Today we are kicking off our summer series as we study miraculous spiritual gifts. Our text for this study is 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul writes to the Corinthian church about miraculous spiritual gifts. There has been a resurgence in charismatic teachings and increasingly people seem to be drawn to seeking the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But there is so much misunderstanding and confusion about this topic. Should Christians be speaking in tongues today? Should Christians have the gift of healing or the gift of prophecy? Are the healings and the speaking in tongues as seen on television legitimate? How were these gifts received? Should we be praying for these gifts? Is there something lacking in you or me if we do not have these gifts? There are so many questions about miraculous spiritual gifts. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 12-14 so that the Christians in Corinth would not be uninformed about these spiritual things (1 Corinthians 12:1). I want to use the scriptures to equip you so that your faith is not tossed about by confusing arguments or misunderstanding. I have many friends and preachers who I believe have been caught by false arguments and misunderstand the Holy Spirit today. I want you to know that I did my best to approach this study without bias and with fresh eyes. I purchased resources and books and listened to preachers who are for and against miraculous spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit today. I beg you to make every effort to do the same. Set aside your preconceived notions and biases and simply listen to what the word of God says as we study these scriptures this summer.
How Did Christians Receive Spiritual Gifts?
Before we can move into 1 Corinthians for our study, we must recognize that these Corinthian Christians already had received miraculous spiritual gifts. Paul is not going to tell them about how they received the Holy Spirit’s gifts because they have them. We need to look at the book of Acts, the book that reveals much about Christianity in the first century, and see how Christians received miraculous spiritual gifts. Once we learn this, we can go forward in our study about spiritual gifts.
We do not have the time to move through the book of Acts from start to finish looking at the role of the Holy Spirit. I have a book online and on the table in the foyer that is free for you to read. In it I write more extensively about the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. I encourage everyone to grab one of those booklets and read it for more information. But let us jump to Acts 8 where we see the clearest description of how Christians received miraculous spiritual gifts. Acts 8:5 tells us that there was a preacher named Philip who proclaimed Christ to the Samaritans, performing miraculous signs, casting out demons, and healing the paralyzed and lame (Acts 8:6-7). Philip is not an apostle but was one of the seven who the apostles laid their hands on so they would take care of the neglected Grecian widows in Acts 6 (cf. Acts 6:5-7). Philip preaches and many of the Samaritans believed and were baptized, including a man named Simon (Acts 8:12-13). Now something strange happens in verses 14-16. When the Samaritans were baptized, they did not receive the Holy Spirit. The apostles send Peter and John (two of the apostles) from Jerusalem to Samaria (37 miles). Why? Notice verse 17. The apostles laid their hands on the Samaritan Christians and they received the Holy Spirit. Now, in case we think we might have misunderstood the point, the point is made clearer in verse 18. “Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on the apostles’ hands.” This is a critically important point that I have not seen dealt with by anyone who believes in miraculous spiritual gifts today. Christians received spiritual gifts by the apostles coming to that Christian and laying his hands on them. This explains why Peter and John had to come to Samaria. Philip could not give them the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit because he was not an apostle. Even though Philip had miraculous gifts of healing, casting out demons, and miraculous signs, he could not give any gift to another Christian.
Consider that this is exactly what the scriptures teach in other places that are often omitted when discussing miraculous spiritual gifts.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— (Romans 1:9–11 ESV)
Notice that Paul earnestly desired to go and see the Roman Christians. The reason was that he desired to impart to them a spiritual gift. They were Christians already. But it is evident that none of the apostles had made it to Rome yet to be able to impart the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul desired to travel there to those Christians could receive a gift. Only the apostles could impart miraculous spiritual gifts.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:6–7 ESV)
Notice that Paul makes the same point to Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to use the spiritual gift he had received through Paul laying his hands on him. Why didn’t Timothy pray for a gift? Why didn’t Paul tell the Romans to pray for miraculous spiritual gifts? Why didn’t Philip tell the Samaritan Christians to pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to come on them? The answer is given very clearly in the scriptures. Only the apostles imparted spiritual gifts and did so only by laying their hands on Christians.
A Necessary Conclusion
Now these scriptures have a necessary conclusion. When the apostles died, what happened to the miraculous spiritual gifts? Since only the apostles could impart spiritual gifts, then when the apostles died the gifts could no longer be given. By necessity these miraculous gifts stopped. We will eventually get to this text in our series, but quickly notice that Paul observes this truth in 1 Corinthians 13:8. “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”
Some will say that there are still apostles today. But those who do so do not understand the scriptures’ definition of an apostle. Notice the three standards to be an apostle of Jesus according to the scriptures:
- An apostle must be a physical eyewitness to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor 9:1). Paul said he was the last person to see the risen Lord Jesus (1 Cor 15:8).
- An apostle was appointed by the Lord (Gal 1:1; Acts 1:2; Acts 1:24-26).
- An apostle was able to authenticate his apostolic appointment with miraculous signs (2 Cor 12:12).
Things I Am Not Denying
Now I want to make something extremely clear so that I am not misunderstood. Just because the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer given to Christians once the apostles died does not mean I do not believe in the Holy Spirit and his work. After teaching this, I do not want anyone to walk away thinking that I do not believe in the Holy Spirit and his working. Let me declare some of the things I am not denying.
- I am not denying that Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit today (Acts 2:38).
- I am not denying that Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit today (Ephesians 5:18).
- I am not denying that Christians are baptized in the Holy Spirit today (Matthew 3:11).
- I am not denying that the Holy Spirit is alive and active today.
- I am not denying that God still speaks and works in this world today.
- I am not denying the supernatural or that God works miracles.
These six things are not the issues. I deny none of the above things. Rather, we need to use the scriptures to examine how we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, are filled with the Holy Spirit, and are baptized in the Holy Spirit. We must examine how the Holy Spirit is active and how God speaks and works in this world. Our upcoming study will answer how these things about the Holy Spirit are true today. All we have observed in our study today is that Christians do not receive miraculous spiritual gifts today because those gifts were given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands and the apostles have died.
John MacArthur makes an important observation: “But the Bible records only three periods of history in which human beings were given the gift of performing miracles. The first period was during the ministries of Moses and Joshua, the second during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and the third during the ministries of Jesus and the apostles. Each period lasted only about 70 years and then abruptly ended.”
My friends, as Paul said to the Corinthians, so I also say to you. I do not want you to be uninformed. This does not mean that we are missing out on something or that we should be disappointed concerning the Holy Spirit. We are going to learn so much about spiritual gifts and build our faith over the time of this series because we are going study through 1 Corinthians 12-14. We are going to look at what Paul taught about spiritual gifts and how this affects our lives today. Even if you thought that these gifts were still being transferred to Christians today, I am going to show you in this series that what we see today is nothing like what we see in the scriptures concerning miraculous spiritual gifts.