On Eagles Wings Ministries
Imparting the Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts
The next main purpose of laying on of hands, as practiced in the New Testament, is to help those seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
To form a proper estimate of the part played in this by the laying on of hands, it is necessary to consider briefly all the accounts in the book of Acts of how people received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. There are altogether five such accounts.
- The first disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-4).
- The new converts in Samaria (see Acts 8:14-20).
- Saul of Tarsus, later the apostle Paul, in the city of Damascus (see Acts 9:17).
- Cornelius and his household (see Acts 10:44-46).
- The disciples at Ephesus, to whom Paul preached and ministered (see Acts 19:1-6).
In three of these cases those seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit were ministered to by other believers through the laying on of hands.
Ministering the Holy Spirit
In Samaria the apostles Peter and John laid hands on the new converts and prayed for them.
Through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 8:18).
In Damascus the disciple Ananias laid his hands upon Saul of Tarsus that he might receive his sight and also be filled with the Holy Spirit. In this case both physical healing and the baptism in the Holy Spirit were ministered to Saul by Ananias through the one ordinance of laying on of hands.
In Ephesus the disciples to whom Paul ministered received the Holy Spirit only after Paul had laid his hands upon them.
If we now summarize these facts as percentages, we may say that in more than 50 percent of the cases in Acts where people received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, it was through other believers’ laying hands upon them.
Certainly this is not the only way in which people may receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In the upper room in Jerusalem and in the house of Cornelius those present received the experience directly, without anyone’s laying hands upon them.
However, on the basis of all the cases considered, we may say that it is both normal and scriptural for those seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit to be ministered to by other believers through laying on of hands.
It is sometimes suggested that it was only the apostles or special officers of the church who were able to exercise this ministry of laying hands upon other believers that they might be filled with the Holy Spirit. However, this is not supported by Scripture. Ananias, who laid hands for this purpose upon Saul of Tarsus in Damascus, is described merely as “a certain disciple” (Acts 9:10). There is no suggestion that he held any special ministry or office in the church. Yet he was directed by God Himself to lay hands upon the one who was destined to become the great apostle to the Gentiles. This is in line with what Jesus says.
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name . . . they will speak with new tongues . . . they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:17-18).
Here Jesus joins closely together the two supernatural signs of speaking with new (or other) tongues and of laying hands upon the sick for healing, and He says that both these signs shall follow (or accompany) the testimony of those who believe. That is to say, the exercise of these supernatural signs is not confined to any special class of believers, such as apostles or bishops or evangelists or pastors, but is open to all believers. Just as the Scripture leaves open to all believers the ministry of laying hands upon the sick for healing, so the Scripture leaves open also to all believers the ministry of laying hands upon other believers that they may receive the Holy Spirit.
However, the Scripture also warns us that this ordinance of laying hands upon believers is not to be practised lightly or carelessly. For Paul tells Timothy:
Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure (1 Tim. 5:22).
In this one verse Paul gives three distinct warnings to Timothy: 1) do not lay hands on anyone hastily, 2) nor share in other people’s sins, and 3) keep yourself pure.
It is no accident that the two latter warnings follow immediately upon the first warning not to lay hands on anyone hastily. For if this act of laying hands upon another believer – particularly for the baptism in the Holy Spirit – is to be more than a mere religious ceremony, if it is to produce a real spiritual effect, then there must of necessity be a direct spiritual contact between the two believers.
In this contact between two spirits there is always the possibility of spiritual harm resulting to one or both of the believers. If the spirit of one believer is not altogether pure – if it is defiled in any way by unconfessed sin or by evil associations – then there is the possibility that the spirit of the other believer may be harmfully affected by this defiling contact. That this danger is real is made plain by the two warnings which Paul gives in this particular context: “nor share in other people’s sins” and “keep yourself pure.”
This naturally leads to the question: Since the ministry of laying on of hands is endorsed by Scripture, how can we guard against the spiritual dangers connected with it?
The answer is that there are four main safeguards for the believer who desires to exercise this ministry.
- This ministry should never be exercised lightly or carelessly but always in a spirit of prayer and humility.
