Paul’s Desire and Prayer

In the little town of Olney, England stands a large granite tombstone. If you were to kneel down in front of this stately stone you would read the following inscription:

“John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.” (101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace, page 28, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan.)

The story of John Newton’s conversion is quite remarkable. As a young man he lived a life of utter debauchery and rebellion against God and his fellowman. During these years his mother prayed for him without ceasing and frequently shared the gospel with him. At a very young age he took over his father’s slave trading business, transporting slaves between South Africa and England.

He recounts how on one of the return voyages to England a storm came up at sea in the middle of the night. Apparently, that old ship was nearly torn apart by the raging ocean, causing the vessel to take on water. As the waves violently swept over the bow of the ship it appeared as though there was little hope of surviving the ordeal. In the midst of the storm, Newton retired to his cabin, sure that he would perish at sea that fateful night. God has interesting ways of getting our attention! When we are faced with our own mortality we quickly turn to spiritual things.

As Newton pondered his spiritual condition, he reached into his belongings and took out a little book entitled, “The Imitation of Christ,” by Thomas a Kempis, that his mother had given to him shortly before her death. That evening he read the entire book from cover to cover and as a result he trusted Christ as his personal Savior. Soon thereafter he began to preach the faith he had long sought to destroy. Literally thousands came to hear this old sea captain share how Christ had saved him from the depths of sin. In addition to becoming an advocate for the abolition of slavery, John Newton is probably best known as the author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

It is truly amazing what the grace of God can do in a life. Like the Apostle Paul, John Newton had a burden for lost souls. They both had a longing desire that their countrymen might be saved.


“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1).

As we know, Romans 9, 10, and 11 are the dispensational chapters of the Book of Romans. In chapter 9 we have Israel’s past—here we see Paul’s passion for the elect nation. The present state of Israel is the subject of chapter 10—here we learn of her unbelief. Finally in chapter 11 we have what is in store for future Israel—here the apostle answers the question “Hath God cast away His people… which He foreknew?”

The foregoing passage is only one of two passages where we are told to pray for the unsaved. All other references to prayer in Paul’s epistles concern the believer. Pastor Win Johnson and I were discussing this passage one evening and I asked him why the lion’s share of passages on prayer had to do with those who are saved. He felt it was because the believer is in a warfare. We are engaged in a great spiritual conflict with an enemy who’s seeking to destroy our Christian homes and marriages. Satan often turns one believer against another, desiring to sow discord among the brethren. Beloved, the person sitting next to you is not the enemy. Even though they may have wounded you deeply, for the sake of the cause of Christ you are to forgive them as Christ forgave you. We should pray for one another without ceasing. After all, we are members of His Body, members one of another.

But we should also pray for the unsaved. Paul’s heart’s desire and prayer for his countrymen was that they might be saved. I would venture to say that before your conversion to Christ someone was praying for the salvation of your soul. In my life, it was a godly Great Aunt who prayed for me for nearly twenty years. The day I told her that I came to Christ she said that she was always confident that the Lord would save me. Then she added: “Now I am going to pray that the Lord will use you in a wonderful way to the praise of His glory.” Brethren, not only should we pray for the unbeliever, we should also share the gospel with him. This was Paul’s practice as the following passages confirm.

Romans 9, 10, and 11 deal primarily with Israel nationally and the Gentile nations in relation to her. However, we must remember that the apostle is dealing with the present state of Israel in chapter 10. Therefore, seeing that the chosen nation has already been set aside in unbelief, Paul addresses individual Israelites.

“I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall [that is, beyond recovery]? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy” (Rom. 11:11).

The stoning of Stephen was Israel’s Waterloo! This event marked the fall of Israel, as far as God was concerned. But why was this particular event so critical historically? It served as the culmination of years of rebellion and rejection within the chosen nation. Humanly speaking, the casting away of Israel was a gradual process that took place over a thirty-year period. By the time Paul penned the words of Romans chapter 10, not only had Israel fallen nationally, the diminishing of the nation was also drawing to a close. So the final curtain call for the wayward nation had already been made.

With the introduction of a new dispensation, God graciously extends the offer of salvation to individual Israelites. Interestingly, Paul begins with the nation in Romans chapter 10 by using plural pronouns “they” and “them,” but he shifts to singular pronouns later in the chapter as he addresses individual Israelites.

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God” (Rom. 10:1,2).

“The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:8,9).


“For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2,3).

