Dr. Andy Woods
Ecclesiology 25; Temporary Spiritual Gifts. Part 3
6-10-18 Lesson 25
Let me open in a word of prayer. Father, we’re grateful for today, grateful for the freedom that we have to assemble and worship according to our conscience and we know that many of our brothers and sisters around the world don’t have that same freedom, but for whatever reason You’ve given it to us here and so we glorify You in that. I do ask, Father, specifically that You will be with us both during Sunday School and the main service that follows. I ask that the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, particularly here in the first session as we look into some things that has divided Christians and so I just ask that You would give us understanding. And I just ask that all those listening and studying along with us would be edified. And I ask that You would change people because of the studies. And I ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said… Amen.
These props, I didn’t bring these in today as teaching lessons for object lessons but these are for our upcoming VBS… for the uninitiated that stands for Vacation Bible School. That’s coming up at the end of this month… can you believe it? So preparations are well underway and I would invite you to keep that in prayer because a lot of kids get reached through VBS. As a matter of fact, how many people, just a show of hands, how many people came to Christ through VBS in their background? That’s three. How many people have ever been to a BVS. How many people were blessed by BVS as a kid. Wow, look at that, so VBS is a big deal. God, for whatever reason uses VBS in a very special way.
Having said all that let’s open up our Bibles this morning to the Book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 5-13. And we are continuing our study on ecclesiology or the doctrine of the church. And one of the things we’re really drilling down on here is Roman numeral VII, the purpose of the church. And one of the great purposes of the church is not to pacify the people in the church but it’s to edify the people in the church, to build them up in the things of God. And so that’s why God has given us His Word to be taught in the local church. That’s why He’s put gifted men (and women for that matter) in the body of Christ, for purposes of edifying the saints. We’re going to be talking about the place of women in the church and all of that down the road so don’t get upset that I said men and women because we believe men and women have the same gifts of the Spirit. Amen! They just have different outlets for the use of those gifts. I probably shouldn’t have even brought that up but we’ll be getting into that subject.
One of the purposes of the church is to edify God’s people in such a way that they discover their own gift and/or gifts. So if the purpose of the church is to prepare you for your ministry then part of understanding the doctrine of the church is to understand the doctrine of spiritual gifts because unless you understand your gift, gifting or gift mix you really don’t know exactly where you fit in the body of Christ. So that’s why we’re doing sort of an excurses here on the gifts of the Spirt. And as I’ve mentioned before this is normally something you talk about under pneumatology, the doctrine of the Spirit, but I’m bringing it here under ecclesiology also because of your view on spiritual gifts and what they and what they’re not largely dictate to your philosophy of a local church.
So to that end we’re asking and answering four questions. Number 1, what are some general observations of spiritual gifts? And you’ll recall that in a couple of sessions I gave you about nineteen observations, just general things about spiritual gifts. And then the second question that we’re asking and answering, and this is sort of the elephant in the room because the body of Christ is divided on this subject, we’re trying to ask and answer are all the spiritual gifts for today. So it’s hard to talk about spiritual gifts unless you deal with this subject and I’ve never really dealt with it at this church, I’ve just sort of referred people to our doctrinal statement that have questions about it, but I’m trying to actually deal with this head on so at least we have in our audio library a body of teaching that we can refer people to that are struggling with this issue, because it is a struggle.
So to that end we have put together this outline; we’ve offered some preliminary thoughts. I’ve tried to make the case that look, this is an important issue but at the same time we also have to understand that those that disagree with us on this subject we have a lot more in common than we do that divides us. So we sort of have to approach this with the right tone, not ignoring the issue but also not demonizing people that think differently on it.
Here’s what you’ll discover when you start to study spiritual gifts: I’ve given you this pneumonic device, 12/12/4/4. That stands for Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4, Ephesians 4. Those chapters are the chapters that delineate the gifts of the Spirit, actually itemize them or enumerate them. There’s probably about 22 gifts total that are mentioned specifically in the Bible. And if you read through those various lists there are six gifts that you’re going to hit, 6 gifts that you’re going to his, 6 of the 22, and you’re going to ask yourself well, why aren’t these in practice at Sugar Land Bible Church. They are: apostle, prophet, workers of miracles, tongues, interpretation of tongues and the gift of healing.
