Serve-aholics Theonomous (1 Corinthians 16:1-24)

While preparing to go undercover, Jack Bauer started shooting-up heroin in order to convincingly pass himself off as a drug user. He kept using heroin during the operation, and afterward. As Day 3 of the series 24 began, he was still addicted.

Jack addicted himself for the success of his mission.

The household of Stephanas did something similar. If you’re reading in the KJV, verse fifteen is translated, “they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” They addicted themselves to their mission of serving God’s saints.

Most undercover agents employ evasive tactics rather than participate in drug use, or other illegal activities.

If a believer can addict himself or herself to serving, it must follow that we can avoid serving by employing evasive tactics.

We will concentrate on addicting ourselves to serving, keeping an eye out for any mental reservation, or purpose of evasion.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Celebrate The Example Of Believers Who Have Addicted Themselves To Serve and #2 Catch The Earnestness Of Believers Who Have Addicted Themselves To Serve.

#1 – Celebrate The Example Of Believers Who Have Addicted Themselves To Serve (v1-21)

As the apostle Paul closed-out this letter, he named seven specific servants… and one entire household of servants… and a house church of servants… and a church of servants… and a group of churches who served. He only described one person and household as addicting themselves, but I think it would be alright to see the others as addicted, too.

BTW – In case you haven’t Googled it yet, “Theonomous” is a real word. It means, governed by God; subject to God’s authority. It perfectly describes a self-addicted servant of the Lord.

I want to start with verses thirteen and fourteen. They summarize a self-addicted, serve-aholic. It is what you could see in those Paul listed, and what he wanted for the beloved in Corinth. It is what we want for ourselves.

1Co 16:13  Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.
1Co 16:14  Let all that you do be done with love.

At least once most days I hear someone thank a stranger for their military service. I’ll do it now: If you are active duty or retired, “Thank you for your service.”

I thought of that because the words Paul used in verses thirteen and fourteen are military vocabulary applied to believers. That alone tells us that serving God’s saints is more like being in the military than it is working for an employer.

For example: In the military, they tell you where to go. I realize there is some latitude in terms of choosing your posting. But, generally speaking, they post you as needed. After all, someone had to go to Adak.

It’s easy for a believer to bring an employment attitude to bear on their walk with the Lord. As if they decide where to go, not the Lord.

I’ll tell you: Knowing you are where the Lord led you, and wants you, is better than being in some seeming paradise on earth of your own choosing, floundering spiritually.

You are on “watch.” There are at least three things being on watch suggests:

First, we are to understand that we are constantly on watch. We’re not just watching when we serve in the church or are involved in official activities. It’s a 24/7 position.

Second, we are to adopt an attitude of “Not on my watch!” with regard to any advancement by our enemies. We can’t give ground to the devil nor yield to the flesh – even for a moment.
Third, we are also watching for the imminent return of the Lord.

Next you read that you are to “stand fast in the faith.” This isn’t telling you to have more faith. “The faith” is a term that describes the nonnegotiable truths of the Bible. You are to believe you have every resource for godly living.

“Be brave.” The KJV reads, “quit you like men,” meaning act like a man, grow up, be mature. Coming on the heels of standing fast, it reminds me of those scenes in movies when the enemy is fast approaching, but the heroes hold their ground… And hold it… And hold it, right up until the last second.

“Be strong.” Literally it is “be strengthened.” It is something done to you not by you. It is a reminder that the Lord indwells us by His Holy Spirit to empower us.

Something to meditate upon. We sometimes think of the Holy Spirit as being depleted over time – like a battery going dead. The Holy Spirit is a Person. We either yield to Him, or we don’t. He’s at full-power all the time.

1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done with love.

All this soldier-talk is now qualified by the word “love.”

I’m to have the submission and discipline of a special forces soldier – Servant Team 6 – and then act with the humility, the mercy, the gentleness, and the compassion of the Lord’s love.

Now we can celebrate the saints who example this to us.

1Co 16:1  Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also:

Around the time of Paul’s writing the mostly Jewish church in Jerusalem was suffering terribly:

Church history records that there was a severe famine.
Adding to the difficulties of the famine, the Christians were being systematically persecuted.

Paul had instructed the churches in the regions of Galatia to collect financial aid for the Jerusalem Christians. He said to the believers in Corinth, “so you must do also.”

He didn’t suggest they give… Or that they pray about giving… He told them to give. You even read the word “orders.”

We don’t order you to give. Even Paul’s orders are going to be qualified by what he said in verse two. This was a special, one-time gift. We need to be careful using it to teach about giving to God’s work in general. Nevertheless, giving characterizes serving.

1Co 16:2  On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

The believers met when? On Sunday. They didn’t meet on the Sabbath, on Saturday. And neither has Sunday somehow become the Sabbath Day.

“As he may prosper” indicates it was up to each believer to determine his or her giving.

Paul wanted them done before he arrived. It wasn’t that he had some aversion to passing the plate.
He wanted them to be efficient servants – not waiting till the last moment.

1Co 16:3  And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.
1Co 16:4  But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me.

There was no PayPal in those days; no wire transfers between banks. The monies collected had to be hand-carried. The fact they would carry “letters” of approval meant these were men of solid character and integrity.

It was best to send several men to insure the safe delivery of the money. Travel was a hazard.

They were willing to serve the body in Jerusalem risking their very lives. Serving always involves risk, if not danger.

Paul was ready to go with them… Or not. The Lord was his travel agent.

1Co 16:5  Now I will come to you when I pass through Macedonia (for I am passing through Macedonia).
1Co 16:6  And it may be that I will remain, or even spend the winter with you, that you may send me on my journey, wherever I go.
1Co 16:7  For I do not wish to see you now on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits.

As a full-time itinerant minister, Paul had some idea of where he’d be tomorrow, but that’s about it. He might hang with the Corinthians a few days, or for a season. All he could hope for was to be there “a while.” After that, it was “wherever.”

Do you have your whole life planned out? Are you certain it is God’s plan, too? Here is a question that might help you decide – Does the plan involve serving the Lord more… Or less?

1Co 16:8  But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost.
1Co 16:9  For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

Paul had wanted to go to Ephesus once before. God closed the door; He wouldn’t let Paul go there. Instead, that first time, God sent Paul to Macedonia.

Immediately he was put in prison overnight at Philippi. Then he was run out of town from Thessalonica. He might have thought he’d chosen the wrong door – but we see in hindsight that God was in charge.

When Paul finally got the green light to go to Ephesus, when the “great and effective door… opened” to him, he was met by “many adversaries.”

One sense of what he was saying is that he couldn’t leave Ephesus yet because there were still adversaries to overcome. Like Joshua in the Promised Land.

Paul expected and experienced opposition. He didn’t assume that opposition meant God had closed a door of serving; could be just the opposite.

Don’t immediately withdraw or quit in the face of opposition. Value the opportunity to serve opposed.

1Co 16:10  And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do.
1Co 16:11  Therefore let no one despise him. But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren.

Timothy was a young disciple who was Paul’s companion on many of his journeys. His mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are commended for their raising him in the things of the Lord.

We know nothing of his father except that he was a Greek. He is first brought into notice at the time of Paul’s second visit to Lystra where he probably resided and where it seems he was converted during Paul’s first visit to that city. The apostle called him his “own son in the faith” and arranged that he should become his traveling companion.

Paul urged the believers to not “despise” Timothy. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “Let no one despise your youth” (4:12).

Imagine being Timothy. I’m exaggerating, but it seems everywhere he went, Christians despised him for his youth.

His despisers: Had they undergone a painful adult circumcision in order to attend synagogue with Paul?
His despisers: Had they experienced the daily dangers to life and limb merely by accompanying Paul?

Timothy was one of Paul’s closest co-workers, yet he was despised. Still, he served – even saints who despised him.

There’s a scene in the Val Kilmer film, The Saint, where Elizabeth Shue’s character makes a run for the gate of the US Embassy in Moscow. She makes it, and as the gate shuts, the Marine guard orders the Russian mobster, “Back away from the gate.” The mobster spits on the Marine – in his face. He has no reaction. It’s as if he is saying, “Is that all you got?” Any retaliation would make him look weaker, not stronger.

1Co 16:12  Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to come to you with the brethren, but he was quite unwilling to come at this time; however, he will come when he has a convenient time.

Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, described as eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord according to the imperfect understanding of the disciples of John the Baptist; but on his coming to Ephesus he had been more perfectly taught by Aquila and Priscilla. He became a preacher of the Gospel first in Achaia and then in Corinth.

Paul “strongly urged” Apollos to go to Corinth. I don’t think I could refuse Paul. Apollos did, and one thing we can glean from his refusal is that, like the RCA terrier, Nipper, a servant listens for his Masters voice.

God may speak through others, of course. But it must resonate with what He tells you.

1Co 16:15  I urge you, brethren – you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints –
1Co 16:16  that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us.

The “household of Stephanas” were the first of Paul’s converts in Corinth. They got saved and immediately got to serving. Looking at them you came to the conclusion that they were addicted to serving. They had all the tell-tale signs.

1Co 16:17  I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied.
1Co 16:18  For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.

These three men were probably the ones who brought to Paul the letter from the Corinthians asking him to clarify the issues he covered in this letter.

Their faith and faithfulness, which was “lacking” in most of the Corinthians, was “supplied” to Paul as an encouragement.

I can see how these guys “refreshed [Paul’s] spirit,” but how did they refresh the spirit of the Corinthians? It seems to mean that their visit gave Paul the opportunity to respond personally to the church and therefore “refresh” any who would receive his letter as the Word of God.

1Co 16:19  The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
1Co 16:20  All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

The “churches of Asia” would include those in Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Colosse, and Hieropolis. They were all founded thanks to the efforts of Paul as he responded to the open door of ministry to go to Ephesus.

“Aquila and Priscilla” owned the tent-making business that Paul worked for in Ephesus. They, too, were addicted to serving God’s saints.

“All the brethren” still greeted them – even though the believers in Corinth were badly blowing it.

In the New Testament church, a “holy kiss” was a symbolic expression of the love, forgiveness, and unity that existed among believers.

1Co 16:21  The salutation with my own hand – Paul’s.

Paul dictated this letter to a copyist but at this point he took the pen and wrote the final words himself. It was a simple gesture but one that communicated his love and personal concern.

We titled this series, Get Back to Where You Once Belonged. That is certainly the spirit in which Paul paraded these examples to the saints in Corinth.

Let’s celebrate their example of addicting themselves to serve not as a duty, but as our delight.

#2 – Catch The Earnestness Of Believers Who Have Addicted Themselves To Serve (v22-24)

We caught a few scenes from a Disney film, Togo, that features sled dogs in Alaska. Those dogs love to run. They were born to it.

You – you’ve been born-again to serve the saints.

1Co 16:22  If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!

“Love the Lord” is shorthand for those who are saved. It doesn’t describe a super-saint, but every saint.

“Accursed” is the word anathema, and refers to the lost and who will perish if they do not receive the salvation offered to them.

They are already anathema. It is their position before God, as sinners.

“O Lord, come!” is a translation of the compound word Maranatha! Maranatha is formed by the three parts:

“Mar” – Lord
“An” – our
“Atha” – to come

It can mean “our Lord has come,” or “our Lord is coming.” It can also be the expression of your constant desire as you say to the Lord, “Come!”

