Posts Tagged 'gift of prophecy'

1 Corinthians, Part 6

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As we all know by now, the church at Corinth was a troubled church; it had all manner of problems, spiritual and otherwise. It was a big church. It was a diverse church. It was an ambitious church. It was a church that desperately needed help. To their credit, the leaders of the Corinthian congregation knew they were in “over their heads” and they reached out to the apostle Paul. They wrote him a couple of letters describing their problems, sure that he could offer solutions. One of their issues Paul picks up in chapter 12.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1. TNIV)

The Corinthians had questions about spiritual gifts, and Paul approached that topic in a general way in chapter 12. We’ll later find out that not only did the Corinthians have questions, but that they also had problems with one gift in particular, the gift of tongues. But in chapter 12, he made sure that they understood all the spiritual gifts had value; they all contributed to the health of the Body of Christ – the Church.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7 TNIV)

That verse actually says a lot more than meets they eye. That “common good” refers to what is good for the Church – what is good for the congregation at Corinth in particular. Spiritual gifts are of no value to the world outside the Church because the world without Christ has no spiritual understanding and they can’t appreciate the Holy Spirit and what He does.

But that verse also tells us something very important: “each one” or each member of the church is given “the manifestation of the Spirit.” In other words, all Christians have been given the ability to exercise whatever Spiritual gift or gifts they have been given. I say this is important because, as we will see, the Corinthians were crazy about Spiritual gifts and it seemed like just about everybody was exercising them. Paul wanted to make sure they understood that it wasn’t just pastors who were endowed with the gifts of the Spirit, but that these Corinthians were right in wanting to use their gifts. They just needed to be taught how to do it properly. The church today probably has the opposite problem. Most churches know in a vague sort of way that there are gifts of the Spirit but make no effort to encourage their members to discover what gift they have been given. That’s why so many churches are, well, sort of dead. They have the knowledge of Spiritual gifts, but little or no experience.

Here are the gifts –

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:8 – 10. TNIV)

We assume that this big church had all these gifts being manifested to varying degrees by its members, but the gift of tongues was being abused. And that’s the reason for chapter 13. This isn’t the so-called “love chapter” at all. Paul is still dealing with Spiritual gifts in chapter 13, but from the perspective of how to use them: use them in love.

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2. TNIV)

In those two verses, Paul uses three gifts as examples – tongues, prophecy, and faith – to say that if he exercised those gifts without love, then he’s wasting his time. He then goes on to describe love, but with the aim of teaching the Corinthians that that’s how they should be exercising the gifts of the Spirit: with patience, kindness, humility, to honor others, with joy and in truth, and so on. We do a great disservice to 1 Corinthians 13 by always reading it at weddings. It has nothing to do with marriage but everything to do with how Christians are to treat each other with regard to the Spiritual gifts they may or may not have.

Finally we get to chapter 14 and Paul chooses one particular gift, prophecy, which in modern language we might refer to as the gift of speaking or preaching the Word. It’s not necessarily foretelling future events. Paul chooses this gift of prophecy or speaking to show that another gift, the spiritual gift of tongues (regardless of what you may think it means) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It seems like members of this church were obsessing over and clamoring for this gift of tongues; there was an undue stress on it getting it and using it. So Paul contrasts it with what he considered a more useful gift, the gift of prophecy.

Paul’s preferred gifts?

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:1, 2. TNIV)

In chapter 13, Paul pushed the way of love, and here he writes that as we pursue love, we ought to pursue spiritual gifts with just as much vigor. In the pursuit of Spiritual gifts, Paul advised the Corinthians to give first place to the gift of prophecy, which is associated with preaching. This was his advice to the Corinthians, confronting a problem in that church: Too many were pursuing the gift of tongues or exalting those who were manifesting that gift. The weakness with the gift of tongues as it was being used in the Corinthian church, was that, as Paul wrote, “no one understands them.” Elsewhere in his writing, Paul wrote this –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26, 27. TNIV)

These “wordless groans” are what Paul probably had in mind; a form of the gift of tongues meant to be used in private, in prayer, between the one praying and his God. These “groans,” what we refer to as “praying in the Spirit,” don’t do anybody any good except for the one praying. When one is praying in the Spirit, he’s praying to God, not talking to anybody else, and in fact, nobody else can understand him. That’s why Paul makes it clear that when it comes to edifying the Body of Christ, preaching in the common language is better than praying in tongues. Paul isn’t dissing praying in tongues, he is putting these two gifts in perspective. They are both indispensable in the life of the Christian, but within the life of the Church, prophecy or preaching is better because everybody can benefit from the use of that gift.

