Serve Part Two – Have the Gifts Ceased?
watch the video of this sermon here.
A couple of
weeks ago we began a short series on Spiritual gifts. We focused in on the
first seven verses of 1 Corinthians 12. My emphasis was very simple: God gives
us all Spiritual gifts to glorify the Lord and to serve one another. “To
each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” for
this purpose. In fact we saw that every passage which directly teaches on
Spiritual gifts in the New Testament and what they are, places that teaching in
the context of loving one another. Every single one. This is not an accident.
Spiritual gifts can be empowering and sinful human beings can often feel
elevated when they are empowered and abuse this. Hence the Bible reminds us
again and again that they exist for us to glorify God and serve each other. If
you have not heard that sermon yet, I highly recommend listening to it, because
it sets the tone for this whole series.
In fact, the
issue of Spiritual gifting actually hits on a lot of controversy in the Church.
Because there are vastly different views on the Spiritual gifts, and we see a
lot of abuse of certain spiritual gifts in the Church today. If I asked you:
what is the most abused Spiritual gift in the Church today, what would you say?
You might say the gift of healing. You might say the gift of prophecy. You
might say the gift of tongues. Many Christians can think of false teachers they
know that claim these gifts and use them in ways that are ungodly. I understand
where these people are coming from, but I don’t fully agree. I think the most
abused gift is very different.
If you were
to ask me what the most abused spiritual gift in the Church was today, I would
say: the teaching or preaching gift. No gift of the Spirit is more abused than
the wonderful teaching gift that many people have. The sad thing is many people
use their teaching ability and their pulpit to introduce all sorts of nonsense
ideas into the Church today. And the way false teaching works is that once you
have enough people teaching a bad theology, it becomes its own movement and gets
treated as Orthodox Christianity.
A list of
terrible teachings in the Church would contain things like: salvation by works,
blab and grab prosperity heresy, egalitarianism, confusion of gender roles, twisted
teaching about giving, incorrect view on who is Lord of the Church, the
acceptance of sexual sins, the acceptance of things like evolution, and
materialism and more. No preacher is perfect, but not all are equal and all
across the Church there are men and women, who bring teachings into the Church
that should not be tolerated. So, even the most accepted of gifts in the Church
is strongly abused.
What we are
going to do today is start to examine the Spiritual gifts. But we are not going
to go through them in the order they are listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. We
are going to start by looking at prophecy and tongues (and healing) first, and
examine these gifts in detail over the next few weeks. The reason I want to do
this, is because some good Christians believe that these gifts and some others have
ceased, but they have not. So before we go any further, I want to begin by addressing
the arguments for why they say gifts like tongues and prophecy have ceased and
then we can look at the gifts themselves.
and Prophecy Have Ceased?? A lot of very good Christians believe that the gifts have ceased, or more
specifically some gifts have ceased, such as Apostleship, prophecy, tongues and
healing, the so-called “sign gifts”. This term comes from passages like Acts
“12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among
the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in
Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held
them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord,
multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick
into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least
his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the
towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean
spirits, and they were all healed.”
– The view that
these gifts have ceased in called cessationism. Cessationists generally believe
that certain gifts functioned as temporary signs to witness to the ministry of
I find it
strange, biblically, to refer to a certain class of gifts as signs gifts,
because ‘signs’ is just another biblical term for miracles and wonders. Hence
why the Pharisees said this to Jesus, Matthew 12:38-40 –
“38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered
him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered
them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be
given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three
days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be
three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
asked for a sign, they were asking for a miracle that would convince them Jesus
was of God. Jesus had already done enough to prove this, but their hearts were
hard and they were not accepting the signs they saw.