And there is, in this area, I would say rampant and totally confusion on these subjects. So that’s sort of why I’m drilling down here in Sunday School. One camp says, we would call the continuationists, every gift you see in the New Testament, including in the Book of Acts, is fully in operation today. We’re more of the camp of what I like to call selective cessationism where we believe that 6 of those 22 gifts passed with the concluding of the Biblical canon in the first century.
I’ve given you our position statement on this, position statement number 7, I don’t know if I need to re-read this but if you go to position statement number 7 you’ll see that our church takes a position on this subject. And the question is well why do we believe the way that we believe; should we believe it just because it’s in the doctrinal statement or is there more to it than that? And part of, I believe, coming out correctly on the subject of spiritual gifts is understanding that there are four categories of gifts.
The first set of gifts are foundational gifts. These are gifts that God used to lay the foundation of the church and one of the things that we have said over and over again is you lay a foundation how many times? One time! So that would be the gift of apostle and prophet and we’ve talked about what those mean in prior sessions. Paul is very clear that the church was laid on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. So now that that foundation has been laid God is not re-laying the foundation and so there’s a logical belief that the gift of apostle and prophet, the way they’re defined in the Bible, are things that have passed in the first century. We dealt with that.
Then there’s a second section of gifts called confirmatory gifts. Another way of saying it, these are the sign gifts. Those would be workers of miracles, tongues, which we’re going to talk about today, and then the gift of healing, and we’ll talk about healing today as well, as time permits. And we’ve talked about how in this chart these gifts and miracles don’t just flow in the Bible in a continuous sense. The Bible is not a story of unbroken miracles. Miracles in the Bible are kind of sporadic, they’re abnormal in terms of the total chunk of history that the Bible records, and they have a tendency to cluster around time periods. There’s at least six of them where God is doing a new work. And why do miracles cluster around those time periods? Because God is authenticating to the world that this new thing that’s happening is truly of Him.
So in that vein we’ve talked about workers of miracles. We’ve talked about how miracles were given, Hebrews 2, 3 and 4, some verses we looked at last time, to confirm the message as it traveled from the apostles to the first generation of receivers. Miracles were a sign of an apostle, so if the office of apostle ceased then so would the sign gift of miracles, or miraculous power.
Now I want to be very careful here because we still believe God does miracles. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t pray for people. Amen! We believe God can and does do a miracle; we believe can and does heal people. The issue is do you have someone in the church that has the gift of signs and wonders, and the gift of healing which they can perform at will? And what we’re saying is no to that; yes God can and does intervene in history but you don’t have somebody, like the Apostle Peter, who would just lay hands on anybody and they would immediately receive their healing. That’s the gift that we’re talking about that ceased in the first century, called a sign gift.
We saw last time a number of passages, Acts 2:43 for example, that connects working wonders as a sign gift to the apostles. [Acts 2:43, “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.”] Why was God doing that? Because something brand new was starting, called the age of the church. And after that foundation was laid that gift petered out. And I showed you and I will continue to show you examples where late in Paul’s ministry it looks as if that gift disappeared.
That takes us to a second sign gift and this is the gift of tongues. And what do people think of when they think of tongues? As you read through these various lists of spiritual gifts you’ll see this gift that is translated tongues and here’s the image that you’ll get: tongues, what does that mean? Well, if I was to take a poll or a survey here’s basically the definition most people have of tongues because this is what they see in charismatic services that they’ve gone to or they turn so-called Christian television and they see this going on.
Tongues, to your average Christian means babbling sort of on and on in a secret language that’s unintelligible, that’s really known only to the person speaking in the tongue. And how can that person speak in a tongue but I can’t? Well, they have the spiritual gift of tongues (we’re told) but we do not. And that’s basically how your average person understands the gift of tongues. And part of the confusion on this is the King James translation of the Bible because the King James translation of the Bible was the first to take some Greek expressions, meaning languages, or dialects, and translate them as tongues. And so since our modern English translations are following the King James Version all of our Bible versions, most of them anyway, say “tongues.” And so when we think of tongues we think of babbling sort of in an unknown language.
