Spiritual Gifts: Do they exist today?
This is one of many controversial subjects of the Bible. In fact, this subject is so controversial that it has caused a tremendous amount of division among believers and even entire churches have split over it. So, let us first note some basic questions.
- What is a spiritual gift?
Answer: A spiritual gift is a divine enablement to accomplish a task that’s beneficial to others.
- What is the purpose of a spiritual gift? The apostle Paul gives us a summary answer to that.
12 For the perfecting of the saints [bringing them to a mature understanding], for the work of the ministry [being of service to others], for the edifying [building up] of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith [the things believed], and of the knowledge of the Son of God [knowing Christ in His heavenly ministry to us], unto a perfect man [a complete body], unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children [immature], tossed to and fro [being unstable in our beliefs], and carried about with every wind of doctrine [being vulnerable to false teaching], by the sleight [deception] of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: [Emphasis added]
As you can see, the gifts were provided to enable believers to perform special services in their association with others, usually believers. The Scriptures clearly describe this.
I Corinthians 12:4-7
4 Now there are diversities of gifts [CHARISMA—a form of the word CHARIS which means grace—these are gifts of grace, not earned or deserved], but the same Spirit.
5 And there are differences of administrations [various ways they function], but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of operations [the ways these gifts affect different people], but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. [Emphasis added]
- What spiritual gifts were given and where are they mentioned in the Bible?
1—Apostle [I Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11]
2—Discernment [I Corinthians 12:10]
3—Evangelism [Ephesians 4:11]
4—Exhortation [Romans 12:8]
5—Faith [I Corinthians 12:9]
6—Giving [Romans 12:8]
7—Government (Administration) [I Corinthians 12:28]
8—Healing [I Corinthians 12:28]
9—Helps [I Corinthians 12:28]
10—Hospitality [Romans 12:13]
11—Knowledge [I Corinthians 12:8; 13:8; 14:6]
12—Mercy [Romans 12:8]
13—Ministry (serving) [Romans 12:7]
14—Miracles [I Corinthians 12:28]
15—Prophet (foretelling and forthtelling [Romans 12:6; I Corinthians 12:29; Ephesians 4:11; I Thessalonians 5:20—Despise not prophesying.]
16—Ruling [Romans 12:8]
17—Teaching [Romans 12:7; I Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11]
18—Tongues [I Corinthians 12:10]
19—Interpreting Tongues [I Corinthians 12:10]
20—Wisdom [I Corinthians 12:8]
One of the things that makes this a sticky subject is that the gifts clearly existed in the churches the apostle Paul established. Therefore, it might seem that they would all still be with us and for our use today. However, that’s obviously not the case. For instance, no one today truly has the authority of an apostle, and no one today can at will perform miracles by God’s power. Then there are other gifts of the spirit that are clearly not in operation today. Yet all this and much more went on in the early, infancy times of the Body of Christ church. The spiritual gift that seems to be most controversial and divisive is the gift of tongues, but I’ve already addressed that extensively in another article. If you’ve not seen it, I encourage you to read it. Here’s the link– https://4us2usministries.com/questions-answered/tongues-do-people-speak-in-tongues-today/ There you will see that there’s plenty of evidence in the Bible to show that the gift of “speaking in tongues” does not exist today. But what about all these other gifts? What are we to think about them?
One of the first things you need to know about spiritual gifts is that they are not the same as what we’d call a talent. A talent is something anyone can have—believers and unbelievers. An important phrase I once heard that merits remembering is, “Anything an unbeliever can do is not a part of the Christian way of life.” Always bear in mind that the Christian way of life is a supernatural [a spiritual] way of life with a supernatural means of execution. It is enabled or functions by the power of God the Holy Spirit in us. God’s enablement itself is not something seen although its results can often be seen. As it was on the Day of Pentecost after our Lord was crucified, people didn’t see the Spirit move, but they saw the results, the fruit of it.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. [Emphasis added]
Again, what they were seeing was not the Spirit of God, but the results of His work [or the outcome of His work] in their midst. Like God the Father, the Holy Spirit is not seen or felt; it was Jesus Christ, the God/man Who was both seen and felt.
As we’ve noted, the subject of spiritual gifs has been a subject of great interest to many believers. People have even devised tests for helping people determine their spiritual gift(s). But, again, what are we to conclude about all this from the Scriptures?
As I said at the beginning, there are those who believe all these gifts are in operation today. There are others who believe that only some of them function today. But there’s a third group that believes all these gifts of the Spirit have passed away. I am personally a part of this third group. But why, you may ask? Here are my reasons.
- The Bible teaches that all the gifts of the Spirit were for the infancy times of the Body of Christ church.
In I Corinthians 13, right in the middle of Paul’s comments about these gifts to the church, he tells us that it is love that is the enduring factor for the Dispensation of Grace, not these gifts that were given only for a time. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he mentions only a sampling of these gifts, explaining that eventually they would all pass away.
I Corinthians 13:8-9
8 Charity [love] never faileth [ceases]: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail [KATARGEO—be abolished, vanish]; whether there be tongues, they shall cease [PAUO—come to an end]; whether there be knowledge [introduction of special revelation], it shall vanish away [KATARGEO—be abolished, vanish, or cease to happen].
This is speaking of this special gift of knowledge, not, of course, knowledge in the present-day use of the word.
9 For we know in part [all that God was going to reveal for us had not yet been given], and we prophesy in part [what we proclaim is, therefore, still in part]. [Emphasis added]
- All the spiritual gifts would eventually pass away when the full revelation of Scripture had been provided.