Israel had a burning desire to serve the true and living God. She was on fire for the things of the Lord. The only problem was her zeal was not according to knowledge. There was a sense that Paul could relate to his countrymen, having had the same desire prior to his conversion. After setting forth an impressive list of credentials in Philippians 3, the apostle states: “Concerning zeal, persecuting the Church.” As Paul attempted to make himself acceptable to God through good deeds, he thought within himself that by persecuting the Church, and laying it waste, he was doing God a favor (John 16:2,3).

Israel had the same attitude. As noted, her zeal was not according to knowledge. The term “knowledge” in this passage is the Greek word epignosis. It has the idea of having a fuller knowledge or a more perfect understanding. Paul was the first to use this term, and he uses it often, for this reason: he had received a special revelation from the Lord of glory, therefore, he had a fuller knowledge of God’s will. For example, with the abolition of the sacrificial system, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Today there is the new and living way—Christ!

Sadly Israel, nationally, was ignorant of God’s righteousness. She failed to understand how righteous God truly is. He’s perfect in all things and those who step into His presence must be perfect. But Pastor, “Nobody’s perfect!” That’s the problem—you must be perfect to live in God’s presence. Simply by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ the sinner is taken out of Adam and placed into Christ. In Him alone is redemption; He is the righteousness of God (I Cor. 1:30).

But Israel went about seeking to establish her own righteousness by trying to keep the law. To illustrate what the apostle means here, we are indebted to our Lord for the following parable.

“And He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

This high and mighty Pharisee, a conservative religious leader at that time, thought he was right with God since he had meticulously kept the letter of the law. He fasted religiously and gave tithes dutifully as the law demanded. He boasted before God that he was grateful he wasn’t like other men who were ungodly sinners. He was especially thankful he wasn’t like the publican who was also at the temple offering up a prayer to God. Publicans were the offscouring of the earth. They would be akin to our street people today.

Nevertheless, the publican humbled himself before God, praying that the Lord would be merciful to him being a sinner. Interestingly the term “merciful” here looks back to the Old Testament Mercy Seat where the blood was sprinkled for the atonement of sin. You see, the publican had responded to God in faith, praying that God would have mercy on him, as He did upon the nation when He looked upon the blood on the Mercy Seat. Under the old economy faith always obeyed the law, which served as an outward expression of a proper response to God.

The majority within the chosen nation were like the Pharisee who sought to obtain a righteous standing with God through the works of the law. This is what the apostle had in mind when he says that they were going about seeking to establish their own righteousness. They failed to understand that the intent of the law was not to save them; rather, it was to give them a knowledge of sin so they could, like the publican, throw themselves upon the mercy of God and bring a sacrifice by faith.

“But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law” (Rom. 9:31,32).


“[They] have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:3,4).

We believe Christ is the end of the law in two senses. First and foremost, the law was merely a schoolmaster, whose goal was to bring those under it to Christ that they might be justified by faith. When Christ carried out His earthly ministry the goal of the law was accomplished, so Israel is no longer under the schoolmaster. Second, Christ came not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. He perfectly fulfilled every stipulation of the law in spirit and act; therefore, He also terminated it (Gal. 3:24,25 cf. Col. 2:14). Christ, then, is the righteousness of God!

“For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5).

Was the law of God righteous? Indeed! The problem, you see, was not with the law, it was with sinful man who was unable to keep it perfectly. If a man breaks one of the laws of God he is a lawbreaker. This is the very point that James makes: “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The law was powerless to impart life; it pointed its bony finger in the face of the accused and essentially pronounced a sentence of condemnation. The eminent Greek scholar, Kenneth Wuest, made the following insightful poetic verse regarding the law:

Do this and live the law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands,
A better word the gospel brings, it bids me fly and gives me wings.

“But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead)” (Rom. 10:6,7).

In verses 5 through 8 Paul contrasts the “way of the law” with “the way of faith.” Since Moses was so revered in Israel, the apostle quotes the great Lawgiver, but recasts his words under the direction of the Holy Spirit. To properly understand Paul’s argument it will first be necessary to consider Moses’ original statement:

“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?” (Deut. 30:11-13).

As Moses neared the end of his life, the children of Israel were painfully aware that he would only be with them a short time. They knew Moses had spoken directly to God on their behalf, but who would minister to them after the Deliverer was gone? Moses instructs them accordingly: Don’t say, who will ascend into heaven and bring us the revelation of God, or who will cross the sea to bring us a teacher? The will of God for you is found in the Books of the Law; you need to look no farther. It is within your reach—in your mouth and in your heart.

Paul refashions the words of Moses to reveal that salvation by grace through faith was now available to individual Israelites through Christ. There is no need for someone to ascend into heaven, for that is to bring Christ down. This would crucify the Son of Man afresh. God forbid! He already came and offered Himself as a once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. Neither was there a need to inquire, “Who shall descend into the deep? (that is to bring up Christ again from the dead).” Christ had already conquered sin and death and risen victoriously over it. The work was finished!

