Posts Tagged ‘spiritual gifts’

1 Corinthians 14:27-29

In 1 Corinthians 14:27-29 Paul continues educating the Corinthian church on the spiritual gifts. He doesn’t close the door on speaking in tongues in church, but he does make it clear that there are definite rules that need to be followed. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.” The first consideration is that everyone should come to church with a heart to build up someone else, not to be focused on what they can get out of the Body. Secondly, tongues are not the main event and need to be limited, and if they are allowed, need to be orderly and done with interpretation so the entire church can benefit.

So Paul does not prohibit speaking in tongues in a church meeting, though we remember he primarily has in mind the meeting of house churches. He will not prohibit it, because if the tongue has an interpretation, there is a potential for blessing others. Yet, he will not encourage it either. If it happens there are strict guidelines for how it must be done. It’s not driven by the individual but by the availability of an interpreter. “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.” Speaking in tongues in a church meeting that does not observe these Scriptural guidelines is wrong. It might be well motivated, it might be done with a good heart, but it is still wrong, because it goes against the plain teaching of the Bible.

Paul shifts to prophecy and also has some specific guidelines as to how that needs to be handled. Paul is more favorable to prophecy being part of what happens in church, but even then it needs regulation. The whole meeting should not be given over to prophecy, but only two or three should speak at any given meeting. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” And somewhat like tongues where an interpretation is key to it being of value to the Body, the gifts of the Spirit are never to be made the focus of congregational life. Worship and the Word are the focus, and the gifts flow under God’s direction around the focus of worship and the Word.

So it is critical that the words of prophecy be evaluated and measured by others. No “word from the Lord” should to be received without careful consideration by the leadership of the church present at the meeting. Even if an angel from heaven came with a message, it must be tested and judged. Everything has to go through the filter of God’s Word, as that is never changed. It should be judged according to God’s established, revealed word. God will never contradict Himself. It is wrong to assume anyone perfectly hears God, so it is also wrong to put too much trust and faith in a prophecy. Any word of prophecy is never intended to replace God’s written Word.

1 Corinthians 14:22-26

In 1 Corinthians 14:22-26 Paul continues to explain how spiritual gifts should be used in the church. He’s still focused on tongues and prophecy as two areas that clarity is needed for the Corinthians. “Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.” In Isaiah 28, the strange tongues were not a blessing, but a curse. Paul is warning us. Clarke wrote: “Take heed that it be not the case now: that, by dwelling on the gift, ye forget the Giver; and what was designed for you as a blessing, may prove to you to be a curse… God may curse your blessings.”

Paul plainly says that tongues are a sign to unbelievers, and prophecy is a sign for those who believe. “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” If unbelievers hear tongues in a meeting, they will not be blessed, but will say that you are out of your mind. There is no way an unbeliever will understand how tongues fit into God’s plan. It will be chaos and confusion and they will run away believing that the church is filled with people who are crazy. God is a God of order, and this would be the opposite.

But if unbelievers hear prophecy and are convicted in their hearts, their reaction may be to worship God and report that God is truly among you. “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” That’s an entirely different outcome from what might happen if tongues are uncontrolled in the church. Tongues will not “minister” to or edify unbelievers. Tongues do nothing to bring the unbeliever closer to God; they may instead turn him off. Prophecy on the other hand, can definitely touch an unbeliever for the Kingdom.

Paul is addressing the Corinthian church and how they should act when they meet together. His overarching principle is that gifts should be used for the edification of the body. And the behavior of the body when gathered can include a number of things. “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” Paul sees the gathering of the church as a time when people come to participate and to give to one another, not merely to passively receive. Church is an active thing where each participates and plays their part in worship and fellowship together. But the major purpose is to build up one another in the faith!

1 Corinthians 14:18-21

In 1 Corinthians 14:18-21 Paul again teaches us about the gifts of the Spirit. Paul is completely consistent in his emphasis on tongues being directed to God. Just in this chapter alone, he points out what we do with the gift of tongues: we pray, we sing, we bless, and we give thanks. All of these we do unto the Lord, not unto man, with the gift of tongues. But he also balances the impact on the church with that of the individual. He makes sure we know that the gift of tongues is an important gift for an individual and one that he not only uses, but highly appreciates. “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”

Paul saw great value in the gift of tongues for his own devotional life before the Lord but when he gathered with other Christians, his concern was to be a blessing, not with getting a blessing. “Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. In the presence of the church, the focus is not on self and what the individual impact might be of speaking in tongues, but rather on the ability to build up and edify the body of Christ. Speaking in tongues for one’s self is not how the Spirit intends that gift to be used. In the church, it should only be heard if it is interpreted.