It’s the kind of thing you say to be reminded, and remind others, that this life will soon be passed. Eternity awaits, and we will awaken to it in the likeness of Jesus.

1Co 16:23  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

We too often prefer works to grace; programs to the Person of Jesus. We begin the Christian life spiritual. Let’s not pursue it in our flesh.

1Co 16:24  My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Even the most straightforward reproof Paul delivered to them in this letter was motivated by “love” for them. He was in earnest trying to get them out of the proverbial pit and back on the pilgrim path.

Addiction is defined by medical professionals as a malady; something to be avoided, or cured. Not in the case of serving the Lord.

The application to our lives is easy: I am either addicting myself to serve; or I am evading it.

Did Jesus come to serve? Or to be served? What is true of him, ought to be true of us.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Saint (1 Corinthians 15:35-58)

Scrat may be scientifically accurate.

You all know who Scrat is, right? He is the acorn-obsessed saber-toothed squirrel attempting to store his prized acorn in the Ice Age animated feature films.

In 2012 a Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia that they said (and I quote), “had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel.”

The mature and immature seeds, which had been entirely encased in ice, were unearthed from 124´ below the permafrost, surrounded by layers that included mammoth, bison, and woolly rhinoceros bones.

Some of the seeds had been damaged – “perhaps by the squirrel” (they said) – preventing them from germinating in the burrow.

Other seeds retained viable plant material. The team extracted that tissue from the frozen seeds, placed it in vials, and successfully germinated the plants. They grew, flowered, and, after a year, created seeds of their own.

Radiocarbon dating suggested that the seeds were thirty-two thousand years old.

Young-earth creation scientists object, arguing that the Ice Age was triggered by the global flood associated with Noah some four-thousand plus years ago.

The seeds are considered the oldest to ever germinate.

But they’re not. There are much older ‘seeds’ that have been sown that will most definitely come alive.

I’m talking about the physical bodies of deceased believers.

The apostle Paul will compare their physical bodies to seeds that have died only to be made alive by resurrection.

He will also answer an important question: “What will happen to the physical bodies of believers who are alive at the coming of Jesus?”

The two points around which I will organize my comments on these verses couldn’t be simpler: #1 If You Are Asleep When Jesus Comes, You Will Be Resurrected, and #2 If You Are Alive When Jesus Comes, You Will Be Raptured.

#1 – If You Are Asleep When Jesus Comes, You Will Be Resurrected (v35-49)

Abel may have been the first human ‘seed’ to be sown. The murder of that righteous man by his brother, Cain, is the first physical death in the Bible. Plenty more have followed. With apologies to McDonald’s, we could say of the dead, “Billions and billions sown.”

Since you definitely will be raised from the dead with some connection to your original, physical body, Paul likens it to your body being “asleep” until it is raised. Elsewhere he makes it clear that your spirit leaves your body at death to be immediately, consciously in the presence of Jesus in Heaven.

1Co 15:35  But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?”

These were probably insincere questions posed by scoffers of the resurrection. It focuses on the dead “body” as something that cannot possibly be reanimated:

Under the best circumstances a preserved corpse decays over time.

Under the worst circumstances a corpse can be completely destroyed by fire, lost at sea, devoured by animals.

In 2019, Washington became the first state to allow ‘human composting’ as a burial method. What is God going to do? Can He raise you from the compost pile?? Are you a man, or are you manure???

Paul once gave a simple apologetic for the resurrection by asking rhetorically, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead? (Acts 26:8).

Even though that is all the answer the Corinthians needed, Paul gave them an illustration.

1Co 15:36  Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.

The “seed” a farmer “sows” has the principle of life within it but nothing happens until the seed “dies” when buried. Until is is sown, and dies, it will not bring forth life. It dies, then is resurrected.

1Co 15:37  And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain – perhaps wheat or some other grain.
1Co 15:38  But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.

No one looks at a seed and says, “How is a coffee plant raised up from this?” No, we expect seeds to produce after their kind. And we understand that what is produced looks vastly different than its seed.
Likewise there is a connection between the dead body and the resurrection body, but what is raised from it is as different as a plant from its seed.

Paul explains all manner of death as being “sown.” No matter the state of my corpse, elements of it are the seed sown that will bring forth a body in my resurrection. God may not have much left of me to work with; but, remember, He created the entire universe out of nothing.

1Co 15:39  All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.
1Co 15:40  There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
1Co 15:41  There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.

Here is a concise commentary of what we just read:

“We see earthly bodies differ from earthly, and heavenly bodies [differ] from heavenly. What wonder then if heavenly bodies differ from earthly? Or [if] the bodies which rise [differ] from those that lie in the grave?“

1Co 15:42  So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.
1Co 15:43  It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.

A dead corpse can be described by the words “corruption,” “dishonor,” and “weakness.”

“Corruption” summarizes the decay of our bodies.

“Dishonor” reminds me of just how humiliating both life and death can be.

“Weakness” describes the general human condition. We’re very fragile and subject to all manner of disease and injury.

“Corruption,” “dishonor,” and “weakness” will all give way to “incorruption,” “glory,” and “power.”

“Incorruption” means my resurrection body will not be subject to decay. I will not break down in eternity.
“Glory” will characterize my resurrection body. For all eternity I will never experience humiliation. All my actions and activities will reflect the glory of my Creator.

“Power” indicates my glorified, resurrection body will be self-sufficient.

1Co 15:44  It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

Because we descend from Adam we have our current “natural” physical body.

Because we are in Christ, we will have a “spiritual” physical body.

My spiritual body is not something immaterial. It will be a real, physical body. When we talk about the resurrection of the dead, we mean something physical.

1Co 15:45  And so it is written, “THE FIRST MAN ADAM BECAME A LIVING BEING.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

“Adam” was a real person created by God from the dust of the earth in the Garden of Eden. Jesus confirmed that the Genesis account is literally true when He referred to Adam and Eve as a real couple who were married with God officiating in Eden.

Jesus is “the last Adam.” He succeeded where Adam had failed:

Adam exercised his free will to disobey God, thus plunging the human race, and all of creation, into sin and death.

Jesus subordinated Himself to die on the Cross in our place in order to save the human race, and to redeem and restore creation.

We are “living being(s)” like the first man. Descended from him, we are sinners headed for physical and eternal death. When a person believes in Jesus, He gives us eternal life.

1Co 15:46  However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.
1Co 15:47  The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.
1Co 15:48  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.
1Co 15:49  And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

Like produces like in God’s universe. We all begin like Adam. Believers end up like Jesus. “We shall be like Him” (First John 3:2).

Our focus has been on the physical resurrection body itself. Having a “spiritual body” is far more glorious than its physical characteristics. In the DreamWorks film, Megamind, Hal receives all the physical power of MetroMan, but he remains an imbecile, and goes rogue as a villain.

William MacDonald explains the spiritual body this way:

“The difference between a natural body and a spiritual body is that the… former is usually soul-controlled whereas the latter is spirit-controlled. God created man spirit, soul, and body. He always mentions the spirit first, because His intention was that the spirit should be in the place of preeminence or dominance. With the entrance of sin… God’s order seems to have been upset, and the result is that man [is] “body, soul, and spirit.” He has given the body the place which the spirit should have had. In resurrection it will not be so; the spirit will be in the place of control which God originally intended. A spiritual body is one that will be truly the servant of the spirit.”

Let me suggest one result of our finally having spiritual bodies. We will retain free will, but be unable to sin. There will be no second fall.

First, let’s be certain it is true that there will be no sin. In the Revelation we read,

Revelation 21:4  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away…”
Revelation 21:27  … But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Nothing will ever defile eternity; and that includes sin.

How can we have free will if we cannot choose sin? Having genuine free will doesn’t necessarily mean you can choose sin. We know that because God has genuine free will, does He not? He cannot sin. It is therefore not a contradiction to say there can be free will without sin.

We are not God, nor will we become ‘gods’ in the resurrection. But we will have His divine nature in perfect bodies and enjoy genuine free will incapable of sin in an eternal realm of righteousness.

#2 – If You Are Alive When Jesus Comes, You Will Be Raptured (v50-58)

We’re immovable on the pretribulation, premillennial return of Jesus to rapture the church. Whatever a person believes about His coming, it’s clear that when He comes there will be saints on the earth who have not died. What happens to them – to us – is the joyous topic Paul took up next.

1Co 15:50  Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.

The “kingdom of God” (here) refers to the eternal state or what we commonly call Heaven. In the Bible, a few folks visited Heaven, e.g., Isaiah and John. But you cannot “inherit” Heaven, i.e., spend eternity there, in your current body. If you are alive when Jesus returns, something has to happen to outfit you.

1Co 15:51  Behold, I tell you a mystery…

A Bible “mystery” is something revealed to you that was not known prior to its revelation. The “mystery” revealed here is what happens to living believers at the return of Jesus.

1Co 15:51  Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed –
1Co 15:52  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
1Co 15:53  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

The dead in Christ will be resurrected. Living saints will be “changed,” to be “incorruption” and “immortal.” We will be immediately transformed into our spiritual bodies.

The word “moment,” when used of time, refers to a unit of time that could not be divided any further.

Your eye has three speeds: Wink, blink, or twink. We want to concentrate on the twink or, as it is more commonly referred to, the twinkle.

Technically speaking a twinkle is light reflected from the eye. For you to see a twinkle in someone’s eye light must travel through the front of their eye, be reflected off their retina, and then exit their eye. How fast can that occur? I found the following calculation:

It would take 1/6 x 10 to the ninth power seconds, which is 1/6 billionth of a second, to make a person’s eyeball twinkle. That is how fast believers will be changed who are alive at the moment Jesus comes to resurrect the dead. Not only is it fast when it happens, it could happen any moment. The return Paul was describing is Jesus’ return to remove the church from the earth prior to the Great Tribulation.

1Co 15:54  So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY.”

Paul quoted from the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Hosea. Even though those guys didn’t foresee the resurrection and rapture of the church, they knew believers would be victorious over death.

“Death” refers to dying and “Hades” refers to the afterlife.

Before Jesus Christ rose from the dead, the spirits of all those who died did not go to Heaven. They went to Hades. Hades is not Hell. It is described for us by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke as a place with two chambers divided by an impassable gulf. One chamber is a place of paradise; the other, a place of torment.

When Jesus died, He descended into Hades and He led all believers out from there to Heaven. Now when believers die they are absent from their bodies and immediately present with the Lord in Heaven.

When nonbelievers die their spirits still go to Hades, to the place of torment. There they await a resurrection which occurs after the Great Tribulation and after the Lord reigns on the earth for one thousand years following the Great Tribulation. Once raised, they are judged and confined to the Lake of Fire, more commonly referred to as Hell.

Death and Hades are defeated if you are a believer. Your death doesn’t usher you to Hades, but to Heaven.

1Co 15:56  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.

“Death,” “sin,” and “the law” provide a concise summary of the Bible’s teaching:

Death was the penalty decreed in the Garden of Eden should Adam and Eve sin.
“The strength of sin is the law” means that God’s Law reveals to human beings they are sinners who deserve the penalty of death.

Take any one of the Ten Commandments; for example. “Thou shalt not covet.” Well, everyone has at some time coveted, which is sin. Thus the Law reveals we are sinners and deserve death.

