The Work of the Spirit | pt. 4

You can see the previous post here

There is no indication that the gifts would cease before Christ’s second coming. The Bible never indicates the cessation of the grace gifts until the return of Jesus, this is the second reason I believe in their continuance. There is no indication in the New Testament that the gifts would cease before the coming of Christ. Of course, it is possible that they could just fade out but we would not expect that to be the case from reading the Bible. Jack Deere contends that “If you were to lock a brand-new Christian in a room with a Bible and tell him to study what the Scriptures have to say about healing and miracles, he would never come out of the room a cessationist.”[1]

In 1 Corinthians 1, it seems to indicate the expectation that the gifts will continue until the coming of Christ. If you read the letter as the first recipients would have there is nothing at all that would make you think otherwise. In 1 Corinthians 1:7, Paul says, “…you are not lacking in any gift[2], as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice it says “any gift” and it seems as if the gifts will continue until the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ. That seems to clearly indicate that the gifts of the Spirit will continue until Jesus returns.

Paul, thus, seems to believe that all of the gifts will not be lacking until “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7). Paul expects that those who are witnesses of Christ[3] will have the spiritual gifts available to them until “the perfect comes” (cf. 13:8-12), that is “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7).[4] It is also important to note that in the context of 1 Corinthians, “spiritual gifts” (χαρίσματι cf. HCSB, NLT, NIV, Rom 1:11) cannot be limited to encouragement and the like but must also include what is considered the “charismatic gifts.”[5]

No clear warrant for distinguishing which gifts would cease. Third, there is no clear warrant for distinguishing between different types of gifts so why think only certain gifts have ceased? It is a categorical mistake to say that the gifts have ceased. God continues to heap gracious gifts upon the church of various kinds. Nowhere in Scripture do we see a clear hierarchy of the grace gifts.[6] There may seem to be a gradation between more natural on one end and more supernatural on the other. So, one may make an argument that the more supernatural gifts have ceased. But (1) that is a different argument than saying the spiritual gifts have ceased and (2) where do we know where to draw the line biblically? Where does the Bible tell us the cutoff is on the grace gift spectrum?

There is no statement saying that we should view the different gifts differently. “Body-wide giftedness was anticipated, and room for its exercise taken for granted… Ministry in the New Testament is always, in the most fundamental sense, charismatic.”[7] If that is true, as I believe it is, why would specific gifts no longer be available? And are there clear biblical reasons for believing that?

How could we know which gifts of the Spirit ceased? Is it just apparent which gifts have ceased? If that is the case, however, I could envision the scenario where people would believe teaching has ceased. After all, if the only way we know if a gift has ceased, is by its absence then what happens in contexts where the word is not being taught? What would they think is going on if that is all they have to go by? Of course, some may distinguish between the more charismatic gifts of the Spirit and the more regular gifts of the Spirit but is that a distinction that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians?[8] I do not believe so.

Why should one believe that various types of tongues has ceased and not the gift of administration? Why the gift of healing and not prophecy? And I think those questions bring up other questions and issues. For example, do we believe that healing takes place today or not? Some might say, “Yes. Healing takes place but not the gift of healing.”

However, I ask on what grounds? Some might say, “God can do whatever He wants. But I’m not comfortable with someone else healing.” To that I say, I agree (at least, partially)! God can do whatever He wants (whatever is in accord with His good nature). If God the Spirit gives the gift of healing to people to heal through them then He can do that! And He has done that. At least in the past. What would be the problem with Him continuing to do that?

If we pray for healing and God continues to heal, why could He not heal people through one of His servants? God does other things through the hands of His servants. Men and women are the body of Christ. Men and women are His ambassadors! Healing seems like a lesser thing compared to those two undisputed truths.

In the same way, Romans 12 says that we have “different gifts” (v. 6). Then Paul proceeds to list some of those gifts. He mentions “serving,” “teaching,” “encouraging,” “giving,” “leading,” and “showing mercy” (vv. 7-8). But that is not all that he lists. He also lists “prophesying” (v. 6). We will look more in-depth at prophecy in a later post, but it is important for us to note here that prophesying is not the same thing as preaching,[9] although many try to equate them. Therefore, we see another instance where “more charismatic gifts” are listed right along with the “more typical gifts” that none doubt continue.

____

[1] Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 54. “No one ever just picked up the Bible, started reading, and then came to the conclusion that God was not doing signs and wonders anymore and that the gifts of the Holy Spirit had passed away. The doctrine of cessationism did not originate from a careful study of the Scriptures. The doctrine of cessationism originated in experience” (Ibid., 99). Douglas A. Oss similarly has said, “cessationistic issues are born out of the contemporary church; it simply would not have occurred to people in the early church to expect or consider anything other than an empowered existence” (Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, 275).

[2] Not lacking in any “spiritual gift” (HCSB, NLT, NIV give the sense).

[3] Notices the context of 1 Cor 1:4ff. It is when “the testimony about Christ” is confirmed among us (v. 6) that we can expect not to be “lacking in any gift” (v. 7).

[4] As much as I disagree with Schreiner I really appreciate him and a whole lot about his book. I, for example, really appreciate his candor here: “The ‘perfect’ doesn’t refer to the New Testament canon or to spiritual maturity but to the second coming of Christ. If anything, Paul teaches that the spiritual gifts persist until the second coming. In fact, I think this is the best argument for the spiritual gifts continuing today” (Spiritual Gifts, loc. 1604).

[5] Similarly, Ephesians 4:7 says “grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” and then v. 11 and 12 say that there are various leaders given to the Church “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (v. 13). So, it seems to me that their are gifts and gifted leaders given to the Church until Jesus returns and we have full “knowledge of the Son of God.” So, Fee says, “The Spirit is God’s way of being present, powerfully present, in our lives and communities as we await the consummation of the kingdom of God” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, xxi).

[6] Paul does not use the term charisma (sometimes translated “spiritual gift/s”) in a technical way to refer to only “a select set of supranormal gifts like healing and tongues” (Carson, Showing the Spirit, 20).

[7] Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 211.

[8] Carson says that Paul “makes no such distinctions: it is the same God who works all things in all men” (Carson, Showing the Spirit, 37 see also 1 Cor 4:7; Jas 1:17).

[9] “Some have said that prophecy is charismatic exegesis, which defined is as Spirit-driven interpretation of biblical texts. This view should be rejected because it isn’t clear that prophets were engaged in interpreting Scripture. They gave oracular pronouncements, words of the Lord; they were not dependent on texts in proclaiming the word of the Lord… The function of prophets isn’t to unpack already-written biblical texts. Their prophecy may help explain previous revelation, but their words aren’t sustained explanation and exposition of biblical texts, even when they draw on previous texts in their prophecies” (Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts, loc. 1014 see also loc. 1034). Gaffin, also a cessionist says, “prophecy is not, at least primarily or as one of its necessary marks, the interpretation of an already exisiting inspired text or oral tradition but is itself the inspired, nonderivative word of God” (Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost, 59 cf. 72). Irenaeus says, “Prophecy is a prediction of future things. That is, it is a declaration beforehand of things that will happen later” (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, 538).

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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