By Johnie Paul Edwards
The very nature of that which was received by early Christians was spiritual. That is to say that the gifts were supernatural or miraculous gifts, rather than natural.
The apostle Paul said, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (1 Cor. 12:1). Even with the apostle’s plea for knowledge concerning “spiritual gifts,” ignorance of “spiritual gifts” continues today and has led many to teach and practice things contrary to God’s word.
Why Spiritual Gifts?
The very nature of that which was received by early Christians was spiritual. That is to say that the gifts were supernatural or miraculous gifts, rather than natural. These gifts fulfilled the predictions of prophecy that God would pour out his spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28 ff; Acts 2:17-21) and the promise of the Lord that signs shall follow them that believe (Mark 16:17-18; Acts 8:13).
Why Spiritual Gifts?
“For to one is given by the Spirit …” (1 Cor. 12:8a) may best explain why the word gifts is used. These spiritual or supernatural abilities were given by the Spirit of God and manifested that the Spirit of God was with its recipient. It was the Spirit’s choice who received what particular miraculous manifestation and not man’s choice (1 Cor. 12:7,11). Paul affirms at least ten times in 1 Corinthians 12 that these gifts were from God (vv. 4-13). The term “spiritual gifts” means the gifts of the Spirit and shows the source to be in the grace of God.
1. Some misunderstand the nature of spiritual gifts. The nature of the gifts involved the supernatural and not the natural. Things that are done through natural ability cannot be called “spiritual gifts.” One could learn to speak a foreign language through natural ability by thoroughly studying the language. But, the gift of “divers kinds of tongues” involved speaking in a language that one did not know and had not studied (cf. Acts 2:5-13).
2. Some misunderstand who received spiritual gifts. Men today do not receive these supernatural abilities and do not need them as the early church did. Early Christians needed spiritual gifts for the confirmation of God’s spoken word and the edification of the church. But when the spoken word was confirmed by super-natural acts and became the written or “perfect” word of God, that which was in part (spiritual gifts) was taken away (1 Cor. 13:10). Spiritual gifts were not general, but special.
3. Some misunderstand how spiritual gifts were given. Some received miraculous power from the Spirit through a baptism, called “the baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus promised the apostles (and only the apostles), “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5; cf. Acts 11:16). The apostles were overwhelmed by the Spirit in Acts 2 when “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The miraculous powers given to the apostles were the “signs of an apostle” mentioned by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:12, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.”
Others received supernatural power through the laying on of an apostle’s hands, called “the laying on of hands measure of the Holy Spirit.” There was a vital connection between the laying on of the apostles’ hands, and the transfer of the power of the Holy Spirit. The story of Simon the Sorcerer reads, “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money” (Acts 8:18). All such supernatural power was given by the Holy Spirit! In Acts 10:44 while Peter was speaking the word of the Lord, the “Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word.” What was “poured out” of the Spirit was called “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:45) and “they heard them speak with tongues …” (Acts 10:46). This outpouring of the Holy Spirit resulted in its recipients possessing a supernatural gift.
This outpouring in Acts 10 was for the purpose of convincing the Jews that to the Gentiles also was “granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). The nine spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, from the word of wisdom to the interpretation of tongues, were imparted by the apostles of Christ after their baptism by the Holy Spirit. Paul laid his hands on some newborn Christians at Ephesus who then began to speak in tongues and prophecy (Acts 19:1-6).
4. Some misunderstand the differences in spiritual gds. Spiritual gifts were diverse in that they differed one from another. Paul taught the Corinthians, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:4) and “there are diversities of operations” (v.6). The gifts differed in the work they enabled each one to perform. The nine spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues differed one from another. Even the seeming inseparable gifts of word of wisdom and word of knowledge were different in that the “word of wisdom was the ability to reveal divine truth, and the word of knowledge was the ability to teach the truth thus revealed” (J.W. McGarvey). For this reason Paul asked and persuaded the Corinthians, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Cor. 12:29-31). But as different gifts were bestowed on different individuals, some of them became a source of pride and envy among the saints at Corinth.
5. Some misunderstand the purpose of spiritual gifts. The intended purpose of spiritual gifts is clearly set forth in scripture. Mark records, “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and con-firming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). Hence, gifts of a spiritual nature were given by the Spirit of God to early disciples to confirm (“to make firm, establish, make secure,” W.E. Vine) the spoken word of God. God, through the Holy Spirit, provided man with both a complete revelation and the external signs (miracles) which made it credible.
If God’s messengers did not have their message confirmed by super-natural evidence of its Divine origin none could be persuaded that God was its author. Further, the apostle asked, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Heb. 2:3-4).