But those who prophesy speak to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3. TNIV)

So this gift of prophecy, then, is an “inspired utterance” which the whole congregation can understand; the message (sermon or Bible study, perhaps) will build up Christian character in people, or encourage them and strengthen them.

But, don’t dismiss the gift of tongues out of hand, though –

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. Those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues, unless they interpret, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:5. TNIV)

Paul isn’t forbidding tongues but he wanted his Corinthian friends to use common sense in the pursuit of Spiritual gifts. And the common sense approach to pursuing spiritual gifts is that they must – MUST – benefit the church. It may well be that in another church, more praying in the Spirit was needed and less prophesying. Remember, he’s simply addressing a problem in this particular church.

But then notice what he wrote about speaking in tongues. If somebody bursts forth in an ecstatic spiritual utterance, and a bunch of people overhear him, then he is obligated to interpret what he said in tongues. Why? Again, it makes common sense. People who overhear his speaking in tongues may be confused; they may not know what he said or what’s going on. Therefore, the onus is on the one who gets carried away speaking in tongues too loudly to explain what he said or why he did what he did. And when he does that, he will be edifying the whole church.

For this reason those who speak in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:13, 14 TNIV)

Paul is nothing if not Mr Practical! In all things in the church, the mind should always be engaged. Emotions are good but people often get carried away by their emotions. When that happens, we’re no longer following the way of love, we’re doing what makes US feel good. Speaking in tongues may make US feel good, but not anybody else. Love is not all emotion-based, the mind is involved. We must always be careful in all our interactions within the church, and especially in our use of any Spiritual gift, to make sure that we are benefitting others, not just ourselves.

…when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can the others, who are now put in the same situation as an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but the others are not edified. (1 Corinthians 14:16, 17. TNIV)

Those are actually very telling verses. Even in services where there is a lot of “praise and worship” going on, the people in the pews should be built up and edified. Even as we worship and extol the Lord we need to be mindful of the people around us. That’s part of pursuing love.

Verse 20 is about as blunt as Paul ever gets in his letters –

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20. TNIV)

Godet, in his opinion, writes this about what Paul meant:

It is indeed the characteristic of the child to prefer the amusing to the useful, the brilliant to the solid. And this is what the Corinthians did by their marked taste for glossolalia (tongues).

He’s right. The Corinthians were behaving like children in regards to their foolish pursuit of a Spiritual gift like tongues.

Paul’s point: Orderly worship always

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Corinthians 14:26, 33, 40. TNIV)

The overarching principle of Paul’s approach to Spiritual gifts and the Corinthians’ childish obsession with tongues is that church services must always be orderly. Spiritual gifts are to be desired, they come from God, they benefit the whole church, but they need to be manifested in an orderly fashion.

Chapter 14 if a fascinating if fuzzy glimpse into what things were like in the big Corinthian church. Without regard to precisely what Paul meant by “tongues” and his thoughts about women keeping quiet in church (that’s a topic for another day), we understand that in this chapter Paul is advocating orderly church services and his advice was designed to correct abuses the Corinthians were allowing. In all, his “theology of worship” boils down to three points:

• Everything that happens in a church service must be done for the purpose of strengthening the church;
• The God we worship is a God of order, not of disorder, and He desires peace not confusion;
• Everything, even the working of His spiritual gifts, must be done in a loving, orderly way, with the goal of encouraging and strengthening others.

SPIRITUAL GIFTS, PART 3

The Gifts of Speaking: Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues, and Prophecy

Much of what we know about these “gifts of speaking” is found in 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. It seems that these particular gifts were at the center of the controversy Paul was addressing in his first letter to the church at Corinth. Scholars cite two main issues that are at the heart of Paul’s theology concerning the spiritual gifts:

  • The main purpose of all the spiritual gifts is to build up both the local church and the Body of Christ in general.

  • The gift of tongues is a gift that is easily abused by immature Christians.

