Sign Gifts - Purpose of Tongues





Often overlooked but immensely important is God’s purpose for giving spiritual gifts. This is particularly true when it comes to those gifts which are miraculous in nature. As I have opportunity to discuss the subject of miraculous gifts, I never cease to be amazed how believers can take such strong stands on the present use of these gifts without any real understanding of why God gave them to His Saints. Without an understanding of God’s purpose there can be much debate but few if any definitive conclusions. 

In part one, we showed that the “purpose” of a miraculous gift is the key indicator of the duration of that gift. In our study we noted the following things about God’s purpose. 

1) Everything that God does and gives has a purpose. Therefore, God never gives a spiritual miraculous gift without a perfect purpose He desires to accomplish with it.

2) Purpose is often is limited to a particular time or period. For example, if I break a bone I have to wear a plaster a cast in order to assist its healing. However, once my bone is healed the cast is removed and discarded because it no longer serves its intended purpose. The same is true of some of the gifts of the Spirit. They are given with the purpose of meeting a short term need. Once the need is met, the gift ceases because it no longer serves its intended purpose. We saw this was the case of the revelational gifts of the Spirit which were given to provide divine revelation to the early Church until the New Testament was completed (2 Tim. 3:16-17). 

3) Purpose is the key indicator of the duration of a spiritual gift. If the purpose of a gift is designed by God to meet a temporary need, once that need is met the gift is removed. Therefore the purpose of the gift will determine if a spiritual gift given in the New Testament is still being practiced in the present age of the Church. 

Last time we also noted that the miraculous gifts are divided into two separate groups based on their divine purpose. 

Group #1: Spiritual gifts designed to give the church divine revelation. This group is discussed in detail in section one. 

Group #2: Spiritual gifts designed to provide signs. Sign gifts are those miraculous works given as a gift by God for the purpose of validating His servant’s message. This group was made up of spiritual gifts such as miracles and wonders, tongues, healings, interpretation of tongues, and the casting out of demons. 

The Purpose of the Spiritual Gifts of Signs. The sign gifts of the New Testament age were predicted by the prophets of the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophets declared that these miraculous works of God would be the sign that the Messiah had come to atone for man’s sin and to restore the nation of Israel and the Kingdom of Heaven to mankind. God did this so that the Jewish people would not be tricked into following false Messiahs or miss the Coming of His Chosen One. Anyone can claim He is God’s Messiah and there have been many who have done so throughout history. Therefore, God told the people to expect His Messiah to do miraculous works as proof that He was the true Messiah. The miracles of the New Testament give credence to Jesus claim as Messiah and Jesus’ Kingdom message.

1) Jesus’ Kingdom message: the people of Israel were told “to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven was close at hand.” God used miracles to prove that Jesus was the King and His Kingdom was ready to be ushered in.

a. Seen in the message of John the Baptist: he proclaimed the “Kingdom of God was at hand” and tied his message to that prophesied by the Old Testament Prophets.

Matthew 3:1-3, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'" NKJV

b. Seen in the message of Jesus: during His three years of ministry Jesus’ main message to Israel was the gospel of the Kingdom. This is testified by the fact that Jesus referred to the Kingdom over 113 times in the Gospels as well as by His own words. 

Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." NKJV

Mark 1:14-15, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." NKJV

To prove the legitimacy of his Kingdom Gospel, Jesus did many miracles

Luke 9:11-12, “But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.” NKJV

Matthew 9:35, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” NKJV

c. Seen in the message given to the Disciples: Jesus commissioned His disciples to carry forth His message of the Kingdom to the people of Israel, doing miracles to prove their message was true.

Matthew 10:5-8, “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” NKJV

Luke 9:1-3, “Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” NKJV

2) Jesus the Messiah: to prove that He was the Messiah King promised to Israel by the prophets Jesus did miracles. 

a. The testimony of the man born blind

John 9:28-33. “Then they reviled him and said, "You are His disciple, but we are Moses' disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from." The man answered and said to them, "Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing." NKJV

b. Jesus answer to John the Baptist’s question: John was locked up in Herod’s prison and began to have doubts. John sent two of his disciples to Jesus to confirm that He was the Messiah. The proof Jesus gave to John’s disciples was miracles.

Matthew 11:2-6, “And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." NKJV

c. Jesus own declarations

John 5:36, “But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish — the very works that I do — bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.” NKJV

John 10:25-26, “Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me.” NKJV

John 10:37-38, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe* that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." NKJV

John 14:11, “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.” NKJV

John 15:24-25, “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.” NKJV

d. The testimony of Nicodemus

John 3:2, “This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." NKJV

e. The tests of the religious leaders: In their hypocrisy, the religious asked Jesus to show them a sign or miracle as proof that He was the Chosen One. Jesus did not give the religious rulers signs because He knew that they had rejected them as Messiah. 

Matthew 27:39-40, “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." NKJV

Matthew 12:38-41, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” NKJV The sign would receive was the miracle of His resurrection.

