Gifts of the Spirit - Are They for Today?

Many people believe that the Gifts of the Spirit are no longer with us. What does the Bible say about this?

I distinguish between the sign gifts and the grace gifts. The sign gifts were for the confirmation of the spoken words of the early apostles and disciples. This was needed because the New Testament had not been completed. The grace gifts are the enablings of God the work of the ministry in this age. They will continue to the end of the age. Though the sign gifts are usually what people mean when they refer to the gifts of the Spirit, the grace gifts also operate through the working of the Spirit of God.

What follows is an article I have worked on but not completed on this subject. In some places, it has incomplete notes. In all places, it lacks its finished form. I hope it will be a help to you.

The Character of the Sign Gifts

In this article, sign gifts will be mentioned quite a bit. Although the phrase is never used in the Bible, the distinction of gifts that act specifically as signs is a biblical concept. These sign gifts have characteristics peculiar to them alone. They occur for a particular purpose and then cease to occur when that purpose is fulfilled. We will begin by defining the sign gifts biblically.

Shortly after His resurrection and right before His ascension into heaven, Jesus had these words to say about the signs that would be associated with those who followed Him. In Mark, chapter sixteen, we read:

Mark 16:17-18 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Five signs are to follow them that preach the gospel and follow Jesus Christ:
  1. Casting out devils
  2. Speaking with new tongues
  3. Taking up serpents
  4. Drinking deadly things
  5. Healing the sick by the laying on of hands

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of the "spiritual gifts" (v.1). In this chapter, he names these gifts as follows:

1 Corinthians 12:8-10 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

This passage names a total of nine spiritual gifts. They are:
  1. The word of wisdom
  2. The word of knowledge
  3. Faith
  4. The gift of healing
  5. The working of miracles
  6. Prophecy
  7. Discerning of spirits
  8. Divers kinds of tongues
  9. Interpretation of tongues

Two of the signs in Mark 16 match two of the gifts in Corinthians. Both passages mention speaking in tongues and healing. It is also possible that the casting out of devils in Mark is related to the discerning of spirits in Corinthians. However, the taking up of serpents and the drinking of deadly things are not mentioned in Corinthians. In fact, they are not called a sign or a gift anywhere else in the Bible.

This and other connections between the signs that follow and the spiritual gifts are the reason these can be called the sign gifts. In the section of First Corinthians that deals with the spiritual gifts (chapters 12-14), the speaking of tongues is named as one of the gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-10) and is identified as a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22). These are definitely sign gifts.

You may ask why these gifts are also called signs.  A sign is something that signifies a greater meaning or that points (like a sign) to something much more important than the sign itself. We will now look at the purpose of the sign gifts and what God was using them to accomplish.

The Purpose of the Sign Gifts

Mark 16:17-20 is one of the most important passages in the Bible concerning the purpose of the sign gifts. Please read this passage carefully:

Mark 16:17-20 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

I have already mentioned the five signs that are mentioned here and the two (handling serpents and drinking poisons) that are not mentioned anywhere else in scripture. Now notice especially the last verse of this chapter (v.20). The apostles went everywhere preaching the word while the Lord was "working with them, and confirming the word with signs following."

To confirm means to establish; to show to be valid; to prove the truth or authenticity of something. The signs that followed the apostles confirmed the word that was spoken by them. Why was this necessary? This is very simple. They were preaching something that had never been heard before. They were preaching that the Messiah had come. But, instead of setting up His kingdom on earth, he died on the cross and arose from the grave in order to offer to all men eternal life.

This may seem like old hat to Christians today, but it was a radical concept to the Jews and Gentiles at the time of the New Testament. They had never heard such a thing. It was totally opposite from the expectations that the Jewish people had for their Messiah. They thought He would come and set up His earthly kingdom with them in charge. (Of course, He will do this but did not at His first coming because He was rejected by the Jews.)

What the apostles preached departed completed from what the Jews expected. How could their message be of God? How could they believe the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, one of the distinguishing ways in which God dealt with the Jews was through signs.

All the way back to Moses in Exodus 4:1, Moses wanted to know why the Israelites would listen to the message of deliverance God had given him. God responded by giving his three signs to convince the Jews that the word Moses spoke was really from God (Exodus 4:1-9). This is the first use of miraculous signs in the Bible and this passage shows us their original intent. Signs were used to authenticate the spoken word. They verified that the message spoken by a man was indeed from God.

From this time, God dealt with the Jews by way of signs. God allowed the Jews to wander for forty years in the wilderness because they rejected all the signs He had given them (Numbers 14:11). Jesus, in His ministry to the Jews, was "approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs" (Acts 2:22).

As a result, the Jews looked for signs as their heritage. 1 Corinthians 1:22 clearly teaches, "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom." God dealt with them with signs and they expected and demanded them.

To review, signs were given for the purpose of confirming the spoken word of the prophets and the apostles. Second, signs were a special way in which God dealt with the Jew. But the scriptures make one more important point about signs. They were especially given to convince the lost. 1 Corinthians 14:22 is very clear.

"Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe."

Signs were not given for the enjoyment of the saved. They were given for the winning of the lost. They were given so that a lost man might see the power of God and be convinced that the word spoken was from God. They were given so that he might listen to that word and be saved.

When you put all this together, you can realize that the sign gifts were given for the purpose of convincing lost Jews that the spoken word of the apostles and prophets was actually from God. This was done so that they might listen to the word spoken and be saved.