1Co 15:57  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Victory over sin… Victory over death… Victory over the Law. As a guarantee of our future rapture or resurrection, we have indwelling us God the Holy Spirit, and in yielding to Him, we can overcome sin, death, and the Law.

1Co 15:58  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

This is a pretty straightforward exhortation. One thing to note: Paul believed the resurrection and rapture of the church was a motivation to holy, helpful living. Far too many churches are failing to emphasize future prophecy. Worse yet – they ridicule those who do emphasize it.

Do you want to be the believer in Christ described in verse fifty-eight? Want that resumé?

Of course we do. Embrace the mystery – which in this case means that Jesus could return imminently for His church.

You Can Sleep When You’re Dead (1 Corinthians 15:12-34)

Try taking “The China Challenge.” The challenge is to see how long you can quit using, and refrain from purchasing, anything that says, “Made in China.”

There’s a book, A Year Without Made in China, that chronicles one family’s attempt to do just that. Here are a few quotes from an interview with its author:

“Our coffeemaker broke and all ordinary drip coffeemakers are made in China. So we ended up boiling water in a pan and just pouring it over filters into our coffee mugs. Our blender also broke about mid-year, and we couldn’t repair it because the replacement blade was made in China, so that sat there gathering dust.”

Lamps, birthday candles, mouse traps and flip-flops. Your Apple devices… Your Samsung Galaxy… Most laptop computers…In fact, most electronics are “Made in China,” or at least have components that are.

For fun, look around your house for stuff “Made in China,” and think about life without it.

The apostle Paul issued a far more serious ‘life-without’ challenge to the believers in the church in Corinth: “What would life be like if there were no resurrection from the dead?”

His answer: “Your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…”

No worries, however; “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Let’s hear what else Paul had to say about the resurrection of Jesus, and ours. I’ll organize my comments around two questions: #1 What Would Your Life Be Like If There Were No Resurrection From The Dead?, and #2 What Should Your Life Be Like Since There Is A Resurrection From The Dead?

#1 – What Would Your Life Be Like If There Were No Resurrection From The Dead? (v12-19)

The apostle Paul could hardly believe what he was hearing from the Corinthians about the resurrection of the dead:

1Co 15:12  Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the Gospel Paul preached. Some among them were teaching that Jesus was raised, but His followers won’t be.

1Co 15:13  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.

The Lord’s resurrection and ours is a package deal. They cannot logically, or theologically, be separated. You can’t have one without the other.

Can you have a groom if there is no bride? Jesus is our heavenly Groom; we are His betrothed bride. As the apostle John wrote, “We know that when he appears we will be like him…” (First John 3:2). Since He rose from the dead in a glorified body, so must we, His bride, be raised from the dead in a glorified body in order to “be like Him.”

1Co 15:14  And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.
1Co 15:15  Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise.

Their claim that believers don’t rise turned the Gospel into a cruel lie, and the apostles into liars. It’s important we think about the consequences of the things we say about Jesus.

1Co 15:16  For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.

It is a necessary effect of the Gospel that believers will be resurrected just as was their Lord. You can’t say that we won’t, or that it doesn’t matter. We will; it does.

Paul issued his challenge by asking them, in the next three verses, to consider the real-world and the after-world consequences of their position.

1Co 15:17  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!

Paul expanded on what he had just said about their “faith” being “empty.” Not only would it have no content. Faith in a dead Savior reduces Christianity to nothing more than a man-made religion, like all the others whose main figure is dead and buried.

1Co 15:18  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

“Asleep” was the way Paul described believers at death. It has to do with your body – your remains or cremains. It’s like your body is asleep on earth because it is waiting to be utilized in your future resurrection. Your spirit is absent from your body and immediately, consciously present with the Lord.

If you’re wondering, “How are the dead raised?,” check out verse thirty-five. Paul answers in the verses following.

If there is no resurrection for believers, at death you “perish.” The immediate consequence for the Corinthians was that they’d never see their deceased loved ones again. That’s huge.

1Co 15:19  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

There’s something terribly wrong with “this life.” In Christ there is hope of redemption for humanity and for creation. A glorious restoration is promised. If Jesus didn’t rise, and if we don’t, all such future hope is lost, and we are to be pitied, living for a false hope.

In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Mr. Spock’s brother, Sybok, wants to use a ship to reach the mythical planet Sha Ka Ree, the place where creation began. The planet lies behind a seemingly impenetrable barrier near the center of the galaxy. He thinks he has found God beyond the Great Barrier.

“God” turns out to be a cosmic criminal who has deceived Sybok, because he needs a starship to escape. It was all a lie.

If you mess with the resurrection, the entirety of the Bible becomes a lie. It’s one of the non-negotiable truths.

The resurrection is legit. God’s not dead.

#2 – What Should Your Life Be Like Since There Is A Resurrection From The Dead? (v20-34)

You might remember Charles Atlas. That wasn’t his real name; he was born Angelo Siciliano. The Italian-American bodybuilder developed an exercise program which spawned a landmark advertising campaign featuring his name and likeness. It has been described as one of the longest-lasting and most memorable ad campaigns of all time.

In the print ads, a skinny kid is at the beach with his girlfriend when a bully kicks sand on him.

He is humiliated, and his girl calls him, “Little Boy.”

But after following the Charles Atlas routine, he bulks up, finds the bully, and punches him in the face. His girlfriend exclaims, “You’re a real man after all.”

Wanna be a ‘real’ Christian? Then realize the spiritual difference made by Jesus’ resurrection, and your future resurrection.

1Co 15:20  But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

“Firstfruits” were the initial harvest. They represented and promised a greater harvest to come.

The resurrection of Jesus is like that in that He represented and promised the future, physical resurrection of “those who have fallen asleep.” He died and rose, and He went to Heaven. All who die in Christ will rise and be taken to Heaven.

1Co 15:21  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.
1Co 15:22  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

“Adam” represented every future human being when he and Eve decided of their own free will to disobey God in the Garden of Eden. God told them the consequences would be “death,” and death is what followed.

“In Adam all die” are four words that summarize the human condition:

Why is there disease, disaster, and death? “In Adam all die.”

Why is there racism? “In Adam all die.”

Why is there violence and war? “In Adam all die.”

Not fair, you say? Wait and listen to this. Jesus also represented the entire human race in His decision to obey God. When you identify with Him, you go from death to life. In Jesus all live.

The Corinthians were not thinking far back enough. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection – and ours – is part of the greater plan of God, revealed in Eden, to redeem and to restore all things.

Believers have been dying since the first century. Why are their remains and cremains still interred?

1Co 15:23  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.

The word “order” is important, letting you know that the resurrection of the human race will occur in stages – not all at once!

Jesus was the first to be raised never to die again. For sure, He had raised others during His ministry. But they died again.

You might remember, too, that in the Gospel of Matthew, it mentions that many saints rose from the dead when Jesus did.

Albert Barnes comments, “The graves were opened at his death, by the earthquake, and the bodies came out at his resurrection… Thus establishing the truth of our Lord’s resurrection in particular, and of the resurrection of the body in general, by many witnesses.”

The next stage in the resurrection of the saints are “those who are Christ’s at His coming.” What coming? We’ll see at the end of this chapter that Paul meant the coming of Jesus to rapture the church – to remove living believers off the planet prior to the Great Tribulation. In that stage of the resurrection the Lord will, “…descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (First Thessalonians 4:16-17).

When it happens, the spirits of believers who have died between the resurrection of Jesus and the rapture will be reunited with their bodies.

We will see at the end of chapter fifteen that their bodies will be raised incorruptible and glorious. Living believers will be raptured – transformed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.

1Co 15:24  Then comes the end…

The “end” Paul was talking about leaps forward past the seven-year Great Tribulation and to the end of the one thousand year reign of Jesus on earth that follows the Tribulation. Every believer from every age will have been raised and be in their glorified bodies fit for eternity.

1Co 15:24  Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.
1Co 15:25  For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.

The Old Testament promised Israel the Kingdom of God on earth. Lasting for one-thousand years, we call it the Millennium, or the Millennial Kingdom. Jesus “must reign” over it. It is a real, earthly kingdom. It ends with one, final, Satan-led rebellion against the Lord.

He wins; easily. It marks the completion of Jesus mission to redeem mankind and creation. It sets the stage for the creation of a new earth and heavens.

Before the restoration of creation, there is another, final, somber resurrection. All nonbelievers from throughout time will be raised to be judged. Rejectors of God’s grace, they will be cast alive into the Lake of Fire for an eternity of conscious torment.

(I’d encourage you to read the twentieth chapter of the Revelation. It’s only fifteen verses, but it fully explains these literal, future events).

1Co 15:26  The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

“Death” is here personified as a tyrant, exercising despotic power over the human race; and “he” is to be subdued. Once the wicked dead are raised, no one will ever sin or die, ever again, on into eternity.

1Co 15:27  For “HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted.
1Co 15:28  Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

Paul gives us commentary on this quote from the Psalms. It is insight into the cooperation between God the Father and God the Son with regard to the plan of redeeming creation and mankind. As one commentator put it, “Paul’s point is that in raising Jesus Christ from the dead, God the Father has set in motion a chain of events that must culminate in the final destruction of death and thus of God’s being once again, as in eternity past, “all in all.”

In other words, all will be right with the universe, between God and His creation, as God originally intended.

The next few verses, twenty-nine through thirty-two, are a series of rhetorical questions that show the inconsistency of preaching that there is no resurrection from the dead.

1Co 15:29  Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?

Paul, Paul, Paul. Didn’t you know how much trouble this verse would cause? That Mormons, for instance, would perform proxy baptisms for dead people, thinking that it gives them opportunity to enter in to the Kingdom?

No one has a completely satisfactory answer to what, exactly, was going on. I came across the following helpful commentary:

“An examination of the sources shows that this referred to baptism of persons who had just died, not proxy baptisms for them. There is no evidence of proxy baptisms for the dead in the early Church, nor is this done in modern mainstream Christianity, whether Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or any Protestant churches.”

The Corinthians may have been doing proxy baptisms. If they were, Paul’s lack of condemnation of it here doesn’t mean that he approved of it.

Why didn’t Paul take time to discuss baptism? He didn’t have to. The Corinthians knew his teaching on water baptism. He’d been with them teaching eighteen months.

As far as it concerns us, we have a ton of information elsewhere on water baptism by which to dismiss this as a practice. If you take all of the teaching on water baptism into account, you find that it is to follow conversion, not to precede it. As a ritual, it does not save the living or the deceased. As far as deceased individuals…

It is appointed to man once to die, and then comes judgment. There is no second chance.

Paul’s point here is simply this: If you really disbelieved in the resurrection of believers, you wouldn’t bother to baptize them as a sort of last rites, or second chance.

1Co 15:30  And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour?

What an understatement about the hazards of being an itinerant apostle. Beaten, stoned, robbed, shipwrecked, jailed. All in a days work. Why do it? In another place, Paul said, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” He lived to serve, and looked forward to death and resurrection.

1Co 15:31  I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

Paul could boast about them. He had preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. They were saved.

“I die daily.” Paul would agree with Captain Barbossa, who said, “Dying is the day worth living for.” Do we agree?

1Co 15:32  If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE!”