The Lord’s spoken word of salvation was made sure by the apostles through miraculous manifestations. On one occasion, the supernatural was so obvious and convincing, that those who observed the wonders considered Paul and Barnabas as gods (Acts 14:11). Paul argues that such became a “badge of authority” for the apostles of Christ and attested to the fact that they were truly God’s messengers (1 Cor. 12:12). Further, as the spoken word was confirmed by spiritual gifts it would result in the edification or building up of the church. Paul taught the Corinthians, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Cor. 12:7) and “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church” (1 Cor. 14:12) and “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a rev-elation, bath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Cor. 14:26).
6. Some misunderstand the duration of spiritual gifts. The apostle revealed that while faith, hope, and love would abide, spiritual gifts would fail, cease, and vanish away (1 Cor. 13:8). Spiritual gifts were “needful in developing the infant church, but as that institution passed onward toward maturity and perfection (Heb. 5:12-14; 6:1; Eph. 3:14-21; 4:11-16), they were outgrown and discontinued, because from them had been developed the clear, steady light of the recorded Word, and the mature thoughtfulness and assurance of a well-instructed church” (J.W. McGarvey).
Since the apostles were the link between the Holy Spirit and the church in the dispensing of the gifts, the apostles’ death marked the breaking of the link, and signaled the end of the miraculous gifts. In 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, Paul identifies the gifts, and then points out that “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” The word “perfect” is in contrast to the “know in part” and refers to the totality of the knowledge God intended to impart to man. As this revelation was being given, part by part, it was being confirmed by accompanying miracles. The testimony of the apostles and others was proven valid by their miracles. These demonstrations confirmed the word then, and the same demonstrations confirm the word now! Being provisional, to bear witness to the truth orally delivered, and temporary, spiritual gifts were not permanent, and therefore ceased.
Since the word of God is now in the book, we do not need the special endowments of the Spirit. There are two reasons why the gifts of the Spirit are not now imparted. First, there are no apostles now to impart gifts and, second, there is no further need for miraculous revelations.
7. Some misunderstand the difference between spiritual gifts and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit baptism upon the apostles of Christ was for the full and complete inspiration necessary to reveal the scheme of redemption to man. Jesus promised the apostles the Comforter who would guide them into all truth and bring to their remembrance what Jesus had spoken unto them (John 14:26; 16:7, 13). “The Holy Spirit in special measure was not promised and not received by anyone else than the apostles themselves” (F. Wallace, Jr.). The apostles of Christ, through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, were, as it was, commissioned to pass on the miraculous gifts of the Spirit so that others could speak with divine authority and perform confirming gifts (Mark 16:17-20). “Indications are that the majority of men who could perform supernatural feats were not possessed of a0 of the various gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:28-31) and more than likely, possessed only one or two of them. Yet it seems to be a fair conclusion to draw that the apostles were able to do all of them!
“It was certainly through them (the laying on of their hands) that these gifts were imparted to other men (Acts8:18), and the conclusion seems inescapable that if they had all the gifts to the extent that they could impart them to others, they must have been able to exercise them” (A. Belue Jr.). “The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a measure given to men. It belonged to the Holy Spirit alone, through the apostles of Christ, to reveal the scheme of redemption, and to demonstrate its divine origin. Therein its special mission was fulfilled and its manifestations ended … Thus the influence of the Holy Spirit in the apostles was the baptismal measure; and the influence of the Holy Spirit in the apostolic church was the spiritual gifts measure … Holy Spirit baptism was from God, not from men; it was received direct from heaven not by impartation of hands” (F. Wallace, Jr.).
8. Some misunderstand the difference between spiritual gifts in the Bible and supposed spiritual gifts today. The signs that were to accompany those who have believed, included: casting out demons, speaking with new tongues, picking up serpents, drinking any deadly poison without being hurt, and laying hands on the sick so they would recover (Mark 16:17-20). With the claim must be the power to prove the claim. Where’s the proof? Further, modem preachers who claim such power don’t talk like the Spirit-filled apostles talked. The apostles commanded believers to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). Do these modem-day claimers of such power tell sinners to do such?
9. Some misunderstand the difference between spiritual gifts and the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is a difference between the gift of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. Peter promised in Acts 2:38 that those who repented and were baptized would receive the “gift of the Holy Ghost.” As we’ve already learned not all the early Christians received spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:8). Whatever the “gift” of the Holy Spirit is, was received by all those who repented and were baptized and the “promise” extended even to their children (v. 39). While some contend that the gift of the Spirit was salvation and others the Spirit himself, one thing is for sure, the promise of the gift of the Spirit, in Acts 2:38, is not a promise that men would receive spiritual gifts!
Spiritual gifts can be likened to scaffolding used in the erection of a building; when the building is completed the scaffolding is removed. Or you might compare spiritual gifts to a tugboat; when the mighty ship of the church was pulled away from the harbor, the tugboats (spiritual gifts) were cut loose and the mighty ship of the church was able to sail on its own. “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (1 Cor. 12:1).
Guardian of Truth XLI: 4 p. 12-14
February 20, 1997