When I was in 11th grade, I dated this girl for two months. In that two months time I felt love like I had never felt before. I’m talking about stomach in knots, sappy love on Delilah at night, singing, “You got it bad” by Usher as loud as I could, letting her wear my letterman coat – the whole thing. But there was only one problem: we never talked. I mean we would pass a few notes in the hallway, but we never really talked about anything. After those two dreamy months, I really knew very little about it her. But I had the feeling: I was in love.
Then she said, “let’s just be friends” and my life was over for a few weeks.
But isn’t it funny that we can feel SO strongly about something that is not really based on reality? I mean whatever love is, I didn’t have it – but I thought I did.
Well here’s the truth: just because we FEEL something, does not make it is true.
Interestingly, 50 years ago, that statement would have never been challenged, but today in our culture, you know as well as I do that there are times that our FEELINGS are more important than fact or truth. We may have emotions like love or lust, fear, excitement, anger, and sadness (even strongly) at times based on… well… nothing but shifting, often-wrong occurrences like the weather, how someone looks at us, what emoticon someone used in a text, or what we thought we heard. Ever been there?
Because of that, much of life is just a quest for truth – isn’t it? Not just big, overall truth, but even just data in the workplace, facts in school, and truth in relationships.
We are a little more than half-way through this series called GIFTED looking at how each and every one of us are gifted in various ways for a purpose. And what is that purpose? It is to glorify God!
But more specifically, we have stated each week that The Holy Spirit has gifted every believer for the building up of the Church to carry out her mission.
Last week we finally got into Paul’s list of Spiritual Gifts and explained the WHAT and WHY of those gifts. The big point of last week’s message (really the last two weeks) is that EVERY gift we have (whether natural from birth or supernatural from re-birth), is from God and can and should be used for God. That means that whoever you are and whatever you can do, there is a place for you on the team.
However, Paul goes on in our passage in 1 Corinthians 12 to then place a specific emphasis on super-natural or spiritual gifts. Now before we get any farther, let me give you a thick definition of spiritual gifts that we took some time to unpack last week:
Spiritual gifts are grace-based, super-natural abilities or capacities given by the Holy Spirit after salvation for us to minister to the body and glorify God.
And today we are going to focus on a specific group of those spiritual gifts that we will call “sign gifts.” Let’s jump into our text for today…
1 Corinthians 12  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.  All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
Maybe you remember that Paul is taking a big part of this letter to the Corinthian believers to deal with this because of how the gifts were being misunderstood, misrepresented, and misused. And the reality is that people today still mis-understand, misrepresent, and misuse these gifts in the church. As a matter of fact, for the past 200 years or less, this topic has divided the Church and believers in unhealthy ways.
So what really is a “sign gift”? What is the “gift of tongues”?
Well today and next week we are going to deal with those questions and a few more. These two messages will be a little different than normal. We are going to structure it more like a Q&A session where I want to deal with some of the common questions asked about this topic. And if in the end you end up with more questions, send me an email and I’d love to chat.
I wish we could handle all of the questions today, but after hours of study and research, I realized that I should probably not preach for two hours without warning.
As a matter of fact, this topic is so highly debated that the internet, the library, and the christian world in general is full of sermons, books, and seminars about it. Even after talking with several pastor friends I realized that there are different views within different views!
So my goal after these two weeks is not that you would know my stance on these issues, but that we would all together have a more full, Biblical, and practical understanding on these sign gifts that is helpful on our journey as a follower of Christ.
That was Paul’s desire for the Corinthian Church as he said in…
1 Corinthians 14  Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
And that is my prayer, too, not just for you – but for me as some of these questions I have dealt with for many years. And hopefully we would agree that what matters most in any topic like this is not what any of us think, what our grandpa preached, or what the church down the road teaches – it is what does the Bible teach because God’s Word is holy, perfect, and the final authority.
