Many say that the sign gifts are not operational today. The Scripture they most often use for this is 1 Corinthians 13:8: "Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away." This appears to back up their claim until we read the rest of the passage: "For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away." (1 Corinthians 13:9-10) The time when these things will be done away is "when that which is perfect has come." That time has clearly not yet come, so the time has not yet come for God to do away with "that which is in part."
We will begin our consideration of the sign gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:
"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills."
The most noticeable thing we learn from this passage is that the Holy Spirit manifests Himself in many different ways, but that "one and the same Spirit works all these things." Many Christians today are confident that the Holy Spirit is working in their lives; so they believe that their experience is the way He works today. Because of this, they conclude that any radically different manifestation cannot be of God. They are forgetting that "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all." Many other Christians have experienced manifestations unknown to the first group. They are certain that their experience is of God. So they conclude that there is something wrong with anyone who has never had such an experience. These ones need to carefully consider verses 29-30 of the same chapter. "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" This Scripture plainly shows that even in New Testament days, none of these gifts was universal. Each of them was given to some Christians, but not to all.
Both of these groups are forgetting what the Holy Spirit said next:
"But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing." (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3)
In the middle of this chapter on spiritual gifts we read:
"If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you;' nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.' No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another." (verses 17-25)
Let each one of us therefore take to heart the words of Romans 14:10: "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." And let us each remember that the Holy Spirit himself said that he gives different gifts to different believers.
The purpose of the sign gifts is to prove that the message is from God. This is particularly clear in Mark 16:17-20: "'And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.' So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen." We see this also in John 4:48, where Jesus said: "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe." Hebrews 2:3-4 says; "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" Finally, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 15:18-19: "For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient; in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ."
When we understand the purpose of these gifts we realize why they are seen so rarely in the American church today.*11 When God spoke through Moses, He proved it was His word with many signs and wonders. When He spoke again through Jesus, He provided similar proof. But between these times, very few miracles were recorded. In fact, after the nation was divided, the prophets of Judah did no miracles at all; but there were miracles in Israel. We understand this when we realize that Israel no longer even pretended to worship Jehovah, having turned back to the idols of the heathen. The LORD therefore proved His word with miracles. But Judah, which still claimed to believe in Him, saw no miracles. Even so today, most Americans claim to be Christians. He takes them at their word and proves nothing. But many of our preachers who go to other lands come back reporting amazing miracles. This experience is not limited to missionaries from the charismatic movement. It is widespread among those who have gone to such lands.
*11 Let no one deceive himself. I can testify from years of personal experience; that even in charismatic churches, startling miracles are rare in the American Church today. There have been proven recoveries from diseases that have been proven to exist, but these are the exception, not the rule. Compare this with Acts 5:16: "Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed." See also Matthew 12:15 and Luke 6:19. Return
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