1 Corinthians 12:1–11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were heathen, you were led astray to dumb idols, however you may have been moved. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 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. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
Let me begin by summarizing some of the reasons why I think the "gifts of healings" and "workings of miracles" referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:9–10 are gifts still available to the church today. It may seem obvious to a simple reading. But there are many who say they are not. So basically what I have to do is respond to their arguments.
Against the Present Availability of These Gifts
Let me quote directly from a very popular teacher: "The four temporary sign gifts [his designation, not the Bible's] were miracles, healings, tongues, and interpretations of tongues. These four sign gifts had a unique purpose—to give the apostles credentials, to let the people know that these men all spoke the truth of God. But once the Word of God was inscripturated, the sign gifts were no longer needed and they ceased." The assumption in this argument is that the "gifts of healings" and "workings of miracles" mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9–10 refer only to what Jesus and the apostles could do (including Stephen, Barnabas, and Philip). These were not gifts given to ordinary Christians, but only to the authoritative leaders of the first generation. Then they disappeared.
The same teacher says, "We never see the gift [of healing] being used at random in the churches. It is a gift always associated with Christ, the Twelve (plus Paul), the seventy, and the close associates of the Twelve. The gift of healing was a limited one in terms of the people who possessed it, as was the gift of miracles. And like miracles, the gift of healing was used to authenticate and confirm the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom." So you see how the argument works:
- first, you equate the "gifts of healings" in 1 Corinthians 12 with the unique authority of Jesus and the apostles (that's the linchpin of the argument!);
- second, you show that the role of miracles for the apostles was to authenticate their teaching; and,
- third, it follows automatically that these gifts cease with the disappearance of the founding apostles who wrote our New Testament.
The Basic Assumption Doesn't Stand
The problem with this view is that the basic assumption won't stand up under scrutiny. The "gifts of healings" and "workings of miracles" in 1 Corinthians 12:9–10 are not limited to Jesus and the apostles. In fact the New Testament never describes the ability of Jesus and the apostles to work miracles as "the gift of healing" or "the gift of miracles." When you read 1 Corinthians 12:7–10, you get the simple impression that these gifts are given according to God's will to various people in the church: "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 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 healings by the one Spirit, to another the workings of miracles . . . " It does not seem to be a natural reading of these verses to say that what they mean is that NO ONE at Corinth gets the "gifts of healings" or the "workings of miracles," but only Jesus and the apostles.
This looks even more unlikely when you read verse 28 where the gift of apostle seems clearly distinct from the "gifts of healings" and "miracles": "God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings." This looks like gifts of healings and miracles are different from and additional to the gift of apostle and prophet and teacher.
This is what we saw in Galatians 3:5 last week also. Paul writes to the Galatians and says, "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" The most natural meaning of that verse is that God is working miracles in their midst by the Holy Spirit. He is doing this through the ordinary believers not through the apostles. This is just what we would expect in view of 1 Corinthians 12—the Spirit gives to some in the churches "gifts of healings" and "workings of miracles."
Apostleship Authenticated by More than Miracles
I still stand by what I said last week, namely, that I want to honor the uniqueness of the apostles—that they are once for all eyewitnesses and authoritative revelatory spokesmen of the living Christ. We have their final revelation in the New Testament and that remains now and always will remain our measuring rod for all doctrine and experience. But now the question is: Do we need to keep the gifts of healings and miracles away from ordinary church members because that was the only way the apostles could authenticate themselves? No. The miracle working power of the apostles was only PART of what authenticated their authority. If the only thing that set the apostles apart as authoritative and true was their signs and wonders, then false prophets could claim the same authority and truth, because Jesus and Paul both tell us that false prophets will do signs and wonders to lead people astray (Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; cf. Revelation 13:14; 16:14; 19:20).
Alongside miracles Paul said that his apostleship was confirmed by at least a dozen other things. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:1–2 he says, "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." Here there is no mention of miracles as Paul defends his apostleship. He had seen Jesus in person and God had blessed his ministry with life changing power in bringing the Corinthian church into being. That was his argument. In other words miracle working was only part of his credentials.