But what I want to show you is that in 1600 when the King James translators translated those words using the English word tongues, tongues did not mean a secret language; tongues meant a known language. Now does it mean that today in our language? Not necessarily because language has changed since 1600. Amen! But back in the days of the King James translation tongues meant a known language, not a secret language, not an unknown language.
Now how do I know this? It becomes obvious by seeing how the King James translators also translated Revelation 9:11. Revelation 9:11 speaks of two languages, Greek and Hebrew; it translates Apollyon or destruction in both languages. And notice what Revelation 9:11 says: “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew” what’s the next word, “tongue,” why did they say “tongue”? Because in 1600 tongue meant language. “…whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek” what’s the next word, “tongue hath his name Apollyon.” Why does the King James Version use the word “tongue”? Because in 1600 tongue meant a known language and you see what the King James is doing here—it’s using the word “tongue” in a translation to describe not two unknown languages but two very well-known dialects, Hebrew and Greek.
And the problem is our vernacular since 1600 as we now move into the 21st century has changed radically and when we see the word “tongue” in the Bible we think it means something different than how the King James translators translated the word.
So what am I trying to get at? I’m trying to say this: when you see the word “tongue” in Romans 12, in 1 Corinthians 12, it is a lousy translation if you compare how we use the word “tongue” to how the Bible uses those words translated as tongues. It made perfect sense in 1600 but it doesn’t make any sense today. In fact, if you are looking at the word “tongue” you’ll likely miss the meaning.
When you go to 1 Corinthians 12:10, which is a passage translated “tongues” in many Bibles this is actually what it says. “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues….” now in brackets I have the actual Greek word translated tongues which used to mean languages and today really doesn’t mean languages, known languages. The Greek word is glōssa and by the way, can anybody think of what English word we get from the word glōssa? [Revelation 9:11, “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.” KJV] Glossary, you don’t consult a glossary because it’s some unknown language; it’s a clear language. And then it goes on and it says, “to another the interpretation of tongues,” “tongues” is not in the original, it’s the word glōssa, where we get the word glossary.
Let me give you another example. Over in Acts 2:6, which is the first known instance of tongues in the New Testament church. It says, “Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.” [KJV] Now some of your Bible translations say tongues but the Greek is dialectos, where we get the word dialect. What is a dialect? It’s not a secret language, it’s not a babbling language, it’s a known language. So what I’m trying to say is when you see the word “tongues” in the New Testament in your English translations I’m just trying to communicate a simple point that part of the confusion on this is tongues is a lousy 21st century translation. It was a great translation in1600, a lousy translation today because a tongue is not a secret language; a tongue is a known language of such a caliber that you could actually develop a glossary or a dialect from it.
So having said all that, that’s just background. I’m now prepared to give you a definition of what a tongue (so-called tongue) is. A tongue is a miraculous ability… watch this very carefully, to speak in a known but unlearned language. You see that? If I’m speaking in tongues, let’s say this is the first century and I break out in tongues I’m not breaking out into some kind of babbling. What I’m breaking out into is a language known to the listener that I’ve never studied. So tongues is the miraculous ability to speak in an unlearned yet known language. For example, if the only thing you spoke was Spanish and the only thing I spoke was English, and suddenly I broke out in perfect Spanish, what would you think? You would think that’s a miracle, wouldn’t you? And that essentially is what happened with the gift of tongues.
What happened in Acts 2, we’ll read the passage in just a minute, Acts 2:5-13, these apostles were breaking out or speaking I should say in a language that they had never studied or learned but it was well known. I’ve always struggled with languages in school, I took Spanish, I took German, I took French, studied Hebrew, studied Greek. I’ve always prayed for the gift of tongues but I’ve always had to learn languages the hard way. So having said all that, with that background, take a look at Acts 2:5-13, the first known instance of tongues and let’s try to figure out what exactly this spiritual gift is.
Acts 2:5, “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.  And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his” what? “own language.  They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?  Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  Cretans and Arabs—“see all these people groups? “…we hear them in our own tongues” now there again tongues is a lousy translation, it should be translated languages, “speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”  And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  But others” watch this, “were mocking” see the unbelief, “others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” In other words, they were intoxicated.
