“The First-Century Gifts”Categories: Sermons
Several months ago, I preached on the passing of the miraculous spiritual gifts. After services, Jeff Nicholson and I had an interesting conversation about the gift of prophecy, and he suggested that it might be worth devoting a sermon to explaining what those miraculous gifts were.
After rolling that around in my mind for a while, I decided that Jeff was right. Often, we don’t study this because we don’t have any of those gifts today, but I think that’s a mistake. Let me explain. Usually, when we encounter somebody who believes the miraculous gifts still continue, we address their confusion by going to 1 Corinthians 13 and explaining that the gifts faded with the completion of the written word.
However, I think there’s yet another way to handle the issue. Typically, these people have had experiences that they say are miraculous. However, when we compare their experiences to the Scriptural record, their “miracles” invariably don’t measure up. In order to make that argument, though, we have to know what the gifts actually did. With this in mind, let’s spend our evening considering the first-century gifts.
The first gift that I want to look at is the gift of TONGUES. We see the apostles employing this gift in Acts 2:5-6. It’s clear here that the apostles aren’t speaking in a prayer language or in the language of angels. They are speaking in the foreign languages that these visitors to Jerusalem knew. That’s what the gift of tongues did: it gave people the ability to speak foreign languages they had not learned. This gives us a test that we can use with those who claim to have the gift of tongues today. People who can’t miraculously speak in foreign languages don’t have the gift of tongues.
Next, we logically come to the gift of INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES. I think the text that gives us the best insight into this one is 1 Corinthians 14:10-13. Notice first of all that Paul is talking about “languages in the world”. It’s clear that he connects the gift of tongues to speaking foreign languages. However, his words also highlight a weakness of the gift of tongues. I can be jabbering away at y’all all day long in Russian, but unless somebody can speak or understand Russian, my miraculous gift of tongues is pointless. That’s where the gift of interpretation came in. It allowed either the speaker or an audience member to miraculously understand and translate foreign languages.
Third, let’s consider PROPHECY. This is a unique gift because it appears to have not one but two main manifestations. We see the first in Acts 11:27-28. Here, Agabus uses his gift of prophecy to predict the future. Let’s notice three things about this prediction. First, it was specific. Second, it was falsifiable. Third, it was fulfilled. These specific, falsifiable, and fulfilled predictions are characteristic of the true gift of prophecy. By contrast, the so-called prophets today make predictions that are either a) not fulfilled (anybody remember Harold Camping predicting the end of the world in 2011?) or b) so vague that they can’t be falsified. Anybody can predict that hard times are coming, but hard times are always coming! It’s meaningless.
Second, in addition to foretelling the future, the gift of prophecy was used to forth-tell the word of God. Look at how Peter describes the prophetic work of Jesus in Acts 3:22-23. Clearly, God’s people are supposed to obey God’s prophets. Indeed, it is their ability to predict the future that tells us when we should listen! On the other hand, any prophet who can’t correctly predict the future can safely be ignored.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the gift of HEALING. There are many Scriptures we could examine here, but let’s look at Acts 3:7-8, the story of Peter healing the lame man. Once again, pay attention to the characteristics of this healing. First, it’s a healing of a man everybody knows is sick. The lame man isn’t a ringer. Second, his ailment is obvious. It’s not like one of his legs is longer than the other. The dude can’t walk! Third, Peter heals him instantaneously. Thus, the gift of healing was the instantaneous cure of a publicly known, obvious illness. That’s a test that every healing in the Bible can pass, but no modern day “healing” will.
The gift of MIRACLES was similar. For our example here, consider what Paul does in Acts 13:8-12. Once again, take note of the spectacular nature of the use of this gift. We start off with Elymas the sorcerer, a man who can see perfectly. Everybody knows he can see. Then, Paul curses him, and he loses his sight. This too is obvious to everyone. It’s not like Elymas would fake being blind in order to make Paul look good! A miracle, then, is an obvious working of God in the world with no natural explanation. Throughout the New Testament, we see the enemies of Jesus and the gospel being unable to explain away miracles. They might say that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, but they couldn’t deny that he was casting out demons. Any true miracle today would be equally undeniable.
Let’s wrap things up by looking at a couple of gifts people don’t usually claim to have today. The first is the gift of KNOWLEDGE. I think the best explanation for this gift comes in John 14:25-26. Note that we’ve seen part of this before. The Holy Spirit teaching the apostles all things was the gift of prophecy. On the other hand, the Spirit bringing to their remembrance all that Jesus taught, I think that’s the gift of knowledge. It was supernatural total recall of spiritual teaching, especially the teaching of the Lord.
Finally, we come to the gift of WISDOM. Normally, when we think of Biblical wisdom, we think of the wisdom of Solomon, but that’s not really how the gift manifested in the New Testament. For instance, look at Luke 21:14-15. Basically, the gift of wisdom was the gift of winning debates. Jesus was able to make His opponents look like idiots, even though they weren’t, because He had the spirit of wisdom. Similarly, in Acts 6, the people who want to argue with Stephen aren’t able to withstand the spirit and wisdom with which he is speaking. People with the gift of wisdom never lost an argument!