“The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach” (Rom. 10:8). Note Paul says, “The word of faith, which we preach.” What did the apostle preach in order for a lost soul to be saved? Simply this, Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, all three of which are implied in the foregoing passages. Essentially, Paul said to his countrymen that salvation is near, even in their mouth as they read the Word, and in their heart if they believed it. Christ has abolished the performance system; simply place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.


“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9,10).

This passage has been a stumbling block for many dear saints. First, Paul is not speaking about public confession before men as a prerequisite to be saved. If this were the case salvation would be associated with a work. The apostle uses the mouth and heart here in the spiritual sense. We should add that both confession and belief are in harmony with one another. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. The context substantiates Paul is referring to our innermost being. He says in verse 6: “Say not in thine heart,” that is, say not to yourself who will ascend into heaven, etc. In like manner when we heard the gospel we said to ourselves in our heart of hearts, I believe!

Paul calls upon his countrymen to confess or acknowledge that the Lord Jesus died for their sins and rose again. The apostle lays special emphasis upon the resurrection, because while many of his readers were well aware Christ had been crucified, they may not have been aware that He had conquered death and rose again the third day. Salvation is in a person, and that person is the Lord Jesus Christ. Once the vertical relationship is established with the Savior by faith, it will eventually touch all of our horizontal relationships that we have with one another. Thus “according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak” (II Cor. 4:13).

“For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:11-13).

Those who trust Christ will never be ashamed or defeated. We are saved from the wrath to come, not only in the coming tribulation period, but also from the judgment to come. Thankfully, in Christ we are beyond the reach of God’s wrath.

We also learn here that there is no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles today who call upon the Lord. This was unheard of under the former dispensation of the law. Once again, this is epignosis or that fuller knowledge of God’s will Paul spoke of earlier. Before the foundation of the world God had foreordained the Church of this age, which is uniquely a Pauline truth. Consequently, in the administration of Grace there is one Body which is made up of Jews and Gentiles without distinction.

Even though the apostle quotes from the Old Testament when he states, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” this passage must be interpreted in light of Paul’s revelation. In time past, whosoever called upon the Lord was saved through Israel. Today, whosoever believes is saved in spite of Israel since she has been temporarily cast aside in unbelief (Isa. 49:6 cf. Rom. 11:11,15,25).

Have you called upon the Lord to be saved? If not, we beg you to do so without delay. You are dangling over the lake of fire by one thin thread of human existence. Soon the fires of God’s wrath will consume you and the weight of your sins will plunge you into eternal darkness forever and ever. Flee from the wrath to come. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who bore your sins upon the Cross, and thou shalt be saved!

You can receive More Minutes With the Bible every week in your email inbox. This list features longer articles, including both original content and articles that have appeared in the Berean Searchlight.

Berean Searchlight – September 2003

Free Mail Subscription

For a free subscription to the Berean Searchlight by mail, visit the Berean Searchlight Subscription page.

Subscribe to the Berean Searchlight Monthly Email to receive an email announcement when each issue of the Searchlight is posted online.

Beautiful Garden — The Paradise of God

“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed” (Gen. 2:8).

The Greek name for the Garden of Eden is Paradise (Gr. paradeisos, “beautiful garden”). While this garden is not discussed in the New Testament, it is surely alluded to several times. In any case, we may be sure that if God planted the garden in Eden it was indeed a “Paradise,” a beautiful garden.


Let us not blame God for the hideous scars this earth now bears. Blame man and his pride and greed. Blame his marching armies, his guns and bombs. Blame his “intellectual achievements,” his ability to pollute its surface and its atmosphere with toxic fumes and wastes, and with deafening noises—all in the name of progress. Blame his irresponsibility in cluttering its habitable surface with debris.

God did not place man in such an atmosphere. Rather, “the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.” How breathtakingly beautiful, how ineffably delightful these surroundings must have been! Adam and Eve, in Eden, must have enjoyed each other’s company here as no other wedded couple since, with only the light and pleasant responsibility to “dress” and “keep” the garden1 (Gen. 2:15), and with the special blessing of open fellowship with God, perhaps especially “in the cool of the day” (Gen. 2:19,22,23; 3:8).

But when man fell, all creation fell with him. Man now had a fallen, sinful nature. The animal creation suddenly became wild and vicious, and as to the vegetable creation, God said to Adam: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and…in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread…” (Gen. 3:17-19). And to the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…” (3:16). And even this manner of living was to be cut short at last by death and a “return unto the ground; for out of it,” said God, “wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (3:19). Indeed, lest man should now eat of the tree of life and live forever, God “sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till2 the ground from whence he was taken” (Gen. 3:23). Thus it is that we read in Romans 5:12:

“Wherefore…by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all3 men, for that all have sinned.”

