Are Spiritual Gifts for Today?
Spiritual gifts have been a topic of fascination and debate between Christians in recent years. Are they still relevant in our modern world, or did they fade away with the early church? This question has led to varying interpretations and beliefs among Christians. Some argue that certain spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture have ceased to exist, while others maintain that they are as relevant today as they were in the time of the apostles.
In this blog, we will delve into the reasoning behind the belief that spiritual gifts have ceased and present an argument for why they are indeed still active today.
The “Excellency of Love”
One of the primary reasons cited by those who believe that spiritual gifts have ceased is the emphasis on love in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the “love chapter,” Paul extols the virtues of love and its enduring nature compared to spiritual gifts. He writes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV).
Proponents of the view that spiritual gifts have ceased argue that because love is emphasized as the highest virtue, the miraculous manifestations of spiritual gifts are no longer necessary. They contend that these gifts were primarily given to establish the early church and validate the message of the gospel, which is now firmly established.
However, this perspective may oversimplify the role of spiritual gifts within the church. While love is undoubtedly paramount, it doesn’t negate the value and relevance of spiritual gifts. Love and spiritual gifts can coexist, with love serving as the motivation behind the responsible and discerning use of these gifts. In fact, some spiritual gifts, such as the gift of mercy, are closely aligned with expressing love and compassion within the body of believers.
Misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10
Another reason some believe that spiritual gifts have ceased is a particular interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, which states: “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, ESV).
Some argue that the phrase “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 refers to the completion of the Bible, suggesting that once the Bible was fully written and canonized, the need for spiritual gifts, especially revelatory gifts like prophecy and tongues, ceased. However, this interpretation is far from universally accepted among scholars and theologians. And there are good reasons why not everyone agrees.
First and foremost, it’s important to consider whether the apostle Paul himself had foreknowledge of the complete canonization of the Bible. When Paul wrote his letters, he likely did not envision the compilation of the New Testament as we have it today. The process of collecting, verifying, and authoritatively establishing the biblical canon took centuries after the apostolic era. Therefore, it is a stretch to assume that Paul was referring to the Bible’s future completion when he spoke of “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13.
Furthermore, spiritual gifts continued to manifest in the early church even far after the initial writings of the New Testament. The Book of Acts, for example, records numerous instances of miraculous healings, prophetic utterances, and speaking in tongues, all of which occurred after the ministry of Jesus and during the period when the New Testament was still being written and well after. This suggests that the cessation of spiritual gifts was not instantaneous with the completion of any particular biblical book.
It is also worth noting that the idea of “fully known” in the passage raises questions. While Scripture undeniably imparts profound wisdom and knowledge, it does not claim to provide an exhaustive understanding of all things. The Bible itself acknowledges the limitations of human knowledge, stating that we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV). In other words, there are aspects of God, His creation, and His plans that remain mysterious and beyond human comprehension. Spiritual gifts, especially those related to revelation and insight, can be seen as tools that help the church navigate the uncharted territories of God’s vast wisdom and purpose.
So, what is the “Perfect”?
A more compelling interpretation of the term “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 directs our attention to a future event – the ultimate consummation of God’s kingdom at the end of time when Jesus returns. According to this perspective, spiritual gifts will retain their relevance until the eschatological fulfillment of God’s divine plan, a moment when the church will no longer require these partial gifts because believers will stand in the full presence of God upon Jesus’ return.
Why Spiritual Gifts Are for Today
While the question of whether spiritual gifts have ceased remains a subject of debate among Christians, it is essential to approach the topic with humility and openness to different perspectives. Whether one aligns with the cessationist or continuationist perspective, it is crucial to prioritize love and unity within the body of believers, respecting each other and seeking the common goal of glorifying God through our faith and service.
While some may argue that the excellency of love or particular scriptural passages supports the cessationist view on good theological ground, we maintain that spiritual gifts are an integral part of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit within the body of Christ.
Ultimately, the belief in the continuation of spiritual gifts is grounded in the understanding of the Scripture and continues to transform lives and build up the church today. If you would like to take your first step in understanding your spiritual gifts, be sure to take our free spiritual gifts test.