So what was happening on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2? You have Jews from all over the Greco-Roman world, I have there on the map all of the different people groups that are represented. The Jews had been in worldwide diaspora or in diaspora, as you know, before they came back into their lands so there are synagogues, Jewish meeting places, all over the Greco-Roman world. And according to Leviticus 23 all these Jews are commanded to show up on a particular feast day called the day of Pentecost. So they’re all assembled.
And it just so happens that the Holy Spirit had a surprise for everybody. The Holy Spirit was starting something brand new called the what? Called the church. And to authenticate it as a sign of God, God gave temporarily a sign gift which was the apostles were speaking fluently in the tongues of all of these other people groups that had assembled, which the apostles had never learned. See that? That’s what tongues is. That’s what tongues was.
And a very, very, VERY, did I say very enough there… important passage on the gift of tongues is 1 Corinthians 14:21-22…VERY, VERY important. As my former professor, Robert Lightner, used to say, he would say central Scripture, which meant that was going to be on the test when he said central Scripture. That was his “tongues” to us. And in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 Paul makes a comment on the gift of tongues. He says, “In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord.” Look at verse 22, “So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to” what? “unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.”
So of the two, which ought to be practiced in the church regularly? Tongues or prophecy? Prophecy, which I think today has given way to modern day preaching, not receiving new revelation but proclaiming what God has already said in this book. That’s the ministry to the saved; the tongues, as we’ve defined it, is a ministry to the unsaved.
Now you’ll notice in verse 21, you see how it’s in quotation marks there, or all caps? What does that mean? It means that Paul is quoting the Old Testament to make his point. And what is he quoting? When you track it down you’ll discover that he’s quoting Isaiah 28:11. So what, then, is the context of Isaiah 28:11. Here’s the context, remember Isaiah wrote his book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit seven centuries before Jesus even showed up. What was Isaiah saying in Isaiah 18:11. [Isaiah 28:11, “Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,”] It must be important because Paul quotes it to the Corinthians concerning the gift of tongues in the first century.
Here’s what Isaiah 28:11 is saying: the foreign languages or language of the Assyrians, and who are the Assyrians? They were the instrument of discipline that God used to scatter the northern tribes; so the Assyrians were an instrument of divine discipline against the northern kingdom, the ten northern tribes called Israel, headquartered in Samaria. The foreign language of the Assyrians, who God used to scatter the ten northern tribes, was a sign of judgment on Israel. The fact that they were being scattered by a people group whose language they did not recognize was an indication to the nation of Israel that they were under the rod of divine discipline. So tongues in that sense was not given to a believing nation but to an unbelieving nation.
By way of analogy, 1 Corinthians 14, now into verse 22, by way of analogy, he’s building an analogy here; tongues was a sign that God had temporarily transferred his program, divine program, from first century Israel to the church, as first century Israel was moving off into discipline which would be meted out in A.D. 70, about forty years later. So just as an unknown language was a sign of discipline of the ten northern tribes scattered by the Assyrians, Paul says here’s what the gift of tongues is all about. It is a sign to the unbelieving Jew that God has taken His hand off of … watch this very carefully, not permanently of Israel, if I were to say God has removed His hand permanently from Israel I’d be teaching replacement theology, which we don’t believe here. We don’t believe it because it’s not in the Bible. Amen.
But here’s what God did, He took His hand off, not Israel, watch this, first century Israel. See the difference? And He placed His hand of blessing on the church, and this is why the church exists, Romans 11, to provoke who to jealousy? Unbelieving Israel. Why? Because God had removed and continues to in terms of an exact direct relationship Israel today is under discipline, even though the Jews just made a coin with our own President on it, comparing him to Cyrus. And we’re all excited about that and rah, rah, rah, and I’m part of that cheer leading choir because I think it’s great. But the reality is I think sometimes in the excitement of the whole thing we’ve forgotten that the nation of Israel is still under the disciplinary hand of God. Benjamin Netanyahu is not a Christian. Do we all understand that? So let’s not let the politics of the day bling us to what’s happening. The nation of Israel came under the disciplinary hand of God in the first century for rejecting their king and in Acts 2 God took His hand of blessing off first century Israel and put it onto a brand new being called the church.
