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The Christadelphians

"And the Lord shall be King over all the earth ..."
Zechariah 14:9

West Houston

The Christadelphian
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Purpose of the Holy Spirit ... And Its Gifts

Why the Holy Spirit gifts were given to the Apostles
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ON the eve of his death, the Lord Jesus Christ spent the closing hours of his life with his disciples. It was urgent to encourage and prepare them, that despite the awful events about to happen, they might remember his final message and understand more fully his purpose. So great was the Lord’s care for his disciples, that his prayer included an appeal for them: “I pray for them… I have given them Thy word… keep them from evil… Sanctify them through Thy truth” (John 17:6-20).

In the three and a half years they had been with the Lord, they had come to know his wonderful character and rely upon his unerring judgment. He was their confidant, their comfort and their hope. But it was not possible to completely prepare them for the traumatic event of his crucifixion. He had told them: “I have yet many things to say unto you, BUT YE CANNOT BEAR THEM NOW” (John 16:12) They were yet immature in knowledge and faith. It was absolutely vital, that after his departure, the disciples be capable of continuing the great work begun by their Lord, of calling the people to repentance.

The Holy Spirit would equip them for the task and enable these ordinary working class men to fearlessly witness to all, in all languages.

The Lord knew that they would mourn his loss, and had promised that in his absence his Father would supply their need and send a Comforter — the Holy Spirit, which would be the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17), which means a “Truth-imparting spirit” (see 1Jn. 2:27). This power was not available to the world at large, but only to those who “know him.” The “Comforter” would have specific complementary functions.

The Purpose of the Holy Spirit

It was to be a comforter, to encourage the disciples after the Master had left them (John 14:18); a teacher to instruct them (John 14:26); a remembrancer to bring previous events to their recollection (v. 26), a helper to assist them to bear witness (John 15:26-27), and a guide to lead them into all truth (John 16:13).

Notice particularly, that, in John 15:26, the work of the Holy Spirit is associated with the testimony of Jesus. He continually reminded them: “Keep my word… keep my sayings… believe on me… if ye love me, keep my commandments… continue ye in my love… abide in me… let my words abide in you.”

The message of God which had been preached, firstly by the prophets, now came from the Son of God himself (Hebrews 1:1), and his message would be confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Today, some “Pentecostals” teach that the Holy Spirit can give personal messages, which are different from the Word of God, and additional to it. To believe this, would set the power of the Holy Spirit above the Inspired Word and contradict the divine command: “Let a man speak in harmony with the Word of God” (I Peter 4:11; Isaiah 8:20).


The Day of Pentecost in the record of Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, marked a monumental change in the presentation of the gospel.

For 1,500 years the Jews had kept the Law of Moses; designed to unite them with the Creator of heaven and earth. It bound their tribes together as a nation, and regulated, ordered and protected their daily lives. Outside of Israel, however, the Law had little effect upon the Gentile world. The national purpose of the Law of Moses had been completed by the cruci-fixion of Jesus Christ.

The next stage of the develop-ment of the divine purpose focussed upon personal belief, individual commitment and dedi-cation necessitating an inward conviction. The Jewish nation, having fallen from grace, salvation was offered to all men upon the same conditions: belief of the gospel, baptism into Jesus Christ, and obedience to the divine Word (Galatians 3:27-29).

The call of God’s salvation was to go out to the Roman civilised world (Romans 10:17-18) and call individuals to respond (Acts 15:14). The power of the Holy Spirit would equip them for the task, and enable these ordinary men to fearlessly witness to all that heard them (Luke 24:39; Acts 8:19; 1:8).

The spirit is the power of God by which He created all things, and by which they subsist (Genesis 1:1-2; Psalm 104:30; Acts 17:25-28). It is also used to describe the power of divine Truth upon the mind of a believer, for the revelation of the Truth came by inspiration of the Holy Spirit upon those selected to reveal it (Hebrews 1:1; John 6:63; Ephesians 6:17; 1John 5:5-6). Thus believers are exhorted “to be led of the Spirit,” being the power and influence of the Truth believed (Galatians 5:16-18).

Though sometimes personified (as are many inanimate things such as wealth, wisdom, sin, etc.) the Holy Spirit is not a person, but the “one spirit” of God used for special purposes, as the performance of “miracles, signs and wonders” (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4; 2:22; 10:38).

These were bestowed on believers for a testimony to the Truth, by the laying on of the hands of the apostles (Acts 8:18). With the death of the apostles, the power of transmitting these gifts no longer remained, and the gifts ceased (I Corinthians 13:8).