Ever since that dreadful day, man’s greatest problem has been his sin. This is what lies at the root of all his trouble and misery, though the subject is not even dealt with in our great works on science. Obvious as is the fact of sin and its results, any consideration of this subject is brushed aside by the intellectuals of this world.


The results of the fall were indeed disastrous, changing man’s habitation from that of a beautiful garden to that of fields and forests that must be cleared and cultivated by laborious effort in the face of relentless opposition from many quarters. For the redeemed who departed this life, however, God again provided a beautiful garden.

In “Old Testament” times the general designation for this place of the departed was sheol (Hebrew), with its Greek equivalent hades, both meaning “the unseen.” However, an examination of Luke 16:19-31 reveals that sheol, or hades, was divided into two areas, separated by “a great gulf” (Ver. 26). The term “Abraham’s bosom” (Ver. 22) describes one aspect of the place where the redeemed went. It was the place where Abraham, the “father of believers,” welcomed all his dear children home, as it were. But another aspect of this wonderful place is described by the name Paradise: Beautiful Garden.

In his youth this writer somehow envisioned hades as a great two-part cavernous region, dimly lit and mysterious. But our Lord’s designation of the blessed area as “Paradise” throws an entirely different light upon it.

How it must have touched the heart of the repentant thief crucified next to our Lord, to be assured by the Savior Himself:

“Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

This assurance must have filled him with comfort and joy despite the pain he suffered. Soon he would be with Christ in a beautiful garden! Gardens are where people go to rest and be refreshed, thus a garden of God’s planting must be infinitely more delightful, and to be in such a garden “with Christ”: what unspeakable joy!


But according to the prophetic Scriptures, the Paradise of Eden will one day be gloriously restored and vastly enlarged. This will take place when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to earth to reign and Israel is saved and salvation and blessing flow from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Here we could cite literally scores of Old Testament passages in confirmation, but a few will suffice:

“Out of Zion shall go forth the law,4 and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3).

“The Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem” (Isa. 24:23).

“Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him” (Psa. 72:11).

“Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (Zech. 8:22).

Paul confirms this in his epistle to the Romans:

“And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26).

“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers;
“And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written…” (Rom. 15:8,9).

The results of this spiritual transformation will be far-reaching. No longer will man need to till a perverse soil and eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, for the curse will be removed from the vegetable creation:

“The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly…for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water” (Isa. 35:1,2,6,7).

The animal creation too will have the curse removed:

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isa. 11:6-9).

And the curse shall be removed from mankind itself:

“The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing” (Isa. 35:5,6).

“There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old;5 but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed” (Isa. 65:20).

Other aspects of the fall will also be removed and reversed:

Christ will be known by all: “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).

Government will be purified: “A King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth” (Jer. 23:5).

War and bloodshed will be abolished: “And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4).

Israel’s suffering and sorrow will then be over—and that of the other nations as well: “They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 35:10 cf. 40:5; 60:3).

These are the conditions that will prevail when our Lord, the rightful King, reigns on earth for 1000 years. This will indeed be Paradise restored, and more.


Thus far we have considered Paradise, the Garden of Eden, also the Paradise so graciously prepared for believers of former ages, and Eden’s Paradise gloriously restored and enlarged during the kingdom reign of Christ.

But what about the dispensation under which we now live—a dispensation which has now lasted for almost 2,000 years? With regard to the delay in our Lord’s return to reign and restore this poor stricken world, the Apostle Paul states:

“We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.6
“And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22,23).

Ah, but the apostle also reveals a “mystery,” a secret not made known until the risen, glorified Lord revealed it to him, not all at once, but by installments (See Acts 26:16; II Cor. 12:1).

This revelation concerns the position, blessings and prospect of believers in the present “dispensation of the grace of God.” It must be that God reserved His greatest blessings for those who should trust His Son during the age of His rejection—“this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), for Paul relates in II Corinthians 12:1-7 how he was “caught up to the third heaven,” and he describes it as “Paradise”: beautiful garden! Think of it! the highest heaven (Gr., epouranios) a beautiful garden. This surely is Paradise exalted! Indeed, the apostle “heard unspeakable words” there, which a man was not permitted to utter. Here he was in the presence of God Himself, seeing and hearing things which we could not even begin to grasp. And so ineffably glorious was this revelation that God sent a “messenger of Satan” to buffet him physically, with “a thorn in the flesh,” lest he should be exalted above measure, and he repeats the reason twice for emphasis (See II Cor. 12:7).

