The spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthains 12:1-11 are not the only gifts mentioned in the New Testament but they have been the most controversial. Meaning no one debates whether the gift of service or teaching (Rom 12:6-8) is for today but Christians do disagree over whether some or all of these nine gifts are for today or not. We also need to understand that gifts like service & teaching are also spiritual gifts when they are empowered by the Holy Spirit. So it’s not so much that these gifts are more spiritual but that these particular ones in 1 Corinthians are all supernatural in nature. Five of them are revelatory (word of wisdom & knowledge, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits & interpretation of tongues) three of them are miraculous (faith, gifts of healings & working of miracles) & the other (tongues) is in a box of its own because of its uniqueness but is no less supernatural.
When it comes to the Holy Spirit, among Bible believing Christians there is general agreement on most aspects of his person & work. For example I have a little 18 page overview of the person & work of the Holy Spirit written by Kevin DeYoung. In it there are three pages covering spiritual gifts, one of those pages covers what Christians disagree on regarding the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians. So there are 17 out of 18 pages of general agreement & one page where we agree to differ. That is significant & important to emphasise. However with that said because of the nature of these gifts our disagreement also makes a significant difference to our expectation for Church & Christian living. As Sam Storms writes;
“Whether spiritual gifts are for today is not some secondary, peripheral issue that exists only for theologians to debate. It directly touches the very mission of the Church & how she lives out her calling. How we speak to the world, the way we encounter the enemy, the expectations with which we minister to the broken & wounded & despairing & bound up in how we answer the following questions: Shall we or shall we not be the Church of the Bible? Shall we or shall we not build the Church with the tools God has provided?”
Personally I can find nothing in Scripture to suggest these spiritual gifts were only for the time of the apostles or until the completion of Scripture. But I can find plenty to encourage us to desire these supernatural gifts. The odd person will refer to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 to argue these gifts were temporary – only needed until the completion of Scripture. However the Corinthians would have had no such notion in their minds when they heard these words. They would have assumed, like most do today, that Paul was talking about the perfection of the coming kingdom. Even well known cessationists like John MacArthur acknowledge this. So it could be argued these verses in 1 Corinthians 13, along with others, only serve to enforce these gifts were expected to be in operation until the return of Christ & also help us to understand something of their nature & purpose.
In the opening verses of 1 Corinthians Paul writes in 1:6-7; “even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift (charisma), as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So right at the beginning of this letter spiritual gifts are spoken of in terms of something we need until the coming of Jesus. So in chapter 13 the Corinthians would have known Paul to be talking about the coming of the Lord – the time of completeness when spiritual gifts will no longer be needed for we will see face to face. It is also significant that Paul wrote to this same church “not to go beyond what is written” yet also in the very same letter commanded them to “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” Paul’s warning in chapter 4:6 is clearly not meant to quench belief in revelatory or miraculous spiritual gifts. Ironically one has to go beyond what is written to argue revelatory & miraculous gifts are not for today.
It is because we believe in the final authority of Scripture that we are bound to believing the revelatory & miraculous gifts of the Spirit are for the church today – for the common good, for upbuilding, encouragement & consolation (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:3). These gifts are given to complement the final authority of Scripture not to compete with or add to it & therefore are to be regulated by it like all aspects of the Christian life. Think about it, it is only because we have the completed canon that we know anything about them, that we are commanded to earnestly desire them & that we are given careful instruction regarding how to regulate them. To reject them is to be in disagreement with the final authority of Scripture, yet ironically some do just that in the name of loyalty to Scripture – resigning them to the beginning of church history since the canon has now been completed. But if we can do so with this New Testament teaching what else can we do it with?
The reality is the exercise of spiritual gifts like prophecy is much safer now we do have the completed canon than it was beforehand, because we now have a final authority to test such things by. The Bible itself commands us; “Pursue love & eagerly desire spiritual gifts...” (1 Cor. 14:1). The Bible itself commands us; “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:19-22). That is what the Bible as our final authority teaches regarding such gifts.
By John Fitzsimmons. Pastor at Amazing Grace Fellowship.