Considering our study on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, that we as a church want to be equipped with the theological knowledge that would enable us to desire the spiritual gifts, it is important that we not only learn about the nature and purpose of these spiritual gifts but also about how we can practically pursue & exercise them.
There is a sense in which we can continue learning this subject in a way that we are intellectually equipped for no practical benefit. It would be like learning what prayer is but never praying, like understanding the importance of books and never reading anything.
- The reason we stepped into this series is so that we can have a sound theological framework that would enable us to have a more reasonable and accurate expectation of the spiritual gifts.
There is much that can be said over and again regarding the specifics of these gifts, but some of these things are best explained as we begin to train and practice the use of these gifts.
And so, we who now stand at the tail end of 1 Corinthians 14, have learnt much about the ‘charisma’, and it is time now that we look across all that we’ve learnt and begin to apply ourselves in this godly pursuit.
The point of this study was not to equip everyone with the spiritual gifts themselves, but rather to set the ball rolling in the right direction, to lay that crucial foundation that would now begin to take effect in the life of the church. This is a long-term plan, not a short-term one. I am confident that our Lord is faithful to see us through to the end.
Therefore, starting today, may you find different aspects of Redemption Hill, our gatherings, prayers, conversations, intercessions, counselling & worship begin to shape around these convictions.
- Now, having read a lot on the subject, and listening to several pastors who’ve led their churches through such a transition, I want you to know that some of these things may make some of us, maybe all of us uncomfortable, and it is very important that we return to the foundation of Scripture as our guide to navigate through those situations.
However, even as we journey through this together, let me encourage you to have open conversations regarding such concerns or doubts that you may have, and be willing to come to me or others in this church and have those conversations.
- Starting today, I am seeking the Lord in order to begin our practical training in spiritual gifts.
- We are told to desire the spiritual gifts, especially that we may prophesy, but how do we do that really?
- If we have the gift of tongues, how do we use it?
- The last thing I want this study to do is to have you come so far as to agree with the continuity of these gifts only to say, “I now leave it to the Spirit to decide how to gift us”, and then leave it there.
Desiring Spiritual Gifts
Here are the beginning and concluding statements of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14, and the concluding statement of chapter 12
1 Corinthians 14:1 ESV
1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
1 Corinthians 14:39 ESV
39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:31 ESV
31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
- Three times we see the Scripture render this not only as desire but earnest desire. There is a potency to this desire, an eagerness, a fierceness to it. This is no ordinary desire, it is an extraordinary desire that we are expected to have.
The Greek word used there is zéloó (dzay-lo’-o) – is an onomatopoeic word – the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoo, sizzle, bang etc ). Here this word resembles the boiling of water.
To think that this is the command of Scripture, that we have such a kind of desire for Spiritual Gifts. Such a desire was birthed in the love for one another.
- This, is the starting point of our pursuit of the Spiritual Gifts, to foster such a desire. This is a crucial point. Such desire cannot be initiated like turning the ignition of a car. We can’t just begin having such desire out of thin air.
But what we can do is use all that we’ve been learning from the word, to help foster the growth of such a desire. If faith comes by hearing, then the faith to pursue and practice the gifts of the Holy Spirit will come first from the word of God.
This is where we begin, my meditating on Christ’s word.
- Then, we must pray and yield our hearts to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Much of this sermon will be centred around this topic – ‘having learnt so much, what do we do now?’
- But also notice, that this desire although directed at all spiritual gifts, has an express instruction that it primarily be aimed at prophecy. Every time.
- Which brings me to the most important question, “In fostering this desire, what exactly are we looking for? How exactly does this work?”
1 Thessalonians 5:19–22 ESV
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
We looked at this passage briefly last week, but let us dive into it a little further.
- How on earth are we even capable of quenching the Holy Spirit of God?
Daniel 4:35 ESV
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
Luke 1:37 ESV
37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”This is the same eternal Spirit that hovered over the waters of the deep before creation. It is the same Spirit that displayed the might of God throughout generations, placed the Son of God in a virgin’s womb, empowered him throughout his glorious ministry, and raised him from the dead!
It is that eternal Spirit that you and I are capable of quenching? Listen to me beloved, no one can douse the flame of God’s Holy Spirit. We are not that strong.
Then, what on earth is Paul talking about here? He is talking about our sin.
God is pleased according to his divine wisdom to work in your life and the life of the church, to the extent that you’re willing to let him.
Now there’s a statement that our Calvinistic brains choke on! We like to toss it all up to the sovereignty of God as though all that is happening around us is his desired purpose. That is simply not true. The fact that God works all things together for our good does not make all things good.
How many times have God delayed his desired purpose for you simply because you were not ready to pray for it? And instead of giving it to you in spite of your prayerlessness, God is often pleased to wait and disciple you to be able to pray that prayer.
Matthew 13:58 ESV
58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. This is not a sign of the Spirit’s weakness, but sign of the Spirit’s intention. This is not God unable, but God displeased.
The sovereignty of God does not mean that we can sit back on our armchairs and read Calvin all day long, as though God is your automated vacuum cleaner clearing out all the dust in your life.
Beloved, God is not short on power or time, and he is pleased, according to Scripture, to fulfil his purposes through our desiring.
James 4:8 ESV
8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.Beloved, we are instructed to draw near to God if we want God to draw near to us. We can quench the Spirit, and distance ourselves from God, and God is pleased to patiently wait and teach us to come around before we benefit from his nearness & spiritual power.The fact remains that:
Philippians 1:6 ESV
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.But the manner in which he brings about that completion is your sanctification.
