In the early days of the church, followers of the Lord did not yet have the written word to guide them. That is the reason for the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” which the apostle Paul lists in 1 Cor. 12:8-10.
“For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.” This list includes nine “gifts of the Spirit,” all with a common purpose. They needed some means to convince unbelievers that what they were teaching was from God.
Apostles promised the Spirit
When Jesus told the apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15), He promised both guidance and confirmation of the message that was preached. We see the result of this stated in Mark 16:20, “they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed…” Thus, the message they preached was the result of the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 12:12; Jn. 14:25-26; 16:7-13), and their preaching was confirmed (or proved) by the miracles (signs) which they performed.
Later we read, “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb 2:4). The purpose then of these “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” was to deliver and confirm the word of God, so that all could know the truth of what Paul declared, “I thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God…” (1 Thess. 2:13).
The “gifts” were to benefit others
The apostle Paul gives some very important information in 1 Cor. 12:4-11 about these “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” First, he shows they were given “of the Spirit…for the profit of all” (1 Cor 12:7). That means they were, “given for the common good.” This is vital, if one would understand the real purpose of these gifts.
Not one of the gifts was given to benefit the person to whom it was given, nor was it for that one’s personal blessing. Thus, the “gift of healings” was to benefit the one healed. The “gift of tongues” was to bless the hearer, not the speaker. Each “gift of the Holy Spirit” was given so that a Christian might serve others with it. Secondly, Paul shows that these gifts were given by “the same Spirit…distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor 12:11). These gifts were not given in response to man’s desire, but in accordance with God’s will. They were given to fulfill God’s purpose, not to fulfill man’s ego. This is what Paul is addressing in 1 Cor. 12:31 when he exhorts, “earnestly desire the greater gifts.” For he goes on to say, “yet I show you a still more excellent way.” That excellent way is explained in the next verses and is defined as love (1 Cor. 13:1-8).
“Gifts” were not meant to be permanent
So, the apostle Paul shows that these miraculous “gifts of the Holy Spirit” would cease (or be done away with) someday. He wrote of three of these, as typical of the nine that he had named (1 Cor. 12:8-10). “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (1 Cor 13:8-10). The term for “the perfect” in this passage is the Greek “to telion.”
Notice how Greek-English Lexicons define this as meaning: “Complete, perfect, entire, mature, fully developed.” In other words, during the time when the word of God was being delivered to man, these “parts” that brought it into being were necessary. But when the revelation of God was completed, His inspired word delivered and confirmed there would be no more need of these gifts. That inspired word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17) has now been “…once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3) and confirmed by the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Heb. 2:4).
James indicates the same
It is evident that the above meaning is correct when we compare 1 Cor. 13:8-10 with other passages. Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). Here he says we investigate this “perfect” and see ourselves as in a mirror. When only the “parts” were available, the reflection was dim, hazy and dark. But since “the perfect” came the reflection is clear and we see “face to face” seeing ourselves as we really are. James wrote of this also. He says, “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:23-25).
The “part” was no longer needed
Notice that this passage in James has the same things that Paul wrote about in 1 Cor. 13:8-10. The “perfect” is the “mirror” in which we see ourselves; and that is “the word.” Paul writes again of reading the word of God (2 Cor. 3:1-17), and then adds, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). The mirror in James 1, 1 Cor. 13 and 2 Cor. 3 is clearly stated to be the word of God. That is the mirror which is defined as being “perfect” (1 Cor. 13:10, 12; James 1:25). Therefore, when that word was completed, the “parts” that brought it into being were “done away” and “ceased.” The word of God has been delivered and confirmed, thus there is no more need for the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” which brought it to us. We have the “perfect law, the law of liberty.”