Miraculous Gifts --Their Temporary Nature (Part Three)
by Tom Edwards
Nature and Purpose for the Gifts
Why was it that God even gave miraculous gifts? How were they to help the church in its infancy? And is it possible for man to know and do all that God requires of him if he has not been endowed with these miraculous gifts in our age? Let us look to the Bible for some answers to these questions.
As we observe the list of miraculous gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, it is apparent that six out of the nine pertained more to the message of God's word itself (the word of wisdom; word of knowledge; prophecy; distinguishing of spirits; tongues and their interpretation), and the other three (faith; gifts of healing; effecting of miracles) served to confirm the preaching and teaching of God's message (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3,4). Therefore, working together, they not only imparted God's message, but also verified its Divine origin -- thus giving proof to all men for all time that God has spoken and His message is found in the Bible.
Obviously, the early church was in great need of these gifts; for during its beginning stage, it had been temporarily without the complete revelation of the New Testament which would help it to develop maturely. Notice the following purpose and the importance that Paul shows to Timothy for the writing of his inspired epistles: "...I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). What Paul shared in his letters was that which God had miraculously imparted to him. Writing to the Ephesians, the apostle proclaims, "that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit" (Eph. 3:3-5).
When today we turn to the pages of God's inspired word, we can receive naturally those same truths that inspired men of long ago had to receive supernaturally. The fact that some men were endowed with the Holy Spirit in such a fashion as to be foretellers of the future or, even more often, to be inspired "forth tellers" of His word, did not enable these men to have any more insight than those whom they told their revelations to. Both would have acquired equal knowledge of God's word.
The main purpose for miracles was in order to establish the authenticity of God's message. According to Mark 16:20, after the ascension of Jesus and while the apostles went out everywhere in order to preach the gospel, "the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed."
Since this has already happened there is no need for God's word to be confirmed anymore. Certainly, you would not continue every month to take the same document back to a notary republic in order to have it notarized again and again.
It's interesting to note that even during the age of miracles there were some who were closely associated with the apostle Paul, yet still had their share of infirmities. Timothy, for example, not only had stomach problems, but also frequent illnesses. Yet, rather than merely working a miracle in order to heal his good friend, Paul prescribed for Timothy a "little wine" to be used for medicinal purposes that would help him with his ailments.
Mention is also made of Epaphroditus and his sickness in Philippians 2:25-30. And even the apostle Paul had his "thorn in the flesh," which he earnestly prayed for the removal of; but God's response was simply: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Realizing this, Paul then stated, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9,10).
The accumulated implication of these various passages is clear: the main purpose for miracles was not for the mere sake of restoring the physically impaired or chronically ill -- for God can even use sickness and affliction for his glory and for the eternal well being of the one so suffering -- but rather these miraculous signs served to substantiate the word of the Lord.
May we never forget that the spiritual shall always be more important than the physical: the sickly crippled on his way to heaven is far better off than the healthiest individual who is on a road to hell (an eternal separation from the love and mercy of God). Let us, therefore, live our lives with this proper perspective in mind.