- What is more surprising is that this instruction was given to the Thessalonian church, whose commitment to word & Spirit was a great example to all.
1 Thessalonians 1:6–8 ESV
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
How does such a church quench the Spirit? How does their love for the word end up quenching the Spirit who is at work in their midst? We are told in the next verse.
- v20 – do not despise prophecy
- The word for despising here means to count as nothing or to treat with utter contempt.
When cessationists try to say that prophecy is equal in authority to Scripture, as a way to justify its cessation, it seems strange right that a church like the Thessalonians who were commended for their dedication to the word would be corrected for the despising of the same word.
Even in Paul’s time, there was a clear distinction between prophecy and the preaching of the word. The Thessalonians were able to love one and despise the other.
- I always thought that the Thessalonians despised prophecy because of its power to reveal the secrets of the heart as we read in 1 Corinthians.
But upon considering this reality, that too seems strange. If they were devoted to the word, then they were submissive to the instruction of the word. Prophetic revelations would not have been hindered by such desire.
The better reading of the text seems to be that the reason that the Thessalonians despised prophecy was because of its abuse.
In Paul’s time, churches were wary about the use of prophecy, and Paul’s instruction is, do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophecy.
- Another interesting point to note is that we are not told that the Thessalonians forbid prophecy, just that they despised it – and that was tantamount to quenching the Spirit.
They weren’t just despising prophecies or prophets, but were despising the gift itself and to look upon a Gift of the Holy Spirit with such contempt is to quench the Spirit – it is sin.
This wasn’t so much a conflict within the church as we see in Corinth, but rather a collective disdain for prophecy, probably because they were not prophesying well.
- The word for despising here means to count as nothing or to treat with utter contempt.
- v21-22 – but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
- This is more suggestive of the fact that the abuse of prophecy is the reason for such disdain.
- And so Paul tells them to test everything and hold fast to what is good, and reject what is evil.
- I hope you’re getting a practical sense of the gift of prophecy. It is a gift that when exercised can be erroneous, misguided, misused, or abused.
- And so the million dollar question – Why? This is not the kind of prophecy we see in the OT. Indeed.
Learning to hear God
- Prophecy, at the heart, is hearing God, and although not all prophecy, all of us are expected to hear God.
Hearing God speak to us (through whatever means) is not an elective gift. We are all supposed to hear from God. But sadly, it surprises many reformed Christians when I say that God can speak to us in multiple ways, and not just through the Bible.
God can speak to us through creation,
Psalm 19:1 ESV
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
He can speak to us through circumstances or events,
Matthew 16:2–3 ESV
2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
He can speak to our conscience,
Acts 11:12 ESV
12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.
Acts 19:21 ESV
21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
Acts 20:22 ESV
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,
He can speak to us audibly,
Acts 10:19–20 ESV
19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”
Acts 8:29 ESV
29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”
All of these references could either be audible or an inner voice in the conscience.
And, he can speak to us through visions, dreams and prophecy, through the outworking of the spiritual gifts.
- We, the people of the word, the sola-scriptura folk have gotten ourselves into a tragic twist if we’ve reduced God speaking to us to the reading of Scripture.
Beloved, there is no question about the fact that the Bible is the primary means by which God speaks to us. But primary means that there are secondary and tertiary means, and each has its own purpose.
Saying that if God speaks to me through the Bible, I see no need to have any other means, is like saying you don’t need furniture as long as you have a roof over your head. God’s not offering you an either-or, but a both-and.
- God speaks to us through the written word and through impressions in our conscience all the time. And if we are to get better at reading scripture, why are we not to get better at hearing him speak to us?
If we are to train and foster our gifts, so that we might grow in our gifting, then the same must apply to all the gifts. If we assumed that we have to practice and grow in our helping, encouraging, preaching & teaching, then why do we assume that prophecy & tongues do not require such training?
If we have room for people to make mistakes in all of the other charisma, why don’t we have room for these? Paul certainly makes room throughout his writing.
If someone has the gift of prophecy, then there is a need for them to grow in their proficiency in prophesying.
To use a more contemporary metaphor, there are weak magicians and strong magicians, immature ones and mature ones, yet they all possess magic.
In this regard, the ‘gift of prophecy in the NT is not the same as the office of the prophet in the OT.
Where do we start?
We as a church, therefore, need to start training in prophecy in order to heed the biblical command to earnestly desire this gift.
- And guess what, we have been training for the past 7 years. By learning the sure and sound foundation of the word, that we may not deviate with every wind of doctrine, and can test every spirit.
The first step to desiring prophecy is to desire God’s word.
- The second step to desiring prophecy is to pray and ask.
- The third step is to learn to hear God speaking.
- Ask the question – “What is God telling you?”
- We will do much of such training in our bible study and prayer gathering which we hope to have more of in the coming weeks.
1 Corinthians 14:36–40 ESV
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.
- The order and decency of the exercise of the spiritual gifts do not change the weirdness that they may have. At the end of the day, the practice of these gifts can make many of us uncomfortable (not by the conviction of the Spirit but because of our own bias).
- There is no biblical hermeneutic for weirdness.
- In Numbers 22, the donkey spoke. Why?
- Jesus made mud balls with his spit
John 9:6 ESV
6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud
- Jesus spit in a man’s eyes
Mark 8:23 ESV
23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”
- If we wanted to remove all weirdness from the congregation, we ought to do it with the Bible too.
- Here’s a rule of thumb, do not disregard anything because of an appearance of weirdness, but be good at discerning God’s voice and handling God’s word.