We cannot now grasp the glories which are ours in the heavenlies in Christ, but we can believe God’s Word that this is our position and these are our blessings (Eph. 2:6; 1:3). What is ours by grace we may now appropriate by faith alone, but the time will come when we will enjoy them actually, really. Then we shall see that the ideas we had of God’s presence and surroundings as only blazing, dazzling brilliance, were most inadequate, for Paul was there and, with all its glory, described it as Paradise, a beautiful garden, far more beautiful, surely, than anything we could even begin to imagine.


We do not have space in this brief article to deal at length with what God has prepared for us in the ages beyond the kingdom reign of Christ, nor why this writer believes that gradually, during the millennium, and finally in full perfection forever, the redeemed nations of the earth and the redeemed in heaven will have full and open fellowship together. Then will be brought to pass the truth of Ephesians 1:10.

“That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him.”

Then “the paradise of God” on earth, referred to in Revelation 2:7, will be opened to the paradise in heaven! Who knows what glories lie ahead for the children of God! We can only look forward by faith to learning all about it by personal experience, for surely these are some, only a few, of the things “which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” But at least we know already that it is His gracious purpose:

“That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).


  1. This was before the vegetable creation was cursed.
  2. Note: not to “dress” the garden, but to “till” the ground.
  3. All were in Adam and have come from Adam.
  4. Now obeyed spontaneously, from the heart (Jer. 31:33).
  5. I.e., One who dies at 100 years of age will be considered a mere child, and will die only as a judgment upon sin, which will not be tolerated at that time.
  6. I.e., the curse has not yet been removed (because our Lord’s reign has been rejected and awaits a future day).

You can receive More Minutes With the Bible every week in your email inbox. This list features longer articles, including both original content and articles that have appeared in the Berean Searchlight.

When Did the Gift of Tongues Cease?

No one was more “charismatic” than the Apostle Paul. He wrote to the Corinthian church that “they came behind no other church” when it came to the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:7)—no church had more of the gifts of the Holy Spirit than the Corinthian church, yet Paul says that he spoke in tongues more than all of them (1 Cor. 14:18)!

No one was more charismatic than Paul, yet the Lord revealed to him that those sign gifts were going to cease:

“whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away” (1 Cor. 13:8).1

Here Paul writes of the gift of tongues, the gift of prophecy and the gift of knowledge (see 1 Cor. 13:1-2) and states that the Lord Jesus had revealed to him (1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3; Gal. 1:11,12) that a time was coming when these sign gifts were going to cease to operate.

The question has always been: when? When would these gifts cease?

This study focuses on that question—when did the sign gifts cease?

Arranging Paul’s letters in the order that he wrote them

We begin by setting up a time line of Paul’s ministry. Paul was saved in Acts 9 when the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Paul would go on to write 13 letters in the New Testament—from the Letter to the Romans to the Letter to Philemon. When we remember that Paul is the subject of at least half of the Book of Acts, we realize that half of the 27 books in the New Testament are either about him (The Book of Acts) or were written by him (13 letters).

Paul’s letters are arranged in our Bible by two principles: The letters to the churches are put first—nine letters from Romans to 2 Thessalonians, then the four letters written to individuals—from 1 Timothy to Philemon.

The letters are also arranged by length—Romans is longest and is first, then the Corinthian letters, then Galatians, etc. Longer letters are first, shorter ones later.

But to understand when the sign gifts ceased, we need to read Paul’s letters in the order that he wrote them. When we arrange the letters in the order that they were written, all becomes clear!

Paul’s Letters in the order that he wrote them:

The first 6 of Paul’s letters can be fit into the Book of Acts—we can read Acts and then read Paul’s letters and we can see where Paul was when he wrote these letters.

The Letter to the Galatians is first

In Acts 13,14 Paul and Barnabas went on their first apostolic journey which took them into Galatia—cities like Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, etc. Soon after Paul returned from this journey he wrote the letter to the Galatians (see Galatians 1:6 where Paul writes to the Galatians and says, you are “so quickly turned.”). Galatians was written soon after Paul returned from that first journey—soon after Acts 14:27. That makes Galatians the earliest of Paul’s letters.

1 and 2 Thessalonians

The next letters Paul wrote are the two letters to the Thessalonians. In Acts 17, Paul, on his second apostolic journey, came to Thessalonica and preached there. Many were saved, but Paul was driven out of town. Paul continued on to Corinth where he wrote the two letters to the Thessalonians. Timothy’s return from Macedonia mentioned in Acts 18:5 is also reported in 1 Thessalonians 3:6. And in 2 Thessalonians 2:5 Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his teaching, as if it had not been very long since he had been with them. So the writing of 1 and 2 Thessalonians can be placed into Acts 18 during Paul’s ministry in Corinth, and that makes them the second and third letters that Paul wrote.