Now would you say that’s a change in God’s outworking? It’s a total change, I mean, that’s a complete change from God’s dealings, going all the way back 2,000 years. So how in the world were these Jews… remember, all these people gathered on Pentecost are Jews, unbelieving Jews. How would they know that this transition has happened? Well, they ought to just read their New Testament, for goodness sakes. Well we’ve got a little problem there, we don’t have a New Testament yet. They knew that this had happened because they saw a sign from God; a sign not for the believer but for the unbeliever.
And just as the foreign language of the Assyrians was a sign that the ten northern tribes were under the disciplinary hand of God in the exact same way tongues, which was an ability to speak in a known but unlearned language, was the sign to all of these unbelieving Jews that they were again under disciplinary hand of God, because all of these people groups assembled with their own dialect and here are the apostles, who had never learned those dialects, able to expound the deep truths of God in a language that they had never known.
Now you either look at that and you say well, that’s got to be the hand of God or you go into the amoeba or umbrella of unbelief and you just try to re-explain the obvious. I mean, the Jews couldn’t even handle the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and they started to develop a bunch of theories, the disciples stole the body and all that kind of stuff. That’s unbelief. The unbelieving mind comes up with excuses for what the heart already wants to do. See that? This is why you cannot rationalize people into Christianity.
I grew up under sort of the Josh McDowell era of apologetics (and I’m for apologetics, believe me) but you kind of got the impression that if you just go out there unto your campus, I learned a lot of this through Campus Crusade, and give them five evidences for the Bible that you’re just going to have swoons of converts. NO, because if the heart has already decided not to believe then it doesn’t matter what evidence you give them. And this is what happened here; the evidence was there, the miracle was there and instead of saying you know what, we blew it as a nation, we should have trusted in Christ as our King, what they said is well, they’re talking in this language because they’re intoxicated. Does that make any sense, by the way? I mean, how could I break out into a language I’ve never learned while I’m drunk? I mean, usually when you’re drunk you say all kinds of things of a low intelligible value, let’s put it that way.
So this is the gift of tongues. This was the message to these people groups what were assembled. If my count is right there were about sixteen people groups assembled and they heard the deep truth of God, spoken by apostles, in a language, not a babbling, not a mystical language but in a language that they had never… they knew that those apostles had not studied and that was a sign to unbelieving Israel that they were now under the divine discipline hand of God, just like as had happened back in the days of the Old Testament. See that?
So this is the gift of tongues. This was the message to these people groups what were assembled. If my count is right there were about sixteen people groups assembled and they heard the deep truth of God, spoken by apostles, in a language, not a babbling, not a mystical language but in a language that they had never… they knew that those apostles had not studied and that was a sign to unbelieving Israel that they were now under the divine discipline hand of God, just like as had happened back in the days of the Old Testament. See that? That’s what the gift of tongues is.
Now I also believe that tongues had a dual purpose; not only did it exist to confirm Israel in unbelief, but it also existed to confirm the church, that yes, this new project that God has started in Acts 2 called the church, was true. So it was a sign to the unbelievers, just like Paul says but it’s also a sign gift given to confirm that what is now happening in the church, is in fact, of God. See, this fits the pattern, does it not, where miracles cluster around; they cluster around eras where God is doing something new.
And so since the disciplinary hand of God has already been exercised or executed, A.D. 70, and since the project of the church is not a new thing, we’ve been in the age of the church for the last 2000 years, we would understand the gift of tongues, properly understood, as a particular spiritual gift that appeared at a time in history that disappeared. See, there’s no need for it today because the church age has been rolling along fine for 2,000 years and there’s no need for it today because we all know that the nation of Israel is under the disciplinary hand of God. So tongues, then, or languages better, is something we believe ceased in the first century.
Now having said all that there’s another spiritual gift mentioned here, the gift of healing. So take your Bible if you could and go to Acts 3. I showed you what the gift of tongues was and how it operated, I want to show you what the gift of healing was because there’s an awful lot of people today running around claiming they have the gift of healing. To me, if you’re claiming you have the gift of healing you’re not praying for God to heal somebody, which He can and does when He wants to, but you say you have the gift of healing then you have to be able to heal on a level that the apostles healed on.
So look at Acts 3:1-10 as you see the sign gift of the gift of healing coming into operation. It says, “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.  And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb” so he doesn’t have a case of sniffles here, you’re dealing with someone with a documented injury that everybody knew about, “a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.  When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.” Notice that this man doesn’t even ask to be healed, he wants money. Verse 4, “But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, ‘Look at us!”’ See, we’re the instrument that God is going to use to heal you. It’s not a case of praying for someone to get healed, it’s look at us, the apostles, because we have the gift of healing.
