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Monday 13 March 2023

Have The Gifts Ceased?


Gifted To Serve Part Two – Have the Gifts Ceased?

You can 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.

Tongues 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 5:12-16 –

“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.”

Cessationism – 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 the Apostles.

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.”

When they 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.  

In the 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.”

God uses 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.

I don’t 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.”

Charismatic - 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 way.”

It is 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.

Pentecostals 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.

I can’t 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.”

As we 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.  

Before you 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.

Now, does 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 makes sense.

He actually says this,

“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]

Now, we 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.

He goes 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.

This makes sense, because this was a time where the church was in such apostasy, that God needed to call back his people to repentance.

I have personally always seen the Reformation leaders as akin to prophets and apostles. But it is interesting that Calvin agrees here.  

This makes 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.

The gifts 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 God’s people.

Old 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.”

God allowed 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, as well.

God does 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.

New 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.”

Paul spent 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).

Peter could 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.

New 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.”

I don’t 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 work really.

So the gifts being abused is not proof that they no longer exist, what is the other reason?

Some 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 two.  

The first 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.”

Some cessationists use this passage to say that we no longer need prophets and such now, because Jesus has superseded their ministry.

What does 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.

Does this 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.

This passage is about the Supremacy of the word of Christ above all else. It is not a discussion of spiritual gifts.

However, we 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 things:

This happened after the coming of Jesus, so Hebrews could not be saying there will be no prophets after Jesus.

This prophecy is specific to the ministry and cultural context of the day and does not count as Revelation for all believers of all time.

There were many prophets, Agabus being only one.

Another 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. 

1 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.”

This passage 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:

Paul tells 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 away.”

So here is my question: is our biblical knowledge, or knowledge of God’s will, currently partial or complete? Is it perfect or imperfect?

Don’t answer, though I think the answer is obvious, let’s allow the passage to answer.

Paul then 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, etc.

The question 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?

Again, don’t answer that, though I think the answer is obvious, let’s let the passage answer.

Paul then 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.”

If the 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]

This does 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.

Think about 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.

Application – 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.

List of references

[i] Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion . Fig. Kindle Edition.

[ii] 1.1       Calvin, John. Calvin's Complete Bible Commentaries (With Active Table of Contents in Biblical Order) (Kindle Locations 454179-454180).  . Kindle Edition.

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