The gifts of the Holy Spirit

At Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and found that they could perform miracles. As time went on other Christians received the ability to perform miracles; different people were able to perform different kinds of miracle.

The Bible refers to these various kinds of miracle as 'Gifts of the Holy Spirit'. Some, for example, were given the ability to heal, while others received the ability to speak in foreign languages that they would not otherwise have known and some were able to predict future events.

These gifts were given to the new church at Pentecost, but they had been given before. During his Ministry, Jesus had sent out his disciples to proclaim the Gospel and had given them the ability to perform miracles of healing.

"And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal."           (Luke 9:1,2)

A similar occasion happened a little later when Jesus sent out 70 disciples (Luke 10:1). There are also several instances where Old Testament prophets performed miracles or predicted the future, although there are also long periods when no obvious miracles took place.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit which appeared at Pentecost and are reported in the Acts of the Apostles and in some of the letters of Paul. They are summarised for us in two letters. The first place where such a list appears is in 1 Corinthians:

"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues."

                                                                                                                                                                       (1 Corinthians 12:7-­10)

This passage lists gifts of: the utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, speaking in foreign languages, interpreting foreign languages. This may be an incomplete list - the context suggests that it may be a set of examples - but it gives an idea of the kind of gift that was given.

 

To these direct gifts there is added a set of administrative gifts, gifts which were used in building up the early church.

"And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues."                  (1 Corinthians 12:28)

These are offices of responsibility, but they exist through gifts of the Holy Spirit given by God. The positions of Apostles, healing and various languages are clearly dependent on Holy Spirit gifts; one can presume that the rest are similarly dependent on those gifts.

The same picture appears in Ephesians:

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,"                (Ephesians 4:11,12)

These are the administrative gifts that appear in 1 Corinthians. They are depicted as a gift to the church, given by God. And there is a limit to the length of time for which these gifts are to be given, shown by the next verse in Ephesians.

"until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,"                                         (Ephesians 4:13)

 

The gifts are given up to some point in time. They are given until the early church reached maturity. The picture in 1 Corinthians makes the same point.

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away."

                                                                                                                                                                    (1 Corinthians 13:8-­10)

 

This follows immediately after the passage in the letter to the Corinthians in which Paul lists the gifts of the Spirit. He tells us that these miraculous gifts would cease. There would come a time when there were no more miracles.

 

History tells us that the miracles had vanished by the end of the first century AD. Since that time there have been no more miracles of the kind seen in the first century.

 

The Bible does, however, predict that the gifts will return in the Kingdom of God, after the return of Jesus. One passage where this appears is in the prophecy of Joel:

"You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. ”And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit."                (Joel 2:27­-29)

This passage refers to what one would expect; in the Kingdom of God those who are raised and rule with Christ will be able to use the power of God to work miracles.

There is, however, no prediction of the re-establishment of the gifts of the spirit in the period before the return of Jesus. On the contrary, there are predictions that some will claim to produce miracles but that those people will be opposed to Jesus.

"For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand."           (Matthew 24:24,25)

This is part of a prediction of the nature of the world just before the return of Jesus. At this time one would expect some people to be claiming the power to perform miracles; such people are not, however, followers of the Gospel.

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