Verse 5, “And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive” what? “something from them.” Which was money, so this guy had no faith at all. He didn’t go to a prayer meeting claiming he had enough faith to be healed. See that. Verse 6, “But Peter said to him” and I can sympathize with this, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” Not a suggestion, get up and walk.  “And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.” Boom, right there on the spot, not some gradual process over time, go back to your doctor three or four times and we’ll see if we’ve got this thing cranking up yet, and bring your X-rays. I mean, this is an immediate healing, there’s no contest that this is an immediate healing.
It says, “and immediately” that’s a very important word to understand. If you’re an under liner in the Bible you should under-line the word “immediately.” “…his feet and his ankles were strengthened.” And look at this, he didn’t sort of gradually get up, gradually come back to three or four healing meetings to see how you’re doing, I mean, this guy immediately his ankles and his feet were strengthened, and  “With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God;  and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”
Now that’s the gift of healing. So for that gift to be in operation you have to see these characteristics. Number 1, no prayer at all. You notice that Peter didn’t pray; you notice the man didn’t pray. Number 2, no faith, at least on the part of the beneficiary; he never asked to be healed, there’s no record of him ever exercising faith. Number 3, he was healed indirectly, God working through an apostle possessing the gift of healing. Number 4, the instrument was an apostle, who was Peter. Number 5, the healing was instantaneous, not gradual, Acts 3:7. Number 6, the healing was automatic. Number 7, the healing was undeniable. And that’s the case with the gift of healing. There’s nothing to dispute. In fact, the fact that it’s beyond dispute is so obvious that even the enemies of Christianity can’t explain it away.
If you go back to Acts 2:22, I’ll give you some examples here. “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—” there’s no debate about did this miracle occur when miracles actually occur in the Scripture. If you go over to Acts 4:16 you’ll see another example of this. “saying, ‘What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” That’s the Sadducees saying that; that’s the enemies of Christianity saying that.
If you go over to Acts 5:12, as these miracles are taking place, “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.  But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.” You see what’s happening here with these signs and wonders? In early Acts they’re indisputable, there’s no medical debate looking at someone’s X-ray. It’s something that’s obvious.
And I’ll tell you something else about the gift of healing; it seems to me that there’s no geographical barriers. Now this gets into the ministry of Christ; when Christ healed people they didn’t have to come to him to get healed. Do we understand that? There’s an example, I think Alex covered this in a recent sermon, the centurion in Acts 8:5-13, was not the centurion’s son? That was the centurion’s son, right? He healed him, Jesus did, without traveling to where the sick person was.
If you go over to John 4:49-53, this is what it says: “The royal official said to Him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son lives.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.  As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living.  So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives’; and he himself believed and his whole household.” No geographical barriers at all.
And when the gift of healing is in operation the healing is often very spontaneous. In other words, something happens and someone needs a healing and the gift of healing goes into operation, like Eutychus, who in Troas, Acts 20:7-10, we read the verses last time, fell asleep while Paul was preaching, fell out of the window sill, I think it was two stories, he hit the ground and died, and Paul went right then and brought him back to life. So you notice the spontaneity of all of this.
And the healing was common place; this was a miracle that was happening with somewhat great regularity at the advent of the church, as you read the Book of Acts. And you’ll notice that people, when this gift is in operation they don’t leave the coliseums and stadiums still on their crutches, still in their wheel chairs because the gift is of such power that everyone is getting healed. When you go over to Acts 5:12-16 it says, “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people….” And then when you jump down to verse 16 it says, “they were all” not some, “they were all being healed.” [Acts 5:12-16, “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.  But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.  And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number,  to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.  Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”]
So if someone today is claiming to have the gift of healing then I need to see all of these criteria in full operation; no prayer, no faith, indirect through a person, by an apostle, instantaneous, automatic, undeniable. I don’t need to see a bunch of people being summoned to a healing meeting because as I understand the gift of healing, at least practiced by Christ, geography is no problem. I need to see spontaneity, not happing at specific times but as injuries occur. I need it to be common place and I need it to be universal. That’s the gift of healing. See that?