An angry mob, compared to wild “beasts,” had desired to tear Paul apart in Ephesus. What motivated him to keep going on and face those kind of daily dangers? The fact he would “rise” and stand before his Lord.

Otherwise you might as well live as if life were all about physical pleasure. In fact, denying a physical resurrection was a step in that direction. If only your spirit matters, it can be argued that it doesn’t matter what you do with your body. You end up in sin.

1Co 15:33  Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”

This is a good stand-alone verse for raising your kids. To the Corinthians Paul was saying, “You are adopting a Greek philosophy. Adding that to the Gospel can only corrupt your behavior.”

1Co 15:34  Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

Drift away from thinking about the eternal and you will lose a sense of urgency to grow in “righteousness.” And you will find yourself more-and-more unconcerned about the lost – those who “do not have the knowledge of God.”

So… How are we more like Charles Atlas?? Reflect on how different our lives are knowing we will be raptured or resurrected:

• Reflecting back on verse seventeen… we’re no longer in our sins. We’re forgiven. And we have power to say “No” to sin.
• Reflecting back on verse eighteen… We have assurance we will be reunited with our deceased believing loved ones.
• Reflecting back on verse twenty-three… We have the joyful urgency of knowing Jesus could return for His church at any moment.
• Reflecting back on verses twenty-four through twenty-eight, we know the end of the story. It all works out. There will be a restored creation with no sin or death or enemies to cause its fall.
• Reflecting back on verses thirty through thirty-three… No matter what happens in the world, or in your world, you can live for Jesus, knowing that if you die, you gain.
• Reflecting back on verse thirty-four… We have a commission to share the simple Gospel simply. God has partnered with us, empowered us.

We are of all men not the most pitiable, but the most hopeful.

Love’s Labor’s Launched (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

Two-hundred seventy-two words. Ten sentences. Three minutes to deliver. Regarded by a majority as the greatest speech in American history.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It was delivered at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863.

The president wasn’t the featured speaker at the dedication. Any of you history buffs know who was? Edward Everett, former representative, senator, and governor of Massachusetts, delivered the keynote address.

Everett’s talk lasted a full two-hours. Lincoln could say a lot in just a few words.

He is outdone by the apostle Paul. Using just a few words the apostle totally and completely presents the Gospel – the Good News of God’s salvation offered to mankind. You find the words in verses three and four of First Corinthians fifteen.

Think of it: The power to save a person for eternity can be delivered in about ten seconds.

It is my prayer we will marvel at the profound simplicity of the Gospel today as we work through this concise text. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 You’re To Express The Simplicity Of The Gospel, and #2 You’re To Experience The Stimulation Of The Gospel.

#1 – You’re To Express The Simplicity Of The Gospel (v1-4)

It’s always a good idea to try to understand why something was written in the first place. It keeps us from misreading the text or from reading into it our own biases.

The believers in Corinth had received the Gospel. They were saved. But some of them had embraced an incorrect view of the future resurrection of believers from the dead. Look at verse twelve for a moment:

1 Corinthians 15:12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

They believed, that “Christ… has been raised from the dead.” But they were now saying that “there is no resurrection of the dead” for believers in Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote these verses to show them the logical inconsistency, and the spiritual absurdity, of their claim. Since Jesus has risen, so must His followers.

Knowing the context will help us get through a very difficult verse two right here at the beginning of the chapter.

1 Corinthians 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,

Paul had brought the Gospel to the city of Corinth. The ten second Gospel message, augmented by his teaching weekly in the synagogue, was the power of God unto salvation. Many had “received” and had a new “stand[ing]” in Jesus. God had justified them. They were saved.

Or were they? The next verse sounds troubling at first:

1 Corinthians 15:2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.

Does Paul mean to say that salvation is a matter of my ability to “hold fast that word?” Some would say, “Yes,” but I don’t think that is what he meant here. He was not addressing the perseverance of the saints but, rather, the logical conclusion of their incorrect teaching about the future resurrection of believers.

It was commonly taught by the Greek intellectuals that a person’s soul, the immaterial part of him, was immortal, but that the body, the material part of him, was not. The Greeks rejected any thought of a physical resurrection of the body.

The believers in Corinth had begun to adopt the Greek philosophy that there was no future physical resurrection of the body. It was something they had allowed to creep in to the church from the world.

They were wrong:
In verses twelve through nineteen Paul will argue that if the dead are not raised then neither was Jesus raised.
Then, in verses twenty through twenty-eight he will argue that since Jesus has been raised, so will we.

Here, then, is what I think Paul was saying in verse two to the saints in Corinth. If you do not “hold fast that word which I preached to you” – that is, if you reject the future physical resurrection from the dead – then it logically follows that Jesus did not rise from the dead and therefore believing in Him is in vain.

If this idea about there being no future resurrection was correct, it reduced the Gospel to a lie that cannot save anyone. It was logically inconsistent and spiritually absurd.

This is a good example of why we need to read the verses preceding and following any Bible verse. Out of context, verse two makes it sound like we keep ourselves saved by persevering. But as I pointed out, Paul was not talking about perseverance, not at all.

Speaking of the Gospel, what is it? Here it comes, in some of the most beautifully concise language you will ever encounter.

1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
1 Corinthians 15:4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

“First of all” means first in priority. Whatever else Paul taught from the Scriptures week-by-week and day-by-day, it was to expound upon the simplicity of the Gospel.

“Christ died for our sins.” “Christ” connects the historical person, Jesus, with all the many prophecies and promises in the Old Testament that God would send Israel the Anointed One – the Christ – their Messiah and the worlds Savior.

The fact “Christ died for our sins” presupposes a separation between God and man whose penalty was death. It lets us know that the problem with the world is sin.

“For our sins” tells you that Jesus Christ died as a Substitute, taking your place, to satisfy the penalty for sins.

“According to the Scriptures” reminds you that everything God has said in His Word was leading up to the death of Jesus Christ to save you from your sins. Beginning very early in Genesis and continuing all through the Old Testament you have the story of the Messiah and Savior being sent into the world while, in the mean time, lambs were offered as a temporary substitute for your sins. Then, one glorious moment in human history, Jesus stepped forward, the prophesied and promised Christ, and was declared by John the Baptist “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.”

“He was buried” verifies that Jesus Christ was a real man in a real physical body. He died on the Cross and was “buried” as a corpse in the tomb.

“He rose again” in a real, physical body – a glorified body fit for eternity. He has been raised and lives forever.

“The third day” establishes that we are talking about the historic events that occurred in Jerusalem in the first century.

Again Paul said it was “according to the Scriptures.” The phrase modifies the fact that Jesus Christ was “raised.” It reminds us of the passages in the Old Testament, like Psalm twenty-two and Psalm sixteen and Psalm one hundred and ten, where the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah and Savior were prophesied and promised.

That’s it in the proverbial nutshell. “ [Jesus] Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and… He was buried, and… He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

What I just delivered was 25 words. It can be recited in under 10 seconds. You can say more – a lot more – but it’s all prefigured in this masterful declaration of the Gospel.

Paul said he “delivered” what he had “received.” That word “received” is another word that summarizes so much. It tells us that the Gospel comes to us as a gift, by God’s grace. It cannot be discerned by human reason. It cannot be earned by human works. It is God’s free gift; it is all of grace. It is to be “received” by faith as you believe.

But it must be “delivered.” It reminds me of a telegram. Telegrams are short, concise messages that say something incredibly important. The person who delivers a telegram adds nothing to it; they only deliver it faithfully. Paul had received the Gospel and he delivered it. We receive it and then are to deliver it.

We have a tendency to want to explain the Gospel. For sure, we love the branch of theology callers Apologetics.

It comes from the Greek word apologia, a legal term meaning “defense.” It is the branch of Christian theology concerned with the intelligent presentation and defense of the historical Christian faith.

The Gospel itself is first something to deliver, not explain. It is wonderfully explainable. But we are to deliver it so it can be received.

In other words, be more like Abraham Lincoln than like Edward Everett.

Deliver what you received. Let the power reside in the Word of God and not your explanations. Say more if there is an open door or an ongoing dialog. It’s simply profound.

Pastor Chuck Smith often encouraged pastors to, “Simply preach the Word simply.” What we are saying today is to “Simply deliver the Gospel simply.”

#2 – You’re To Experience The Stimulation Of The Gospel (v5-11)

What would you guess is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug? It’s caffeine.

Caffeine is a psychoactive central nervous system stimulant. People talk about being buzzed, wired, or getting their caffeine fix. Coffee is called go juice; liquid energy; morning jolt; jitter juice.

A person might drink a strong cup of coffee, or a caffeine-loaded energy drink, to either sober up or to stay awake. It’s interesting that the Bible sometimes describes believers as needing to awaken from a spiritual lethargy. Or to sober up in these Last Days.

Our stimulant is the Gospel that saved and transforms us. The next few verses show the transformation the Gospel accomplishes, stimulating serving.

1 Corinthians 15:5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.

We know “Cephas” better as the apostle Peter. If ever a man was transformed by the Gospel, it was Peter:

See him trembling at the fire, afraid of the testimony of a servant girl. Then see him bold to proclaim the Gospel to a scoffing crowd of many thousands on the Day of Pentecost.
See him flee from His Savior’s crucifixion only to ask later in life, according to church history, to be himself crucified upside down because he was not worthy to die in the same manner as His Lord and Master.

“The twelve” was the designation given by the early church to the original eleven disciples of Jesus and Matthias, who was properly chosen by lot to replace Judas. These misfits went on to turn the world upside down proclaiming the Gospel. They were best described as “ignorant [unlearned] men” who had been with Jesus.

We don’t know when or where “five hundred brethren” saw the risen Jesus Christ “at once.”

But again we would emphasize the radical transformation of the Gospel. After we are saved, we become part of a supernatural family, that is often stronger than our natural family. There is an incredible, supernatural union that takes place between those who receive the Gospel and believe.

Notice Paul’s passing mention that some of them had “fallen asleep.” Maybe he was anticipating an argument from those who denied the resurrection that believers were dying with no sign of being raised.

Sure, they had died, but it was more like being “asleep” because their spirits, conscious in Heaven, would be reunited with their resting bodies at the resurrection and rapture of the church.

Always bear in mind that these first century believers had few biblical resources. The Old Testament was not silent with regard to the physical resurrection, but it was hushed. It didn’t give much information.

As far as the New Testament, we have all twenty-seven books. According to one timeline I found, the only books (letters) written prior to First Corinthians were James, First and Second Thessalonians, and Galatians. It doesn’t mean they had any exposure to these letters. It does mean that most of what we call the New Testament was unavailable to them.

Believers today remain confused about the resurrection; how much more so the Corinthians. Add to that the lure of Greek philosophy, and you have a recipe for false teaching.

Jesus “was seen by James.” This “James” was the half-brother of Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. What is remarkable is that James and Jude and the others siblings of Jesus, who grew up with Him, did not believe in Him until after the resurrection. But then – what a transformation. James rose to a position of leadership in the Jerusalem church and wrote a letter that challenges believers to this day to walk in a manner worthy of Jesus.

“By all the apostles” tells us that there were others who were considered “apostles” in the first century.

Those guys went around establishing churches. They were stimulated to serve.

1 Corinthians 15:8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

The number one persecutor of Christians, Paul was transformed on the road to Damascus by an encounter with the risen Lord.