Paul’s response to both of those issues is to stress the importance of love (chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians) in the exercise of all the spiritual gifts, but especially in the exercise of tongues. When all the gifts are used in a spirit of love, everyone in the community of faith is built up and encouraged and God is glorified.

The differences between the gifts of tongues and prophecy are stark. Tongues represents two kinds of speech: either languages that are understandable to people and utterances that are understood only by God. In the first instance, one may be given the supernatural ability to speak in a known language that is unknown to them. We see this happening in the book of Acts. It seems this gift is best used on the mission field. The other kind of tongues relates to what Paul referred to as “praying in the Spirit.” In 1 Corinthians 14:15, Paul writes about “praying with my mind” and “with my spirit.” Praying in the Spirit closely relates to what he wrote about in Romans 8:26 –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

The “praying in tongues” edifies only the one uttering those unintelligible words.

The gift of prophecy is speech that is understood by everybody. It is a message given by an individual in the language understood by those hearing it. It is not necessarily a message about future events, and is usually given to encourage a body of believers to persist in their faith or forsake sin or a message of similar admonitions. The apostle believed that prophecy is a “greater gift” than tongues because it edifies everybody in the congregation, not just the one speaking (praying) in tongues.

When it comes to these gifts Paul was very concerned that they be exercised in an orderly fashion. The evidence of God’s presence in a meeting is not necessarily the manifestation of gifts, but rather the tangible manifestation of peace, not confusion. In all our worship services, it would be wonderful if the gifts of the Spirit were manifested, but more important than that, is that God’s peace should be felt by those in attendance.

1. The gift of prophecy

A lot of Christians are under the delusion that the spiritual gift of prophecy is nothing more than the preaching of a sermon. Still others think that the gift of prophecy involves an individual making predictions about the future. Both of these viewpoints are wrong, but also correct at the same time. The gift of prophecy involves a divinely inspired message given by a believer that may or may not have a predictive element to it but it will be preaching of the highest order.

This gift is closely related to the idea of “inspiration,” but certainly not on the scale of the inspiration of Scripture. The “prophet,” or the preacher, or the person in church speaking under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, will speak forth a message from an “impulse” of sudden inspiration. The message given won’t be the result of study or research or liturgy or curriculum. It will an extemporaneous message given under the unction of the Holy Spirit.

It should be noted that the spiritual gift of prophecy is distinct from ordinary preaching. It should also be noted that there is nothing wrong with an “ordinary sermon!” In some circles a preacher is admired if he never uses notes when he preaches because that means he’s being inspired by the Holy Spirit. In response to such silly thinking we should say that the same Holy Spirit that inspires the speaker behind the pulpit on Sunday is also inspiring him as he works throughout the week in his study behind his desk and on his knees in diligent preparation.

The gift of prophecy and the office of the prophet

As we read the book of Acts and study early church history, it seems like the gift of prophecy was fairly common but “official prophets” were rare. In fact, we can name New Testament prophets on one hand: Judas, Silas, Agabus, and a couple of others. According to what Paul taught the Corinthians, every member of the church could potentially exercise the gift of prophecy but this did not mean they were a prophet in the sense of Acts 13:1 and Ephesians 4:11.

In the Old Testament, the office of the prophet was essential. The prophets back then were men whose ministry and often their entire lives were dedicated to proclaiming God’s Word to the people. Often they predicted the future (immediate future and far future), but most of the time their messages were either rebukes in the form of “turn or burn,” “the end is near,” or words of encouragement to “hold on” and “keep the faith” because there are “better days ahead.”

However, we are not living in the Old Testament. We are in a whole new dispensation which began at Pentecost. In this present dispensation, it is the privilege of all believers to be personally led and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Scope of the gift of prophecy

This gift is definitely a divinely inspired utterance. But it is not “inspired” in the same sense that Scripture is inspired. The Bible is infallible. The Bible is the absolute final word. Any word spoken by any preacher or Bible teacher is not infallible and is not the final word. Some scholars have noted that when an utterance is given by through the gift of prophecy it is considered to be inspiration of a lower class. Whenever we hear any message given by one who claims to be speaking with the anointing of the Spirit, it behooves us to measure their words against God’s Word.

2. The gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues

Of all the spiritual gifts, the gift of tongues is the most talked about and the least understood. There are some denominations that teach unless one speaks in tongues they don’t have any of the gifts, and still others teach that tongues is a gift that has ceased to exist. So what is the truth?