So here we go:
1. What are sign gifts?
If all spiritual gifts are in general super-natural capacities for us to minister to the body and glorify God, a sign gift is a specific type of gift that stands out as miraculous or outside of the normal realm of nature as a demonstration of the power of God that confirms the message of the Gospel as proclaimed by Jesus and the Apostles. The writer of Hebrews affirms this in…
Hebrews 2  …God also bore witness [or testified] by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
In our text, Paul lists several sign gifts, but there are a few other passages in Scripture that might lead us to include more. But as for all the spiritual gifts, I do not believe these lists are exhaustive or complete – meaning that there are more and different gifts in different eras and cultures. But since they are in our text in verses 9-10, let’s take a minute and explain the three sign gifts that Paul mentioned, which are:
1. healing: supernatural capacity to (with prayer and at times fasting) restore others to wholeness in emotional, relational, spiritual, physical, and other ways.
For example, during Jesus’s ministry, many lame people were made to walk, blind were made to see, and sick were given good health. In Acts 9, Peter raised a little girl up from the dead, Paul healed a man that fell out of a window while he was preaching, and many more.
Healings were some of the most common sign gifts for Jesus and during the start of the First Church. Luke even writes that after the Holy Spirit came…
Acts 5  Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles…  And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,  so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.  The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
2. miracles: the supernatural capacity to alter the natural outcome or course of life through prayer, faith, and divine direction.
For example, Jesus walked on water (and so did Peter) and turned water into wine, Phillip transported from one place to another, and many more throughout Scripture – especially throughout the Old Testament with amazing things like the sun standing still in the sky and Elijah calling down fire from Heaven to consume a sacrifice that had been doused with water.
3. various kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues: supernatural ability to speak or interpret a language or dialect unknown to you.
To my knowledge, the only three examples of this in Scripture are when Apostles preached about Jesus in Acts 2 in a language that they did not know, several new believers in Acts 19 spoke in tongues and prophesied, and Paul said that he spoke in tongues.
As you probably know – this is the big one and we’re going to deal with it much more in-depth next week as we answer the question: “what IS speaking in tongues” and “is there such thing as a private prayer language”? So “to be continued”…
2. What was the purpose of the sign gifts in Scripture?
As we have said, all spiritual gifts are for the “common good” or the building up of the church and sign gifts even more demonstrate God’s power in a way that acts as evidence for the truth. The signs and miracles that Jesus performed were done to testify to the truth that He preached – and he said that would be the same for the Apostles.
Look what Jesus said as part of Mark’s record of the “Great Commission”:
Mark 16  And [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs will accompany [go with or follow after] those who believe…
When Jesus left the earth after he was crucified, buried, and rose again, he sent the Holy Spirit to go into the lives of the Apostles in a way that had never happened to followers of God before. As a result, they began to preach and miraculous signs were performed by the Apostles that essentially backed up what they were saying to the people around them. Jesus goes on to say that…
Mark 16  …in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;  they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
But if you think about it, this was always the purpose of miracles in Scripture. For example, when God told told Moses to lead the Israelites outside of slavery, he said he would give them signs and wonders to demonstrate God’s power over Pharaoh and the world.
And of course, that is why Jesus did them, too. He said in…
John 10  If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;  but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then especially for the Apostles, the sign gifts were incredibly important for the Jewish and Gentile people to know that they could trust what the Apostles said. This is because after Jesus died, there were many people doing everything they could to distract people from the fact that Jesus rose again by blaming his disappearance on all kinds of other reasons.
So when the Apostles were performing miraculous signs, it gave weight to their words. And as we are reading here in our text in 1 Corinthians, these gifts were continuing through to other believers in the First Church.