He refers to it as being “born out of due time.” His was an untimely birth. By this it seems Paul meant that he came later, that he lacked the advantages of the believers he just mentioned; yet God could, and did, call him into serving Him.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

He came after the others, but his untimely birth was not a hindrance to his zeal.

“Grace,” “grace,” “grace.” It was all the gift of God. Yet grace stimulated a response from Paul – he “labored more abundantly than” all the rest.

Clearly he was not boasting. It was a known fact that Paul out-worked others. He took no credit.

1 Corinthians 15:11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

The messenger is insignificant. Peter, James, the twelve, the other apostles, the five hundred – all had received the same Gospel and all delivered it to others.

The Gospel stimulated Paul, and these others he mentioned, to “labor more abundantly.” It can sound like a contradiction. If it’s all of grace, how can you talk about how much you’re doing for God?

It was no contradiction for Paul. Grace was so real to him that it propelled him, redirecting all of his natural energies towards serving Jesus.

We are definitely not talking about doing works of righteousness by which we consider ourselves more spiritual than others. We’re not talking about lists of “do’s” and “don’ts” that set us apart from others and make us appear more spiritual.

We are talking about the bent, the passion, of our heart. I “labor more abundantly” for Jesus because of what He has done and is continuing to do in me.

That’s why we try to talk to believers more about what God has done and is doing for them than what they ought to be doing for God.

Here is another way of looking at it. Does my understanding of grace make me lazy? Am I cruising through life, taking advantage of God’s abundance while giving Him my pittance? If so, I do not understand His grace at all.

Bottom line: Because of His grace I should always be doing more for God, not less, until He calls me home. I don’t do it out of duty but from devotion.

Paul could honestly say, “I labor more abundantly.” Do I labor “more” abundantly? Or “less” abundantly?

If your answer is “less,” don’t just do more. Don’t start there. You’ll only get discouraged.

Draw closer to the Lord. Enter in to a deeper understanding of His grace in your life.

Think hard upon the Gospel which was delivered to you, and which you received.

Be stimulated by what Jesus has done for you.

I’m So Excited, And I Can’t Wait To Try It. I’m About To Gain Control And I Think I Like It (1 Corinthians 14:26-40)

I’ll fess up to it: I like Three Dog Night. (The band, that is, not cuddling with sled dogs).

One is the Loneliest Number… Celebrate… Eli’s Comin’… Easy to be Hard… Their cover of Your Song. Rock classics all.

Mama Told Me Not to Come is the song I found myself humming while reading our verses in First Corinthians. A bit of trivia first: The song was written by Randy Newman.

The song features a sheltered, straight-laced young man recounting what was presumably his first wild party in the big city. He was shocked and appalled by what was going on. He exclaims, “This is the craziest party that there could ever be.”

In the first century church in Corinth, it wasn’t a wild party. It was wild worship. In verse twenty three, one translation says, “So if the whole congregation comes together with everybody speaking in tongues, and uninstructed people or unbelievers come in, won’t they say you’re crazy?”

The Three Dog Night cover version – “This is the craziest worship service that there could ever be.”

After two and one-half chapters, Paul was ready to tell these wild and crazy worshippers how to get control in order to build-up one another as believers, and to reach nonbelievers with the Gospel.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Others Are Only Edified When You Keep Gifted Speaking Under Control, and #2 Others Are Only Edified When You Keep General Speaking Under Control.

#1 – Others Are Only Edified When You Keep Gifted Speaking Under Control (v26-32)

Disagreeing with Mr. Spock’s decision keeping Jim Kirk out of the action, Dr. McCoy exclaimed, “You know, back home we have a saying: ‘If you’re gonna ride in the Kentucky Derby, you don’t leave your prize stallion in the stable.’ ”

Spock answered, “A curious metaphor, doctor, as a stallion must first be broken before it can reach its potential.”

The wild worshippers in Corinth definitely needed to ‘break’ a few habits. Doing so would help them reach their potential in using their gifts to benefit others.

1Co 14:26  How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

Different meetings of the church are described in the Book of Acts:

There were prayer meetings.
There was a teaching that lasted all night.
There were leadership meetings.
There was a church council.

Since each meeting had a different emphasis, different things went on at them.

If you read the account of the church council meeting in Jerusalem, you’d probably agree that it would have been inappropriate for everyone to suddenly start speaking in tongues.
Likewise it would have been odd for Paul and Barnabas to leave on an evangelistic tour without having heard from the Holy Spirit at the prayer meeting in Antioch.

There were different meetings in Corinth; at least two. We know that they met weekly for a potluck followed by celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The meeting described in our verses is a very different meeting. It was a worship service in which everyone had an opportunity to participate in singing, in teaching, in speaking in tongues, in interpreting tongues, and in prophecy.

Paul added a quick reminder that “all things be done for edification” – with the goal of building-up others.

If this exhortation is heeded, you’ll never have a problem in church. How could you, if you are preferring others and not yourself?
It makes spiritual sense that a worship service should follow an etiquette. The potential for changing lives for eternity is too great to allow behavior that would undermine the Holy Spirit’s work. Left to ourselves, we have a tendency to draw attention to ourselves. We can be rude in public, out of order, interruptive, and without situational awareness.

This, then, is the apostle Paul’s etiquette for participating in a worship service of the gathered church. They’re more like guidelines than strict rules; but they are not to be taken lightly, or dismissed. He places extra emphasis on speaking in tongues not because it is the most important gift, but because it was being exercised improperly in Corinth.

1Co 14:27  If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.
1Co 14:28  But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

The gift of tongues is controllable. We will see that all the gifts are subject to control. The Holy Spirit doesn’t overpower you, take advantage of you, embarrass you, make you seem crazy.

Here are the basic principles governing the public exercise of the gift of tongues in every church, in every century:

“Let there be two or at the most three” – Speaking in tongues should not dominate a meeting. Two or three people might be allowed to speak in tongues to the whole group, and that’s all.
“Each in turn” – There is to be no multiple speaking or singing in tongues; only one person at a time should be exercising the gift of tongues.
“… Let one interpret. If there is no interpreter… keep silent.” You must be concerned with there being an interpretation of the utterance in tongues since uninterpreted tongues cannot edify others. If there is an utterance in tongues that goes uninterpreted, that’s a pretty good indication that there should be no further exercise of the gift in that meeting.
In verse two of chapter fourteen we learned,”For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” Thus the interpretation of a tongue must always be prayer and praise from men to God. It will never be a message from God to men.

The spiritual leader of the meeting indicates to you whether or not it would be appropriate to have a time of prayer and praise during which the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues could be exercised. As the group prays and praises, you are prompted to speak in tongues. You might already know someone there has the gift of interpretation. If so, you can be somewhat comfortable in speaking or singing in tongues.

What if you’re not sure if someone there has the gift of interpretation? You might simply share with the leader of the group that you feel God prompting you to speak in tongues. Perhaps he knows if someone is there who can interpret.

Or he might chance that God wants to give someone the gift of interpretation as they hear your tongues being spoken. He will instruct you what to do.

If there is no instruction about the exercise of tongues, it’s an indication that you should refrain, or ask about it, before you blurt-out, “Shandala Bibbi.”

An interpretation is not a word-for-word translation. You don’t recognize words and phrases, like you would a known language. You are given the sense of what is being prayed – then you use words that describe the sense of what was spoken to God.

Don’t overlook Paul’s suggestion that you “speak to [yourself] and to God.” He meant quietly, under your breath as it were. You can exercise tongues without calling any attention to it or to yourself.

1Co 14:29  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.

Once again, the leader of the meeting indicates to you whether or not it would be appropriate to have a time of prayer and praise during which the gift of prophecy could be exercised. As the group prays and praises, you receive a word of prophecy.

It often is as simply profound as a Bible verse, or Bible passage, that you are prompted to share. Someone in the meeting needs to hear it. The Lord wants to edify and encourage and comfort them by it.

Maybe you’ll have a waking vision… Or you’ve had a dream that seems spiritual and you share it.

“Two or three” simply means prophecy should not be allowed to dominate the meeting. All of the gifts are for edification and there should be no over-emphasis of any one gift.

“And let the others judge.”

When someone speaks what they believe to be a word of prophecy the leader of the group, and the group itself, has a very real responsibility to judge the accuracy of the prophecy.

It’s not enough to be in awe that God has spoken. We should look at the utterance from at least these two viewpoints: Content and Character:

Does it’s content agree with the revealed content of Scripture?
Does it’s character agree with the revealed character of God?

This requires some interaction. Some worship services seem more like a seance where you can’t break the atmosphere with any interaction – as if it would scare the Holy Spirit away. That is not spiritual, it is superstition.

1Co 14:30  But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.

At first this statement seems like a contradiction. It seems to be saying that you can interrupt someone if you suddenly receive a prophecy. Nope.

Paul just told you “let two or three prophets speak.”

He is putting a reasonable time limit on each prophecy. Some people have a tendency to ramble on. They prophesy (or even pray) too long – dominating a meeting. He wanted them to be concise, thinking that there were others who had things to share.

1 Corinthians 14:31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

When Paul says “you can all prophesy,” is he saying everyone can and should have this gift? No. In chapter twelve you learned that not everyone has the gift of prophecy. In addition, he just limited the exercise of the gift of prophecy to several instances per meeting.

He is simply saying that “all” who do have the gift of prophecy at the meeting should exercise it in an orderly way, one after another, allowing time for each to exercise their gifts.

1Co 14:32  And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

Let’s read the NIV’s translation of verse thirty-two:

1 Corinthians 14:32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.

Occasionally you’ll hear someone reference the Amplified Bible. It’s a translation that uses explanatory alternate readings and amplifications to assist us in understanding what Scripture really says. Multiple English word equivalents to each key Hebrew and Greek word clarify and amplify meanings that may otherwise have been concealed by a traditional translation method. Here is First Corinthians 14:32 in the AV:

1 Corinthians 14:32 For the spirits of the prophets (the speakers in tongues) are under the speaker’s control [and subject to being silenced as may be necessary],

The same Holy Spirit who prompts you to speak in tongues or prophesy inspired the apostle Paul to write these words telling you that not only you can, you must, always keep His supernatural promptings to speak under control. Period.

1Co 14:33  For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

When the Holy Spirit is truly the source of your gifts there will be “peace” not “confusion.” No one will go away afraid, thinking you are crazy, having not heard the Gospel.

“As in all the churches.” In our day this means Pentecostal churches as well as conservative churches. No one is exempt or has any other leading of the Holy Spirit. These are His principles governing His gifts.
Rude and disorderly behavior are all too common in our society. Who brings a baby to see Terminator? And why won’t they take him or her out when they are crying as if they are being eviscerated? Don’t get me started on line etiquette.

Paul’s grace etiquette for the church throughout the church age is not at all hard to understand. Tradition and superstition hinders many from following it. If they did, it would not quench the Spirit, but rather release Him.

#2 – Others Are Only Edified When You Keep General Speaking Under Control (v34-40)

Who talks more – Women or men?

The stereotype that women are Chatty Kathy’s is one that is fairly ingrained in our society. In the first print of The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine claimed that women use 20,000 words per day while men use 7,000.

However, there were no studies in existence that validated that claim or showed that women spoke more than men.