Scripture signs were not confined to a particular period of time, like the
Apostle’s ministry. They were confined to when and how God wanted to use them
at whatever point in history. For example, Deuteronomy 4:33-35,
“32 For ask now of the days that are past, which were
before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one
end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever
happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god
speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or
has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst
of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty
hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the
Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown,
that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.”
signs when he sees fit, and he definitely increases them when he is doing
something big. Like taking the Hebrews out of Egypt. I think you can fairly say
that such gifts are more prominent in some times compared to others.
think anyone can deny that the Apostle’s, the 12, and in that I include the 11
and Paul, had a special gifting beyond the ordinary gifted church leader or
believer. Just like Moses appears to have had a gifting beyond many other
prophets. God was doing something special in the ministry of the Apostles, he
was establishing that the house of God was now the Church, not the temple
anymore, Ephesians 2:19-22,
“19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of
God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus
himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined
together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being
built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
- Cessationism is
contrasted with continuationism, which essentially just means the gifts still
continue today. I prefer the term ‘Charismatic’, because this comes from the
biblical word for “gifting” “charisma” or “charismata” which is the view that
the gifts are still in existence today. 1 Corinthians 12:28-31 –
“28 And God has appointed in the church first
apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of
healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all
apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all
possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But
earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent
important to distinguish ‘Charismatic’ from ‘Pentecostal’, these two terms can
overlap, but they are not the same. Charismatics just believe the gifts exist
today and can be quite a conservative view. It is the view I hold. I simply
believe God will grant and use these gifts as he sees fit.
believe in the second blessing of the post conversion baptism of the Spirit,
where the gifts are bestowed. Many teach that speaking in tongues is the sign
you have truly been baptized in the Spirit.
agree with this view for several reasons. 1) Baptism of the Spirit is what
makes us Christians. 2) This view creates different classes of Christians, some
gifted, some not. 3) We are not all gifted the same, “To each is given a
manifestation of the spirit for the common good.”
established, cessationists generally believe certain gifts are completely
finished. Many famous teachers hold to this view, and it is generally taught by
Reformed or Calvinist churches. Though not always. One of the most famous
preachers of all time that many people consider cessationist is John Calvin.
agree with John Calvin, let’s examine what he actually taught, because you
might be surprised. John Calvin taught that evangelists were only a temporary
gift, in the same way that Apostles and Prophets were temporary.
anyone here believe that Evangelists are not a gift for today, but just for the
New Testament times? Not likely. But if you read what Calvin actually said, it
He actually says
“Those who preside over the government of the Church,
according to the institution of Christ, are named by Paul, first, Apostles;
secondly, Prophets; thirdly, Evangelists; fourthly, Pastors; and, lastly,
Teachers; (Eph 4: 11). Of these, only the two last have an ordinary office in the
Church. The Lord raised up the other three at the beginning of his kingdom, and
still occasionally raises them up when the necessity of the times requires…
According to this
interpretation, which appears to me consonant both to the words and the meaning
of Paul, those three functions were not instituted in the Church to be
perpetual, but only to endure so long as churches were to be formed where none
previously existed, or at least where churches were to be transferred from
Moses to Christ; although I deny not, that afterward God occasionally raised up
Apostles, or at least Evangelists, in their stead, as has been done in our
time. For such were needed to bring back the Church from the revolt of
Antichrist. The office I nevertheless call extraordinary, because it has no
place in churches duly constituted. Next come Pastors and Teachers, with whom
the Church never can dispense…”[i]
might find the idea of evangelists being a temporary gift like Prophets or
Apostles strange. But think about what Calvin is actually saying. Calvin is
saying that God uses prophets, apostles and evangelists when there is a real
need to establish new churches or when there is a desperate need to call an
apostate church back to repentance.
further than even this and affirms that it was happening in his day too. John
Calvin was acknowledging that God was using at least evangelists and maybe also
prophets and apostles in his day.
sense, because this was a time where the church was in such apostasy, that God
needed to call back his people to repentance.
personally always seen the Reformation leaders as akin to prophets and
apostles. But it is interesting that Calvin agrees here.
sense why Evangelists are popping up again more and more in the West. The
Church is in decline, and it needs to be called to serious repentance and new
churches also need to be made.