So what is the gift of healing? The gift of healing, like the gift of tongues, was one of those sign gifts that God used to authenticate the testimony of the apostles. It fits exactly with the biblical pattern because miracles cluster around time periods where God is doing something new. So when you look at Acts 4:30 it says this: “while You extend Your hand to heal,” and what? What’s the next word? “and signs” that’s a key word, “and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” You see how healing in the Book of Acts is connected to the word sign or signs because it’s a sign gift that God used to authenticate the testimony of the apostles, which reversed 2,000 years of God’s dealings with man.
Over in Acts 5:12 and verse 16 you see the word apostles. What’s the next word I’ve got underlined there? “signs” and you go to verse 16 and what sign is he talking about, “all,” not some, “were being healed.” [Acts 5:12, “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.”  Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”]
So what I believe is this: that there was something very significant, something very unique, something very special happening in the ministries of the apostles at that time in history which authenticated a brand new work that God was doing and He was using tongues simultaneously (the way we’ve defined it) not just to confirm God’s new project called the church but also to solidify Israel in her unbelief.
And what begins to happen is that gift of healing, as you get late into Paul’s ministry, starts to dissipate, it starts to peter out. I’ve given you the story of Acts 20:7-10, where Eutychus was healed on the spot, brought back to life, really, from the dead. [Acts 20:7-10, “7On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.  There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together.  And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead.  But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.”]
Here are the order of Paul’s letters chronologically: [1. Galatians, A.D. 49 2. 1-2 Thessalonians, A.D. 51. 3. 1-2-Corinthians, A.D. 56. 4. Romans, A.D. 57. 5. Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians, A.D. 60-62 6. 1 Timothy, Titus, A. D. 62-66 7. 2 Timothy, A. D. 67]
You’ll notice that he writes 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy late. 1 Timothy is his third to last book, Titus is his second to last book, 2 Timothy is his last book. And you get into those books and you don’t find Paul doing these miracles like he was doing early on in the Book of Acts. What you’ll find is language like this: 1 Timothy 5:23, “No longer” as he writes to Timothy, “drink water exclusively but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” Well, if I were Timothy I would be kind of disappointed in that. I mean, Paul, you brought Eutychus back from the dead, can’t you help me with my upset stomach? Apparently, what had happened is the sign gift of healing that Paul exercised begins to disappear. You see that?
2 Timothy 4:20, his last letter, he’s about to die as he writes this because he’s told us in verse 6 of chapter 4 that he’s about to be poured out as a drink offering and the time of his departure is at hand. [2 Timothy 4:6, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”] He says, “Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left” what? “sick at Miletus.” But Paul, you healed Eutychus at Troas, I mean, why do you heal one guy but not the other? Very simple; the sign gift had served its purpose and was starting to disappear. The sign gift of healing that I’ve tried to describe, using the criteria from Acts 3:1-10.
[Acts 3:1-10, “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.  And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.  When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.  But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”  And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”  And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.  With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God;  and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”]
Now watch this very carefully. The Sugar Land Bible Church statement of faith on healing says this: “the gift of healings were temporal gifts given by the Holy Spirit solely to authenticate both the apostles and their message before the close of the canon of Scripture.” That’s what I’ve been trying to teach. Now watch this, “We do not believe that these are active as gifts today. However,” and it’s a big However, “we affirm that God is sovereign and may” notice the word “may” there, “may heal … today.”
So even though we believe that the gift of healing ceased in the first century we’re completely open to the idea that God still can and does heal when He wants to. See that? We believe in prayer, we believe in laying hands on people that are sick, we believe in anointing people’s heads with oil, but we don’t do it saying we have the gift of healing thus saith the Lord, get up and walk. The apostles could do that as transitional figures. We can’t. See the difference there? And I bring that up because when I talk like this here’s what people say: well, you’re putting handcuffs on God. You always get accused of this as a selective cessationist, you’re limiting God. Well, the reality of the situation is God limits Himself in certain circumstances. Do you know that? Can God tell a lie? Yes or no? No! Now do we say “well, you’re limiting God”? No, God limits Himself by His own character.
