There are three notable periods of miracles in human history; what were they? (Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and the days of Christ and the Apostles.) Does the Bible gave any indication why Moses was permitted to work miracles? What? How much of the written word did Israel possess in the days of Moses? In the days of Elijah and Elisha was Israel godly and faithful to the Lord in their worship and obedience? How faithful were the priests of Israel in those days? Were there copies of the Law and the writings of Moses in Elijah’s day? How many of the families of Israel would you guess owned, studied and read God’s word? Did Elijah and Elisha work miracles for their own benefit? Could we surmise that they worked miracles in order to point people toward Jehovah, because there was no other means of authenticating their message? Why did Christ work miracles? For one thing, it was prophesied that the coming Messiah would work miracles (Isaiah 42:1-9). When John’s disciples came asking if Jesus was the Christ, He pointed to His miracles (Matt. 11:2-6). Why did the Apostles work miracles? Why didn’t God ordain the use of miracles throughout human history? Why haven’t most of the most godly people in Biblical and religious history worked miracles?
Who is the source of miraculous power? Can we say that miracles are gifts of the Holy Spirit? Scripture? As wonderful as miracles are, are they perfect tools in bringing non-believers to the Truth and faith? Did Jesus’ miracles make the people around Him true disciples? Did the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000 create a church of 9,000 people? As wonderful as miracles are, they are essentially flesh-related, rather than spiritual-related. Generally speaking, did the people whom the Lord miraculously fed become hungry for the Lord?
What are some of the gifts of God which far exceed miracles in importance and impact? Can watching Christ heal a sick man, teach a sinner all that he needs about atonement? Can being miraculously fed fish and bread, prepare a soul for eternity? How many of those who were miraculously fed in the wilderness became saints of God? How many people whom Jesus’ healed died a seciond time and are now in hell? The Bible is infinitely more important than miracles, answering questions that miracles can’t, asd the Bible is also our text book on the subject of miracles.
I believe that the Bible teaches that miracles and some of the other gifts of the Spirit were temporary. Not only do we see this in actual Biblical history – Abraham, Moses, the Judges, Elisha, the prophets….. But we have the clear declaration of God that some gifts were supposed to be temporary in duration. Furthermore, even as we pass chronologically through the New Testament, we see some gifts being referred to less and less frequently. The lists of Spiritual gifts are longer in the earlier New Testament books than they are in the later books. Certainly, the Holy Spirit can, and probably does, enable periodic miracles for special reasons, but the general rule is that some miracles were never meant to be anything more than temporary.
I Corinthians 13.
“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
I exchanged some e-mails with a man this week, who wanted to buy one of my Andrew Fuller CDs. When I got his address and realized that he was a Canadian, we had to compare notes on that. And then he wrote: “What group are you associated with? I am a church planter with a group called Sovereign Grace Ministries (led by a guy called CJ Mahaney). We are reformed, gospel centered and continuationist regarding the gifts – trying to meld orthodoxy and passion as Edwards spoke of.” Needless to say that when I replied that I was a Sovereign grace, Landmark Baptist, that was the end of our correspondence. He declared himself to be a “continuationist” regarding the gifts. That was a word which I had never heard or read before, and yet I immediately what it meant. But I am convinced that I Corinthians teaches me NOT to be a “contintuationist.”
Charity, “agape” love, is something which will be a part of Bible Christianity until the end of the age. But the gift of special prophecies, tongues (glossolalia), and special knowledge were prophesied to end. What was declared to be the point at which gifts like these would come to an end? (The arrival of the Perfect.) Some “continuationists” believe that which is perfect refers to the return of Him Who is perfect – Christ. But I am told that the word “perfect” is neuter, meaning something other than the Lord. And when this is studied in the light of the history of divine gifts, it is easy to conclude that it is referring to the perfecting and concluding of the Word of God.
In other words, upon the completion of the Bible, the importance and use of many of the Gifts of the Spirit would be unnecessary and no longer given.
Temporary Gifts of the Spirit.