The Corinthian church us misusing the gift of tongues. It was more about showing off how spiritual they were in front of each other than anything else. Paul calls them to account. “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” They were demonstrating their selfish desire to edify themselves at the expense of others in the meeting, so the Corinthians showed themselves to be children, and selfishly immature. Paul points them to a higher call. He tells them that tongues are not to be used that way in the church. It’s not a measure of anything spiritually.

Paul here quotes from Isaiah 28:11-12. In Isaiah 28, the prophet Isaiah announces judgment to the people of Israel. They did not receive the word of the prophets who spoke to them in Hebrew, so now they will hear the voice of men with other tongues and other lips. The Assyrian invaders spoke a language the Israelites could not understand, and it was an example of judgment to the Israelites. “In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” So God uses tongues in many different ways. But in all cases, He alone is in control of who, what, when, where, how and why. They are never to be something we force or attempt to manufacture.

1 Corinthians 14:13-17

In 1 Corinthians 14:13-17 Paul continues his teaching on spiritual gifts, and particularly around the gift of speaking in tongues. Within the church setting, tongues without interpretation don’t have value to the body. Therefore Paul tells those with the gift to pray that they can be interpreted if used in the church. “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret.” Paul suggests the tongues’ speaker himself prays that he may interpret. Then, the uncertain sound of unknown tongues need never be public, yet the whole church is edified by the interpretation of the tongue.

While speaking in tongues is given so a person can communicate directly to God and not to man, it doesn’t help the speaker to understand what they are praying. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” Speaking in tongues communicates with God on a spiritual level, passing by our personal understanding. My understanding does not benefit when I speak in tongues (it is unfruitful), but my spirit prays. It has purpose, but is not the highest way to connect with God.

So how does one actually speak in tongues? Guzik writes ‘everyone’s experience may be slightly different, but generally, we can make some observations:

  • It doesn’t happen as one just opens their mouth and God “takes over” their tongue
  • It doesn’t happen as they begin to wiggle their tongue and God “takes over”
  • It doesn’t happen as they are told to repeat a nonsense word or phrase faster and faster until God “takes over”

The language of tongues works much like languages we understand. A word or a sound occurs to our mind, and we vocalize that word or sound. In the gift of tongues, one simply continues to speak the words and sounds coming into their mind, trusting God is prompting them, and He understands what they say, and that in the Spirit what we say is perfectly appropriate for the moment.’

Paul is clear that he speaks in tongues, but also that it is done intentionally and under the right circumstances. Paul will use the gift of tongues, both in prayer and in song, and he will use it often. “Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?” Paul’s use of tongues was focused in his devotional life with the Lord. He knows that doing it in public doesn’t build up anyone. “For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.” And ultimately, the purpose of public gifts is the edification of the church, not the individual.

1 Corinthians 14:7-12

In 1 Corinthians 14:7-12 Paul continues to talk about how spiritual gifts should be used in the church. He particularly focuses on how the gift of tongues needs to be viewed. “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?” It may feel good for a child to bang on a piano, and they may like the sound, but for anyone else, it is unpleasant. Even so, someone talking to God with the gift of tongues may be blessed, but no one else is. “And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” The purpose of gifts in the church is to build up the body.

Paul makes it clear that speaking in tongues at a meeting of the church benefits no one else; it is simply putting sounds into the air, not words and ideas into the minds and hearts of others. “So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.” It may satisfy curiosity to hear someone else speak in tongues, but it does not edify spiritually. We may think it is “neat” to hear others speak in tongues, but that is more of a soulish curiosity than a spiritual edification. The purpose of gifts is to build up the body so tongues need to be utilized as they are intended by the Spirit.

Language itself is a gift from God. We can communicate with language because we are made in the image of God. “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” Knowing language is a gift from God, and all languages have meaning, we can trust that if we speak in the gift of tongues, God understands, even if no one else – including ourselves – can. But tongues are usually a one on one communication with God, not an edifying communication with the church at large.

Paul knows that speaking in tongues was a boost to the ego of many in the Corinthian church. That’s not why the Spirit gives gifts, so we can feel good about ourselves. He challenges the church to focus on gifts that build up the body. “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” Here’s the principle regarding tongues: The goal must be mutual benefit at church meetings. If there are tongues, there must be interpretation, so there can be edification. Guzik explains “If tongues are directed to God, how can a legitimate interpretation be edifying to others? The same way our reading of Psalms can edify. The prayer, praise, or plea of another unto God can identify powerfully with our own heart before God, and we can agree with what someone else says to God.”

1 Corinthians 14:5-6

In 1 Corinthians 14:5-6 Paul continues to teach on the details around spiritual gifts. Paul was positive about the gift of tongues! Because of the tone of this chapter, it is easy to think he was “down” on the gift of tongues. Not at all; Paul valued the gift of tongues in his own life. “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.” Why did Paul wish everyone would speak in tongues? No doubt, because he knew the value of it in his own life. Paul was able, when praying in the spirit, to connect with God in a way beyond human language and understanding. He could pray, praise, and intercede beyond his human ability to communicate. Paul wanted every Christian to know this same blessing.