An actual study in 2014 “found that there was no significant gender difference whatsoever.” On average, women speak 16,215 words per day and men speak 15,669 words per day.

Women speaking in the meetings during the worship services was causing problems in Corinth. But it wasn’t just their speaking. It was a kind of speaking.

1Co 14:34  Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.
1Co 14:35  And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

Tough to hear… Not so tough to heed, once we understand what was being said.

Women were allowed to speak in the meetings. Paul referred positively to women praying and prophesying in meetings (11:5 & 13).

So what was Paul talking about? If you think about the words you conclude that certain married women were interrupting the public services by speaking out-of-turn. Apparently it involved asking questions which were somehow disruptive to the meeting. Their disruptive speaking was a “shameful” lack of proper submission to God and to their husbands.

Men can certainly be guilty of this as well; but they weren’t, not in Corinth. Always think about context before you interpret. Paul was addressing a specific problem in Corinth. He wasn’t establishing a gag-the-gals order for all types of speaking for the universal church through the centuries. He was saying, “Quit interrupting with your out-of-order questions.”

1Co 14:36  Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?
1Co 14:37  If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.
1Co 14:38  But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

We are not at liberty to develop our own principles regarding the exercise of the gifts as if “the Word of God [came] originally from [us].” Regardless your background and experiences with the exercise of spiritual gifts, control must be acknowledged and followed. If you have seen or even personally experienced something different, then you must bring your tradition into alignment with the teaching here in chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen.

To ignore this instruction is to be “ignorant.”

Read the Gospels and watch Jesus as He exercises the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Read the Book of Acts and see the gifts in operation.

There are none of the weird, out-of-control excesses you see in churches today. The only people slain by the Spirit were Ananias and Saphira, and they were killed. The one church that was acting out-of-control, Corinth, was asked to come under control.

1Co 14:39  Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.
1Co 14:40  Let all things be done decently and in order.

The gifts – all of them – were in operation. They ought still to be in operation. Today there are many who actively, militantly, “forbid to speak with tongues.” John MacArthur, for example, equates it with demons. There are no biblical grounds for such a radical denial and despising of the Holy Spirit’s gifts.

Control does not equal quenching. You do not quench the Holy Spirit by remaining under control.

On the contrary, you set Him free to minister in meaningful ways to those you prefer in the body of Jesus on earth.

We should admit we are creatures of habit. We like things to be set. Thus you will find in many churches, especially Pentecostal churches, that the exercising of gifts follows the same order week after week after week. But that might not be God’s leading.

A while back, on Wednesday nights we’d encourage prophecy and tongues; and we were blessed to experience those gifts in some measure, especially prophecy.

Recently we’ve been experiencing something I consider just as extraordinary: Very young children moved upon to pray. It’s so amazing. If I can say this without seeming mystical, I feel God’s presence just as strongly as I would if an adult were speaking in tongues, interpreting, or prophesying.

Jane and Michael greeted their father, George Banks, with, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

When they told him it was something you say when you don’t know what to say, he proudly quipped, “Yes, well, I always know what to say.”

If you think you always know what to say… You don’t. We ought to rely more on the indwelling Holy Spirit to minister to others. My knowledge, my wisdom, my experience, are too easily and too often substituted for waiting on the Lord for what He has to say.

Geno made-up a description on Wednesday night as he was teaching the Book of Acts: Conduit-Christians. Be a conduit through which God the Holy Spirit can benefit others with His wisdom, knowledge, and guidance.

Crazy Little Thing Called Tongues (1 Corinthians 14:1-25)

It was an outrage.

The event was the memorial in 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa, for Nelson Mandela. Then President Obama was giving a eulogy. Next to him was a sign language interpreter. Except that the man was only pretending to sign.
Among those who noticed what was happening was Wilma Newhoudt, the first deaf person elected to South Africa’s parliament and a vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf.

“Shame on this so called interpreter on the stage,” she tweeted during the memorial service. “What is he signing? Shame on him!”

Shame on the Christians in Corinth. At their gatherings, they were speaking in a way that no one could understand: “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him…” (14:2).

Unlike the sign language interpreter, however, the speaking in tongues was a genuine, not fake, gift of the Holy Spirit. The problem was that it required interpretation; and the believers were neglecting the corresponding gift of interpretation.

The gift of speaking in tongues is one of the most controversial subjects believers argue and divide over. Whether you believe that the gift has ceased, or that it continues, or who cares?, what the apostle wrote here is the truth about tongues.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Your Uninterpreted Speaking In Tongues In Public Is Selfish, and #2 Your Uninterpreted Speaking In Tongues In Public Is A Sign.

#1 – Your Uninterpreted Speaking In Tongues In Public Is Selfish (1-14)

I want to use the apostle Paul’s own brief descriptions of the gifts we are going to discuss. They are prophecy, speaking in tongues (let’s just refer to it as tongues), and interpretation.

Prophecy in verses three and four:

1Co 14:3  But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.
1Co 14:4  He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

Prophecy can be a foretelling of the future, but that is rare now that we have the complete Word of God. Most often it is a forth-telling of God’s Word. It is you hearing exactly what you need in order to be edified, exhorted, and comforted. Just last week a brother told me he’d been praying for another saint, and felt the Lord give him a verse to share. When he did – it was exactly the same verse the recipient had sensed God using to edify, exhort, and comfort him.

(Coincidence? I don’t think so. There are 31,102 verses in the Bible).

Tongues in verse two:

1Co 14:2  For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.

The biblical gift of tongues is not a known or learnable human language. Everyone who is given this gift gets their own peculiar expression of it. That’s why it can sound like gibberish but be genuine. If that sounds ridiculous, consider this: We are told that the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). He groans, not us. Our speaking in tongues is no more ridiculous than the Holy Spirit using groans to communicate.

We are further told that a person speaking or singing in tongues is directly addressing God. It is never a message from God; it is speaking to God.

The interpretation of tongues:

1Co 14:13  Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.

The interpretation of tongues is the Holy Spirit giving you the understanding of what was spoken by someone else or by yourself. You can’t otherwise know what was said.

Since tongues is not a known human language, and since everyone’s tongues is therefore unique, interpretation is not a translation. Think of it like interpreting a work of art. You put into words what the artist was trying to convey.

And since tongues is always speaking to God, the interpretation must be phrased as a prayer to Him.

One more really, really important point often overlooked. Tongues were only a problem in Corinth because they were left uninterpreted. Look at verse five: “For he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.” Tongues that are interpreted are just as edifying as prophecy, or any other speaking gift.

1Co 14:1  Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

The Corinthians claimed to “desire” the best gifts – and they thought it was tongues. Had they been pursuing love, they’d have recognized without needing to be told that uninterpreted tongues was selfish.

1Co 14:2  For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.

Tongues has rightfully been called a prayer language. This is why some argue it is for every believer. No matter how logical or spiritually that sounds, Paul said “No” back in chapter twelve.

Something I want to sneak in about tongues. Some commentators use the Day of Pentecost to insist tongues must be a known language. It is not.

On the Day of Pentecost, when God the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples gathered in the Upper Room… Did the hearers recognize their own human languages being spoken? They did; and that means the gift of tongues is something different than the miracle of languages on the Day of Pentecost.

1Co 14:3  But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.
1Co 14:4  He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

Regardless that you or I may think hearing tongues is beautiful, or worshipful – by definition it cannot build us up because it is unintelligible to us without interpretation. It should not be exercised in public unless there is the possibility of interpretation.

1Co 14:5  I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.

Nowhere does Paul indicate any of these gifts will cease in the church age. Quite to the contrary, he spent three chapters discussing their proper exercise in the church age.

1Co 14:6  But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?

This is a partial list of manifestations of the Spirit that can be understood. Only what is understood can “profit you.” You may think some unintelligible phenomena is spiritual, but Paul says it isn’t.

1Co 14:7  Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?
1Co 14:8  For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?
1Co 14:9  So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.

The gathering of believers… the assembly of God… Is a place to get understanding. Over-and-over Paul emphasizes how important this is. We should think that way as well, and examine our behavior accordingly.

1Co 14:10  There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.
1Co 14:11  Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.

We ought not act like “foreigners” by speaking uninterpreted tongues when, in fact, we are one in Jesus – members of His earthly body. Don’t you feel weird when folks who speak English suddenly start speaking in another language – just so you can’t understand?

1Co 14:12  Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.

Their zeal to exercise gifts was commendable, but needed correction. That isn’t a bad thing. They definitely were zealous to serve. It’s better than apathy.

And “seek to excel.” I hate most sports expressions, but here we might say regarding our gatherings, “Bring your ‘A’ game, give 110%, and leave it all out in the pews.” That is, expect God to use you.

1Co 14:13  Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
1Co 14:14  For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

If you speak in tongues publicly, it’s gonna need interpreting by you or someone else. If you don’t have the gift of interpretation, you might want to ask if someone in the assembly does.

Wait a minute… It sounds like we think we can control our exercise of the gifts? That’s because we not only can; we must. Part two of this chapter is all about order, with Paul insisting that, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (v32).

#2 – Your Uninterpreted Speaking In Tongues In Public Is A Sign (v15-25)

As much as we might be learning about the gifts, the real issue is the selfless building up of others when we gather. Gordon Fee, himself a Pentecostal, put it this way:

The point of everything in corporate worship is not personal experience in the Spirit, but building up the church itself. Much that comes under the banner of Charismatic or Pentecostal worship seems very often to fail right at this point. The building up of the community is the basic reason for corporate settings of worship; they should probably not be turned into a corporate gathering for a thousand individual experiences of worship.

1Co 14:15  What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.

Praying and singing “with the spirit” means praying and singing in tongues.
Praying and singing “with the understanding” means praying and singing in ways that can be understood by everyone.

1Co 14:16  Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?
1Co 14:17  For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.

You cannot agree to something you don’t hear with understanding. It’s like Jerry Seinfeld and the low-talker. He didn’t hear with understanding that he was agreeing to wear the ridiculous puffy shirt. (That shirt, BTW, is in the Smithsonian).

1Co 14:18  I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;
1Co 14:19  yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Yes, Paul spoke in tongues. But not “in the church,” because there he had a different focus. This gives us the freedom to encourage or to discourage certain gifts from being exercised in certain meetings for the good of the body. We don’t see Sunday morning as an appropriate meeting for encouraging tongues. It’s a time to sing with understanding, and to speak with understanding, in order to build up the saints and reach sinners. It’s not a quenching.

Just for fun, I tried to think of five-word sentences that would be better than ten thousand words in tongues. How about, “You must be born again?” Or, “God so loved the world?” Try it on your own.

1Co 14:20  Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.

Speaking in tongues is often still promoted as a sign of spiritual maturity, or even of salvation itself. The Corinthians certainly thought themselves mature in their exercise of the gift. Paul said that their understanding of the gift was childish. They should rather hear with understanding and thereby mature.

The comment about “malice” was a reminder that, while they thought themselves mature, they were simultaneously suing one another, committing all manner of sexual sin, and defiling the Lord’s Supper.


Let me give you the background and context of the quote from Isaiah. The backslidden Jews of the northern kingdom of Israel had been ignoring the warnings that Isaiah was speaking to them to solicit their repentance. They refused to heed Godʼs clear, intelligible words.