God does not work through the sign gifts today. When the New Testament was completed, men were no longer speaking by direct revelation from God. That word was found in the completed scriptures. Preachers of the word no longer needed a sign that the word they spoke was of God. They needed only to confirm their word by taking people back to the written word. If it agreed with the Bible, it was true. If it did not, it was false. Paul shows the decreasing importance of revelation when he tells the Galatians:

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." - Galatians 1:8-9

We have received the completed word of God. We need no more supernatural revelation. So, how do we know that the sign gifts diminished as the New Testament neared completion? We can follow this pattern in the New Testament record. Let us look at the decreasing power of healing in the New Testament story.

The Gift of Healing

The demise of the sign gifts can be traced most clearly in the gift of healing. However, first, we must distinguish between apostolic healing and the grace age healing of today. God still heals people in miraculous ways. The difference lies in the part man plays in the miracle of healing.

In apostolic times, particular people were given the gift of healing. As such, they actually possessed power from God by which they could heal others at their own discretion.

The Gift of Tongues - Is speaking in tongue for today?

No. They went out of use with the sign gifts. The sign gifts were miraculous gifts given during the apostolic age (before the completion of the New Testament) so that those to whom the apostles preached would know that the word they spoke was really from God. When the New Testament was completed and direct revelation was no longer given, there was no longer any need for the sign gifts. Notice these characteristics about the sign gifts.

  1. The signs were given for the purpose of "confirming the word" (Mark16:20). This means to prove that the words they spoke with their mouths were from God.
  2. The signs included taking up serpents and drinking deadly poisons (Mark 16:17-18). If we are supposed to do one, then evidently we are supposed to do the others.
  3. The signs were given especially for the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:22). God often deals with the Jewish people through signs beginning with Moses (Exodus 3-4).
  4. The signs were given (especially tongues) in order to convince the lost. "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not" (1 Corinthians 14:22). They were never given for the pleasure or spiritual experience of the saved. This verse says that they are not for those that believe.
  5. Although tongues were still allowed at the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians (14:39), they were on their way out. We see this in the great number of regulations Paul puts on the speaking in tongues and in his emphasis on the lesser importance of tongues (14:1-9). He also clearly says that tongues "shall cease" (1 Corinthians 13:8).
  6. Tongues took the path of apostolic healing through the instrumentation of man. Christ healed all that came to Him (Matthew 9:35). The early apostles did the same (Acts 5:16). Yet, before the New Testament was completed, Paul could not heal himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) or his co-worker, Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). He kept Doctor Luke with him (2 Timothy 4:11) and told Timothy to take a prescription of medicine (1 Timothy 5:23). God still heals through prayer (see Philippians 2:25-27), but He does it directly and not through the touch of a man.
Are they unknown or known tongues and what do they mean speaking angelic tongues?

They are unknown in that they are languages no one present knows. When tongues were spoken on the day of Pentecost, every man heard the word in his own language (Acts 2:8). This is not angelic language. Paul only uses "the tongue of angels" as a contrast. [Even if I spoke in the language of angels, that would do no one any good if they could not understand me.] He was not defining unknown tongues an angelic language.

Can you explain 1 Corinthians 14 to me; this is the chapter that my relatives say proves That speaking in tongues is for today.

1 Corinthians is proof that:

  1. Tongues were already unimportant in the service of Christ by about 60AD.
  2. The most carnal church Paul wrote to (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-4) was caught up in tongues-speaking and gave way too much emphasis to it.
  3. No speaking of tongues should be done unless the tongues are interpreted (v.27-28).
  4. No more than three should ever speak in tongues in a church service (v.27).
  5. Only one should ever speak in tongues a one time (v.27). That's what "by course" means--in order, one after the other.
  6. Those who truly speak in Spirit-given tongues can speak if they want or refrain from speaking if they want (v.32). God-given tongues is not some uncontrollable urge that comes over someone. It is a gift that they can use when they want just like preaching.
  7. Women are not to speak in tongues in a church service (v.34).
  8. Truly spiritual people will agree that these restrictions are necessary (v.37).

I do not think that many churches follow the rules set down by Paul for the speaking in tongues. Does the church your relatives go to follow all these rules? If not, then they are not following God's plan.

You see, Paul was kindly regulating tongues to a minority role in the church at Corinth so that it could die out gracefully when it was no longer needed. It was no longer needed when the New Testament was completed.

The Time of the Grace Gifts

This age may not have the sign gifts, but we do have gifts. They are gifts of the grace of God. Consider the following verses:

  • Romans 12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
  • Ephesians 3:7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
  • Ephesians 4:7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
  • 1 Peter 4:10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

These gifts are a part of the grace of God we receive at the time of salvation. They are God's sufficiency for the work to be done (2 Corinthians 9:8). But, though they are received by grace, they are exercised and put into practice by faith (Romans 12:6).

These are the gifts of ministry. They do not always come suddenly (as the sign gifts) or demonstrate supernatural power in an undeniable way (as the raising of the dead would do), but they come from God just as much as the sign gifts. The main purpose of the grace gifts is for the work of the ministry, not the confirmation of the spoken word. As such, we receive them and demonstrate them in a different way then was the case for the sign gifts..

Gifts of grace according to the need

This is the practical or spiritual meaning

Salvation is by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:7)

Daily living for Christ is by grace

  1. By the grace of God we are and we labor (1 Corinthians 15:10)
  2. By the grace of God we abound to every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8)
  3. By the sufficiency of God's grace, His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  • "My grace is sufficient for thee"
  • "Our sufficiency is of God" (2 Corinthians 3:5)
David Reagan
Daily Proverb

Proverbs 1:31

Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.