Matthew 16:1-2, “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven.” NKJV

Matthew 27:39-40, “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." NKJV

Luke 11:16-21, “Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” NKJV

We must therefore conclude that the purpose of miracles in Jesus day was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah and King, sent from God. Some have argued at this point that Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons because He had compassion for those who were suffering. Jesus was moved with compassion to heal the sick (Matt. 14:14; 15:32; Mk. 1:41) however this was not His primary purpose for healing. This can be seen in the following passages where Jesus withheld His miracles because He knew the people would not believe.

Matt. 13:58, Jesus does not do mighty works in Nazareth because “of their unbelief.” Jesus surely had compassion for these people for they were His neighbors where He grew up. However, since they would not receive His mighty works as signs that He was their Messiah, He did not heal them. 

Mark 6:5-6, “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.” NKJV

The next logical question is, was the purpose of the miraculous sign gifts used in the Church the same as the miracles of Jesus ministry? One might think God had a different purpose for miracles in the Church since Christ had ascended into heaven however we find that the miraculous gifts of the Church served the same purpose as those done during our Lord’s ministry. 

Though Christ had ascended into heaven, for a time during the early Church, Jesus continued His offer of His Kingdom to Israel if she would repent of her sins and accept Him as their Savior Messiah. 

This purpose is testified by several New Testament passages.

1) Acts 2: after the Holy Spirit baptizes the first believers into the body of Christ, being controlled by the Spirit they begin to speak in tongues. The people who witnessed this miracle were confused and sought an explanation. Peter tells them that this miracle is the very sign that the Old Testament prophets told Israel to look for (14-16). He then backs up his statement by quoting from the prophet Joel (vs.17-21). Peter then clearly indicates that the signs and miracles were given by God to testify of Jesus.

Acts 2:22-25, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know — Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” NKJV

2) Acts 3: Peter and John enter the Temple as they do so they are confronted by a beggar who has been lame since birth. He is seeking money from the disciples but instead Peter heals the man (vs. 1-10). The people who witnessed this miracle want to know more about it and so they rush toward Peter and John seeking answers (v. 11). Peter tells them that these are the miracles associated with Jesus.

Acts 3:12-14, “So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: "Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.” NKJV

Peter goes on to preach the gospel of the Kingdom as proven by the miracle he had performed.

Acts 3:19-22, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” NKJV

3) 1 Cor. 1:21-23: Paul speaking of God’s use of “foolish preaching” to save souls makes an interesting statement. He says that when the gospel is preached, the Jew and Gentile seek proof in different ways. The Gentiles want intellectual proof whereas the Jews want to see a “sign” or miracle. Sign or miraculous gifts are geared not for the Gentile but for the Jew.

1 Corinthians 1:21-23, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;” NKJV

4) 1 Cor. 14:20-22: Paul indicates that “speaking in tongues”, one of the miraculous gifts, was given to the Jews and serves as a sign foretold by the Old Testament prophets.

1 Corinthians 14:20-22, “In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord. Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers;” NKJV

5) Heb. 2:3-4; the writer of Hebrews writing to the Jews indicates that God gave salvation, first spoken by the Lord, then by His disciples, and which was proven by miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the miraculous or sign gifts of the Spirit were given as proof to the unbelieving Jew that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was true.

Heb 2:3-4, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” NKJV

Christ’s offer of the Kingdom to Israel during the early years of the Church had a time limit on it. If the Jews after a certain time still refused to repent as a nation and receive Him as their Messiah Savior, the offer of the Kingdom would be withdraw for a time. With Israel placed on the shelf, God would work in the meantime through the Church. He would do so until Israel was chastened enough by God that she will be ready to receive her Messiah. The end of this offer is mentioned in the last verse of the book of Acts.

Acts 28:25-29, “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, saying, 'Go to this people and say: 'Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; And seeing you will see, and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them."' "Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!" And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.” NKJV

With the end of the offer of the Kingdom to Israel, there was no longer any need for signs or miracles to prove the offer genuine. Since the Kingdom was put on hold the miraculous gifts lost their purpose and were withdrawn by the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 13:8, “whether there are tongues, they will cease.” Paul knew that Israel would continue to reject the Kingdom offer and so the miraculous gifts would no longer be needed. Since the offer was withdrawn in the First Century AD, the Spirit of God no longer gave believers miraculous gifts. Church history tells us that before the end of the First Century, these gifts totally ceased and there is no reference to their practice until the early 1900s when the Pentecostal movement began. 

Some will ask what are the Pentecostals and Charismatic groups practicing if these gifts are no longer given to the Church? There are a number of explanations that can be given as to what they are doing but it various from individual to individual. There is one thing we know for certain, the modern practice of “miraculous gifts of the Spirit” are not the product of God. They can not in the present Church age serve the purpose they were given so what is practiced today is anything but the gifts of the Spirit.

A close look at their practice shows that those who pursue these gifts today are uninformed of the gifts’ true purpose as well as to how the gifts were to be used. As one tongues speaker said to me as I pointed him to the Scriptures, “I know what the Bible says, however, let me tell you about what I have experienced.” Emotions and experience seem to be the driving force behind today’s “miraculous” gifts. Neither one of these should ever be taken as more authoritative than the Word of God.