Laying aside denominational biases, and taking our cue from the Bible only, it seems to be an inescapable reality that in the very early years of the Church’s rapid growth, the “gift of tongues” was needed specifically to preach the Gospel in new, previously unreached areas.

Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:7, 8)

Just after the Holy Spirit fell on the followers of Christ, they began to speak in other tongues, and the crowds of people in Jerusalem for Passover heard them, not babbling in unknown tongues, but in known languages.

From the standpoint of missionary work, the ability to speak in the languages of the people you are trying to minister to is invaluable.

However, by the time we get to 1 Corinthians and Paul’s teaching on the gifts, the church was well past its infancy. Pastors and evangelists were local men and women. So, was the gift of tongues or languages still necessary? We know that the gifts of God are irrevocable, so the answer must be yes. God has all the wisdom, we don’t, so it’s foolish for us to think that the gift of tongues is no longer necessary. And yet, in 1 Corinthians 14, we are explicitly told this:

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

So it seems clear that there are not one, but two uses for the gift of tongues. When necessary, a believer may be given the supernatural ability to preach the Gospel in a known language on the mission field, for example, while the other use for the gift of tongues is to pray to God in a language that is unknown to man (even to the one speaking it) but understood by God. This brings us back to Romans 8:26, which suggests that there may be times when we don’t know what or who to pray for, but since God does, He desires His Holy Spirit to pray through us, using our vocal cords.

As with all the gifts, they are to be used in an orderly fashion. Apparently in the very large Corinthian church of Paul’s day, the congregation was open to the gifts and exercising them often, but often misusing them. This was especially true of the gift of tongues, where it seemed like at any given time during their worship service, people would just break out in ecstatic tongues-speaking. Naturally, such outbursts were disconcerting to some and confusing to others. Paul’s teaching is simple:

Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:4, 5)

Paul’s point here is that in a public worship service where all kinds of people are gathered, it’s preferable to prophesy—to speak—in the common language so you can be understood by all. The value of tongues lies in what it does for the one speaking in tongues, for it does absolutely nothing for those who hear it.

But, what happens if, for example, an immature or untaught believer breaks out in tongues? What do you with that person? Or, what does the pastor do if, during the course of the service, one or two people are overheard praying in tongues? Like his teaching, Paul’s advice is simple:

For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified. (1 Corinthians 14:13—17)

In other words, speaking or praying in tongues is not meant to be done out in the open for all to hear, but in private because it is between the one praying and God. However, if, by chance, it should happen that a member of the church does exercise his gift out in the open, then they bear the responsibility to “interpret” what they said in tongues so that those who heard would know what was going on. Paul’s assumption is that the one speaking in tongues in public was genuine, and was using their gift for the right reason—to praise God—at the wrong time. In such a case, their heart would be right and they would abide by the advice. However, imagine the effect such an injunction would have on somebody who spoke in tongues just to get attention, or to “show off” their gift. This was probably what was going on in Corinth, where the gifts were misused and abused. Paul, not wanting to take any chances and quench the Spirit, put the “burden of proof” on the one speaking in tongues: if you are going to do it in public, then you had better know what you saying in tongues so you can tell everybody else who heard you.

The secondary idea is that everybody deserves to be edified, just like the one who spoke in tongues. The main idea is that there needs to be order in the church service.

3. The value of tongues

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:18, 19)

These verses make it sound like Paul had mixed feelings about this gift of tongues. In the following verse, we get the impression that some in the Corinthian church—those abusing the gifts—were acting like babies.

However, all the gifts of the Spirit are important and valuable, including tongues. That’s he adds this:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. (verse 22)

The exercise of all the gifts, even tongues, even if they are misused, show to the unsaved that something supernatural is going on; that God really is present among the members of this congregation. The unbeliever may not understand what they are seeing or hearing, but they will know “God is among you.”

And that really is the value of all the spiritual gifts, and why all Christians ought to be exercising the gifts. The gifts build up the church and they bear witness to those outside the church that God is present. Be warned, however, that when a congregation has learned to exercise the gifts, they must do so in complete order. And understand that God will never force His gifts on anybody:

The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace —as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. (1 Corinthians 14:32, 33)

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

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