I am not a
Calvinist myself. Even though I quote Johnny C from time to time. But I agree
with Calvin on this. He says God raises up Apostle-like figures in times of
need, or prophets to challenge an apostate church. I think we just tend to call
these people missionaries or perceptive about issues.
I think we
should expect to see God calling the church back to faithfulness more and more
because with such people.
But what are
the biblical reasons why people say the gifts have ceased. There are two main
reasons, in my view.
are abused – There
are different reasons many Christians view the gifts as having ceased. I think
an important one is that many good Christians see how the gifts are abused. How
prophecy has been turned into a “personal word for your day” style approach
more akin to fortune telling, rather than the calling back to faithfulness that
it is in Scripture. Many people see how prophets foretell many things which do
not happen, or which are so vague as to be guesses. Many people see how
purported faith healers will lead people astray. Many people see how the gift
of tongues is used in a way that is not really seen in Scripture, and then
conclude, the gifts must have ceased.
But though I
understand this, I don’t agree with this perspective, because there have always
been false prophets, false healers, and charlatans in the Church and among
Testament – Think of
how outnumbered Elijah was by the prophets of Baal, or how often Jeremiah and
Ezekiel faced false prophets who contradicted their warnings about judgement.
God has always allowed false prophets to exist to test people, we read in 1
Kings 22:19-23 –
“19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the
Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing
beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will
entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one
thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before
the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘By what
means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of
all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed;
go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in
the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.”
this spirit to go out into all the false prophets that Ahab relied on, to
deceive him. But God also warned him by sending him a genuine prophet, Micaiah,
allow his people, especially if they are acting in sin or arrogance, to be
tested by false prophets and false teachers. We are called to be wise to this,
and expect it to happen.
Testament – We also
see false prophets and miracle workers in the New Testament. Think of Simon the
Sorcerer who wanted to buy the gift of God with money, or the many false
teachers Paul encountered. Paul tells us, 2 Corinthians 11:1-6 –
“1 I wish you would bear with me in a little
foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I
betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But
I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will
be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone
comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive
a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different
gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I
consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if
I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we
have made this plain to you in all things.”
much of his ministry opposing false Prophets and Apostles.
Just as the
Old Testament believers were tested by false teachers and prophets, so too were
the New Testament church. The New Testament warns about false prophets often,
but never when it does, does it say that prophecy is ceased,
“1 But false prophets also arose among the people,
just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in
destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon
themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and
because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they
will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not
idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Peter 2:1-3).
have easily said here: soon prophecy is going to cease, therefore, if you see
someone prophesying, you will know they are false. But he doesn’t. He warns
that we will face false prophets/teaches.
Testament believers are forced to make the same choice as Old Testament
believers: discern the good from the bad. Matthew 24:24 – “For false
christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so
as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
think false prophets are not proof that the gifts have ceased. They are proof
that evil has no new tricks, but doesn’t need new tricks, because the old ones still
So the gifts
being abused is not proof that they no longer exist, what is the other reason?
passages say they have ceased? – The other reason that people believe that the gifts has
ceased, is because they believe there are passages which teach this. There are
usually two main passages that people use to support this, three if you include
the passage from Ephesians 2 we examined at the start. Let’s look at the other
one is Hebrews 1:1-4, which says,
“1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke
to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by
his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created
the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his
nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making
purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4
having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more
excellent than theirs.”
cessationists use this passage to say that we no longer need prophets and such
now, because Jesus has superseded their ministry.
this passage clearly say? That in the past God spoke through the prophets, but
now he has spoken to us through his son. What does this clearly mean? God has
spoken to us through the most superior way, through the exact imprint of the
Divine Father, God the son.
passage say explicitly that God has now stopped speaking through the prophets,
now that Jesus has come? No. Does it say that he will continue speaking through
the prophets now that Jesus has come? No. It is silent on the matter.
is about the Supremacy of the word of Christ above all else. It is not a
discussion of spiritual gifts.
know for a fact, that after the ministry of Jesus that prophets were still
ministering. One interesting example is this, from Acts 11:27-30,
“27 Now in these days prophets came down from
Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by
the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took
place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one
according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30
And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”
Note a few
happened after the coming of Jesus, so Hebrews could not be saying there will
be no prophets after Jesus.
prophecy is specific to the ministry and cultural context of the day and does
not count as Revelation for all believers of all time.
many prophets, Agabus being only one.
clear example is the book of Hebrews itself. It was written at some point after
the coming of Jesus, its author is a prophet, as his words are counted as
Scripture, and therefore prophecy absolutely continued after Jesus’s ministry.
