May this day be a historic turning point in the life of Redemption Hill Church. May the records show for generations to come that the Lord brought our attention to a great and glorious reality – when Christ revealed to us God’s glorious grace to the church.
After two years of journeying through the first 12 chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew, we now stand at the foot of 1 Corinthians 12, to properly begin our series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Over the past few weeks, the Holy Spirit has providentially led us through the tail end of Matthew chapter 12, to lay some very important foundations upon which this study will be based. And if I may, I’d like to recap them in a few points.
- Any and all pursuit of God’s gifts for us must be a consequence of a deeper pursuit. Our foremost desire must not be the gifts of the Giver, but for the Giver of gifts.
The person of Jesus Christ is the ultimate sign that we must seek.
- We live in a miraculous world. From the birds in the air to the beasts of the field, to the constellations in the sky, to the life in the womb, we behold the work of the divine. The realm we call the natural world is just a world of miracles that we’ve gotten used to.
Beyond this world, existing simultaneously and together is another world, a world of miracles that we’ve not gotten used to, and that is the world of the spiritual.
Our knowledge, understanding, and belief of this world must be rooted not in our experience, but in Scripture. In fact, we are called by the apostle John to test every spirit.
1 John 4:1
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This spiritual world is not disconnected from our material world. This spiritual world indwells our material world and is the root influence of the course of human history.
- Christians are the educators on the subject of this spiritual world because only the Christian understands this world. The very born-again experience of the Christian is an experience of unveiling.
We have received the Holy Spirit of God. We worship the living God.
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Those of us who’ve inherited eternal life because of our belief in Christ, have met the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity.
- Any and all desire for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit must be a consequence of a deeper desire – to love and serve the Church. The local church is your spiritual family, your eternal family.
We saw this last week, how families are key building blocks in the life of the church. As much as the church is meant to be a blessing for your family, or even more, the family is meant to be the blessing for the church.
A Brief Historical Context
Before we dive into the text, we must understand a bit about the context of this portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians during his third missionary journey, near the end of his three-year ministry in Ephesus. And this letter is written in response to a letter sent to him by the Corinthian church.
1 Corinthians 7:1
1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: …
The Corinthian church seems to have sent Paul a letter asking a series of theological questions, and this letter is Paul’s response. Therefore, in this letter, we find that Paul addresses multiple issues, often in quick succession, which is atypical of a normal epistle or even a normal letter.
However, when it comes to chapters 12 through 14, D.A Carson points out 3 issues Paul targets.
- An over-realized eschatology (study of end times)
There were those who took the eschatological tension of the ‘already’ and ‘yet not already’ and went too far where they saw the end times as having already been fulfilled.
This over-realized eschatology can be seen in:
1 Corinthians 4:8 NASB95
8 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you.
Many of Paul’s arguments in these chapters echo this concern
- Division in the church
Throughout the letter, we see Paul address tensions among factions within the church. Tensions about marriage and celibacy, food offered to idols, and so on, and even about spiritual gifts.
It appears that the Corinthian church was divided on the subject of the gift of tongues and how it was being practiced in the church.
1 Corinthians 14:5
5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues,
Paul expresses his desire to see all speak in tongues.
1 Corinthians 14:18–19 NASB95
18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all;
19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
He speaks about the need for intelligibility within the congregation.
But then at the end, in:
1 Corinthians 14:39 NASB95
39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy and do not forbid to speak in tongues.
So, it would seem that there were those who were over-zealous in their use of the gift of tongues, while there were others concerned about such an approach to the practice. And there were still some others who would have much preferred to forbid speaking in tongues.
I would like to point out here that the concern of many cessationists today was a concern even at Paul’s time when the gifts were in full use. There is a naive belief that many cessationists hold to, that the existence of these extravagant gifts today cannot be true because of all the misuse and confusion it creates. But the misuse and confusion existed even then at a time pre-cessation according to cessationist theology.
And Paul’s approach to the chaos was to bring order and not to abandon, to misuse was right use not no use, to misplaced zeal was righteous zeal, not dry spirituality, to misunderstanding on spiritual gifts was right understanding of spiritual gifts – not cessationism.
- The conduct of the church
Because of all this division and confusion that existed within the Corinthian church, the conduct of believers whenever they gathered was affected. Hence, in these chapters, Paul outlines how they must behave and treat one another as they continue to meet together.
1 Corinthians 12:1–3 NASB95
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.
2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.
3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
The word Paul uses to talk about spiritual gifts, is charisma. It is the word from which we get our English word – charismatic. The word is used 17 times in the NT, Paul uses it 16 times, and Peter uses it once.
1 Peter 4:10 ESV
10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
We will come back to this verse in a bit.
- The word “charis-ma” carries the root word charis which means grace. Charisma is best translated as a “grace-gift”. It is grace-endowment. Charisma refers to gifting by grace, for grace. It is by grace that we receive such a gift, and when we use this gift to serve others we are giving them God’s grace through the use of this gift. It is from grace to grace.
Charisma means “grace-gift”. This is the term Paul uses to refer to spiritual gifts. But you see, Paul calls encouragement of faith a grace gift in Romans 1:11, eternal life a grace gift in Romans 6:23, to the election of Israel in Romans 11:29, to gifts such as serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leadership, and showing mercy in Romans 12:6-7.
