When Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit encouraged the Corinthian Church that the Holy Spirit made various spiritual gifts available to the Church, I doubt that he ever imagined the day when those gifts would cease to function.
The case for them is laid out very clearly by Paul. There is simply nothing in Scripture to suggest that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased. God is still giving, and giving and giving.
Here are five things that you don’t want to hear about the gifts of the Spirit, even if you believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today…
1. You have to open your mouth and ask!
The generous and precious gifts of the Spirit are there for the asking. They are not thrust upon us as a surprise! Therein lies the problem. We are told in 1 Corinthians 14:1 to follow the way of love and earnestly desire the gifts of the Spirit, especially the gift of prophecy. It is not enough to be open to the idea of the gifts of the Spirit being at work in the Church today. One must be zealous for them and earnestly desire their presence, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1, 12, 26).
This is an exhortation, an imperative, a command, and not merely a statement of fact. In 1 Corinthians 12:31 Paul says, “earnestly desire the greater gifts.” One way to consider that is to consider the awful experience of toothache. You are thinking about it day and night! It is a poor analogy, but the idea of having something that you are longing for hour by hour is not far from the idea of what ‘earnestly desiring’ means. Hebrews 11:6 encourages us that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
We have to admit that we are not seeking the gifts of the Spirit as much as we say we are.
Have you ever took time out to seek God for hours for the gifts, maybe even including a time of fasting? The question is, how much do you want the gifts? That is not to say that you should resort to a totally manic, Gifts-driven approach to the things of the Spirit, but it does raise a very serious question that maybe we should proactively seek the gifts of God more than we do.
The extent to which you value the gifts of the Holy Spirit will be evidenced by your internal longing for them, something only you and God will know about. The thing that will help you is the understanding and conviction of your heart, that God gives good gifts – and that He gives to those who ask. Nothing in the Bible suggests that He has stopped giving, and that we don’t need them today, because it is obvious we do.
2. Being able to speak in tongues is not the same as the gift of tongues!
This is a simple one. Being baptised in the Holy Spirit and being able to pray in a heavenly language is not the same as the gift of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14. It is a distinct spiritual gift. If it was the case that the gift of tongues is the same as your prayer language then it would be that everyone who speaks in tongues has the gift as a permanent feature in their life and they can turn it on at will. It also means that in Churches around the world only a very tiny handful of people are actually following the leading of the Spirit on a Sunday morning. The gift of tongues in our midst is more than just someone ‘giving it a go’ and speaking in tongues! It is a deliberate gift of the Holy Spirit that should invoke wonder and the interpretation is more than someone giving a sense of what God is saying – it is the very interpretation given by revelation of God. None of it is guess work. It is breathtakingly and beautifully inspiring. God is at work – never belittle it or make it less than it is, or be in a rush to move on to the next part of your meeting!
3. You are personally responsible for building yourself up and the Church. You.
The exhortation to “earnestly desire” spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1) is in the plural. Paul is writing to everyone in the church at Corinth, each of whom is responsible for individually responding to an exhortation that has validity for the entire church. In other words, what is the corporate church if not a collection of individuals on each of whom the obligation falls? The plural of this exhortation simply indicates that all believers in Corinth are to heed the apostolic admonition. It is a duty common to everyone – not just the extroverts or the older congregational members. That includes us as well. If the gifts build, encourage and edify the Church shouldn’t we eagerly desire them just because of our love for the Church?
4. You have no idea how important the gifts of the Spirit of God are.
Take a look at the vast array of gifts. They speak life, courage and hope into the heart of the Church when they are present. God is not withholding them. They are an essential part of the life of the Church. As we get older how much will we value gifts of healings? How can cessationists really think that we now have no need for these gifts today?
The gifts of the Spirit never detract from the preaching of the Word of God, or from the Bible. Neither do they bring fresh revelation that cannot be found in the scriptures. The Bible itself is the bench mark authority as to whether what is said and done is truly of God. God’s word is established forever in the heavens.
Yes prophecy will cease – but you need to put this in context. How on earth did we get to the place where we are trying to put a case together to argue that God has stopped doing something, against the very Word of God itself?
5. The gifts of the Spirit, given to the Church as evidenced in the Corinthian Church – have ceased.
I did say that there are five things you don’t want to hear about the gifts of the Spirit. I really hope that #5 is one of them. The gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased. It is not something I would ever thank God for, nothing to be gung-ho about, nothing to celebrate.
What is worth celebrating is that the glorious, much-needed, precious, wonderful, gracious, kind, essential, faith-stirring, uplifting, encouraging, edifying, inspiring, healing, restoring, heart-gripping gifts that the Holy Spirit wants to give to His Church in 2015 because they need them, are available.
Someone just has to ask for them.