Remarkable miracles would be performed, to convince all that the seal of God was upon the apostles’ work. These miracles were called “signs and wonders” (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 8:13) and had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 8:16-18). Paul interprets this quotation in Hebrews 2:13, applying it to Christ and his disciples.

Significantly, the phrase “signs and wonders,” is often repeated in the record of the Acts of the Apostles. It is important to note that the demonstration of healing and miracles was merely supportive of the Lord’s great work, and not the main thrust of his mission. The Lord’s priority was in preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Mark 1:14, 38-39). Consequently, he often expressly commanded the recipients of his healing powers not to spread the news at that time as it would cause a sensation among the people, so hindering the progress of his preaching!

Even when Paul lists the gifts of the Spirit, the miracles never take the primary role: “God hath set some in the ecclesia (church) first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, AND AFTER THAT, miracles, healings, helps, governments, LAST: tongues.”


The work was to begin at Jerusalem: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The disciples were commanded to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit, which was to be conferred at Pentecost, the Jewish festival which occurred some fifty days after the Lord’s death. The Spirit would equip these ordinary, largely uneducated men for this divine work.

We cannot help but be impressed with the resulting dramatic change! These ordinary men, most of them fishermen of Galilee, were instantly transformed, fearless in conviction, persuasive in argument, and able to speak in the several languages needed to communicate with the multi-lingual peoples to whom they would minister.

Peter straight away took charge of the small band of believers, and challenged the large gathering of Jews, some from, and others visiting Jerusalem at that time of festivity (Acts 2:14). He expounded the Scriptures lucidly and powerfully, and finally, charged the house of Israel with murder of the Son of God! (Acts 2:36).

These men, who spent several weeks in the company of the risen Lord, had been specifically instructed by him in “the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Nothing on earth could stop their work, and the Roman Empire, the arena of their persecution, eventually faded into history. But the effect of the apostles’ work continues to our times.

What Happened at Pentecost

At Pentecost, the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. Its immediate effect was to speak in tongues (Acts 2:4). The effect was astounding. Thousands of Jews who visited Jerusalem, having travelled from various countries to the feast (Acts 2:9-11), to their amazement, “heard every man speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6). It was necessary that the apostles possess this remarkable and unique gift to witness throughout the world at that time.

Pentecost is a Jewish Feast, the second in the Hebrew calendar year, occurring fifty days after Passover.

Passover marks the great work of deliverance by God, in redeeming the nation enslaved in Egypt, and guiding the people to freedom. The miraculous division and crossing of the Red Sea began their transition from “darkness” to “light,” from ignorance to knowledge. Fifty days later, they met their God in a dramatic portrayal of His presence at Sinai in the wilderness, separating Egypt from the land of Promise.

Pentecost marks the time when Israel arrived at Sinai, where they were welded together as a nation, and commanded to prepare and wait for the manifestation of the Lord upon the mount, and to receive His law (Exodus 19).

The parallel with the apostolic Pentecost is remarkable (Acts 2). The Lord Jesus, crucified as the antitypical Passover Lamb, by which he secured redemption for all his people, had instituted and presided over his Passover Feast the night before his death. Fifty days later, he conferred power upon his believers, so that they could begin their teaching work. They received the visible seal of the law of grace and of the principles of salvation of the gospel he had preached.

This parallel of the instruction of the people at Sinai to the Lord’s redemptive work, is particularly commented upon by Paul in Ephesians, chapter 4.

It is remarkable that Pentecostals completely omit Paul’s reference to these events at Sinai. This failure has led them to misinterpret the whole purpose of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of the apostles.

The chart on page 7 parallels these two momentous events, and sets out the remarkable relationship between the events of Israel in the past, and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Please compare it carefully with Ephesians 4:7-16.

Notice that the emphasis in this section is not on the miraculous gifts, but on the teaching, leading to the knowledge which edifies and strengthens the body of Christ. This brings true unity, and finally, perfection

The Purpose of the Holy Spirit Teaching Gifts

Open your Bible at Ephesians chapter 4 and carefully note the following reasons for the gifts:

Verse 12
. . . for the perfecting of the saints;
. . . for the work of the ministry;
. . . for the building up of the body of Christ.

Verse 13. . . until the unity of the faith is achieved by maturity.
Verse 14. . . that they should no longer be immature, unstable in understanding of doctrine.
Verse 15. . . to speak the truth, in love; . . . be joined to Christ, the head.