1 and 2 Corinthians

The next two letters that Paul wrote are the two letters to the Corinthians. In Acts 18 Paul spent a year and a half ministering in Corinth—see Acts 18:11. He later returned to his home base at Antioch (Acts 18:22), and later in his third apostolic journey he arrived in Ephesus (his ministry in Ephesus extends all the way through Acts 19—a period of more than two years, see verse 10). It is here in Ephesus during Acts 19 that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians—see I Corinthians 16:19. Shortly after that Paul traveled to Macedonia (see Acts 20:1 and 2 Cor. 2:13) and that is where he wrote the second letter to the Corinthians.


In Acts 20:2,3 Paul arrived in “Greece,” i.e. in Corinth again, and spent three months there enjoying the hospitality of a believer named Gaius (mentioned in 1 Cor. 1:14). In Gaius’s home, in Corinth, Paul wrote the letter to the Romans (see Rom. 16:23).

This is the last letter written during the Book of Acts. In Acts 21:33 Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, and would spend the next 5 years in prison, right through the end of the Book of Acts.

So, to sum up what we have seen so far, from Acts 9 through Acts 28 we read of the earlier ministry of the Apostle Paul and find that during these years he wrote 6 of his 13 letters. The order of these first six books is:

  1. Galatians—end of Acts 14
  2. 1 Thessalonians—Acts 18
  3. 2 Thessalonians—Acts 18
  4. 1 Corinthians—Acts 19
  5. 2 Corinthians—Acts 20
  6. Romans—Acts 20

In Acts 21 Paul was arrested and remained a prisoner through to Acts 28, and beyond.

The Prison Epistles—Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians

Shortly after the end of the Book of Acts, while he was still a prisoner, now in Rome, Paul wrote four letters—the “prison epistles”: Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians. In each of these letters he writes of his “chains”—see Ephesians 6:20, Colossians 4:18, Philemon 13 and Philippians 1:13.

The Pastoral Epistles—The letters to Titus, First and Second Timothy

Paul was released from this imprisonment and continued his ministry for a few years, perhaps 3 years. During this time he wrote the three letters known as the “Pastoral Epistles,” because these letters were written to Paul’s co-workers—Pastor Timothy and Titus. Finally at the end of his life he is again in prison. This time he anticipates being beheaded for the Lord and writes the last letter, Second Timothy.


We have surveyed the 13 letters written by the Apostle Paul, arranging them in the order in which Paul wrote them:

During the Book of Acts—6 letters:

1. Galatians

2. & 3. The Thessalonian letters

4. & 5. The Corinthian letters

6. Romans

Then after the Book of Acts ends—7 more letters:

The 4 Prison Epistles:

7. Ephesians

8. Colossians

9. Philemon

10. Philippians

Then the 3 Pastoral Epistles:

11. Titus

12. 1 Timothy

13. 2 Timothy

Now let’s read the letters in the order Paul wrote them

Having surveyed the 13 letters and having put them into their chronological order, let’s see what they tell us about the question: when did the sign gifts cease?

In the first six letters, all written during the period covered by the Book of Acts, we find that the sign gifts were operating in all these churches. All through the Book of Acts we read of tongues, the gift of prophecy, the gift of healing, etc.—for example, tongues and prophecy in Acts 19:6, the gift of prophecy in Acts 21:10-14, the gift of healing in Acts 19:11-12 and 28:8,9, etc.

And in the “Acts Epistles” we read of the gifts operating in the churches that Paul founded. In Galatians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:20, 1 Corinthians 12,13,14, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Romans 12:6—in all these letters we read about the gifts in operation right through to the end of the Book of Acts.

But, during this time in the Book of Acts, the Lord revealed to Paul that the sign gifts were going to cease—1 Corinthians 13:8-12. The gifts were all in operation all through the Book of Acts period and are mentioned in the letters written during that time, but the Lord had revealed that the sign gifts were going to cease at some time in the future.

When the gift of tongues ceased

Now we turn to the prison epistles, the four letters written shortly after the end of the Book of Acts, while Paul was a prisoner in Rome—Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians…and we find that there is not one word about tongues, or the gift of healing. Even where we might have expected Paul to write of tongues in the passage about being “filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:17, he has nothing to say about tongues. And as for the gift of healing, we read of a co-worker of Paul’s, Epaphroditus, who fell seriously ill during this time (Phil. 2:25-30) and Paul no longer had the gift of healing, and was no longer able to heal as he did only a few years earlier in Acts 28:9. The sign gifts were no longer operating at the time that Paul wrote the Prison Epistles.