I Corinthians 13:10-12
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that [these special gifts of the Spirit] which is in part shall be done away.
The word perfect in this passage is in the neuter gender in the Greek text, meaning that he’s speaking of an object, not a person [as it is translated in some Bibles], namely the information, the text of the Scriptures.
11 When I was a child [speaking of the infancy stage of this present dispensation], I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man [relating this to the end of the timeframe of the book of Acts], I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face [with a clear revelation of the doctrine pertaining to our time]: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known [complete revelation would be in place]. [Emphasis added]
- Our focus today needs to be faith, hope, and love, not these gifts of the Spirit that once existed in the early church.
I Corinthians 13:13
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three [that continue throughout our time]; but the greatest of these is charity [love]. [Emphasis added]
The reality of the matter is that either we have ALL the gifts of the Spirit today or we have NONE of them. Even though I once thought some were present today, but not others, I’ve found that it’s not valid to pick and choose from the list.
An interesting side note on this subject is that most believers have never given this subject much thought. They’re not even aware of all these gifts that once operated, let alone have they given much thought to which one or ones they may have.
My own personal experience in this matter of spiritual gifts has been interesting for me. Early on I had no idea what to think about all this, but later assumed that I might have the spiritual gift of evangelism. I then pursued ministry with that in mind. I even had a lot of “success” with that, with many people telling me they thought I might be “the next Billy Graham” (whatever that means). My senior year of college I spoke in well over thirty different churches located in several states. Throughout those years I never even considered leading a local church as a pastor. But lo and behold, a few years later that’s exactly what I was doing. I was still doing evangelism, but not at all as I had before. I started doing some home Bible classes that became a “local church.” Now, here I am today with an internet ministry. Who would have ever thought it? But I feel I’m now doing exactly what I need to do. And if finances for it keep coming in from a variety of people to support it, here I’ll continue. I’ve found that what the Lord supports, He’ll provide whatever is needed to sustain it. But, as far as I’m concerned, this whole thing about spiritual gifts for today is a distraction and a divider. Both of which need to be completely avoided.
Most of the controversy over spiritual gifts has come because of the false supposition that the Church began on the Day of Pentecost at the time of Acts 2. If that is our pattern, then all these gifts must stand in place as something for God’s people today. We must also then assume that for people to be saved today they must follow the pattern found in the early part of the book of Acts. Let’s look for a moment at what is stated there about that.
19 Repent ye therefore [change your mind and accept Jesus as the Messiah], and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when [the Greek word HOPOS which means so that] the times of refreshing [the promised Millennial Kingdom on Earth] shall come from the presence of the Lord.
20 And he shall send Jesus Christ [speaking of His Second Coming], which before was preached unto you: [Emphasis added]
But this is not our message for the world today. It does not contain our commission or our gospel. You’ll notice that there’s nothing in that passage about believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It is the apostle Paul who gives us our gospel for today.
25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel [stated in this manner to distinguish it from Peter’s], and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, [Emphasis added]
And what specifically is that gospel people need to believe by which to be saved in our time? It is the apostle Paul who tells us, not Peter.
I Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I [Paul] declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received [for salvation and as a part of his commission], how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
It is this truth that is the heart of the message we’ve been entrusted with to share with the world. This is not the message you’ll tend to hear from people who speak of themselves as charismatics or Pentecostals, people believing in all the spiritual gifts. Most of them [ALL of those I’ve known] completely shy away from the message God made known through the revelations given to the apostle Paul.
1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) [Emphasis added]
Even Satan was caught completely off guard, not realizing what was going to be accomplished through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
I Corinthians 2:8
8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. [Emphasis added]
It is the apostle Paul whom God used to disclose our pattern for salvation and life for the believer in our time, not Peter, not Moses, or anyone else. It was the apostle Paul.
I Timothy 1:16
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. [Emphasis added]
It was Paul that God also used to introduce who we now are as a new creation, a new entity called, “the body of Christ.”
I Corinthians 12:27
27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. [Emphasis added]
We are made complete in our relationship with Him and His body of believers.
10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
The spiritual gifts were given only for the establishment period of this new body of which we are a part of today. Once that body and its doctrine were established, these special gifts were all withdrawn. [Emphasis added]
I Corinthians 3:9-10 [Also, Romans 16:25]
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry [cultivation], ye are God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me [Paul], as a wise masterbuilder [ARCHITEKTOS—architect], I [Paul] have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. [Emphasis added]
Today we are the ones who are to build from his foundation. Our instructions are found in the Bible but especially or particularly in the writings of Paul’s thirteen epistles.
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. [Emphasis added]
Present day believers in the Body of Christ are merely building on the already established foundation God used Paul to put in place.
25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God [meaning to complete the revelation of God’s Word to us];
26 Even [or that is] the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: [Emphasis added]
Spiritual gifts were provided at the beginning of the present age of grace but were not intended to be something that would be needed ongoing. Therefore, their function soon ceased. Today we have the completed Bible with everything we need in its 66 books for evangelism and the spiritual growth of believers. We must always bear in mind that while the whole Bible is FOR us, it is not all TO us or ABOUT us. It is this “right division” of God’s Word that gives us a clear understanding of God’s will for us. By learning those things, we become fully equipped to enjoy all the blessings associated with the salvation God graciously provides.
II Timothy 2:15
15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]
Let us all be diligent in this effort!