What are the gifts of the Spirit for? For what purpose were they given? These questions are of great importance and will help us determine if these gifts are still valid today. The answer must come from the Word of God. It cannot be made based upon something we have experienced or witnessed firsthand. We must examine the Word of God to determine why God gave the Spiritual gifts. If someone professes to have a gift and does something that appears to be miraculous, that alone is not enough to proclaim that they have indeed been given a Spiritual gift. The Word of God must judge our experiences; it is not the other way around. In order to determine if a gift is or is not from God, we must first determine for what purpose the gifts were given. Why were people given the gift of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, healing, etc.?
Pretend for a moment that you have just accepted Christ as your personal Savior. As a new believer, where will you go to grow in your knowledge of God? As a new creation in Christ you should have an unquenchable desire to learn all you can about your Savior! This desire will continue as we grow in our Christian life! Where do you go for the answers? Naturally, a more mature believer will quickly answer this question by stating that you should read the Bible. It will have all the answers to your questions, just as David declared, "Thy (God's) Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path" (Ps. 119:105 KJV). Scripture itself admonishes us to use Scripture alone as our guide! But what if you did not have access to the Word of God? Where would you go then? Well, today that is not the case. We do have the Word of God to turn to for all of our answers. This, however, was not the case in the early Church. Back then, a person could certainly read from the Old Testament. The writers of the New Testament certainly used it when they were teaching and preaching. But they did not have the entire New Testament. The new church only had parts of the New Testament. For example, the Galatians had their letter, which we know is scripture. The Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and the recipients of the rest of the epistles had their letters as well. But they did not have all of them compiled together. In time those letters began to circulate and were preserved by God as His inspired Word. Of course they were inspired at the very time they were written. By the time of Peter’s epistles, Paul’s epistles had begun to circulate and Peter referred to those as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). But for the first generation of Christians the “Bible” was not complete. It was in the process of being completed, but at the time of the early church the Bible as a whole was not yet available.
Furthermore, at that time many of the Jewish customs were still being practiced. Today we can see a major division between the Old Testament and the New, but the first Christians were still very much accustomed to the Old Testament ideas. This is especially true for the Jewish converts. Judaism was very prevalent and the Pharisees were still active in spreading their view of the Law. Jews being converted to Christianity were confused. Acts 15 is a good example of this. For the most part, these people truly realized that what the apostles were saying was a new doctrine or teaching.
Mark 1:27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching-and with authority! [Speaking of Jesus] KJV
Acts 17:19-21 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." NIV
Peter did not even understand part of this new revelation when it was first given to Him. He pondered the meaning until God revealed it to Him.
Acts 10:17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. NIV
Naturally, there were many questions about these New Testament doctrines such as what role the Mosaic Law played under this new covenant and other such troubling questions. These needed to be explained. This brings us back to the purpose of the spiritual gifts. Because the Bible was not complete, God imparted spiritual gifts upon certain people so that they could be instructed about the New Covenant. If a believer had a question about the grace of God, baptism, or justification by faith they could not simply open up their Bible and read the New Testament to find their answers. They could, however, find someone with the gift of knowledge and ask them these questions. Those who had words of instruction would speak among the congregation and share their gift of knowledge or wisdom with everyone. These gifts were necessary for the edification (instruction) of the body, so that they could learn and understand what God desired from them under this new covenant of grace.
The gifts of the Spirit were necessary in the days of the early church. Today that is not the case. The Bible tells us that God has given us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). There is nothing lacking. The Bible is complete and useful for all instruction, we no longer need the gifts today.
2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. NIV
The gifts were given for a reason, to edify, that is, to instruct the body and build them up in the knowledge of the Lord (See our paper on edification for further explanation). As the Bible foretold, the gifts have now ceased, been stilled, and passed away (1 Cor 13:8-9). They have fulfilled their purpose.
For an in depth study on this topic please read our page titled "Spiritual Gifts."