- The guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit should be sought at every stage: with whom to pray, when to pray, how to pray.
- The believer who lays on hands must know how to claim on behalf of his own spirit the continual purifying and protecting power of the blood of Jesus.
- The believer who lays on hands must himself be so empowered by the Holy Spirit that he is able to overcome any kind of evil spiritual influence seeking to work in or through the one upon whom hands are laid.
Where these four safeguards are not carefully observed, there is a real danger that harmful spiritual results may follow the practice of laying on of hands – either in the one who lays on hands or in the one on whom hands are laid, or in both.
This danger exists in all cases of laying on of hands, but it is greatest where the purpose of laying on of hands is for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In a figurative way, we may say that the Holy Spirit is heaven’s electricity, and the same principle applies in the heavenly as in the earthly realm: The greater the power involved, the greater the need for adequate protection and safeguards.
Imparting Spiritual Gifts
The next purpose for the laying on of hands is the imparting of spiritual gifts. From the passages in the New Testament where this is referred to, it would appear that it is commonly associated with the exercise of the gift of prophecy.
First of all it is necessary to establish that there is scriptural authority for a believer imparting spiritual gifts to others.
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established – that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me (Rom. 1:11-12).
Here Paul says that one reason why he desires to visit the professing Christians at Rome is that he may be able to impart to them “some spiritual gift.” He explains also the effect which he intends this to produce upon the professing Christians there, for he adds, “so that you may be established.” In other words, the imparting of spiritual gifts to professing Christians is one scriptural way of establishing or strengthening them in their faith and spiritual experience.
In the next verse Paul explains more fully the results that would follow from the manifestation of new spiritual gifts among the professing Christians at Rome.
That is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me (Rom 1:12).
The free operation of spiritual gifts within a congregation enables the various members to comfort, to encourage and to strengthen one another. In this way, not only would Paul, as a preacher, be ministering to the Christians congregation at Rome, but, through the operation of the spiritual gifts, the members of the congregation would also be able to minister to Paul. The result would thus be the mutual ministry of the various members to each other.
The operation and the effect of spiritual gifts within a congregation are described by Paul in somewhat similar terms in 1 Corinthians.
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Jesus Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Jesus was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Jesus, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Jesus (1 Cor. 1:4-8).
Paul here thanks God on behalf of the professing Christians at Corinth because they are enriched by God in all spiritual gifts. In particular Paul specifies the gifts of utterance and of knowledge. Paul also mentions two results which follow from the operation of the spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church. First, the testimony of Jesus is confirmed in them. Second, they are themselves confirmed or strengthened by God through these gifts.
Furthermore, Paul indicates that it is the revealed purpose of God that these spiritual gifts continue to operate in the Christians church right up to the return of Jesus. In this connection he uses two phrases, each of which carries the same implication.
So that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Jesus (1 Cor. 1:7).
That you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Jesus (1 Cor. 1:8).
Both these phrases indicate plainly that the church of Jesus at the end of this age will not be considered by God to be complete or blameless unless she is fully equipped with all the supernatural spiritual gifts.
In many sections of the Christians church today there is an unhealthy tendency to treat these supernatural spiritual gifts like extra chrome fittings or fancy gadgets on a car. The suggestion is that the person who wishes to pay a little extra may have the chrome or the gadgets on his car, but that these are not of any real consequence, and the car would really function just as well without them. In the same way, professing Christians often seem to think that the supernatural gifts are optional – a kind of unnecessary spiritual luxury which people may seek after if they wish, but which are not in any way essential to the proper functioning of the church. However, this attitude is not at all in line with Scripture.
According to the New Testament, the supernatural spiritual gifts are an integral, built-in part of God’s total plan for the church. Without these gifts in operation the church can never function on the level of power and efficiency God intended.
Example of Timothy
Having thus established the importance of spiritual gifts in the church today, let us now consider what Paul teaches about the way in which they may be imparted. The person Paul refers to in this connection is his own co-worker, Timothy.
Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery (1 Tim. 4:14).
