Editor’s Note: This is excerpted from To Each is Given, by Tim Clothier, which will be released June 2, 2020. To pre-order the book, see bmhbooks.com/shop/to-each-is-given.
In the New Testament, we see signs and wonders primarily performed at the hands of the Apostles, while spiritual gifts have been given to all believers within the church. We now direct our attention to this last point, considering in greater detail what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4 and how those passages apply to the church today.
As we look at 1 Corinthians 12 and what the Apostle Paul wrote to this church, we must first observe a few important details that will aid our interpretation. By doing so, we will be able to more accurately understand what Paul intended when he originally wrote this letter.
We first note that Paul is writing to a multi-ethnic church in the city of Corinth. In Acts 18:1-17, Luke records facts about Paul’s initial visit to the city of Corinth and the church that was planted as a result. Notably, in verse 6 Luke tell us that Paul, after being opposed and reviled by the Jews, “shook out his garments and said to them, ‘your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’” After this Paul went to Titus Justus’s house which was next door to the synagogue and despite opposition from certain Jews, we are also told “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord” and that “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (18:6-8). In verse 11, Luke tells us that Paul stayed with this church for eighteen months “teaching the word of God among them.”
The second detail is that the English words now concerning (περί δὲ) appear several times in 1 Corinthians. Given Paul’s repeated use of this phrase it appears that he was addressing specific questions the Corinthian church had written to him. This would indicate that the Corinthians had questions about spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1) and were writing to Paul asking for him to weigh in on the issue.
Thirdly, it is unnatural to the context of 1 Corinthians 12 to split up the list of gifts that Paul articulates, interpreting some gifts as enduring or permanent gifts, and other gifts as temporary sign gifts that no longer function in the church today. Paul gives no indication in what he writes that he intends the Corinthian church to arrive at such a conclusion. Simply put, they would not have read his words and concluded that gifts wisdom, knowledge, faith, prophecy, and distinguishing between spirits were permanent while gifts of healings, working of miracles, various tongues, and the interpretation of tongues were temporary sign gifts.
Now, to be fair to those who divide Paul’s list of spiritual gifts into these two categories, we must recognize that they are often arguing against the abuses of spiritual gifts that are seen in many churches today. The claim by many hyper-charismatics, for example, that gifts of healings are guaranteed is one that should be rejected because it does not fit what Paul says about gifts in general or gifts of healings specifically. Gifts of healings are apportioned and empowered by the Holy Spirit as he wills, not as we will (1 Cor. 12:11).
Thus, while the conclusions and warnings by cessationists should be accepted, namely that spiritual gifts are not divinely enabled abilities to be god-like and heal at will, the path forward is not found by identifying some gifts as sign gifts and thereby declaring they no longer exist today. Rather, the solution lies, in part, with seeing a distinction between signs and wonders and spiritual gifts.
Lastly, the argument that the Apostle Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 12 is that there is not a hierarchy of spiritual gifts or spiritual people within the church. D.A. Carson writes, “one conclusion is unavoidable: Paul tends to flatten distinctions between ‘charismatic’ gifts and ‘noncharismatic’ gifts in the modern sense of those terms.” Seeking to put an end to the Corinthian church’s internal power struggles over which gifts (people) were greater, Paul flattens the list of gifts and drives his point home by writing the following:
- “…it is the same God who empowers them all [gifts] in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:6).
- “All these [gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11).
- “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor. 12:13). This point is critical in understanding that there are not “really spiritual” people and “average spiritual” people in Corinth. Furthermore, the distinction between gifts is at the will of the Holy Spirit, not because some have received a greater portion of the Holy Spirit than others. All have been baptized into one body in the Holy Spirit. No distinction exists.
- “God has arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Cor. 12:18). Here Paul is asserting that individuals should not look down on themselves if they have a gift that doesn’t look as good as someone else’s gift. “The foot cannot say ‘I do not belong’ because I am not a hand” (1 Cor. 12:15). Because there is no hierarchy within the body of Christ a person must not conclude that they are less significant than another who may have a different gift or role.
- “God has so composed the body … that there may be no division in the body” (1 Cor. 12:25). The point Paul makes in verses 21–24 is that one cannot tell another that they are less important (or spiritual) if they have a gift that doesn’t look as good, useful, or supernatural.
- “God has appointed in the church …” (1 Cor. 12:28). Once again, the Apostle Paul is making the point that how the body has been composed is at the appointment of God and his sovereign will.
Six times in 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul makes a statement about how the differences found within the body of Christ are the result of God’s sovereign choice. The conclusion is hard not to miss; if God has chosen to compose his body in this way, who are we to claim that some gifts (or people) are more special than others, or inversely, that some gifts (or people) are less special than others?
 7:1, 7:25, 8:1, 12:1, 16:1, 16:12.
 John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute 1984), 297. Dr. John MacArthur is perhaps the most vocal proponent of this conclusion. I am incredibly grateful for the tremendous impact Dr. MacArthur’s ministry has had on my life, but I believe his categories of “edifying gifts” and “sign gifts” are forced into the text. He writes, “A thorough examination will yield the truth that spiritual gifts fill two major purposes: the permanent gifts edify the church and the temporary gifts are signs to confirm the Word of God.”
 In first-hand conversations with those who have attended BSSM, I have learned that at least some within NAR circles see “words of wisdom” and “words of knowledge” as sign gifts, not edifying gifts. They believe that God spontaneously brings specific facts about a person’s life to them so that they can shock a person into listening to the Gospel. I share this point here to simply illustrate how the term sign gifts can be defined differently between different theological camps.
 Regarding 1 Cor. 14:22 and tongues being a sign, I will discuss this in greater detail in chapter 12.
 D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 34.
. Paul uses the words empowers, empowered, were all baptized, arranged, composed, and appointed to make his point clear.