So there is
no way this passage can support the ceasing of the gifts.
Corinthians 13:8-12 –
But the most significant passage, and the one that prompted this sermon, is the
one that says gifts will cease. Here is what it says, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 –
“8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass
away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the
partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought
like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish
ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in
part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
clearly says, in fact it prophecies, that the gifts of prophecies, tongues and
knowledge will cease. The question we must then ask is: has this prophecy been
fulfilled already? Let’s examine it:
us that currently, as of his writing, we know in part and prophecy in part, but
when the perfect comes the partial will pass away, “9 For we know in part
and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass
So here is
my question: is our biblical knowledge, or knowledge of God’s will, currently
partial or complete? Is it perfect or imperfect?
answer, though I think the answer is obvious, let’s allow the passage to answer.
tells us, that once we are fully developed, fully mature, we will act, reason
and speak in different ways, “11 When I was a child, I spoke like a
child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I
gave up childish ways.” Once you become an adult you no longer need the
helping-to-read books, the sippy cups, the nappys, the training wheels, etc,
I want to ask here is: have we so matured in our faith that we are no longer in
need of the things that help us grow?
answer that, though I think the answer is obvious, let’s let the passage answer.
answers the question for us: the completeness comes when we finally see face to
face, the one who saves us and knows us, “12 For now we see in a mirror
dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even
as I have been fully known.” The questions I want to ask here:
- Do we still see as though through a mirror dimly? Yes.
- Have we seen the Lord face to face yet? No. As Peter says, 1 Peter 1:8-9, “8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
ceasing of gifts happens when we see our Lord face to face, which is what we
hope for, what we long for, what this whole adventure of life is all about,
then there is no way this prophecy in 1 Corinthians could have been fulfilled
yet. It will be fulfilled, when we see the Lord, until that time, as John
Calvin says, “Knowledge and prophecy, therefore, have place among us so
long as that imperfection cleaves to us, to which they are helps.”[ii]
not mean that we will all have these gifts in the measure that the 12 Apostles
did. I think we also miss that God appears to bring prophets and miracle
workers into history at different times, but not the same amount all the time.
1 Samuel 3:1, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the
presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no
frequent vision.” The fact that real prophets and miracle workers now
appear less common, is not proof to me these gifts have ceased, but more proof
to me that this is a time like the time when Samuel was born.
this, it is possible to go to church and not even have the pastor open up a
bible. There are more bibles around us than ever before, but the word of God is
rare in some places.
Until we see
the Lord, we need every bit of help we can get to be shaped into the people he
has called us to be.
– So if my sermon
today is correct, and the gifts are not ceased, and they are to be used as we
have discussed to grow the church and call it back to faithfulness, what does
this mean for us?
- It means we should be all examining the word of God to learn everything we can about how these gifts work.
- It means that because of the great corruption in the church we can expect God to be calling up men in the pulpits and ordinary Christians who challenge the church to repent and get back to God’s word.
- It means we have to be switched on to the fact that false prophets and teachers will try to deceive us.
- And it means this: 1 Corinthians 14:1, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” We will explore a biblical definition of this next week.
Conclusion - We may disagree on some of the definitions of gifts and the
existence of certain gifts. But I don’t think any of us disagree that God is
free to work as he wills, according to his righteous decree, and that he
decrees whatever gifts we have, we use them for the good of others. I don’t
think the gifts have ceased, but I certainly do believe that more important
than giftedness, is that we love one another. Let’s pray.