Yet Paul also knows that this gift of speaking in tongues, as valuable as it is to the individual, falls short when compared to other gifts that edify the entire body such as prophecy. “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” So why does Paul make this statement of prophecy being more valuable than tongues? As good as the gift of tongues is, Paul sees prophecy as better for the church as a whole. Why? Because He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. And the focus here is that the church may receive edification more than the individual.

Paul’s context here is more focused on what the Corinthian Christians do when they come together as a church than on what they do in their own devotional life. There are things that are powerful for a Christian to do in their own devotional life, which may be disruptive, annoying, or self-exalting for a Christian to do in a church meeting. The gift of tongues is one of those things. It doesn’t have to be if used appropriately and according to the guidance of scripture – having someone who can translate it for the body. But since Paul focuses on when the Corinthian Christian comes together as a church, it is clear why he regards the gift of prophecy as greater.

So Paul goes deeper and talks about how the church can be built up. “Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” Paul describes different ways he might communicate which would be edifying to others.

  • Revelation: Paul may speak of his own awareness of unique inspiration as an apostle. There may have been times when Paul knew with apostolic authority His words were directly and infallibly from God.
  • Knowledge: Paul may speak of his own knowledge, or by supernatural knowledge given by the Holy Spirit. Whichever, the knowledge was communicated in the language common to all, so all could profit.
  • Prophesying: Paul knew he could speak by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with a sense his thoughts and words were guided and blessed by the Holy Spirit.
  • Teaching: Paul could also profit others by speaking to them from the Scriptures themselves, teaching them as was his pattern in the churches he founded

1 Corinthians 14:1-4

In 1 Corinthians 14:1-4 Paul shifts gears back to a discussion around gifts. In Chapter 12, he talked about gifts at a high level. He then did a 180 in Chapter 13 and switched to a discussion around love. That was done to emphasize that love is above all gifts. But now he returns and gets into the weeds around how gifts should be applied and used in the church. He begins right where he left off – making it clear that love should be our lifelong pursuit. “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” Gifts are the temporary enablers God provides to help us get the work of the ministry done, but agape love is the ultimate pursuit.

There is much focus in this chapter on the gift of tongues which was of particular interest and focus in the Corinthian church. Paul works to explain how tongues fit not only as one of the gifts of the Spirit, but also how it should work in the church. He begins by reminding us that tongues are a language used to speak to God, not man. “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” It is a prayer language that allows a person to connect with God in a different way but does not build up the church because no one can understand. It may impact the church through answered prayer, but it isn’t something others can directly benefit from.

Paul, like he did in the opening verse of this chapter, makes a point that prophesy is a gift that should be desired. Unlike tongues which no one but the speaker can understand, when one prophesies they share God’s truth so that all can understand. “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” Paul lists the three things that prophesy can do:

  1. Build up
  2. Encourage
  3. Console

It directly impacts those who hear it and builds up the body which is a purpose of spiritual gifts overall. Paul tells us to desire that gift as it has maximum impact on the body of Christ.

And to be sure we heard him clearly, Paul again compares the difference between tongues and prophesy. “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” Tongues is something that is powerful for the individual who is given that gift, and the result of their speaking in tongues may impact the broader church, but it is primarily focused on the individual. When we look at prophesy, it is God’s truth shared with God’s people and impacts the church at large. It is God’s way to share truth with people and give them direct hearing of what God has to say through his prophet to the body.

1 Corinthians 13:3

In 1 Corinthians 13:3 Paul continues to teach the Corinthian church that spiritual gifts are subservient to love in every way. Gifts are not an end to themselves. They are given by the Holy Spirit to members of the body for the well being of the body. And the foundation upon which those gifts are to be used is love. He has made the point in the first few verses that gifts of tongues, prophecy, mystery and knowledge all are worth nothing if they are not exercised and used on a basis of love for the good of the body of Christ. There is no other way for gifts to be used properly. Love trumps all else.

Paul goes on to make one last case on just how important the contrast is between love and ANYTHING else. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” But what is this love that Paul writes of. Guzik explains it this way: “Paul uses the ancient Greek word agape. The ancient Greeks had four different words we could translate love. It is important to understand the difference between the words, and why the apostle Paul chose the Greek word agape here.

  • Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love. It refers to sexual love.
  • Storge was the second word for love. It refers to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child, or between family members in general.
  • Philia is the third word for love. It speaks of a brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. It might be described as the highest love of which man, without God’s help, is capable of.
  • Agape is the fourth word for love. It is a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting repayment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected.”