The Lord descended upon the mount (Exodus 19). Jesus was “sent from God.” He “descended first” (Ephesians 4:9).
The Law was given in the hand of Moses. Jesus ministered to his people and instructed them.
The Lord ascended, and "led captivity [Israel captive to sin and death] captive" (Psalm 68:18). Jesus ministered to his people and instructed them.
He gave “gifts” to men: spirit-appointed teachers (the Levites as priests: Numbers 8:19). He gave spirit-gifts, “some apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists” (Ephesians 4:11).
The priests were to instruct the people in the ways of God, that they would be built up (Malachi 2:5-7). They were given for “the building up of the body,” (Ephesians 4:12).
The priests were to unite the people to God through their High Priest Aaron (Psalm 133). “Till in unity of faith,” they might be “united to their head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:13,15-16).
The prophets pleaded for God “to come down” again in judgment upon His people (Isaiah 64:1-4). The believers wait for the return of their Lord from heaven (Acts 1:11).

This chapter clearly demonstrates the divine objects, through the Holy Spirit for the purpose of teaching. Remember, Jesus had said that the Spirit of Truth (the Comforter, John 14:26) would be a “teacher and remembrancer and would guide them into all truth.” The apostle Paul adds his comments: “In the church (Gr. ecclesia), I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue…” (I Corinthians 14:19).


Much has been made by Pentecostals and others, of the Holy Spirit gifts, conferred in apostolic times, with the bestowal of the Spirit.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit were only to be possessed completely by the apostles (as Christ had indicated earlier, John 20:22). Though other spirit-gifted followers of the Lord might teach and perform miracles, as Philip did in Samaria, they could not, of themselves, pass on the gifts of the Holy Spirit to others. Only the apostles could do that. Acts 8:13-17 clearly records that believing Samaritans did not receive the power of the Holy Spirit until the apostles visited them. Obviously these people were followers of Christ, but incapable of exercising the Holy Spirit gifts.

Paul teaches that those gifts were distributed among the community of believers “partitively.” This word is found in 1Corinthians 13 and speaks of the different facets of the gifts. One member would have the gift of healing, another the gift of prophecy, and so on. They each shared in the gifts; they were distributed “in parts,” or “partitively.” But in the community of first century believers were found all different aspects of the gifts, being designed to assist them to work together. But unfortunately, this power became open to abuse. Paul had clearly explained in 1Corinthians 12 that the “diversities of the gifts” (v. 4) were meant to produce unity in the body of believers, in the same way that the different parts of our physical body must function harmoniously for the body to effectively operate.

Unfortunately, many boasted in the imaginary importance of their particular gift, especially the showy gifts such as the gift of tongues — which could be heard, often loudly! Other gifts, such as the gift of wisdom, were not so impressively demonstrated among them!


In the growing communities of believers, each member had his or her place. All gave voice to organisational decisions and there was opportunity for any dissatisfaction concerning arrangements to be expressed and discussed openly, so that they might be properly considered in the light of their common needs (Acts 6:1-7).

Within the Body of Christ, all were equal as brethren and members of his community (Galatians 3:28). There was no difference between a master and his slave as far as their standing before God was concerned. Each had an equal voice in the decision-making. Each had his own unique contribution to make. To re-inforce the value of each individual, God arranged the spirit gifts in such a way that the members should appreciate their own contribution without depreciating the ministrations of others (I Corinthians 12:7,11).

Paul explains the communal participation in this way (see 1Corinthians 12):

One spirit ..............Many gifts......................verse 4
One Lord ..............Many ministries ............verse 5
One God................Many operations ............verse 6


Now notice the principle expressed in verses 8-11:

“To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom…”
“To another, healing by the same Spirit…”
“To another miracles…”
“To another prophecy…,” etc.

“But all work the one Spirit, dividing to every man severally.”

To explain this further, Paul takes the analogy of a body, which can only operate by the efficient and unified use of the many parts. Some parts are more prominent, some “less attractive,” but all are necessary (I Corinthains 12:12-24).

For the purpose of Unity in Diversity, by which is taught that the communal activity of the believers is designed to develop a singlemindedness, a oneness of thought and action, the Spirit divided its various gifts, so that: “there be no schism in the body, but all should have the same care for one another” (verse 25).

The believers were to realise that each needed the other to supply what he might lack. Paul emphasises the issue by a question and answer:

“Are all prophets?” No!

“Are all apostles?” Of course not!

Therefore it was necessary to understand that the work of a “prophet” or an “apostle,” was not necessarily to be sought by all members. Each had his own part to play. However, Paul exhorts that they should all “covet earnestly the best gifts” (such as that of “prophecy,” which is the ability to teach the Word of Truth: 1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:3). If every believer had all gifts, there would be no need for this explanation.


