. This passage is often set forth as proof that miracles of healing through men are still operative. Though many submit a highly plausible figurative interpretation of this section (that the context is "spiritual sickness"), our inquiry into the miracle-working faith of 1 Cor. 12:9 may give us some insight into James' meaning. T. R. Applebury, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, suggests that the "prayer of faith" refers to the faith of the elders, "The article used with the word `faith' indicates that it was the faith of the elders-the same faith about which we read in 1 Cor. 12:9--that produced a miraculous healing."(3) James then cites the miracles performed by Elijah to prove his point; clearly, the performance of a miracle in the New Testament always depended upon the faith of the one performing the miracle and not the one receiving the miracle (cf. Acts 3:1-10). Hence, we, conclude that James' words have no relevance to modern day "miracle working" and must be seen in the context of spiritual gifts which were present in the early church.
Workings of Miracles
"Miracles" here is better rendered "powers" or "energies;" it consists of the same "dynamite" (dunamis) that the gospel is said to be (Rom. 1:16, 17). The apostle distinguishes here between miracles of healing and other displays of Divine energy. His language here especially seems to stress the sheer power at the disposal of those believers possessing the gift. These powers are referred to in. Heb. 2:4 ("signs and wonders, and by manifold powers") and Gal. 3:5 ("worketh miracles among you"). Such workings would include not only positive feats such as the raising of persons from the dead and the casting out of demons (as well as such things as providing food, calming storms, etc.), but also such negative deeds as the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and the blinding of Elymas the sorcerer for "a season" (Acts 13). The design and result of such feats were always the edification of the church ("fear came upon the whole church"-Acts 5:11) and the progress of the gospel ("when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord"-, Acts 13:12).
All three of these gifts are seen to be closely related; extraordinary faith was necessary for the working of extraordinary miracles. These miracles were always performed under the direction of the Spirit for the establishment and edification of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. We find no capricious "snake-handling" brand of demonstrations by the disciples who accepted the Savior and received these gifts. When the Lord is involved, the design -and emphasis is always upon the rational and reasonable use of all abilities and powers.
1. T. R.. Applebury, Studies in First Corinthians (Joplin: College Press; 1963), p: 224.
2. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of I and 2 Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1963), p. 502.
3. Applebury, p. 225.
Truth Magazine XVIII: 6, pp. 87-88