Yeah, contrary to popular belief, bad Christians can work actual miracles.
1 Corinthians 13.1-3
If phony supernaturalism irritates you, you’re hardly alone. It annoys me too. Just because I believe in the supernatural, a lot of folks expect I’ll believe any stupid thing. Those who don’t believe in the supernatural at all, presume I believe in every single one of the outrageous behaviors we find in the loonier fringes of Pentecostalism. Those who do believe in the supernatural expect me to accept their appalling behavior as legitimate—and are very annoyed when I won’t.
But I can’t. Jesus warned us there’d be frauds out there. He told us to keep our eyes open, look out for them, and judge whether they’re legit or not. And some of these self-described apostles, prophets, healers, and ministers are simply frauds. People always try to make counterfeits of something valuable. It’s our duty as Christians to test these would-be miracle workers, see whether there’s anything to them—and call them out when there’s not.
How do we test them? Exactly the same way we test any Christian: By their fruits.
Nope, there’s not a special supernatural litmus test, requiring the gift of prophetic discernment—though it wouldn’t hurt. It’s precisely the same test we apply to every Christian. No fruit, no Holy Spirit. Doesn’t matter how impressive their miracles are. Doesn’t matter how much they look like the real thing.
In fact it doesn’t matter if they are the real thing. The Spirit may empower the miracles, but if they’re fruitless people with fruitless ministries, stay away.
Wait, the Spirit empowering fruitless people? Yep. The apostles even said so.
Right after that bit in 1 Corinthians about striving for greater supernatural gifts, the apostles mention an outstanding way to do it. Then they started talking about love. “The love chapter,” as 1 Corinthians 13 is called. But darn near every Christian takes it out of context and forgets it’s about supernatural gifts—and misses the point of this little passage at the start of the chapter.
1 Corinthians 13.1-3 KWL
- 1 When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
- When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging symbol.
- 2 When I have a prophecy—“I knew the whole mystery! I know everything!”—
- when I have all the faith necessary to move mountains:
- When I have no love, I’m nobody.
- 3 Might I give away everything I possess?
- Perhaps submit my body so I could be praised for my sacrifice?
- When I have no love, I benefit nobody.
When I have supernatural abilities—tongues, prophecy, enough wonder-working power to shove literal mountains around with a word—but there’s no love in it, there’s no love in me, I’m doing it for the power, authority, prestige, acclaim, and maybe donors will send a whole lot of cash my way—I’m a noise. I’m nobody. I benefit nobody.
But again: People fixate on the “I’m nobody” parts, and forget this hypothetical apostle is still doing the supernatural acts. ’Cause the Holy Spirit still let ’em do it.
Bad Christians. Real miracles.
People take it as a given when there’s bad fruit or no fruit, the miracles are fake too. Sounds like common sense, right?
But here’s a fact we Christians have to wrap our brains around: At no point in 1 Corinthians, despite their many and detailed critiques of Corinth, did Paul and Sosthenes ever say any of the supernatural things the Corinthians did were fake.
Christians nowadays? Just the opposite. Cessationists claim every miracle Christians perform is some form of trickery. Might be human, might be devilish, but always trickery. Even if they do sorta believe in miracles, the usual response sounds like, “Okay, there are such things as tongues, prophecies, and miracles—but you’re not doing them. You’re a phony, so your works are phony. You’re doing fake signs and wonders.”
Yet the apostles never said such a thing to Corinth. Never said they were performing counterfeit miracles. Never claimed the Corinthians only thought they were doing tongues or prophecy or healing, but were actually doing them in demonic power. All the usual go-to accusations Christians use nowadays? Not in the bible.
Well yes, in the bible as accusations towards pagans. But the Corinthians were Christians. If they’re legitimately on God’s team, they’re not working with devils. Might be tempted by them, as we all are; might be tricked by them, as we sometimes are. But devilish? No. Accusing them of being devilish? Don’t. That’s the mistake the Pharisees made when Jesus said they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And plenty of Christians are unwittingly committing this blasphemy every time they claim, “That’s not really God” because they have a hangup.
What we’re in fact seeing, is Christians behaving badly. ’Cause often we do. Like the Corinthians, we’re doing it wrong. All their misbehavior, and ours, stems from not doing the supernatural in love. But misguided Christians are still doing our works in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I know. You’re likely thinking, “How’s that even possible? How could God bless—or partner with—such selfish motivations?” It’s completely contrary to what Christians usually teach. Or popular culture. If the cops illegally searched the suspect, gotta let him go. If there’s one flaw in a logical argument, gotta toss the argument. If the fruit’s poison, the whole tree’s gotta be poison. Cut it down.
But the one-flaw-spoils-all reasoning is human reasoning. Not God’s. Remember, Christianity teaches grace. God turns flawed, sinful humans into his kids, and gives us his kingdom. Nobody, except Jesus, is perfect—yet none of us is so broken God can’t work with us. Right? Yet we toss all these teachings aside whenever the supernatural gets involved. If prophecy and miracles gotta happen, supposedly they can only be done by perfect saints. There’s no such thing!