As human pride is prone, some began to prioritize the gifts, claiming that the ostentatious and obvious gifts of working miracles, particularly that of tongues, were more important than the others. This is also a present-day trend among Pentecostals.

But God, who had established the priorities, placed the teaching gifts first, and they are always mentioned first by the apostles, and the miraculous come last, as we have seen.

The gift of speaking in tongues caused so much disruption in the meetings of believers, that the apostle Paul had to limit its use to achieve order in the community, spending a whole chapter, recorded in 1Corinthians 14, explaining why this had become necessary. He counselled that they ought to control the gift, because “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (I Corinthians 14:32). This means that the gift complements the Word of God; it is not above it, and they had power to use it as they saw fit and necessary. Yet they were only permitted to use the gift when the language could be understood by the hearers. Otherwise it becomes mere exhibitionism without real purpose or reason. If all that could be heard was an incomprehensible garble, as is often displayed by Pentecostals, of what value was the gift? It could do no one any good!


The gifts were to assist the growth of the community of believers, known as “the body of Christ” into maturity in obedience to its head, the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 4:15-16). But, as in the natural development of a child into a man, so the time would come, when the state of immaturity of the apostolic community must finish (I Corinthians 13:11), then, the gifts would be no longer necessary, and must end. So Paul warned that soon, after he wrote: “Prophecies shall fail… Tongues shall cease… Knowledge shall vanish away” (I Corinthians 13:8).

The gifts would cease “when that which is perfect [the word means “complete” or “mature”] is come, then that which is partitive will be done away” (verse 10). The word “perfect” is the same word in the Greek language as that in Ephesians 4:13, which describes the full development of the body of Christ.

The time did arrive when all congregations of believers became established, settled and functional. By that time the New Testament Scriptures had been completed by spirit-inspired men, and distributed, so that when the last of the apostles died at the end of the first century, the New Testament became their written witness, powerfully continuing the work of God down to our day (I John 1:1-3; Revelation 1:1).


On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter addressed the Jews in Jerusalem, and declared that they had crucified the Lord Jesus. They were so smitten in conscience, that, following an outline of the gospel message, and a recognition of the work of God in Christ, 3,000 were baptised into the name of Jesus Christ. They were also given the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38-39)

Note that the gift was limited in three ways:

[1] “To you” — those baptised at Jerusalem on Pentecost.
[2] “To your children” — the next generation following those addressed by the apostle.
[3] “To those that are afar off” — a biblical phrase for the Gentiles, who were also to be called to the “hope of Israel” through the continuing ministry of the apostles (Acts 2:39;28:28). The Gentiles were “afar off” (Ephesians 2:13,17) from salvation; they were “strangers from the covenants of promise” and needed to be reconciled to God (Ephesians 2:12-17).

The apostles did not begin the work with Gentiles until a few years had passed after Pentecost. The first believer was Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and it was such a notable event, that the Holy Spirit intervened, confirming it by a vision and angelic messengers (Acts 10).

It is important to realise that the promise of the Spirit gifts did not extend beyond the second generation from those who attended the feast at that time. It certainly never related to our days, two thousand years later.


After explaining the function of the Spirit gifts, Paul is careful to point out that their use is limited, and that there was a greater principle to be sought: “I show unto you a more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31).

This way is the way of true Love based upon an understanding of the Truth, for such love constrains the human will to follow the way of God. Being selfless, it is able to focus on the needs of others, not because of personal affection, but because such a love sees the ultimate benefit that might be given thereby to the recipient. It is this quality of selfless love which crowns the characteristics God desires to see in His followers. For “God [Himself] so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This love has promise of a greater future, a joyous existence upon the basis of immortality in the kingdom of God as promised in the Bible (II Peter 1:4).

Finally, when the gifts died out, Love, Faith and Hope remained for believers to focus upon in their lives (I Corinthians 13:13).

The Charismatic Christian

Today’s pentecostal movement, claiming possession of the Holy Spirit and its gifts, is a modern counterpart of the popular revival meetings of the last century. These old time revival meetings came about when times were difficult and the oppressed sought for the meaning of life amid their humdrum toil, to fill a vacuum and alleviate despair. These meetings appealed to the senses and the feelings, and those attending were swept up in a general sense of emotional wellbeing and communal rapture. The revival meetings in the southern states of America and the soulful negro spirituals arose as an antidote and solace to the grinding oppression and poverty of the slaves.

