Many are disappointed by the church and claim that we need to re-pattern ourselves on the 1st century church, which had experienced the power of the Spirit along with astounding growth. One pastor put it like this:
· We should be experiencing the power of God on the daily basis just like the 1st century church. We are not experiencing this power or the excitement of the presence of the Spirit because we are not asking for it. Instead, we have rejected it.
In support of this, he quoted from the Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church:
- Now eagerly desire the greater gifts…Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1)
- Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1 Cor. 14:39)
According to this pastor, we are missing out because we refuse to seek the greater supernatural gifts. However, there are some other considerations:
There are more important gifts to seek. In order to put the supernatural gifts into the right perspective, Paul inserts a teaching on love. He writes that, without love, the supernatural gifts are no more than an annoyance:
· If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2)
Any other mention of the supernatural gifts is noticeably absent throughout the rest of the Bible, even in passages where we should expect them. Here are just a few evidences of these:
- Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)
Why doesn’t Peter instruct the church to also pursue the supernatural gifts if they are so essential to its vitality? Jesus makes no mention of them; nor does Paul in his other epistles:
- So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Eph. 4:11-13, 15)
- Here, maturity is a product of growing in the knowledge of Christ – a knowledge that is available apart from the operation of the supernatural gifts (also 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:2-3).
Why then did Paul instruct the Corinthian Church to pursue the supernatural gifts? Perhaps Paul was attempting to regulate and not promote the practice of tongues and prophecy, which were potentially disruptive, destructive, and confusing (1 Thess. 5:20; 1 Cor. 12:1-3; 14:39-40) in view of many who wanted to forbid them. Perhaps Paul was arguing against the other extreme - absolute prohibition of the supernatural gifts. Here are some arguments in favor of this:
If Paul had wanted to promote these gifts, he had chosen the wrong church. The Corinthians were already enamored with the supernatural (1 Cor. 14:12) and seemed to have practiced them more than other churches (1 Cor. 1:7; 2 Cor. 12:13). In view of this, Paul was likely wanting to minimize the abuses without prohibiting these God-given practices.
It doesn’t seem that Paul regarded these gifts as essential to the health of the church. Instead, he taught that Scripture was able to make the believer complete unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). How then can the gifts be essential! Therefore, we would expect that these gifts would become less prevalent as the church matured into Scripture.
Paul wrote about this putting-away of the things of childhood that would accompany maturity:
- When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. (1 Cor. 13:11)
Paul equates “the ways of childhood” with the practice of the supernatural gifts. They will abruptly disappear when the “perfect” Christ comes, and when we will know as we are known. However, along with their abrupt disappearance, there seems to also be a prior progressive disappearance. As we mature from childhood, the supernatural gifts might gradually fall away as would our childhood clothing. Perhaps they were more needful in the very immature Corinthian church. This would help to explain why Paul didn’t insist that others churches pursue the gifts.
While the knowledge imparted from the exercise of the supernatural gifts was needful (1 Cor. 14:18-19), a later and more mature church was able to glean this knowledge from the Word and Epistles of the Apostles without the danger of confusion inherent in the practice of the supernatural gifts.
We shouldn’t find it strange that God deals with different people, churches and times in different ways. God struck down Ananias and Sapphira for telling a partial truth (Acts 5) – something He doesn’t do now, at least not in such a dramatic way. He temporarily established the office of “Apostle.” He provided Apostles, pastors and teachers “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature” (Eph. 4:13). He healed through a mere piece of Paul’s clothing and Peter’s shadow. Perhaps special times required special means.
The progressive disappearance of these gifts can be seen in another way. At the beginning, they had been practiced so extensively that Paul stated that each had a supernatural gift:
- Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:7)
It is patently obvious that, today, we don’t practice the gifts so extensively. Pentecostals also agree with this assessment. Even though our God performs miracles of healing, few if any have proven gifts of healing – very different from the 1st century church. Although there are some who claim the gift of the interpretation of tongues, such claims are questionable, even within Pentecostal circles, where these gifts are regularly pursued. And do we have the corresponding gift to judge prophecies or tongues? If we do, we seem to lack the means to prove this.
What then does this say about the claims of the pastor – that we are not enjoying the things of the Spirit because we are not actively pursuing them? I am concerned that such teaching might set us up for disappointment. His analysis might also be overly judgmental of those who don’t practice these gifts.
I sincerely want everything that my Savior has to offer me. I don’t want to be left behind in any regards. For years, I had sought these gifts without any satisfaction. I too had been told that if I am going to receive, I must ask, and I did ask – many times. However, I’ve learned to be content with what the Lord has given me. Yes, I still ask for more in a general sense, but I also trust that even if I’m not praying correctly, the Spirit is more than willing and able to intervene on my behalf, according to God’s will for my life:
- We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
It is this confidence in the Lord that brings me peace, along with the knowledge that He has a special plan for our lives, which He will fulfill (Eph. 2:10; Psalm 23, 139). Meanwhile, we have His assurances that He withholds no good thing from those who love Him (Psalm 84:11), even if we don’t ask for the right things in the proper way.