Handling Aright the Word of Truth (IX)

By Morris W. R. Bailey

In our study of handling aright the word of truth, it has been pointed out that it is important that we recognize the distinction between miraculous phenomena, which served a temporary purpose, and the permanent order. The last article dealt with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, sent upon the apostles, and later on the household of Cornelius, and the purpose that it served in each case. We now turn our attention to another miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the form of. . .

Spiritual Gifts

The apostle Paul dealt at some length with the subject of spiritual gifts in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth chapter of first Corinthians. I shall take time out while the reader turns to, and reads Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 12:1-11.

In this scripture it is obvious that spiritual gifts were miraculous powers given to certain of the disciples of the First Century. It will be pointed out later that they were given for but a limited time.

The first three of the gifts, as designated by Paul-wisdom, knowledge, and faith-while ordinarily natural mental exercises and received through natural channels, are herein described by Paul as supernatural gifts, and received, not through natural channels, but, as will be shown later, by the laying on of apostolic hands.

Wisdom, as a spiritual gift, was the ability to reveal divine truth. Paul said, “We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery” (1 Cor. 2:7). Knowledge, as a spiritual gift, was a supernatural insight into “. . . the mystery of Christ which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4,5). Faith, as a spiritual gift, was not. the faith described in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, and which comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17), but a supernatural faith that enabled the recipient to work miracles (Matt. 17:19,20).

Spiritual gifts must not be confused with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. While it is probable that the apostles, who had received the baptism of the Spirit, possessed all the above gifts, not all who received such gifts received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is obvious from the following . . .

Points Of Difference

1. Holy Spirit baptism was received directly from heaven. The writer of Acts, in describing the descent of the Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost, said, “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4). In the sermon that followed, Peter showed that Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, whence “he hath poured forth this which ye see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

In describing the descent of the Holy Spirit on the household of Cornelius, the writer of Acts said, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word. And they of the circumcision . . . were amazed . . . because that on the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:44,45). Peter described the same event in these words, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Thus, in each case the Holy Spirit was sent from heaven.

Spiritual gifts, however, were conferred by the laying on of apostolic hands. This is obvious from the following facts:

(a) Up until the events of the sixth chapter of Acts, only the apostles worked miracles. Acts 2:43 says, “And many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” Acts 5:12 says, “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.” If others were working miracles does it not seem strange that the miracles of only the apostles were mentioned?

Beginning with the sixth chapter, however, a change took place. A crisis arose in connection with the administration of benevolence, that resulted in the appointment of seven men to “serve tables” (vs. 1,2). Upon these men the apostles laid their hands (vs. 6). Immediately following this, Stephen, one of the seven, “wrought great wonders and signs among the people” (vs. 8). Here, for the first time, we find someone other than an apostle working miracles.

(b) Later, Philip, another one of the seven, went down to the city of Samaria and preached unto them the Christ (Acts 8:5). Of Philip’s experience in Samaria the writer of Acts said, “And the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did. For from many of those that had unclean spirits, they came out crying with a loud voice: and many that were palsied, and that were lame were healed” (Acts 8:6,7). Where had Philip received the power to work miracles? Obviously through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. This becomes a certainty in another verse in this same chapter.

Following the conversion of the Samaritans, Peter and John came down to Samaria. The purpose of their coming is described in the following words. “Who, when they were come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit . . . Then laid they their hands upon them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-17).

Of Simon, who had obeyed the gospel under Philip’s preaching, the writer said, “Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money” (Acts 8:18). Could language be plainer?

(c) Still another example of impartation of miraculous power through the laying on of apostolic hands is seen in Paul’s experience at Ephesus, in Acts the nineteenth chapter. Following the baptism of certain disciples in the name of Christ, “Paul laid his hands upon them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

From the above considerations it is thus obvious that spiritual gifts, or miraculous powers possessed by the early Christians, were conferred by the laying on of apostles’ hands.

2. A second point of distinction between Spirit baptism and spiritual gifts was that while the apostles were able to impart spiritual gifts to others by the laying on of hands, that power did not extend to those on whom hands were laid. This is obvious from the following evidence:

(a) While Philip had the power to work miracles, it was necessary for the apostles, Peter and John, to come down to Samaria to lay their hands on the new disciples there. At least that was obviously the intent of their visit to Samaria.

(b) Although Apollos labored for some time in Ephesus, and was an eloquent man, and “Powerfully confuted the Jews . . . showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:28), it was not until Paul came to Ephesus and laid hands on the disciples there that “the Holy Spirit came upon them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:1-6).

The Purpose Of Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts served a dual purpose. Miracles, healings, and tongues were confirmatory in their effect, and inspired confidence in the inspiration of the preacher (Acts 8:6; 1 Cor. 14:22). Knowledge, wisdom and prophecy had to do with inspiration, and enabled those who possessed those gifts to teach such truth as was necessary for the edification of the church. Speaking of the gifts that were given to men, Paul said that their purpose was, “For the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).

In thinking of the purpose of spiritual gifts, it needs to be borne in mind that during the first twenty years of the history of the church there was no revelation (of the New Testament) in written form. Preachers could not appeal to book, chapter, and verse as proof for the things they taught. Their teaching had to be supplied by inspiration. So when an apostle, or other inspired man, established a church in a certain place, and then moved on somewhere else, it was necessary that provision be made for the continued instruction of those babes in Christ. It was for that purpose that spiritual gifts were given to men.

Their Duration

Like all other miraculous phenomena, spiritual gifts were temporary, and consequently ceased when their purpose was fulfilled. We may as well be looking for the miracle of creation to be repeated today, as to expect the continuation of spiritual gifts.

Paul placed a time limit on these gifts when he said in Eph. 4:13 that they were given “Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” That word, “till” is an adverb of time, and thus sets a time limit on the duration of spiritual gifts. Not, as some tell us, when all men are united in what they believe. That is not likely to ever be. It had reference to the time when the various parts of the faith, (1 Cor. 13:9) would be brought together in one unified body of truth.

In the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, Paul specifically names three spiritual gifts, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge, and said that they would be done away when that which is perfect is come (1 Cor. 13:8-10). Since I plan to deal with this passage more. fully in a later article on misused scriptures, it will suffice to make this closing observation that since these greater gifts were to cease it seems illogical for anyone to contend that the other gifts will continue. Having all served their time and purpose they have given way to the permanent-the written word in the New Testament.

Truth Magazine XXI: 41, pp. 645-647
October 20, 1977