Tongues in the Pastoral Epistles?

In the 3 Pastoral Epistles, as in the prison epistles, we do not read of tongues or the gift of healing operating at this time. We do read of prophecies that had been made about Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18 and 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6, but these were given years before. So far as we read in these three letters, we wouldn’t even know that there had been a “gift of tongues.”

And, again, in places where we would have expected Paul to mention the sign gifts, he is silent. When Paul gives Timothy and Titus instructions regarding the choice of men to be elders in the churches, Paul says nothing about the desirability of these men having a gift such as prophecy, or healing, or other sign gifts (see Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Tim. 3:1-10). The gifts of tongues, prophecy, etc. were no longer in operation by the time Paul wrote the pastoral epistles.

It is clear that the gift of healing has ceased because, as in Philippians, Paul was no longer able to heal, even his co-workers. Timothy was suffering stomach problems and frequent infirmities (1 Tim. 5:23) and Paul can’t heal him, doesn’t recommend that he go to a healer in the church, doesn’t send a prayer cloth or a bottle of anointing oil (remember the miracles of some 8 years earlier in Acts 19:11-12). Likewise in 2 Timothy 4:20, Paul has to leave behind his co-worker Trophimus who had fallen sick on the last journey. Paul’s gift of healing (Acts 28:9) was no longer operating in Philippians 2:27, 1 Timothy 5:23 and 2 Timothy 4:20.


The sign gifts, tongues, prophecy, the gift of healing, etc. were operating all through the Book of Acts, and these gifts are mentioned in the letters that Paul wrote during the Acts period. But when we turn to the letters written after the Book of Acts—the 4 Prison Epistles, and the 3 Pastoral Epistles, we find that the sign gifts either aren’t mentioned at all or we see—as with the gift of healing—that they were no longer operating in Paul’s life. What he could do in Acts 28, he could no longer do in Philippians, or in 1 and 2 Timothy. He could heal all the sick on the island in Acts 28:9, but he couldn’t heal any of his closest co-workers—Timothy, Epaphroditus, Trophimus—after the close of the Book of Acts.

Arranging Paul’s letters in the order that he wrote them allows us to see the pattern of truth that is found in the Word of God:

The sign gifts were operating in Acts and in all of the Acts Epistles: Galatians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Romans.

But in this time period, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, Paul tells us that the Lord had revealed to him that these gifts would cease some day. And they did, because in the letters written after the Book of Acts, the sign gifts had ceased, just as the Lord said that they would.

The pattern could not be clearer, and the contrast could not be sharper between the earlier letters and the later letters, between the time when all the sign gifts were operating, and the time when all the sign gifts had ceased.

We can now give a scriptural answer to the question that we started with: when did the sign gifts cease?

The answer: The sign gifts ceased at the end of the Book of Acts. There is no record in Scripture of any of the sign gifts operating in any of the letters that Paul wrote after the end of the Acts period, and it is clear that the gift of healing had ceased since Paul could no longer heal even his closest co-workers after the close of the Book of Acts.

Why did the sign gifts cease?

Having seen the pattern of truth regarding the gifts, we need to ask, why did the gifts cease at this time?

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12—

“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

The gift of tongues, prophecy and knowledge during the Acts period were only “in part”—they were incomplete, they did not communicate the full knowledge that the Lord had to reveal. But the Lord revealed to Paul that “that which is perfect” was coming. In English, as in Greek, this is a neuter pronoun—”that thing which is perfect.” Paul was not writing about the coming of “He who is perfect” but of the coming of a “thing” which is perfect. When it came, then the gifts which were only “in part” would cease.

It would be like the difference between being a child and becoming a grown man, or between seeing someone’s face reflected in a wavy ancient mirror, and seeing the person face-to-face.

Before the end of the Book of Acts, during the Acts period, and in the letters written during the Acts period, the Lord had only revealed part of the “dispensation of grace” (Eph. 3:2) to the Apostle Paul, but He had not yet revealed the entire message to him. It was still only “in part” during the Acts period, but with the close of the Book of Acts, the Lord completed the revelation of the “Mystery” (see Eph. 3:3,4,9 and Col. 1:26,27, etc.). “That which is perfect” was finally revealed in all its fullness to the Apostle Paul and at that moment, those things which were only “in part” passed away from God’s program.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12—

“Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

When Paul wrote “now I know in part,” he used the common word for “know,” the Greek word gnosis.