As a result God would allow Israel, to be conquered by the fierce and cruel Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians did not speak Hebrew. They were the “men of other tongues and other lips” who would “speak” to the Jews instead of Godʼs prophets. In other words, they would be conquered by a foreign people who would speak to them in a language they did not understand. It was Godʼs judgment upon them for refusing to understand His Word and repent.

1Co 14:22  Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

The unintelligible speaking of the Assyrians to Israel was a “sign” of Godʼs disapproval and displeasure with His disobedient people.

Hearing the uninterpreted tongues in Corinth, a visitor would be justified in concluding that God was not among His people but had (at least temporarily) brought them into a place of discipline and judgment. It’s reminiscent of the Towel of Babel where the lack of understanding each other was obviously a judgment.

Prophecy, here representing all intelligible speech, has the opposite effect on unbelievers. It reveals God communicating in order to build up His people.

1Co 14:23  Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

The “uninformed” is likely a reference to young believers, recently saved and with little information about the Christian life. They were, and are, hungry to hear about God in ways they can understand. Imagine them attending church in Corinth for the first time.

“Unbelievers” need to hear the Gospel – not your prayer language – in order to be saved.

I’m guessing the uninformed and unbelieving were, in fact, spreading the word that the Corinthian Christians were crazy.

1Co 14:24  But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.

As we will see in Part Two, Paul didn’t intend that everyone prophesy. Only that those who speak do so in ways that can be easily understood, like forth-telling God’s Word, so that everyone can be touched by the Holy Spirit.

If the hearer is an “unbeliever,” he or she can be “convicted” of sin and of righteousness and of the judgment to come.

If the hearer is an “uninformed” believer, he or she can understand that Godʼs Word is His enabling for them to live the Christian life.

1Co 14:25  And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

Ah, finally something Pentecostal. This person was slain by the Holy Spirit and fell down.

No, that’s not it. We use expressions like this all the time. Have you ever said, “It floored me?” Did you actually fall down on the floor? Probably not.

I think Paul was simply describing the strong emotional reaction a person might have to the convincing, convicting, work of the Holy Spirit as they are converted. I guess they could fall on their face, or to their knees; or come forward weeping; or experience a wave of joy.

Note one thing: This person fell on his face; he fell forward. If you’ve ever seen someone who was supposedly slain by the Spirit’s power coming upon them, they always fall back – not forward. If you’re going to teach that folks get slain, make sure that they do it biblically.

Turns out, tongues can be a form of sign language. If left uninterpreted in public, it can be a sign you are crazy.

• Too many assemblies of saints act as though the more out of control they get, the more spiritual they are. They are Corinthian and need to heed Paul’s correction.

• Too many assemblies of saints disparage the gifts in this chapter. Paul didn’t, and those who do must submit to his inspired teaching.

• If you are in the “Who cares?” group – this is the Word of the Lord every bit as much as the rest.

Gifts Without Heart And You’re To Blame, You Give Love A Bad Name (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

You’ve probably heard a Bible teacher say that the Greek language has these four different words for love:

Eros is a word for love that describes, as we might guess from the word itself, sexual love.

Storge is a 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 a 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 enabling, is capable of.

Agape is a fourth word for love. It is a self-giving, self-sacrificing, selfless love that gives without demanding or expecting anything in return. Although the apostle John uses agape to describe a love humans have for sin and the world, we mostly associate it with the supernatural love of God, Who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” to be our Savior (John 3:19 & First John 2:15; John 3:16).

There are two additional ‘loves’ in Greek that you rarely hear about:

Pragma, a longstanding love is a mature, realistic love that is commonly found amongst long-established couples.

Philautia, or love of self.

I’d like to suggest a seventh love. Not in a scholarly sense; I know next to nothing about the Greek language of the New Testament. Think of it as a devotional thought. It is suggested in our text as agape we do not want to characterize our lives. You see it in each of the opening three verses.

If you are reading from the NKJV, see the word “love” in verses one, two, and three? It is in each occurrence proceeded by what two words?

The additional love I’m suggesting is “have-not love.” We will see that it is a state that a believer can be in even though he or she is exercising gifts of the Holy Spirit or doing powerful works for God.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 If You Have Not Love You Will Injure Other Members Of Jesus’ Body, and #2 If You Have Love You Will Encourage Other Members Of Jesus’ Body.

#1 – If You Have Not Love You Will Injure Other Members Of Jesus’ Body (v1-3)

“Have-not love” can be seen in at least one other place in the New Testament. It isn’t called by that name; but the condition being described is similar. It is the description Jesus gives in His letter to the church in Ephesus. He praises them for their various works, but then says rather dramatically, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4).

The church in Ephesus lacked love.

The church in Corinth lacked love.

We must conclude that any church can lack love; that any of us individually may “have-not love.”

What is more, like the believers in those two first century churches, we may not even recognize it.

We are in the middle of the apostle Paul issuing correction to the Corinthians for their misuse of the gifts they had been given by God the Holy Spirit. The correction began in chapter twelve and continues all the way through chapter fourteen. The crux of it was that, “the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues…” (14:23).

The real problem, though, was that by doing so they were calling attention to themselves and away from Jesus. Their gifts were not benefitting others in the body – only themselves. They were chasing visitors away – visitors who needed to hear the Gospel. That’s not agape, is it? No; it is have-not agape.

1Co 13:1  Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

First thing to note is that each of the opening three verses indicate the person with have-not love can nevertheless perform mighty deeds. Thus it can initially be hard to recognize.

The believers who were speaking in tongues seem to have concluded that they were on a par with angels. Since they were speaking in tongues all at once, they thought it a beautiful chorus of worship. But instead of sounding like a choir of angels, they were each one more like a clanging cymbal played out of order, amplified by a device called a sounding brass.

We might consider the exercise of spiritual gifts in public like the playing of a symphony orchestra being conducted by a great master conductor.

We each have our necessary and proper place in the symphony. But we can exercise our gift or gifts in such a way as to call attention to ourselves and away from the conductor. We can be like a gong or a cymbal being played loudly out of place.

1Co 13:2  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Spectacular displays of supernatural power. But as one commentator mused, “You can lift the mountain, but you then drop it on others.”

1Co 13:3  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Paul said of such displays, “I am nothing,” and, “It profits me nothing.” It doesn’t help others… And it’s not good for you.

How does this have-not love happen? After all, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Who is God and therefore IS love. He works to produce the fruit of the Spirit in and through our lives; and the fruit of the Spirit IS love.

At least one way we have-not love is revealed when Paul said to the believers in Galatia, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (3:3). In context, Paul was warning them to not return to Judaism and its rites and rituals.

It applies more broadly to the fact that believers have a tendency to yield themselves to the flesh.

In some cases, that can mean a return to rules, rites, and rituals as the means to get saved and stay saved.

In other cases, it can mean seeking to merge worldly wisdom with the wisdom of God.

It can be a distortion and over-emphasis on something, e.g., a doctrine, or the gift of tongues.

“Flesh” describes our unredeemed humanness. When a person is saved, the Holy Spirit takes residence in a body that has the propensity to sin. This will dog us until we receive our new bodies.

In a minute, in verses five and six, we will see some of the ways we can yield to the flesh rather than to the Spirit. Two ways of living will be on display.

But first we’ve been made aware that we can have-not love and not even realize it. Instead of benefitting others, we risk injuring them – spiritually and maybe even physically.

It is gracious of God to reveal this to us. No believer wants to lack love, or to injure another.

#2 – If You Have Love You Will Encourage Other Members Of Jesus’ Body (v4-13)

I’m not sure why, but as a kid I played Mystery Date a few times. It is marketed to girls ages 6-14. I don’t think it was gender confusion. More like I wanted to know what to wear on a bowling date.

In all, there were five possible dates – four were desirable, and the Dud, who we affectionately referred to as “the bum from Mystery Date.” At the end, you’d open a plastic door to reveal your date.

These next few verses feature the desirable and the undesirable believer. You don’t want to be the Dud – the bum from Calvary Hanford – when God opens a door for ministry.

I have a really hard time as a teacher in this chapter. Mostly because commentary cannot improve it. Instead it threatens to dismantle it. It’s a little like dissecting a rose. It ruins its beauty, and you can’t really put it back together.

1Co 13:4  Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
1Co 13:5  does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
1Co 13:6  does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
1Co 13:7  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

We easily recognize each of these responses when we are the recipient.

You’ve been treated kindly in your life; you’ve been treated rudely. Do, or do not do, unto others accordingly.

We are not talking about self-improvement. It isn’t a matter of trying to be kind, or trying to be less rude. Anyone can try to improve. You don’t need to be a believer for that.

Remember when everyday you heard the expression, “Pay it forward?” It encouraged the beneficiary of a good deed repaying the kindness to others instead of to the original benefactor. Nothing wrong with it, I suppose. But it is a program designed to help people be kind. You have a Person to encourage and then empower you to always be kind.

If you are a believer, you can be kind, and not be rude, right now, by yielding to the indwelling Holy Spirit. You can respond, or not respond, accordingly.

I don’t always believe that is true; and therein lies my problem. In perhaps the most popular devotional ever written, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes,

The first thing I must be willing to admit when I begin to examine what controls and dominates me is that I am the one responsible for having yielded myself to whatever it may be. If I am a slave to myself, I am to blame because… I yielded to myself. Likewise, if I obey God I do so because… I yielded myself to Him.

Another commentator said, “We must stay yielded to the Spirit. We must say “Yes” to the Spirit when He prompts us to take a certain action or say a certain word. We must give mental assent to the Spirit’s direction, and then we must actually obey His prompting and follow through by doing or saying what He has called us to do or say.”

This isn’t meant as a rebuke; far from it.

It is meant to set us free from re-enslavement by the flesh in order to manifest the Holy Spirit and thereby genuinely benefit others.

When we looked at the gifts listed in chapter twelve, we said the best way to understand them was to see them in the life of Jesus, or in the lives of His disciples. That works just as well for the traits of agape in these verses.

Jesus was always long suffering and kind. He never envied, or paraded Himself, or was puffed up, or behaved rudely, or sought His own, or was provoked, or thought evil, or rejoiced in iniquity.

“Of course,” you say, “because He was God.” He was fully God and fully man. While on earth, in His incarnation, He set aside the prerogatives of His deity to live as a Spirit-filled man. He yielded Himself to the Spirit as an example to us of what that looked like:

He once said, “I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:28-29).

He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19).

He said, “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49).

Everything that Jesus did and said was exactly what His Father wanted Him to do and say, led by the Holy Spirit. It is our example. We have the same Holy Spirit.

1Co 13:8  Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

Paul is addressing the over-emphasis the Corinthian Christians had on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They should emphasize love, because love is permanent, carrying over into eternity, whereas the gifts are temporary.

1Co 13:9  For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
1Co 13:10  But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

There is almost no argument anymore among serious scholars about what Paul meant when he said, “when that which is perfect has come.” He was talking about eternity.

You won’t need the gift of prophecy because the Lord will be speaking to you directly.

There will be no unknown languages that need interpreting.

The word of knowledge, by which the Lord supernaturally reveals to you something you could not have known, will vanish away because you will know everything.

By now you understand we discuss the gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in the New Testament – all of them – in the present tense. They continued beyond the Book of Acts; they continue right up to today.

