Collectively and congregationally the church is Christ’s body on earth. The church is the vehicle by which Jesus’ work is accomplished. What makes it possible for the church to do Christ’s work is the endowment of spiritual gifts. You see, spiritual gifts are the means by which the church ministers. The gifts are the tools or supernatural enablement’s, given by God, to believers, to do the work of God.
The Apostle Paul lists the gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. When you compare the two listings you find that they are not identical. So I personally do not believe these were meant to be an exhaustive list. The gifts are the many ways that God uses believers to do ministry. These gifts could be divided into two major categories: serving gifts and sign gifts. Serving gifts are given so that the church can serve. That’s not hard to understand. I’ll deal with them another time. The other group are sign gifts which are given as a sign. That’s not very profound but it is true. The real question is, what are they a sign of?
The sign gifts would include: healing, miracles, languages, interpretation, and any gift that has a revelatory connection. Mark closes out his gospel saying, “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen (Mark 16:20).” Notice that the Bible says God used the sign gifts for the purpose of confirming the Word. The signs were not an indicator of an individual’s spirituality. Neither were they simply to show power or to benefit the believer. The sign gifts were a sign that led observers to conclude that the message being preached was from God.
Before the completion of the New Testament, miracles were necessary to the apostolic ministry. The early church was given sign gifts that connected them to the ministry of Jesus so that people would know that their words were from God. Sign were important in the early stages of the church but now that the New Testament is complete, the sign gifts are no longer needed. Today, the sign gifts are not in operation.
I am not saying God no longer does miracles. He does. What I am saying is that the purpose of the sign gifts has been fulfilled. Remember that sign gifts were a sign. Once the sign leads you to the destination, the sign is no longer needed. I have a sign on the door of my office. Once you enter my office, additional signs are unnecessary to say you are in my office. Once the New Testament was written, the canon of Scripture was closed, and the confirmation of the Word was done. Today, if I want to convince you of biblical truth, I open the Word and preach it (2 Timothy 4:2). I don't have to work a miracle. We presently have the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
As we move toward the end of the New Testament books we see the sign gifts fading away. In fact, they are only mentioned in the earliest books. As we get into the pastoral epistles, there is nothing said about the sign gifts. We even see Paul not healing some of his colleagues (Epaphroditus, Timothy and Trophimus). Why? It appears the sign gifts were fading because the New Testament is being completed. For most of church history we do not see the operation of these gifts. You know the church has been around for 2,000 years? The church didn't begin in the 20th century. Look at church history and you will see that the sign gifts ended with the apostles. God still heals and does miracles, but we should not confuse that with the truth that the sign gifts for the church have ceased.