Let me ask you this? Can you be saved by works? You can’t be saved by works. Well, you’re limiting God. No, I’m not limiting God, I’m paying attention to the perimeters of the limits that God Himself has articulated. See that? That’s where the logic of being a selective cessationist comes from. So where do we take our ques then if not really Acts? We take our ques from James 5:14-15 which says, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;  and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord Himself will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” That instruction that we base our paradigm on is very different than what we call the gift of healing, taking place through the apostles in the first century. You say well, what’s the difference? Here are the differences.
What’s the difference between God healing today versus healing through the apostles in the first century? What are the differences? Number 1, the apostolic gift of healing was exercised with no prayer, many times, whatsoever on the part of the victim, or on the part of the leadership. But James tells us to do what? To pray.
Number 2, the apostolic gift of healing was indirect, God worked through an instrument possessing the gift. Today when God heals He does it what? Directly! The apostolic gift of healing was done, many times, through an apostle. In fact, every time through an apostle or someone who knew an apostle. How does God heal today? He can use anything. Catch this, He could even use a physician to do that. That’s why we pray when people go into a surgery, an operation, what do we usually pray? Lord, guide the hands of the person that has these abilities and the training, that they will be guided and directed. We’re completely open to the possibility that God could work through a physician.
The apostolic gift of healing was instantaneous; boom and it was done, no questions asked. When God heals today many times it’s gradual. I mean, you see people gradually get better; usually it’s through the resources of the human body. The apostolic gift of healing was common; today I would argue, and for the last 2,000 years it’s less common. Obviously God does it or we wouldn’t waste time asking, but not every single person is healed. The apostolic gift of healing was automatic; today we would say it’s not automatic because 1 John 5:14 says if we ask according to His will, He hears us. [“This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” 1 John 5:14]
Well pastor, what are you saying? Are you saying that God wants certain people sick? I’m glad you asked that because you’ll have to come back next week to get the answer, because here’s what we’re missing today in the 21st century in America: a theology of suffering. What? A theology of suffering? If God introduces suffering into the life of the child of God to accomplish purposes in terms of their character, our character, which could not be accomplished any other way. In fact, you’ll find that theology starting to get explained in the very first book God even inspired, called the Book of Job. Why would God deal with that subject in His very first book that He ever inspired, the oldest book we have, the Book of Job, during the patriarchal time period. Because God knew that this would be an issue that people would struggle with their whole life. I mean, why does the rain fall on the wicked but the righteous are living for God and they have all these problems? The Book of Job is an answer to that.
So one of the things that we’re missing where we have brought back in charismatic circles, the apostolic gift of healing, is we’re missing the theology of suffering. Look, I’ll pray for anybody to get well and if and when I get sick you’ll pray for me to get well, but here’s the reality of the situation: whether God answers that or not is not based on me coming, laying hands on someone and commanding an illness to disappear. That was apostolic. Today if God wants to do that, that’s completely His prerogative; we accept the fact that He could do it but we also submit all of these things to the outworking of His divine will. So we’ll get into the subject of automatic healing next week. And if fact, if you believe that it is your right as a child of God to be healed here’s what’s going to happen. At some point in your life a problem is going to come that doesn’t go away and you’re going to conclude, number 1, maybe God doesn’t have the power to do it. Or number 2, maybe there’s some kind of unconfessed sin in my life, maybe I don’t have enough faith. So now you’re going to have to go through life with double jeopardy; you’ve got the physical ailment and then you’re blaming it on yourself. See that?
Listen to me very carefully beloved; there is no more damnable and destructive heresy into the life of the Christian that the doctrine of guaranteed automatic healing. If you believe that you will be thrown, by Satan himself, into total confusion. You may even end your life prematurely. You may even stay away from medical care that you need to be healed. My wife and I can tell you some examples about that in people we know. So well, pastor, you know, these shouldn’t be issues that divide the body of Christ. Well, in a certain sense I’m with you on that; I don’t want to split hairs just to split hairs. But the reality of the situation is these issues are very important, wouldn’t you say. That’s why we have to look into them. I went over time so we will do Q & A, just not today.
Father, we’re thankful for Your truth, Your Word, help us to get clarity on this because we’re moving in a great deal of confusion today as we look at these sign gifts. And be with us as we walk out and study the doctrine of the church. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said, Amen.