Shelby G. Floyd
When Jesus Christ sent the apostles out into the entire world to preach the gospel to every creature, he attended their ministry with signs and wonders and miracles:
“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-20 NKJV).
The Purpose of Miracles Was To Confirm the Gospel
These miracles were designed to confirm the word. The writer makes an argument, a minore ad maius—from the less to the greater:
“For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will (Hebrews 2:2-4)?
Of course the answer is we shall receive a greater punishment if we neglect the great salvation offered by the Son of God and confirmed by the greatest demonstration of miracles!
How Miraculous Gifts Were Imparted
Not only were the apostles able to perform all of these wonders, but by the laying on of their hands they were also able to impart spiritual gifts to members of the New Testament church. For example, Peter and John, two apostles, were sent down to Samaria to impart spiritual gifts to those who had bean baptized for the remission of their sins. Philip, who preceded the apostles to Samaria, was able to work miracles himself; but not being an apostle, he was not able to impart them to others, this being reserved for the apostles (Acts 8:12-19).
The Many Manifestations of the Spirit
Today, there are a lot of persons claiming that they have the power to speak in tongues, heal the sick and receive direct revelations from God. This claim is false. In the church at Corinth, there were many members that received miraculous gifts. Later, when there was much discussion about the nature and use of these gifts, Paul wrote a letter to that church correcting their mistaken ideas, and informing them of the temporary nature of those gifts. There were several manifestations of the Spirit given to the members of the Corinthian church. Paul enumerates nine of them. They were: the word of wisdom; the word of knowledge; faith; the gifts of healing; the working of miracles; prophecy; discerning of spirits; different kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7-10). Whereas, the apostles could work all of these miracles, the members of the church received only the gift that God desired them to have (1 Corinthians 12:11). The apostle Paul emphasized this point when be said,
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:27-31).
Miraculous Gifts Were Temporary
In chapter 13 of this same letter, Paul goes on to reveal that spiritual gifts, including tongues, were temporary, would pass away and be superseded by a better arrangement. A perfect and complete arrangement would take the place of that which was incomplete and partial. Paul said,
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
Paul does not mention all of the various miraculous gifts, but only three of them, they were: prophecies, tongues and knowledge. These three were representative of all of them.
All Miraculous Gifts Were To Cease
That which was to take place concerning these three gifts would be true of all the spiritual gifts. Paul used three verbs to describe the cessation of these gifts. Prophecies, tongues and knowledge were to cease, be stilled and pass away. Let us examine closely the meaning of those three words used to describe the end of all spiritual gifts. (1) First, “they shall cease.” The root meaning of this word is “to cause to cease; put an end to; do away with; annul and to abolish.” As it is used here in connection with prophecies it means they were to cease, pass and be done away. (2) In connection with tongues, Paul says, “they will be stilled.” There would be a time when speaking in tongues—languages—would “stop, be left off.” (3) Concerning miraculous knowledge, Paul says, “It will pass away.” How could we have any stronger language describing the end of miraculous spiritual gifts?
Love Would Never Cease
In contrast to the temporary nature of these miraculous gifts, “love never fails,” which simply means that it would “never perish, come to an end, disappear, cease, fail, fall;” whereas, these spiritual gifts were soon to pass away. Having stated that prophecy, tongues and knowledge were to cease, be stilled and pass away; Paul, introduced the reason why this would be in the next verse, saying, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). The word “for” which introduces the statement in verses 9-10 indicates that Paul is going to give a reason or cause for the preceding statement which he has just made in verse 8.
Miraculous Gifts Were In Part
According to Paul, the reason all spiritual gifts were to cease, be stilled and pass away is because they were in part or incomplete. God did not reveal his revelation all at one time, but progressively over a period of 60-70 years. During that period of time, the revelation was in part. “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). You will notice that Paul used the present tense in describing that which was in part.
During the age when prophecy and knowledge were in part, God was revealing his message, a little at a time. This reminds us of the statement made by the great prophet, Isaiah, when he said,
“For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people” (Isaiah 28:10-11).