But then, when he wrote “but then I shall know…” he changes the word from gnosis to epignosis, “to fully know.”

We could paraphrase Paul’s statement: “Now, as I’m writing 1 Corinthians in Acts 19, I have gnosis—I know, in part, what God’s message is for us today in the dispensation of grace, but then—when that which is perfect has come—I shall have epignosis—the full knowledge of God’s message of grace for us today.”

All through the Book of Acts Paul had only “gnosis,” partial knowledge of the message of grace, but when we turn to the Prison Letters we suddenly find Paul using that word “epignosis”—he had now received that “full knowledge” which he didn’t have when he wrote to the Corinthians:

“For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge (epignosis—full knowledge) of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ” (Col. 2:1-2).

“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge (epignosis—full knowledge) of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col. 1:9-12).

In all the seven letters written after the close of the Book of Acts, Paul uses this word “epignosis”—the full knowledge. What he had not yet received in 1 Corinthians 13, he now has. That which is perfect had come and so the sign gifts had passed away.

The “sign gifts” were signs for God’s “sign people”

The close of the Book of Acts was also the close of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel for now nearly 2000 years. Acts 28:25-28 stands as God’s last words to the nation of Israel for nearly two millennia. The Jews sought after signs (1 Cor. 1:22) so God gave them signs—among the Gentiles!—in order to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:14). But with the close of Acts, God sets aside Israel for a time, and when God gave up on the “sign people” for a time, the sign gifts passed out of His program.

I speak in tongues, what should I do?

Many Christians today have had an experience that they think is the scriptural gift of tongues. After studying Paul’s letters and the scriptural teaching concerning the cessation of the gift of tongues, they ask, “What should I do now?” There are several possible explanations for the experience—it may be a psychological experience or even a spiritual experience, but clearly, from the Word of God, it is not the Spirit’s gift of tongues.

What should they do? Simply: Stop! Stop speaking in the tongue because it is not from the Holy Spirit.

For many this is a great relief. They’ve been taught that a person has to speak in tongues to prove that he is really saved, or that he really has the Holy Spirit dwelling within. So they’ve “learned” to speak in tongues, but when they see from Scripture that this gift is not in operation from the Lord today, they can at last cease their effort to prove their salvation and start to walk by faith and not by sight.

For some, Paul’s instructions to the prophets at Corinth will be pertinent:

“If anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:30-33).

When we are having an experience that we learn from the Scriptures is not from the Lord, it is time to “keep silent,” and remember that our spirits are to be under our own control—”the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”

The Lord’s warning

The Lord warned that experiences can be deceiving:

“Many will say to Me in that day, `Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Matt. 7:22-23).

Yes, they really had had these experiences. They had prophesied in Jesus’ name, they had cast out demons and done miracles in His name. The Lord does not deny that they had done these things. But then He tells them that even while they were doing these things, He had never ever known them. It is important that our faith be based on the Word of God and not on experiences because experiences can deceive us.

A note about the gift of healing

As we have seen, Paul was able to heal many sick people all through the Book of Acts. He healed every sick person on the Island of Malta in Acts 28. And he wrote to the Corinthians about the gift of healing that was operating in their church during the Acts period (1 Cor. 12:9). But we have also seen that with the close of the Book of Acts, the gift of healing ceased to operate. Paul could no longer heal anyone—not Epaphroditus in Philippians 2, not Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23, not Trophimus in 2 Timothy 4:20. The gift of healing had ceased to operate, along with the other sign gifts.

Today God no longer gives the gift of healing, and there are no “healers.” But we should not think that God Himself no longer heals! In Philippians 2 we read of a healing that God did after the gift of healing had ceased to operate:

“Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.

“For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.

“Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful.

“Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me” (Phil. 2:25-30).

Paul commends Epaphroditus very highly for his faithfulness even unto death. But when Epaphroditus fell sick—near to death—Paul was no longer able to heal him because the gift of healing had ceased to operate. But we read that Epaphroditus was healed—directly by the Lord: “He was sick unto death but the Lord had mercy on him….”

There is healing today, but there is no gift of healing, there are no “divine healers.” There is no gift of healing today but God still heals… sometimes. He healed Epaphroditus, but He did not heal Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 or in Galatians 4:13-15, or Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23, or Trophimus in 2 Timothy 4:20. He heals according to His will today. But the promise that He gave to Paul is still our promise today in the dispensation of grace:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Whether we are well or sick, whether we are like Epaphroditus or like Timothy, we can always claim this promise from the Lord that His grace and strength are sufficient for us. He never allows us to suffer something that He doesn’t give us the strength to live through.


  1. All references have been taken from the New King James Version.