What that means is that the apostles' uniqueness is not at all jeopardized when we say that gifts of healing and miracles were given to other Christians in the church at Corinth and in the churches of Galatia. And if that was true then, it is also true today. Gifts of healings today do not compromise or call into question the unique place of Jesus and the apostles or the unparalleled role that miracles had in their ministries. So as far as I can see the argument against the gifts of healings today is not compelling.
Three Comments About These Gifts
So I believe that "gifts of healings" and "workings of miracles" are for the church today—for Bethlehem today and for the mission of Christ in the world today. Let me say just three brief things about these gifts and then we can pick it up on Wednesday evening and say more and deal with questions.
1. Not for Self-Exaltation but for the Sake of Love
Gifts of healings and workings of miracles are not for self-exaltation but for the benefit of others. They could easily become the basis of pride just like teaching or preaching or mercy or hospitality or prophecy or any of the gifts. But they are meant to be expressions of love. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:2, "Though I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." Gifts are not the main thing. Love is the main thing. Using gifts is one way to love.
This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." It is a great danger to want signs and wonders because they sound neat or merely because you think they would make your faith stronger. That is almost a sure way to spiritual self-centeredness. What we should really want is that Christ be honored through our self-sacrificing love for others. The greatest need we have is not for gifts of healings. The greatest need is to care that people are sick—sick with soul-destroying sin, sick with emotional disorders, sick with physical disease, and often a tangled mixture of all three. The greatest miracle is that our hearts begin to care more about the lostness and pain of others than about our own personal comforts and leisure plans. When that miracle happens, we might be in a position to experience the lesser gifts of healings.
That's the first thing to say: the gifts are all for the sake of love. So let's let the love of Jesus for us break us down and build us up to love others.
2. Not the Ability to Heal at Will
The second thing to say is that if God gives you gifts of healing, it does not mean that you can heal at will or that everyone you pray for will be healed. Isn't it interesting that the literal phrase in verse 9 is not "gift of healing" but "gifts of healings"—two plurals? I think this probably means that different kinds of gifts for different kinds of healings are given to various people according to God's sovereign will. This alone would suggest that one person will not have a monopoly on every sort of healing that is necessary. And it suggests that there will be many times when a person with some gifts to heal will not be able to heal.
This was Paul's experience. God gave him the grace to heal the crippled man in Lystra (Acts 14:10) and many people in Ephesus (Acts 19:12) and the demonized girl in Philippi (Acts 16:18) and Eutychus when he was taken up dead after falling out of a window (Acts 20:9–10). But Paul could not heal himself from the thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8–9) or from the ailment that he had when he preached in Galatia (Galatians 4:13–14). And evidently he could not heal Timothy from his stomach ailments (1 Timothy 5:23) or Epaphroditus from his life threatening sickness (Philippians 2:26–27) or Trophimus whom he "left ill at Miletus" (2 Timothy 4:20). Sometimes Paul was given gifts of healings and sometimes he wasn't. God is sovereign in this affair. Nothing is mechanical or automatic.
So the wording of 1 Corinthians 12:9 as well as Paul's own experience teach us that there are varied gifts of healings that can be given to us at different times for different illnesses but no guarantees that because we have received a gift to heal in the past, we will receive one in any specific case in the future. Verse 11 says it is the Spirit who "apportions the gifts to each one individually as he pleases." He is sovereign and can give or withhold a gift of healing whenever he deems best.
3. Rightly to Be Sought
Finally, this implies that we may rightly seek for gifts of healings. This is implied in the pursuit of love and compassion. Praying for healing is only one way to show love to someone. But it is one way. And once we realize this, we may be led to seek the gifts. I base the rightness of this also on 1 Corinthians 14:1. "Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts . . . " Once you set your heart to pursue love, you will be in a position to be zealous for spiritual gifts. Among those spiritual gifts are "gifts of healings." Therefore I think 1 Corinthians 14:1 urges us to seek this gift. It is subordinate to love. And it is not among the greater gifts like prophecy. But it is one of the humble lesser gifts of God. We would do well not to reject it or despise it or to exaggerate it. We should simply seek with all our hearts to do good to each other, and pray humbly that, if God wills, some of you would be granted gifts of healings for the blessing of the church and the glory of God's name in the world.