The revelations by prophecy, tongues and miraculous knowledge were not complete, but were in part; they were constituent parts of the whole or complete revelation.
God’s Perfect Revelation Was to Replace Miraculous Gifts
In contrast to the incomplete state of revelation which prevailed at the time that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians; he anticipated a time when that would be replaced by something which would be perfect, complete, and whole, for he says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:10). The term “when” in this verse is an adverb of time, and is used in connection with a thing that is really to occur, but the time of that occurrence is not definitely stated in this verse. Here, it is used in the original with the subjunctive aorist verb, which means that it was to occur at a definite point of time. It had not occurred when Paul wrote the letter, but it definitely was going to occur; therefore, it was just one step away from reality. The point is this: whenever, that which is perfect came into being, that which is in part was to be done away.
We have already established “that which is in part” has reference to knowledge, tongues, and prophecies. The same word in the original that is used to describe the end of prophecies is that which is used to describe the end of that which is in part. Prophecies were to fail, and that which is in part was to be “done away;” therefore, there was to be a definite time when all miraculous gifts were to cease, vanish, fail, and to be done away. They were to be done away “when that which is perfect is come.” When that which is perfect came into being, when it showed itself forth, when it found place or influence among men, then that which is in part, that is, prophecies, tongues, knowledge, etc., were to be done away.
The New Testament Is God’s Perfect and Complete Revelation
To understand at what point in human history miraculous gifts ceased, it is necessary for us to identify that thing which is perfect, which was to come. The word “perfect” is used here properly to mean, “Brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness, perfect” (Thayer, p. 618). The perfect thing which was to come is something that was to be complete, finished, and whole and brought to its proper object or goal. What was that thing? The Bible is its own best commentary. In the book of James, we have two verses that definitely help us in identifying “That which is perfect.” We are advised that: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). The word “perfect” as used in this verse indicates that which is complete, finished, brought to its end, that which is whole. According to James, every good gift, and every complete gift comes from the Father above. In this same chapter, James says,
“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).
The Perfect Law of Liberty
According to James, the perfect law of liberty, that is, the New Testament is that complete law of liberty; it is that good gift and that complete gift which came down from God out of heaven, into which every man can look and see his spiritual image. Therefore, the complete New Testament is that thing which is perfect, which was to come and when having come, that “which is in part (miraculous gifts) was to be done away.”
God’s Word Completely Equips Us for Every Good Work
Near the end of Paul’s life, he wrote a letter to Timothy, a young preacher and companion, in which he said,
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The reason the Holy Scripture is able to make the man of God perfect or complete is because it (the Holy Scripture is perfect or complete. To this Jude agrees when he wrote: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Therefore, when the New Testament came into being in its complete or finished form, then that which was in part (miraculous gifts) such as prophecies, tongues and knowledge ceased, passed away and was finished.
Act As A Child Or A Man?
In further illustration of the temporary nature of miraculous gifts, Paul said to the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). As in previous verses, that which was in part has been put in contrast with that which is perfect; so in this verse the state of a child is put in contrast with the state of a man. The spiritual gifts such as prophecies, tongues and knowledge are compared to a child in his speaking, understanding and thought; whereas, the complete and perfect New Testament is compared to a man’s speaking, understanding and thought. The point of illustration is this: just as the speech, understanding and thought of a child is incomplete and partial, so the understanding which came from prophecy, tongues and knowledge was incomplete and partial. Just as the transition from a child to a man took a certain period of time, so the transition of revelation from that which was in part to that which was perfect took a period of time.
Put Away Childish Actions
It would be just as foolish for a man who has completeness of understanding and speech to desire the incomplete state of a child as it would be for the church today to desire to leave the complete and perfect New Testament and go back to the incomplete state of miraculous gifts. Paul said, “When he became a man he put away childish things.” The word used to emphasize the end of childish things is “put away,” and it is the same word that Paul used to describe the end of prophecies, and the end of that which is in part. Therefore, today, let us put away all foolishness and have more confidence in the complete and perfect will of God which lives and abides forever.
Copyright © 2006, 2013 2020 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Preach the Word: http://www.preachthewordatheartland.com
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142