The Work of the Spirit | pt. 7

The Gifts Must Function in Accordance with Scripture

When the gifts of the Spirit are carried out and employed within the parameters of Scripture then a lot of the concerns that cessationists have should be able to be set aside. So, first, let us consider some of the parameters that Scripture puts in place for us. The gifts must function in a way that serves others (1 Pet 4:10-11), edifies (1 Cor 14:3, 12), is clear and ordered, not confusing or chaotic (14:23, 29, 33, 40), is loving (1 Cor. 13),[1] and exalts Christ (Eph 3:21; 1 Cor 12:3).[2]

Scripture further says that tongues must be interpreted if they are shared in the gathering (1 Cor 14:27-28), prophecy must be weighed (v. 29 cf. 1 John 4:1; John 7:24), only two or at most three prophecies or tongues can be shared at a public gathering (1 Cor 14:27-29), and all things should be carried out in an orderly way (vv. 30-33, 40) for the express and emphatic purpose of building up the body of Christ (e.g. v. 12). Paul says, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (v. 26). Why? “For building up” (v. 26). Thus, Paul tells us to “earnestly desire” (12:31; 14:1, 39) the Spirit-empowered gifts and “strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12).

Second, let’s ensure we have a biblical understanding regarding the more controversial issues related to the gifts of the Spirit. I created an acronym to help us consider this subject more effectively. The acronym is G.I.F.T.S. Here is a summary of the acronym:

  • God continues to give gifts to build up the church.
  • Individuals with the gift of prophecy do not contradict or add to Scripture but if what they share is truly from God then it is infallible.
  • Fallible apostles still exist and are gifted men of God but the office of Apostle does not continue.
  • Tongues are used in two overlapping ways in Scripture and should be pursued and practiced as outlined in the Bible.
  • Scripture is to always be obeyed as the final authority.

We will now look at each of those bullet points in order.

God Gives

We have already seen that God gives gifts to build up the body (see e.g. 1 Pet 4:10-11[3]) until the perfect comes. I have outlined eleven reasons above why we should believe that God continues to give Spirit empowered gifts to the Church. There is no biblical warrant for believing in the ceasing of any of the gifts of the Spirit and so we should not believe that they have ceased. Instead, we should as Paul tells us, seek to have all the gifts rightly practiced for the upbuilding of the body of Christ. The charisma are grace gifts. If God has kindly given us gifts to help the church why would we spurn them? Also, if God has kindly given gifts to build up the body why would He take such good gifts away?

So, if the gifts continue we need to understand how they function. This is especially the case with what I see as three of the most controversial gifts: prophecy, the gift of apostles, and tongues. Perhaps healing should also be included but I do not take the space to discuss that here.

I will, however, say that the “health, wealth, and prosperity” movement is gravely mistaken. The wrong understanding of healing can cause and has caused a lot of heartache as well as a bad witness to the surrounding world. Even though people can still be healed that in no way guarantees that they will be healed or even that we should necessarily expect that they should be healed. Paul himself never had his “thorn” taken from him (2 Cor 12:7). And the New Testament does not leave us with an expectation of health but of suffering.[4] Further, even though there is a call for us to pray for healing in the New Testament (Jas 5:13-15), the emphasis on prayer in the New Testament is not on healing. If that is the main thing we are praying for we are not within the biblical balance.[5]


[1] “The greatest evidence that heaven has invaded our sphere, that the Spirit has been poured out upon us, that we are citizens of a kingdom not yet consummated, is Christian love” (Carson, Showing the Spirit, 76).

[2] “The ultimate criterion of the Spirit’s activity is with exaltation of Jesus as Lord. Whatever takes away from that, even if they be legitimate expressions of the Spirit, begins to move away from Christ to a more pagan fascination with spiritual activity as an end in itself” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 158).

[3] Schreiner importantly reminds us that “spiritual gifts are given to serve and to help others, to strengthen others in the faith. They are bestowed for ministry, not to enhance self-esteem… Believers hold these gifts in trust since they are gifts of God. Spiritual gifts are not fundamentally a privilege but a responsibility, a call to be faithful to what God has bestowed” (Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 214).

[4] Here are just a few examples: Matt 5:10-12; 7:13-14; 10:22; 24-25; 37-39; 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-37; 13:13; Luke 6:22-23; 40; 9:23-24; 14:27; 21:16-19; John 15:18-21; 16:33; Rom 12:1-2; 1 Cor 6:7; 2 Cor 1:3-7; 2 Cor 4:7-12; 16-18 1 Pet 2:18-25 (see esp. v. 21); 3:13-18; 4:12 (“do not be surprised… as though something strange were happening to you”) 5:10-11; 2 Tim 1:8; 3:12; 4:5; 1 Thess 3:3-4 (“we are destined for this”); Phil 1:29; 3:7-21 (cf. v. 17) Heb 13:12-14; Rev 2:10. Triumphalism is not the necessary corollary of life in the Spirit (See Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 895). The Spirit cares more about our holiness than our health.

[5] Take for example prayers for health, wealth, and prosperity in contrast to our prayers for God’s glory even in the midst of ill health. What precedence do we see set in the NT? Quite the opposite: Contrast NT prayers for health against prayers for God’s glory in spite of lack of health. There are a lot less NT prayers for health: cf. Matt 26:39, Acts 28:8; Rom 15:30-33; 2 Cor 12:7-9; Jas 5:13-15; 3 John 2, 15 in contrast with Paul’s six prayers for God’s glory in spite of ill health: Rom 12:12; 2 Cor 1:3-7; 13:7-9; 1 Thess 2:13-16; 2 Thess 1:3; Eph 6:19-20 (note where Paul was: 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). Our concern in prayer often does not match that of the NT authors’ prayers, take for example Paul (Rom 1:8-10; 10:1; 12:12; 15:5-6, 13; 1 Cor 1:4-9; 16:23; 2 Cor 1:3-7; 2:14-16; 9:12-15; 13:7-9; Gal 6:18; Eph 1:3, 15-23; 3:14-21; 6:19-20; Phil 1:3-6, 9-11; 4:6-7, 23; Col 1:3-14; 4:2-4; 1 Thess 1:2-3; 2:13-16; 3:9-13; 5:23-24, 28; 2 Thess 1:3, 11-12; 2:11-12; 2:16-17; 3:2-5, 16; 1 Tim 1:12; 2:1; 2 Tim 1:3-7, 16-18; 4:22; Titus 3:15; Phlm 4-7, 25). It would be hard to sum up Paul’s prayers but if I attempted to do so, I would not include any petitions for health, wealth, or prosperity. That, of course, does not make health, wealth, or prosperity bad, or bad to pray for, but we should see that our prayers should not be overly weighed down with those types of petitions over against the petitions that are repeatedly modeled in Scripture. See also D.A. Carson’s book, How Long, O’ Lord? Reflections on Suffering & Evil (Grand Rapids, BakerBooks, 1990), esp. 124.

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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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