The charismatic revival is not restricted to the western world. It has its counterpart in other cultures. In the east, there are the swirling dervishes who work themselves into a trance through their frenzied movements; the Jewish Hassidim instituted a revival within the ranks of Jewry, expressing religious ecstasy in dance, for communion with God; a number of African religions have similar “experiences;” the Yoruba religious practices in parts of Nigeria induce a trance in an endeavour to come into touch with the “Eternal Spirit.”

Sociologists identify the charismatic revival behaviour as an “expressive crowd” when the preacher uses the known techniques of music, rhythm and audience participation, to put the audience “on a high,” involving body movements, often unco-ordinated. Last century religious revival meetings talked about “getting the jerks;” today they say, they “are getting the spirit.” Once the preacher stimulates group participation, the stimuli have a reverberating effect and the whole group begin to sway and sing. They shriek repetitive phrases, often louder than the preacher. Often, during extreme states of “possession” words are often abandoned for nonsense syllables. This is popularly known as “glossolalia,” though Pentecostals call it “the gift of tongues.” Sociologists like Arthur Rose in his book Sociology reported on this in his study of human relations.

In 1976, the New Zealand Listener published an article which examined the claims of these charismatic christians. It explained how the emotions were worked on at a pentecostal meeting to generate the automatic nervous system. The heart rate and blood pressure are affected, and adrenaline and mimic adrenaline (containing LSD-like substances) are released. At this point, behaviour can be changed. The kind of people often attracted to this emotional type of religion, have been involved with problems like drugs, alcohol, marriage disintegration and lack of meaning in their lives. Attending a charismatic meeting gives them the euphoria and imagined sense of wellbeing for which they crave.

This kind of manipulation and euphoria can also occur in non-religious areas, as is evident in the mass fanaticism at the rise of Hitler, the lynching mobs of the wild west, and modern sports crowds.

Today, rapid social and employment changes have produced uncertainty, weariness and often despair. There is a rising dissatisfaction with modern life. Once the church provided spiritual leadership. Now christendom has become so insipid doctrinally and practically, that it secures the erosion of their own faith.

It is the increasing despair of our age which fuels the charismatic fire.

Though the religious revival of pentecostalism claims divine inspiration, and attempts to give biblical authority to its claims of Holy Spirit possession, we believe that the teaching of the Word of God is quite to the contrary.

Christadelphians refute the claims of Holy Spirit possession, and issue a serious warning about becoming involved in the religious groups which promote this false theory. The work of the apostles from Pentecost onward, shows a series of public ministries in which the Word of God was presented in an intelligent, reasoned manner, to convince men and women of the Truth of God. The intellect has to be convinced before faith can be developed (Romans 10:17). A careful reading of the speeches recorded in Acts of the Apostles, shows their expositional nature. There is no behaviour recorded in the book of Acts, such as is experienced with today’s charismatics.


The “spirit” of God is His power, used to perform His will in many ways. The word “holy” means “separate,” and describes the almighty power of God used in a specific and direct manner.

God’s spirit presides over His creation to sustain life and to work out His purpose. If we pray to Him, He has promised to guide and help us, according to His divine will, and within His purpose. We come to know God through listening to the voice of the Son of God, and hearing his words. “The words that I speak unto you,” said the Lord Jesus, “they are spirit and life” (John 6:63). These words of truth and life are contained in the Bible, and will “make us wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 3:15). We need to thoroughly acquaint ourselves with the Word of God that we may know His purpose, and walk in His ways.

The purpose of God will soon be fulfilled and Jesus Christ shall return to intervene in world affairs, by reviving the ancient kingdom of God upon the earth, ruling from Jerusalem, the city of David (Isaiah 2:2-4).

Then the Spirit will be again exercised on behalf of men and women, that the great purpose of Almighty God might be established in all the earth. Speaking of the future age, when the kingdom of God will be set up, the prophet Joel declares: “Also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My spirit…” (Joel 2:29). The glory of God will be manifested by those who, in their day of opportunity, have committed their lives to obeying the teachings of Scripture. So Joel continues: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call” (Joel 2:32). At the return of the Lord Jesus, they will be granted immortality, and be privileged to exercise the awesome power of God to extend His glory throughout all the earth (Numbers 14:21).

A Personal Appeal

At the present time, God is still “calling out of the Gentiles, a people for His Name” (Acts 15:14); He invites men and women of wisdom to be transformed by God’s Word, and to prepare for an honoured position as administrators in the Kingdom of God.

“They that hear the voice of the Son of God shall live” (John 5:25).

If you have questions or comments about this article, please feel free to e-mail us with them.