Imagine what it would be like to hold an apostle’s handbook providing guidance for healing a dysfunctional church. Actually, we have held such guides many times. One of them is called 1 Corinthians.
Within this letter, Paul sought to alter the worldly-minded perspectives of a church possessing every spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 3:17; 3:1-3). One of his goals focused on promoting a healthy understanding regarding their participation in the diversity of the Spirit’s work within their church.
Yet it must have been very disappointing to them, to learn that part of Paul’s prescription involved popping their bubble about miraculous endowments. What Paul wrote within 1 Corinthians 12 through 14 provides yet another reason why some believe miraculous gifts have ended.
To set the stage regarding the Spirit’s work, Paul introduced three classifications (gifts, ministries and empowered activities). Each of these categories could be further broken down into a variety of examples. Nevertheless, all of this diversity originates from a single Source (1 Corinthians 12:4-5). What did Paul wish to convey?
First, each example of this diversity came from the same Spirit. The Spirit was at work through a wide variety of gifts and functions. Second, the reason why the Spirit had provided all of this diversity within the church involved seeking the wellbeing of God’s people. Paul then proceeded to argue that each element was necessary for the wellbeing of all.
Since Paul had introduced his reader to three categories through which the Spirit was manifesting its work within the church, he could then lump together in a single list examples of these divergent manifestations of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:28-31). That list provided a snapshot in time revealing how the Spirit was at work within the Corinthian church.
Yet, Paul was about to pull the curtain away revealing something even more grand for the church (1 Corinthians 12:31). What could be more greater than all of this? What follows must have turned their thinking upside down regarding future expectations. What they valued so highly was temporary!
To minimize the value of what they possessed in view of what was greater, he claimed that even if he possessed the epitome expression of each manifestation, without love he would be nothing. We should understand 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 as describing the theoretical apex of each gift’s attainment. Yet even given this hyperbole, without love nothing would be gained.
After outlining some of love’s characteristics, Paul hammered home love’s superiority. While love would never fail, prophecy, foreign languages and knowledge would all cease. When would this happen?
Paul chose well the three gifts he said would cease. All three were directly associated with communicating knowledge. Yet, what he would write about these three would apply to all the miraculous empowerments.
These gifts could only provide a partial understanding. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). Gifts served a temporary function. Through a variety of metaphors Paul contrasted the partial understanding offered by gifts with a future time when the church would possess a complete understanding.
The temporary nature of gifts also resonates with what Paul wrote in Ephesians. In that letter he described how that the gifts Christ provided to the church to build it up would continue until the church had what it needed to be unified (Ephesians 4:7-16). At that time, deceiving ideas would be exposed and God’s people would be able to speak what is true in love.
Paul envisioned a future for the church where miraculous gifts ceased, yet faith, hope and love would still endure. That time would precede Christ’s return. Why? When Christ returns, faith and hope will be transformed into sight and obtainment. Thus a time would come when the miraculous gifts had ended as the church would know everything it needed to live with faith, hope and love.
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul described another purpose for the manifestations of the Spirit. However, this too was temporary.
Based upon what we have already examined in Acts, Hebrews and Mark plus these thoughts in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians some have concluded that the consistent message within scripture is that miraculous gifts from the Spirit were a temporary measure to fill temporary needs. The church now has everything it needs (2 Peter 1:3; Jude 3).