The Gifts of the Spirit, Part 2
August 6, 2015 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Life In the Spirit, Part 9
Last week we looked at the “gifts of the Spirit” as part of the manifold ministry of the Spirit to sustain us in our relationship with Christ. The Spirit works through our fellow believers within the church for our good. We made two general observations about gifts: 1. They are for the good of others in the church, and 2. Use of the gifts in the church reflect the unity and diversity of the divine relationships in the Trinity. I would like to make one more general observation this week.
3. “Central to the exercise of any gift of the Spirit is the ministry of the word given to God’s people” (Ferguson, p. 208). There is no disjunction between the gifts and the Word of God. They work together. In fact, we can say that the gifts serve the ministry of the Word of God. Consider the four lists of gifts we have in the New Testament:
Romans 12:6-8 – Prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, acts of mercy.
1 Corinthians 12:8-11, 28 – Word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, tongues, interpreting tongues… apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, gifts of healing, helping, administration, and tongues.
Ephesians 4:11 – Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
1 Peter 4:11 – Speaking, serving
Every gift directly furthers the ministry of the Word of God (i.e. the revelatory word from the prophets and apostles; see Eph. 2:20) or supports the ministry of the word (i.e. the miraculous gifts affirming the authenticity of the message… more on this below). Spiritual gifts are not to be thought of, used, or promoted in opposition to or absent of the ministry of the Word. The Word “stabilizes and nourishes them; they give expression to that Word in various ways” (Ferguson, 208). I pray that we would be a church centered on the Word of Christ, building one another up, using our gifts empowered by the Spirit of Truth.
Now, I must acknowledge that curiosity and debate over the past 100 years have centered on what have been known as the “sign” gifts. Specifically these are the gifts of tongues and miraculous healings. While I believe God can and does continue to work miracles like tongues and healings for the sake of the ministry of the Word, I do not believe the Spirit continues to empower these sign gifts in the church today (please note the significant distinction between the ongoing occurrence of miracles and purposes of giving spiritual gifts). I don’t expect to win any arguments in the confines of this space or even be able to fully explain the intricacies of the arguments, but I would like to share three observations related to these sign gifts.
1. A survey of the history of the church demonstrates that the presence of these sign gifts fade from the church with the end of the apostolic age in the first century. It is only in the last 100 years that a resurgence of attention has been given to these miraculous gifts. How should we explain this? Do we want to say that prior to the 20th century Christians did not have faith or knowledge enough to receive these gifts? Do we want to say that God is starting a new era of new work and revelation with these miraculous gifts? Or should we say that experiences of the miraculous may be exaggerated to be and/or conflated with these miraculous sign gifts?
2. The purpose of the miraculous sign gifts was to authenticate new revelation and the messengers. Peter says in Acts 2:22 that Jesus was “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst.” In Paul and Barnabas’ ministry they were “speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3). According to Hebrews 2:3-4, the word of salvation “was declared first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit.” If revelation is complete (Sola Scriptura?), what purpose would the miraculous gifts serve now?
3. Nowhere in Scripture do we find evidence of these miraculous sign gifts continuing in an unending manner. Think about the miracles performed in the Old Testament. Gifting for such miracles are clustered in a select group of people used by God to usher in new epochs of revelation. The period of Moses and the exodus. The period of Elijah and Elisha and the introduction of the ministry of the prophets. We do not find gifting for miraculous signs continuously throughout the Old Testament story. The same applies to the New Testament. Jesus and the apostles and some of their immediate followers (Philip and Stephen) were gifted with miraculous powers to establish the credibility of the new revelation now recorded as the New Testament.
In conclusion, rather than dwell on the debate over sign gifts, let us be a church striving to work with the Spirit in building up the body of Christ into full maturity, using our gifts in conjunction with the ministry of the Word. May we enjoy Christ all the more because of the powerful ministry of the Spirit in and through us!