This is an important turn on a contemporary take on charismatic gifts, isn’t it? When Paul uses “grace-gifts” to refer to faith, eternal life, serving, encouraging, teaching, leadership, generosity, and mercy, and then he uses the same term to refer to tongues, prophecy, miracles of healings, interpretation, discernment, and so on, Paul is uniting them all under one banner.
This is clearly and unavoidably the biblical position on spiritual gifts, but this offers a tremendous difficulty to the cessationist. If all these are grace-gifts, how do you cease some of them without ceasing all of them? In an old interview, a pastor once said that a cessationist has to do exegetical origami to prove their point, and I agree with him.
A natural, plain, and clear reading of Scripture couldn’t be more direct.
- However, things get a little more interesting when you realize that in verse 1 here,
1 Corinthians 12:1
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.
The use of “spiritual gifts” is not charisma, it is ‘pneumatikōn’ – which refers to spiritual manifestations. That is strange right? Why would Paul start with the use of one word that more specifically means spiritual manifestations, and then go on to use the word charisma as a replacement that is a more ambiguous word that refers to “grace-gifts”?
It is very likely that the letter Paul initially received from the Corinthian church had a question about the ‘pneumatikōn’. They probably used this word to specifically talk about ecstatic spiritual manifestations.
However, without a doubt, Paul’s replacement of this term with ‘charisma’ has to be seen as an intentional attempt to ground people’s thinking of spiritual manifestations as ‘grace-gifts’. This gives us even more reason, given the context of the issues faced in the Corinthian church, to make sure not to separate the ecstatic spiritual manifestations from the general grace endowments of being born-again. Any attempt to separate them, as the cessationists most certainly do, would be a mistake. (origami)
In fact, one could argue that in such a view, all Christians are by definition Charismatic.
Also, the word ‘pneumatikōn’ in the greek based on the way it is used can refer to ‘spiritual things’ or ‘spiritual people’. The way you read a passage in light of how ‘pneumatikōn’ is used can have a significant effect on your interpretation. It seems clear that Paul uses ‘spiritual things’ or ‘spiritual gifts’ in reference here, but D.A Carson again points out that the question of the Corinthian church could have been about both. He suggests that maybe the underlying question that the Corinthian church asked Paul was, “Are spiritual things or spiritual manifestations an unfailing evidence of spiritual people?”
Now, this might be the reason why Paul addresses spiritual people in verses 2 and 3 of this chapter.
1 Corinthians 12:2–3 ESV
2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.
3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of their former manner of life. As pagans, they have been led astray in the false worship of idols. This is why Paul does not want them to be ignorant about spiritual gifts because unlike their former lives of ignorance, their present Christian lives were meant to be lived in knowledge and understanding.
Beloved, ignorance is not a Christian virtue, it is an un-Christian one. Ignorance is not bliss, it is the blizzard of death.
Therefore – the word ‘therefore’ in verse 3 refers to a conclusion of verse 1 and verse 2. Paul is telling them that they shouldn’t be ignored as they once were, ‘therefore’…
no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
What does Paul mean when he says that? We know for certain that being spiritual is not just about semantics. You can’t just use the phrase “Jesus is Lord” to show that you are spiritual or vice-versa.
This cannot be used as some mere litmus test to identify genuine believers from false ones. And that is not Paul’s point here either.
Rather what Paul is pointing out is the outcome of spiritual things by spiritual people. One who speaks in the Spirit of God elevates the truth that “Jesus is Lord”. Speaking in the Holy Spirit will not reflect a curse upon Christ, but an exaltation of Christ. In other words, the fruit of all spiritual manifestations must be Christ-exalting. This is the reason why even as a charismatic, I can disagree with so many of the practices of the contemporary charismatic church because if Christ is not exalted and God’s people are not edified, it is of no use.
True spiritual manifestations always uphold biblical integrity, it does not compromise it. It never has.
When the exercise of any gift or talent, pulls away from Christ’s glory and falls further in the pit of cursing Christ’s glory is the work of Satan.
As Carson puts it, “Paul’s concern is to establish an essentially Christological focus to the question of who is spiritual, who has the Holy Spirit”.
Coming back to 1 Peter 4:10, 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
Each has received – According to Peter, all Christians have at least one ‘grace-gift’ endowed upon them when they are saved. We need to fall in line and stop seeing ‘spiritual gifts’ as ecstatic gifts alone. We have to see the charisma as one. They are gifts of grace for grace. And we all have various grace gifts.
Use it – Peter expects this gift to be used. A refusal to do so would be a denial of grace.
Stewards of God – using these gifts makes one a steward of God’s varied grace.
The relationship between ‘gift’ and ‘grace’ in charisma is undeniable and God’s grace falls upon man in varied forms, and the varied gifts are vehicles of such grace.
Serve one another – The ultimate aim is to serve one another. As John Piper points out few things were more radical during the reformation than the realization that Christian service was not a privilege reserved for the priests and bishops. The life of a church is not found in the words of the preacher, but in the service of its covenant members. The words of a preacher are only the sound of the heartbeat.
Do you see then, how just in the first three introductory verses of chapter 12, we find certain key principles, namely four:
- Jesus is the ultimate reward
- Spiritual realities are part and parcel of the Christian life
- It is the Holy Spirit who works to employ and distribute these spiritual gifts
- The ultimate aim of it all is to serve the church, your eternal family in Christ