Sign Gifts - Their Purpose

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THE PURPOSE OF SIGN GIFTS

On this controversial subject you will find individuals on both sides of the question and everywhere in between. Some speak with dogmatism while others speak with great reserve. To site every position would be impossible, however most views seem to fall into one of three categories. 

A) Category #1 - The miraculous gifts are not for today. They hold that these gifts were given to the early church for a specific purpose and when that purpose was completed they passed from existence around the end of the First Century AD.

B) Category #2 - The miraculous gifts are for today. They hold that these gifts are still given by the Spirit and should be present and exercised among Christians everywhere.

C) Category #3 - The miraculous gifts may be for today. They hold that these gifts are not clearly addressed in the Scriptures. Though most who hold this view do not seek to practice these gifts, they do not feel they or anyone else have any solid biblical grounds to make a judgment either way. 

The answer to this issue is not as difficult as many would make it out to be. The Bible does give a clear answer to this matter and that will be the purpose of this segment and the one to follow. In seeking an answer there are several things to take into consideration.

A) The Testimony of the History of Gifts. What does Church history tell about the Church and it use of miraculous gifts? Though this will not give a final answer it is a creditable witness in this matter.

B) The Testimony of the Present Exercise of Gifts. Are the gifts practiced today the same gifts practiced by the Early Church? In other words, are the gifts able to accomplish the same miraculous feats as in earlier times and are they practiced according to the rules and restrictions given by the Apostles to govern these gifts?

C) The Testimony of Doctrine. Does the practice of miraculous gifts violate or misrepresent any teaching given by the Apostles?

D) The Testimony of Purpose. What was the purpose of these gifts and has that purpose been fulfilled?

Due to the extent of the material to be covered in this section I am going to break it up into at least three sections. This section will be dedicated to the testimony of the purpose of the revelational gifts.

The purpose of miraculous gifts is to serve the perfect plan of a Sovereign God. God does not do miracles nor does He give miraculous gifts unless He has something important to accomplish. Once His task is accomplished, the miracles or gifts cease to function. This is a pattern that God follows in all that He does without exception. For example, from the time Noah left the Ark until the time of the call of Abraham, we see only one miracle take place, the multiplying of languages at Babel. With that exception and possibly the book of Job, for 400 years we have no record of God directly interacting with man. Then beginning with Abraham, God once again speaks to men and works mighty miracles and continues to do so until the death of Joseph in Egypt. Once Joseph dies, God becomes silent again for another 400 years until He is ready to deliver Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. God then works miracles and gives revelation through His servants Moses, Aaron, Joshua and the Judges. However by the time of Eli and Samuel God has become silent once again.

1 Sam 3:1, “Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.” NKJV

We see therefore a pattern developing concerning the giving of revelation and the working of miracles. When there is a purpose to be accomplished God initiates these miraculous works until His goals have been completed and then they cease. Therefore, it must be concluded that miracles are not always in God’s sovereign plan for every people and every age.

Since purpose is the key in determining the relevance of miraculous gifts and miracles, then we must discover their purpose in light of the New Testament. To do this we must recognize that the miraculous gifts of the church fall in two separate groups based on their divine purpose.

Group #1: Spiritual gifts designed to give the church divine revelation. This group includes gifts such as prophecy, revelation, knowledge, the teaching of the Apostles, and discerning of gifts.

Group #2: Spiritual gifts designed to provide signs (proof of legitimacy) of the offer of the Kingdom of God to Israel. This group was made up of spiritual gifts such as miracles and wonders, tongues, healings, interpretation of tongues, and the casting out of demons. 

The Spiritual Gifts of Revelation. As we explored under the section on prophecy, the early church needed divine direction from God regarding how it was to function and thrive. Since it was going to take time to put that revelation down in written form and then be copied and distributed to all the churches, God gave temporary revelational gifts to fill the gap until the New Testament was completed. Paul is very clear on this point in 1 Corinthians 13. In this part of his epistle, Paul emphasizes the importance that love must play in the use of spiritual gifts. These gifts are valueless if they are not driven by love. To illustrate his point Paul refers to three of the miraculous gifts; prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. 

1 Cor 13:8-12, “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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” NKJV

Though these three miraculous gifts may have appeared essential to the existence of the Church yet unlike love, their ministry would be short lived. Paul writes that prophecies will fail, tongues will cease and knowledge will vanish away but love will never fail. In verses 9-12, Paul goes on to give the time frame for revelational gifts and in Chapter 14 he speaks of the time frame for sign gifts. 

The revelation gifts, prophecy and knowledge, are described in verse 9 as partial gifts. They are limited in their capacity to give the complete record of the revelation of God. In verse 10, Paul writes that when that which is “perfect” (literally “complete”) has come, that which is partial will be ended. The “completed revelation” is a reference to the completion of the Bible with the addition of the 27 books of the New Testament. This was in the mind of Paul when he writes “that all Scripture is inspired” for the purpose of completing the believer in every way (2 Tim. 3:16-17). 

Paul further confirms this time frame in 1 Cor. 13:11 when he compares the spiritual gifts of revelation to the things given to a child. Toys are fine while a person is a child but when he becomes an adult, he wants something more developed and sophisticated. The church in its infancy would find the revelational gifts sufficient but as it matured, it would want something more developed or geared for an adult not a child. They would readily put aside the revelation gifts of infancy for that which was better suited for a mature church, the completed Scriptures. 

Paul finishes his point with an illustration of a mirror (v. 12). Mirrors in Paul’s day were not very good in comparison to today’s mirrors. They could only give the individual a dim view of how they looked. The individual could not see himself with the same detail as he might the face of someone standing next to him (“face to face”). The revelational gifts, at best gave only a dim view of who the Church was and what direction it was to take. They were very limited in carrying out the task God assigned for them. However, with the completion of the written Scriptures, the Church would be able to see God’s revelation as clearly as two people standing face to face. The written Word of God would be a perfect mirror of God’s revelation providing a complete and detailed picture of the true condition of the Church. The spiritual gifts of revelation were like that dim mirror only giving a partial picture but the completed Bible would give the viewer a crystal clear picture of the Church so that it could see itself even as God saw it. 

Paul therefore makes it clear that the revelation gifts of the Spirit were partial gifts for the infancy of the Church and were passing away as the written revelation of God was completed for a mature Church. This process was completed with the writing of the last book, the book of Revelation in 90 AD. The purpose of these gifts was fulfilled and they ceased to be used of God. Church History records that by 100 AD the practice of the revelational gifts is no longer found in any of the Churches. The Church had matured and put away its childish things.

With this said, all that we need to be complete as Christians and as local bodies of Christ can be obtained through a study of God’s Word. There is no need for additional revelation in God’s program. Those who claim they are still receiving new revelation from God or from God’s angels have been deceived into believing that the revelation gifts are still being used of God today. In listening to those who claim new revelation I am amazed how often their revelation is nothing new or is contradictory to the teaching of God’s Word. Either this revelation is the fictional product of a fertile mind that refuses to surrender to God’s teaching in this matter or it may be the product of an angel; the fallen angels of Satan. Let me leave you with a couple of verses to consider on this matter.

Gal 1:6-9, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” NKJV

2 Cor 11:13-15, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” NKJV