So it’s not what the apostles wrote. Read verses 1-3 again. They wrote of a very flawed person, who lacked love. Let’s say this person is literally Paul of Tarsus; that he’s speaking from personal experience. (Probably was.) Sometimes people made it very hard for Paul to love them. Yet God wanted him to minister to them all the same. So, despite his own lack of love, the Holy Spirit granted tongues. Or prophecy. Or words of knowledge. Or miraculous acts. Or a level of generosity which goes beyond reason.
All these things are supernatural in nature. All empowered by the Holy Spirit. The apostles’ point is sometimes they’re performed without love—and shouldn’t be. Even so, they’re performed.
But they take all the mickey out of how God wants to bless people with these miracles:
- Those with loveless tongues are annoying and distracting. (I run into ’em all the time.)
- Those with loveless knowledge are the know-it-alls in every church.
- Those with loveless prophecy: Every time they stand up, you know they’re gonna rant and rave about sin, our messed-up world, Christians behaving badly, what Satan’s up to, and other dark Christian worries.
- Those with loveless faith-healing: If you don’t get better instantly, they blame you for your lack of faith, and move on.
- Those with loveless works actually show contempt for the people they’re meant to “help”: They don’t care what you want or think you need; you’re just bums, lucky they do anything for you at all.
So why does God even bother? Because somebody’s gonna benefit. The person being prayed for, prophesied to, cured, given knowledge, or given aid: They are getting helped. God would like to bless both the minister and recipient. He’ll settle for only the recipient. At least one of ’em will give God the glory.
Now, notice verse 3. Suppose Paul gave away everything. Suppose Paul gave up his own life. Not for others—the apostles don’t even mention others. This is stuff for one’s own benefit. But without love, it benefits no one. Selfish self-sacrifice is an oxymoron.
And yet it happens all the time. People take ministry jobs, and never even think about how their job is to love others. Like secular jobs, they do ’em for the money. Or they love the work, not the people.
- Pastors who figure their job is to do bible study and prepare sermons, preach them dynamically, gather their transcriptions and turn ’em into books, and sell them.
- Prophets who figure their job is to open schools of prophecy, collect tuition, and likewise sell some books.
- Tongues-speakers figure their job is to speak in tongues. Not as prayer, but as “atmosphere changers”—as people whose job is to change the feeling of the room they’re in, and make people sense God is around. It’s about warm fuzzy feelings. Not ministry so much.
- Faith-healers who wanna get famous.
These attitudes are ridiculous—but happen all the time. Christians want supernatural gifts, but ministry with these gifts is an afterthought. They’re in it for the power.
If we’re doing God-stuff for the sake of applause, as Jesus pointed out, we aren’t getting any heavenly reward for it. That, we’ve forfeited for our earthly gains.
We’re gonna wind up one of those folks who shout at Jesus in horrified surprise, “But I did
Sad, but worrisome: How much love for others do we have in what we’re doing for God?
What to do with fruitless miracle-workers.
For a lot of churches, miracles cover a multitude of sins. I’ve seen a lot of churches permit certain prophets free rein—despite their rather toxic, selfish personalities. They figure prophets don’t have to be accommodating, patient, self-controlled, generous, peaceful, or otherwise behave themselves: They’re anointed! When you’ve got the anointing, you get a free pass to be an
But according to God, no you don’t. When we’re not anointing the sick, anointing is really for leadership—and the qualifications for Christian leadership involve personal character. If your church lets anyone bypass character requirements simply because they can prophesy, cure the sick, or even play the keyboards really well, your church has gone wrong.
True, sometimes the church isn’t at fault. Somebody got full of themselves and is trying to seize authority. Fr’instance at just about every Pentecostal church I’ve attended, various people who consider themselves prophets would visit the church. The church leadership didn’t recognize them as leaders; they were just attendees. (Some regular; some not.) Yet whenever these people got an opportunity, they’d try to prophesy over others. Like in prayer meetings, after Sunday services, after bible studies, what have you. Nobody authorized them to do this; they just do it. Which is fine, so long that they behave themselves. Most of ’em do.
But sometimes these people don’t. They forget their place, and act as if hearing God’s voice gives them special authority. Act as if you need to obey their messages, because it came from God. And when that happens, the leaders of the church stepped in: That’s inappropriate. It’s not even appropriate for real leaders to demand that level of obedience from people. If you can’t behave, you need to stop prophesying. And if you won’t do that, you need to leave.
My churches have cracked down on such people. But some churches won’t. They permit the misbehavior. And people in their churches get hurt. Always do.
No, I’m not saying we should drive out every miracle-worker who can’t control themselves. We need to train them. They lack maturity. They lack discipleship. They lack fruit. So we gotta train them. Point ’em to leaders who can mentor them. If you’re in any form of leadership, take them under your wing. Encourage them to develop fruit. Show ’em how fruit multiplies their ministry—and how fruitlessness ruins it. Point ’em to 1 Corinthians 13. Encourage their growth.
After all, God gave them a greater gift.