Which leads us to the final question we want to tackle today. We read that all of these signs and gifts were in the days of Jesus as well as the Apostles, but…
3. Are these sign gifts still in use today?
Now first let me say that the Apostles WERE a specially called group of Gospel messengers to the world in a way that none of us can be. They followed close to Jesus, they heard his teaching straight from his mouth, they later saw the resurrected Christ with their own eyes, they were given promises specific for them, and they even received the Holy Spirit in a fashion that we are never told would happen to us. The Apostles were pioneers of the New Testament Church – they were the foundation with Jesus as the cornerstone.
So JUST because it happened to the Apostles a certain way, it does not mean that it HAS to happen to us like that. For example, Jesus said that the Apostles would get bitten by a snake and not die – and that is what exactly happened to Paul (but no one else that we know of).
And let me also say that just because some believers we know or churches around us teach something does not make it so. Remember that it is very possible (and we do it all the time) to believe in something based on our feelings or impressions – and still end up wrong. Whole religions believe their version of the truth with unwavering commitment – but they are still wrong.
That is why the apostle John warns us to…
1 John 4  “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world”
And that is why, too, I think the spiritual gifts have built in checks and balances. Meaning that there is prophecy AND discernment. Tongues AND interpretation.
So do these sign gifts still exist today?
Well as with most points of theology, there are a couple large camps, but then different flavors or shades of each. But basically on one side is Cessationism which means that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (such as miracles, healing, tongues, and even prophetic revelation) were only for the era of the apostles because they served a purpose that was unique to establishing the early church.
A cessationist would say then that the sign gifts passed away (or “ceased”) when the canon or standard of Scripture was set and closed. The point of cessationism is NOT that the miraculous does not still happen, but if they do happen they are much different than we read in Scripture.
On the other side is Continuationism which means that the miraculous gifts have continued and not ceased, are normative or regular in the lives of believers today. A continuationist would say that there is really no difference in the Apostles and us, and some would even say that (like the Apostles) we are still able to speak “new” revelation that is comparable to Scripture. If I had to pick a side to stand on – it certainly would not be this one!
But like I said, I have been thinking about this topic for years. I remember when I was a teen, I decided that the Benny Hinn type of faith-miracle workers that walk around at crusades healing people, slapping people on the forward, and causing people to fall over is one of three options: their power is from God, it is fake, or it is from the devil. And after more recent study (and considering that the Apostles never slapped people on the forehead, knocked people over with their breath, or took up offerings for their healings), I’m going with a mixture of the latter two options.
So let me just jump to the answer that I believe according to Scripture. Do sign and wonder gifts still exist today? Yes, but not exactly in the days of the Apostles. Let me explain.
Does God heal people today? Yes in many different ways. Sometimes through the miraculous, sometimes through doctors, sometimes through our immune systems that God gave us (that are pretty amazing).
Just this past week, Pastor Jamie and I (as well as a couple other guys in our church: Forrest, Jeff, and Ryan) as well as Dennis Taylor, the pastor of Christian Fellowship in Swoope, went to a wonderful church conference called REfuel in Lynchburg. A pastor named Jim Cymbala (Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York) told a story of how during building projects with their church, there were two times that they needed an enormous amount of money that they did not have and God came through for them when believers got together to pray – to the tune of $6 million dollars one time and $700,000 another time. Please, Lord, do it again! But that’s a lot for us, but it’s nothing – literally nothing – for God.
Another pastor told a story of how his mom’s breast cancer disappeared after an older lady sat with her in the hospital and prayed all night – 8 hours – for God to heal her. And he did.
I have heard incredible stories of God working miracles and even healing throughout the years – including my own mom when I was a child after fervent prayer by my dad and several people in the church. And they all came through prayer and the effect was God being glorified.
So yes, God still heals and as he wills, he gives people the gift of all kinds of healings. Look what James, the brother of Jesus, said in…
James 5  Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let him call fo the elders of the church, and let them pray for him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed do. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Does God give people dreams and visions still today? Yes – although I have never experienced one. I have heard multiple times that if a Muslim converts to Christianity without claiming to have had a visions of Jesus, they do not believe them. Whether that is true or not, evidently it is extremely common for a muslim to be led to God through a vision.