In another epistle Paul refers to the same incident in Timothy’s spiritual experience.
Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands (2 Tim. 1:6).
In order to complete the picture of this particular incident in Timothy’s life, we should look at one more reference.
This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare (1 Tim. 1:18).
By putting these three passages of Scripture together, we are able to establish certain definite facts about the incident here described by Paul.
First of all, Timothy received some definite spiritual gift. The precise nature of this gift is never specified by Paul, and for the purposes of our present study it is not of any special importance.
Second, we learn that this spiritual gift was imparted to Timothy through the laying on of hands. In one passage Paul says, “with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:14). In another passage he says, “through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6).
The word presbytery in the New Testament is simply a collective noun denoting the elders of a local church. The elders referred to by Paul may have been those in the church at Lystra, where Timothy began his Christians life.
[Timothy] was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2).
Or Paul may be referring to the elders of the church at Ephesus, where Timothy was when Paul wrote his first epistle to him. In this case, the same group of elders would be referred to in Acts 20:17, where we read:
From Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.
Turning back again to Paul’s epistles to Timothy, we see that in one place Paul says it was he himself who laid hands upon Timothy, and in another place he says it was the elders of the church who did this. Most likely, therefore, Paul acted in conjunction with the church elders. He and they together laid hands upon Timothy.
The third important fact revealed by these passages from the epistles to Timothy is that the imparting of a spiritual gift to Timothy by the laying on of hands was also associated with prophetic utterance.
In one passage Paul says this gift was given “by prophecy” (1 Tim. 4:14). This indicates that the will of God for Timothy to receive this gift was supernaturally revealed through the gift of prophecy; thereafter the impartation of this gift to Timothy was made effective through the laying on of the hands of Paul and the church elders. In other words, the laying on of hands was the means by which the revealed will of God for Timothy was actually made effective in his experience.
In another passage Paul explains a further spiritual purpose for which the prophetic revelation of God’s will was given to Timothy, for he says:
This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare (1 Tim. 1:18).
This indicates that God had a special charge committed to Timothy, a special ministry for him to exercise, a special purpose in life for him to fulfil. The nature of this ministry was revealed to him in advance – on more than one occasion, it would appear – by prophetic utterances. On one of these occasions it was also revealed that Timothy would need a certain spiritual gift to fulfil the ministry committed to him, and on that occasion the particular gift that he needed was imparted to him through the laying on of hands.
Once again, it must be emphasised that this was not a question of the unnecessary or ostentatious use of spiritual gifts. On the contrary, this was something that was vitally necessary to the success of Timothy’s ministry. Paul states the purpose for which these prophecies were given to Timothy: “that by them you may wage the good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18).
The Christians life – and especially the life of a minister – is a warfare, a continual contest against unseen forces of darkness and wickedness.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
Two main weapons used by these unseen forces of darkness are doubt and fear. Many times in his ministry Timothy most likely passed through periods of great difficulty and opposition and of apparent failure and frustration. At such periods he could easily be tempted to doubt the reality of his God-given calling. For this reason Paul reminds him of the prophecies which had outlined beforehand God’s plan for his life, and he urges him to be encouraged and strengthened by these so that he may go on to the fulfilment of his God-given task.
In particular Paul warns Timothy against yielding to fear. Immediately after he urged him to stir up the gift that is in him by the laying on of hands, Paul says:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).
What is the remedy that Paul recommends against the insidious attacks of this spirit of fear? The remedy is twofold: 1) that Timothy should stir up – rekindle into flame – the spiritual gift that he had received through the laying on of hands; 2) that Timothy should recall and be encouraged by the prophecies which outlined in advance the course that God had planned for his life.
We see, therefore, that the ordinance of laying on of hands was combined in Timothy’s experience with the gift of prophecy as a means whereby he might be directed, encouraged and strengthened in the fulfilment of his God-given ministry.
According to God’s Word, the same means to direct, to encourage and to strengthen are still available today to God’s people, and especially to God’s appointed ministers. Furthermore, God’s people and ministers still stand in need of these things as much today as in the days of Paul and Timothy.