The Gift of APOSTLESHIP. We looked at several lists of spiritual gifts last week – Ephesians 4:7-13: “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” In Ephesians Paul calls Apostles gifts of God, just as he does in I Corinthians 12:27-31 and elsewhere. “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”
Now let me digress: what is a prophet? A prophet is someone who speaks for the Lord; who is a mouth and tongue for the Lord. Who were some of the great prophets of God? Am I am prophet of the Lord? I am in the sense that I am an ambassador for the Lord, but I don’t hold the office of “prophet,” and I have not been given the gift of seeing into the future. The same can be said of apostles. The word “apostolos” refers to a messenger – someone sent forth with orders; orders from the Lord. Was Timothy an apostle? Silas? When you compare I Thessalonians 1:1 to 2:6, yes they were. Was Epaphroditus and apostle? Philippians 2:25 – “Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your (apostolos), and he that ministered to my wants.” I believe that every God-sent missionary today is still an apostle in the sense of a “messenger.” But in the sense of the office of an Apostle, as were Peter, James and John, there is a difference. Those were men selected by Christ, baptized by John, and especially empowered by the Holy Spirit. Most if not all of them possessed other special Spiritual gifts such as prophesy and special knowledge. Most of them were used to work divine miracles. It was a special office which came to an end with the completion of the Word of God.
The Gift of PROPHECY. How easy would it be for someone to declare that he was a direct successor to the Apostles – that he holds the office of an Apostle – and be able to get away with his claim? How easy would it be for someone to declare that holds the office of a Prophet? What is the key test of a prophet? Is a 75% success rate in prophecy acceptable? Who were some of the prophets of the New Testament period? How important was prophecy in the days of the New Testament? Name one true future-describing prophet since the Apostle John. Closely related to the gift of Prophesy would be the gift of knowledge and perhaps the gift of special wisdom. I Corinthians 12:4 – “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit.”
The Gift of MIRACLES. Did the Lord Jesus work miracles? Did the people of Christ’s day know Him more for His miracles or his preaching? Did Peter work miracles? Did Paul work miracles? Are these men better known as preachers or miracle workers? From our study of the Book of Acts and from what you know of the rest of the Scripture, would you say that the gift of miracles increased during the Apostolic period? What was the cause of the decline of the miraculous gifts? Even though the office of Miracle-worker has ceased, does that mean that there are no miracles today?
The Gift of HEALING. Of course this is one aspect of the gift of miracles. Only once is it mentioned by name – I Corinthians. From what you know about the chronology of the New Testament, was I Corinthians written early or late in the New Testament period?
The Gift of TONGUES. I suppose that out of all the spiritual gifts this one has caused more controversy and division than the rest. Why do you suppose that is the case? What was the occasion for the first recorded expression of this gift? (Pentecost.) What exactly did it entail? It was either the divine ability to speak in languages not previously learned by the speaker, or it was the divine ability to hear in one language something spoken in another. (I believe that it was most likely the first.) Is Glossolalia (tongues) the ability to speak in the language of Heaven? There are people who claim to have the gift of Tongues today. If you have met any of these people, or if you have been with them when they experienced the gift, what foreign language did they speak, and how many people were converted as a result?
Can Satan restore life to someone who was actually dead? Can the Devil create life? Do you suppose that Satan can make someone appear to be dead and then appear to give him life? Can we say that life is something which belongs to the Lord and the Lord alone? What about some of the more physical miracles? Can Satan imitate God’s power? For example, if someone today spoke in an unlearned foreign language can we know for sure that it is by the power of God? What is the likelihood that modern glossolalia is actually satanic? Some people say that if a professing Christian doesn’t possess the gift of tongues, it is evidence that he is not a true child of God. Even in Paul’s day, how true would that have been? To whom does the Bible say that the gift of Tongues was a sign or witness? I Corinthians 14:22 – “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.”
What is the requisite parallel gift? (Interpretation.) What does Paul say about the gift of Tongues without the gift of Interpretation? I Corinthians 14:26-28 – “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” Name some of the great missionaries of the Christian era. To which of them did the Holy Spirit grant the immediate, miraculous gift of Tongues? Wouldn’t their work have been easier if they had been given this gift? Why do you suppose that God didn’t give those missionaries the gift of Tongues?
There are some gifts of the Spirit which He will be giving until the day of the Lord Jesus’ return. And there are some gifts of the Spirit which came to an end with the completion of the Word of God.