Does God work other miracles? I shared last week how although I did not have a natural gift of music, God gave me a capacity for it because he called me to a role where I needed it. In the same way, God still equips those he calls even at times with spiritual gifts that are more miraculous.
Consider the story of Akiane Kramarick [Ah-key-ah-nay Kram-air-ick] was born in 1994 in a shack on the edge of a cornfield in Illinois. She was the third of five children. At the age of 4, she began to experience something unique. At the age of 8, God gave her an amazing ability to paint images better than any trained professional.
How cool is it that God is revealing himself through His Son through paintings by a little girl that doesn’t even completely understand what is happening!
So here is the deal. We all like to to categorize God’s working or put God into a box that we understand and that agrees with science and nature. But God cannot be categorized or harnessed or predicted and certainly cannot be explained with science because he created science and nature and is far above it!
Listen to me:
God can do whatever he wants when he wants with whomever wants.
He can do that because he is God. And that is probably a good place to say, “Amen,” meaning, “I agree.”
But here there is a problem that we have today that it does not seem that the Apostles had in their day. We are living in a time that we expect things to happen for us, don’t we? If Burger King doesn’t get it our way, right away, we get a little upset, don’t we?
We have spent so long in our country talking about rights and privileges on the job, in school, in the home, in hospitals, and every where else, that we sometimes forget that there is no such thing as having certain “rights” with God.
The only right that we deserve is eternal judgement and separation from God because we were born into sin, as sinners, and have sinned and disobeyed God and turned our back on him time and time again. Me too! And is is only because of the wonderful, marvelous, long-suffering grace of God almighty that we are alive and breathing, let alone have the blessings that we have and let alone have forgiveness of sin and a home in heaven that we have!
And yet we have the audacity to shake our fist at God in anger and tell him we DESERVE for things to turn out better; that we have the right to a good, happy life; that we have the right to be healed, get that opportunity, have that relationship, have all of our needs meet, and even to see the miraculous.
And all the while we forget that all of the spiritual gifts and even the sign gifts are insignificant and unimportant in comparison to the the biggest miracle, the greatest healing, the best gift ever given – and that is salvation through Jesus Christ! The passing of someone from death to life, blindness to seeing, spiritual sickness to spiritual health!
All other signs are temporary and fleeting and exist only to point us to giving our life up to Jesus. If you are healed of your sickness, you will get sick by something else later. If God miraculously pays your bill, you’ll owe another one next month. If God even raises you from the dead like he did his friend on earth, Lazarus, you will still have to die again later. But the for the person that loses their life for the sake of Christ will gain not temporary life here but eternal life in Heaven!
There is SO much more that I want to say about these things – and much more that the Bible says. I’m looking forward to digging in a little more on this next week, but even after that if you have questions or thoughts, I’d love to talk.
But for today, let’s end with this reality: we all tend to have beliefs about not just sign gifts, but all other kinds of doctrine and ideas that may or may not be true but that are based more on feelings than truth. There are friends of mine that have different views on these things we have talked about today and that we will talk about more in depth next week (especially “tongues”).
It does not mean that they are not Christians or that I am MORE of a Christian. It just means (according to Scripture) that in those areas they are immature or have a childish view.
So let me ask us this morning (and we will end with this): what strong opinions do we have on things like Bible versions, musical style, modesty and clothing, church structure, gifts of the Spirit, and whatever else that are based on our experience or our feelings or what we have always been taught and not necessarily the Bible?
And then let me ask you this: do those things lead you to a better relationship with Jesus? When you talk about them with others do they lead them to a saving knowledge of Jesus?
What beliefs or even lies are we clinging to we need to let go of and just seek first Jesus: his Kingdom and his righteousness?
This message was preached on October 15, 2017 at Village Church in Churchville, VA. For more information visit us at villagechurchva.com