Spiritual Gifts

In John’s gospel, after the last supper, Jesus takes his disciples for a walk, and he teaches them about things that are going to come. He’s going to leave them, he says. He will return, he promises. But when I’m gone, you won’t be alone.

 John 14:16-18. “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another helper, that he may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; but you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

For how long will the Spirit abide with us? “forever.”

15:26. But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.

He will testify about Jesus.

16:5-15. “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.[a]

He will glorify Jesus, and convict the world of sin.

After his resurrection, Jesus gathers with the disciples, eleven of them, since Thomas wasn’t there, and, as we read in John 20:22, he sends them and breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

In Acts, there is a little space from the resurrection of Jesus until the descent of the Spirit. 50 days in fact. The risen Christ tells them, Acts 1:4, to wait for the promise of the Father. John baptized in water, but they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Verse 8: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In Acts 2, the Spirit falls on them. Verse 3,

there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The disciples, thus empowered and emboldened, rush into the street where they begin praising God and proclaiming Jesus. Peter tells the crowd, these men aren’t drunk—no, chapter 2:16, what you are seeing is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel,

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on my menservants and on my maidservants I will pour out my spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

After the day of Pentecost, do only some Christians get the Spirit? No. All flesh. This is an issue Paul addressed to the Corinthians. Some were saying, you only have the Spirit if you speak in tongues. They tried to separate Christians into some with the Spirit and some without it. As if baptism by water and baptism in the Spirit were two different things. That is not the New Testament teaching. 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul says, “no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

If you confess Jesus as Lord, and are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, you have the Holy Spirit. You are united to the Father through the Son and have the power of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthains 12:12

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”

Who has received the Spirit? All of us. Who has received a gift from the Spirit? Again, according to Paul, we all have. But we don’t have the same gifts. 1 Cor 12:4,

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as he wills.”

Do we all have the same gift? No, he says, that would be like the body having only one sense, the sense of smell, or hearing. We all make up one body, but we are different parts; we have different gifts. None can do without the others. All contribute to building up the body,

1 Cor 12:27—“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?”

And the answer is no. So if someone tells you that you don’t have the Holy Spirit if you don’t speak in tongues, they are wrong. If someone tells you that one can be a Christian without the Holy Spirit, they are wrong. If someone tells you all Christians will at some time speak in tongues, if they have the Holy Spirit, they are wrong. All have the Spirit, and all have different gifts.

Some believe these gifts were only for a short time. That they were limited to the time of the apostle. They quote Paul in the next chapter—

1 Cor 13:8ff, “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is perfect will be done away.”

Is he talking about the next generation? No, he’s talking about when Jesus has returned, and he is all in all, then these gifts will have served their purpose. But love lasts forever. God’s eternal kingdom is characterized by love.

But the gifts are here for as long as the Spirit who gives them. And that is forever. They are for all Christians, in all times. And we can’t set one against the other, as if one gift makes you a better Christian than the other. No, Paul says, because if you have the Spirit, you have God’s love. And that will never speak of itself, or boast of itself, or set itself against others who also have God’s spirit. The reasons we have gifts is not for ourselves, but for the building up of the church, and the spread of the Gospel to the world. You cannot use your gifts to say, “Look, I have this gift. I’m above you all. I don’t have to listen to you. I can say what I want when I want and you can’t do anything to me.” No, Paul says in 1 Cor 14, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” verse 40. Take turns, and build up the church.

So all have the Spirit, and all have gifts. But we all have different gifts. And these gifts will be with the church forever. But especially, according to Joel 2, at the last days. Yes, Peter used that text to explain what was happening then. But it applies in a special way to the time before Christ comes, when we see those signs in the heavens that are predicted not only in Joel, but in Matthew 24.

This is the Biblical background in which Seventh-day Adventists consider how we have seen spiritual gifts operating in our church. For example, in the ministry of Ellen White, whom we believe had the gift of prophecy.

She was 17 years old at the time of the Great Disappointment in 1844. Her family were Adventists in Portland, Maine. They were Methodists who accepted William Miller’s proclamation of the soon coming of Christ. Shortly after the Disappointment, she had a vision. She saw the discouraged Advent people, making their way to the kingdom, with a light behind them—the message that Christ was coming.  Before them, Christ himself beckoned them onward. The message she was to convey to them was simple: “If they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus … they were safe.” But some grew weary, and said it was a long way off. Others denied the light behind them, and they slipped away. As she watched, she saw the final events unfold, and saw the glorious return of Christ. She saw the promised land that awaited them, if only they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus. And then she came out of it, back to the world which seemed so dark, with the commission to speak this vision, and encourage her brothers and sisters.

This is what she did. And throughout her ministry, she kept the focus on Jesus. In 1888, when some in the church wanted to take us in the direction of legalism and sectarianism, she supported the efforts of A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner who proclaimed the message of Paul that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

When some thought to use her writings to bolster their own views, she directed them to the Bible. Speaking of the early days of our church, when through Bible study our pioneers came together around the teachings of the Second Coming, the Sabbath, the Bible’s view that we have eternal life only in Jesus Christ, she wrote, “We then took the position that the Bible, and the Bible only, was to be our guide; and we are never to depart from this position.”

In the introduction to her book, “The Great Controvery,” she said,

“The Spirit was not given—nor can it ever be bestowed—to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. Says the apostle John, “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1. And Isaiah declares, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20.118

She knew about Joseph Smith, and Mary Baker Eddy, and other supposed prophets who thought their teachings an addition to the Bible. She would have none of that.

In volume 4 of “Testimonies for the Church,” p. 245, she wrote of one brother, “Brother J,” the editors called him, who, she wrote,

“would confuse the mind by seeking to make it appear that the light God has given through the Testimonies is an addition to the word of God, but in this he presents the matter in a false light. God has seen fit in this manner to bring the minds of His people to His word, to give them a clearer understanding of it.

When some early Adventists held to the idea that the Trinity was a false teaching, and Jesus a creature—a belief the Jehovah’s Witnesses hold today—she uplifted Jesus as the eternal Son of God. Writing in “The Desire of Ages,” p. 530, she said,

Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. “He that hath the Son hath life.” 1 John 5:12. The divinity of Christ is the believer’s assurance of eternal life. “He that believeth in Me,” said Jesus, “though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”

Her ministry remains a gift to the church. But a gift that can be misused. Don’t read her looking for things you might use to club someone else. Read her to learn of Jesus. Read first her books about Jesus, “Steps to Christ,” “Desire of Ages,” “Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing,” “Christ’s Object Lessons.” Start with these, the living center, and relate anything else you read in her books to these. Want to know what she said about health? Don’t start with “Counsels on Diet and Foods,” which compiles lots of statements to lots of different people without context—instead, read, “The Ministry of Healing,” where you get the full presentation as she intended it, as a message of good news, of the good life Christ wants us to have in him, not as a bunch of dos and don’ts. And never put her above the Bible. She knelt at the foot of Jesus and pointed us to him. That’s the supreme test of anyone who claims to have the Spirit.