Paul drives the point deeply when he says that even dying without love is worthless. Even if we lay down our life in dramatic martyrdom, apart from love, it is of no value. Not just less, but NOTHING. Normally, no one would doubt the spiritual credentials of someone who gave away everything they had, and gave up their life in dramatic martyrdom. But those are not the best measures of someone’s true spiritual credentials. Love is the best measure. In fact, love is the only measure. Gifts don’t define our spirituality at all. But love, that is what God looks at and will determine our worth. Is love your guide?

There were some early Christians that were so arrogant they thought that the blood of martyrdom would wash away any sin. They were so proud about their ability to endure suffering for Jesus, they thought it was the most important thing in the Christian life. It is important, but not the most important. Many Christians believe the Christian life is all about sacrifice – sacrificing your money, your life, for the cause of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice is important, but without love it is useless. Love is so valuable, so important, that apart from it, every other good thing is useless. Sometimes we make the great mistake of letting go of what is best for something else that is good, but not the best. Paul is clear – LOVE is above all else in God’s eyes.

2 Corinthians 12:28-31

In 2 Corinthians 12:28-31 Paul wraps up his teaching to the church at Corinth around spiritual gifts. He summarizes his list of gifts reminding them that each is important and unique. “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”

  1. Apostles
  2. Prophets
  3. Teachers
  4. Miracles
  5. Healing
  6. Helping
  7. Administrating
  8. Tongues

These things are all important and are given to each person as the Holy Spirit chooses

Apostles are “special ambassadors” of the church. Paul and others in his day had a unique apostolic authority, which will never be repeated because the foundation of the church has already been set (Ephesians 2:20). However, God still has His “special ambassadors” in the church today, though not with the same authority as the original apostles.

Prophets are those particularly called to speak with the gift of prophecy. There was a unique, foundational authority to this gift as well (Ephesians 2:19-20). However, God raises up those to speak to the church and the world with a special blessing and power.

Teachers are those with the ability and giftedness to apply God’s truth to others in a practical and actionable way.

Miracles: Those used of God to do miracles. Yet, the Biblical pattern is for miracles to be done on the Holy Spirit’s initiative, not the initiative of the individual.

Healing is the ability to be used of God to impact a persons physical, emotional or spiritual health

Helper: One who helps, or assists others in doing the work of the Lord. Spurgeon lists these traits for someone who is an effective Helper:

  1. A tender heart to really care.
  2. A quick eye to see the need.
  3. A quick foot to get to the needy.
  4. A loving face to cheer them and bless them.
  5. A firm foot so you will not fall yourself.
  6. A strong hand to grip the needy with.
  7. A bent back to reach the man.

Administration is the ability to manage and utilize the resources God entrusts to the church for maximum impact

Tongues is a communicative gift, used in speaking to God

Paul ends reminding us of a couple principles about gifts. We are all uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit as He chooses and when He chooses. No one is the same as another. “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” At the same time, Paul makes it clear that all gifts are not the same in terms of their value to the body, and it is acceptable for us to pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to anoint us with the gifts He chooses to impact the body. “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.And I will show you a still more excellent way.”

1 Corinthians 12:21-27

In 1 Corinthians 12:21-27 Paul continues his instruction on spiritual gifts. Now Paul writes to those tempted to pride and a sense of superiority because of their gifts or place in the body. They cannot say to such parts, “I have no need of you.” God has created each member of the body uniquely and necessary for the good of all in the body. Every person is important and essential to God’s plan. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” Often, we consider a part of our body unnecessary or of low importance, until it is hurt – then we realize how important it is! The hand or the eye may seem to be more important, and may have more “glamour” in its position, but it is not more necessary or important than other parts of the body.

If someone feels they are a “hidden” or “unglamorous” member of the body of Jesus Christ, God knows how to bestow honor upon them. God knows the value of each one of us, and will make sure that we are given the honor we should have as equal members of the body. “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.” Clarke wrote about the less honorable parts: “Seem to mean the principle viscera, such as heart, lungs, stomach, and intestinal canal. These, when compared with the arms and limbs, are comparatively weak; and some of them, considered in themselves, uncomely and less honourable; yet these are more essential to life than any of the others.”

There is never any reason for division in the body. The “pride” of the “honorable” member is checked, as is the “shame” of the “less honorable” member. Spiritual gifts should NEVER cause any rift or division in the body. If they do, they are not being used as God designed, but for selfish motives. “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” The Corinthian Christians, and you and me, should care for one another because they are all part of the same body.

Here’s the reality. What happens to any member of the body happens to all members of the body. The parts of the body work together. The eyes and ears do not only serve themselves, but the whole body. The hands do not only feed and defend themselves, but the whole body. The heart does not only supply blood to itself, but serves the whole body. Sometimes there is a part of our body that only lives to serve itself. It doesn’t contribute anything to the rest of the body, and everything it gets it uses to feed and grow itself. We call this cancer. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” God designed us as One.

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