Why do some Bible teachers say that several of them have ceased? One popular reason they give, that at first sounds credible, is that (they say) the verb will cease is not in the passive, but in the middle voice, and it could be translated, tongues will stop by themselves.

David Guzik writes, “Their analysis sounds scholarly, but is disregarded by virtually all Greek scholars. Even if this translation is correct, it does nothing to suggest when tongues will cease. This passage doesn’t tell us tongues will stop by themselves; and it tells us tongues will cease only when that which is perfect has come.”

There is no biblical reason to argue that any of the gifts have ceased. I think the real reason many believers argue against the continuation of certain gifts – notably tongues – is this: Most of the believers who manifest these gifts do so just as the believers in Corinth did. They are out of order and in error about their proper use. They rarely are open to biblical correction.

Two illustrations help you get a grasp of the change from earth to eternity.

1Co 13:11  When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Paul compared our change from earth to eternity to the change from childhood to adulthood.

I don’t think, however, he was describing the gradual changes as we grow. The way he worded this sounds more immediate. Paul was perhaps thinking of his bar mitzvah. One moment Paul was still a boy; the next he was considered a man.

It will be a spiritual bar mitzvah, in a sense, when we go to be with the Lord. Whether through death and resurrection or the rapture, we will be immediately matured. Then the gifts, as precious and important as they are on earth, will be left behind.

1Co 13:12  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

The mirrors in those days were made of beaten and polished bronze. No matter how well crafted a polished bronze mirror might be, it was really crude in giving a proper representation.

That’s how we see currently spiritual things – only partially. Yes, we have everything we need for life and godliness in God’s Word. But it is still not the same as being with Jesus. In Heaven we will see Him face to face. And we will know Him perfectly, even as He knows us perfectly today.

1Co 13:13  And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

In eternity faith will become sight when we see Jesus.

Our blessed hope is the coming of the Lord. Thus “hope” is only necessary for our time on earth.

“Love” does not have the same temporary quality. It will go on for eternity as the very atmosphere in which we exist.

The Holy Spirit produces this love. Since He indwells us these characteristics are not only possible, they are normal. Love is normal Christian behavior.

In the movie Pay It Forward, the lead line was, “When someone does you a good deed, don’t pay it back, pay it forward.” It spawned a “Pay It Forward” foundation… A “Pay It Forward” novel… And a “Pay It Forward” day, April 30th.

None of that was specifically Christian, although there are tons of sermons that capitalized on it. It’s a good example of what we always tend to do: Make our walk with Jesus a self-improvement program.

If you were to review the most popular Christian books over the last twenty years, they are really self-improvement programs masquerading as something spiritual.

You can’t improve the flesh. Not ever. It isn’t a matter of my trying harder but of believing I can yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit.

We’re going to fail all the time, on account of the flesh and our two mortal enemies – Satan and the world system he oversees as its ruler.

The answer isn’t a program; it’s to listen and obey. You don’t need any program because you have the Person.

The Gift Who Keeps On Giving (1 Corinthians 12:1-31)

In the Superman origins movies I’ve seen, a young Clark Kent was always frustrated that he couldn’t participate in normal activities, like playing football, on account of his powers. As he matured, he came to understand that his powers were not for himself. They were for the benefit of others.

On the day He ascended to Heaven, Jesus promised His followers, then and now, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you“ (Acts 1:8). Not long after that, we read, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:1-4).

After being filled with the Holy Spirit, a believer is described as being given a gift or gifts by the Holy Spirit. Earlier in this letter, Paul said, “you come short in no gift…” (1:7).

They had gifts in abundance, but they were abusing their gifts in the public assembly. Instead of benefiting others, they were calling attention to themselves.

It had gotten so out of order that the apostle Paul will say to them regarding visitors to their services, “will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (14:23).

His correction begins in chapter twelve and extends through chapter fourteen. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 God The Holy Spirit Gives You Manifestations To Benefit Others, and #2 God The Holy Spirit Sets You As A Member To Benefits Others.

#1 – God The Holy Spirit Gives You Manifestations To Benefit Others (v1-11)

You can read First Corinthians in about one hour. It’s original recipients heard it all at once. They understood that what we call chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen were one subject: The correct function of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the public assembly.

In chapter twelve, we are introduced to the gifts of the Holy Spirit being supernatural manifestations of His power and presence given to believers in order to benefit others.

Chapter thirteen is the oft quoted treatise on love being the controlling influence on our lives – including any use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In chapter fourteen, Paul will give point-by-point instruction about how to utilize gifts decently and in order to benefit others.

1Co 12:1  Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:

In this case, “ignorant” means ignoring. Paul had been with them some eighteen months. During that time, he must have modeled for them the correct way to minister to one another. They were ignoring his example in favor of what they considered to be more spiritual.

1Co 12:2  You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.

The Gentile believers at Corinth had been saved out of religions in which wild spiritual experiences were considered normal. They would be “led” to do and say things without any restraint or order. The more out of control you were, the more spiritual it was deemed.

1Co 12:3  Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

In context, this verse is a reminder that any manifestation attributed to the Holy Spirit will be consistent with His mission to call attention to, and bring glory to, Jesus. It’s a subtle way of introducing an idea Paul will develop more – that it is necessary to test all so-called manifestations of the Holy Spirit according to orthodoxy.

1Co 12:4  There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
1Co 12:5  There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.
1Co 12:6  And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

We worship One God Who has revealed Himself in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is from the Godhead that gifts originate. It is to the Lord they should bring attention and glory.

There are a variety of “gifts.” Paul mentions nine in verses eight and nine; in chapter twelve, in verse twenty-eight, he adds three more. There are more gifts listed in Romans chapter twelve; in Ephesians chapter four; and in First Peter chapter four. (Those lists are probably not meant to be exhaustive).

There are a variety of “ministries.” The NIV Bible translates the word “ministries” as service. We each serve the Lord in different ways, depending upon how he has gifted us.

There are a variety of “activities.” This means that people with the same gift will exercise the gift differently.

1Co 12:7  But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:

When you exercise a spiritual gift, it is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, Who indwells you, intended to benefit others; emphasis on others.

1Co 12:8  for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,
1Co 12:9  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,
1Co 12:10  to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

I think the best way to understand the gifts listed here and elsewhere is to see them manifest in the ministry of Jesus and/or His disciples:

Jesus was given the word of wisdom all the time. One that comes to mind is when He was seemingly cornered by being asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. He responded, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). It was unassailable wisdom that could only come directly from God. As Stan Lee would say, “Nuff said.”

A word of knowledge came to Jesus while talking to the woman at the well. After telling the Lord she had no husband, He replied, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly” (John 4:17-18). How did He know that? His Father revealed it to Him.

Peter and John were given a gift of faith, a gift of healing, and the working of miracles, when on their way to prayer they encountered the beggar outside the Temple. Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength” (Acts 3:6-7).

Jesus gave us many prophecies, e.g., the Olivet Discourse describing the future Great Tribulation and His Second Coming. In the Book of Acts, Phillip’s daughters are called prophetesses. And there’s a colorful character named Agabus who utters a few prophecies. Peter had a vision on the rooftop that was prophetic, leading him to preach Jesus to the Gentile household of Cornelius. (We will have a lot more to say about prophecy in chapter fourteen).

After being harassed for a time by a slave girl following him for several days, Paul “turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour” (Acts 16:18). The Holy Spirit revealed to Paul that a demon was involved – thus the discernment of spirits.
Tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, will be thoroughly investigated when get to chapter fourteen. I’ll just say this to wet your beak: The tongues on the Day of Pentecost were not the gift of tongues described in First Corinthians.

One thing to notice: tongues is mentioned last in this list; and in verse twenty-eight.

1Co 12:11  But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

There are three important reminders in this verse:

The word “works” is energeo, related to our English word, energy. It is a reminder that gifts are the supernatural enabling of the Holy Spirit. It is God working through you, energizing you. They are not merely an enhancement of you own abilities. You can’t learn them.

The phrase “distributing to each one individually as He wills” is a reminder that the Holy Spirit gives you a gift or gifts as He chooses, not necessarily as you desire.

The word “individually” alerts you that no believer is overlooked. Every Christian is given a gift or gifts.

The big question, always, is this: “How do I know what spiritual gift or gifts I have?”

First… To discover gifting, it’s important we phrase the question differently. We should ask: “How do I manifest the indwelling Holy Spirit to the benefit of others?”

Second… Think again about some of the examples we looked at:

Jesus was resting alone by the well when the Samaritan woman came to draw water.
Peter and John were walking in to the Temple as they had done many times.
Peter fell into a hunger-trance waiting for food on a rooftop.
Paul was going about his business sharing the Gospel.

Jesus and His guys simply went about the business of being disciples and God the Holy Spirit manifested His supernatural power through them to benefit others.

Could it really be that simple? Yes.

#2 – God The Holy Spirit Sets You As A Member That Benefits Others (v12-31)

Several B-list horror movies feature an evil, dismembered, crawling hand. One of them, Severed Ties, has this tag line: “Horror out on a limb.”

Remember Thing? It’s full name was Thing T. Thing. Listen to this:

Thing is a fictional character in The Addams Family series. Thing was originally conceived as a whole creature (always seen in the background watching the family) that was too horrible to see in person. The only part of it that was tolerable was its human hand (this can be seen in the 1964 television series). The Addamses called it “Thing” because it was something that could not be identified. Thing was changed to a disembodied hand for the 1991 and 1993 Addams Family films.

Dismembered hands, in real life, aren’t functional. That might seem obvious. Not in Corinth. By preferring certain gifts over others, and by showcasing them in the public assembly, they were acting like a dismembered body. You might name them Tongues T. Tongues.

1Co 12:12  For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.

Paul used the word “body” eighteen times in fourteen verses in this chapter. He intended for you to fully grasp the awesome truth that Jesus considers us His body on the earth today.

It’s a great illustration because you already understand how your own physical body should operate. Your head directs your movements and activities so that there is a cooperation and a coordination between all of the various individual members that comprise your one body.

1Co 12:13  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

We have to avoid thinking of water baptism every time we read the word “baptized.” “Baptized” simply means immersed. This is not water baptism. This particular baptism is something spiritual that occurs the moment you believe. This baptism is your immersion into the body of Jesus at the moment of your conversion. You receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and you are immediately spiritually connected to every other believer by the Holy Spirit. Our individual physical differences – ethnic, cultural, social, religious, economic, gender, or otherwise – no longer separate us.

What happens when you drink? What you are drinking goes in you, to refresh you and fill you. We are talking about the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit in every believer.

1Co 12:14  For in fact the body is not one member but many.
1Co 12:15  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?
1Co 12:16  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?
1Co 12:17  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?

This was Paul being funny. Ascribing consciousness to individual body parts and having them talk is humorous. Think of all the TV ads for allergy products that grab your attention because they represent you as a giant talking nose. In Corinth, they were a giant unintelligible tongue.

1Co 12:18  But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
1Co 12:19  And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
1Co 12:20  But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.
1Co 12:21  And 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.”

In the general sense that your physical body is fearfully and wonderfully made and all functions together, there are no superior parts. In a similar way, we should never think certain gifts of the Holy Spirit are superior to others.

1Co 12:22  No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.

Ever kick a bedpost barefoot? Have an ingrown nail? All of a sudden life is about your toes.

1Co 12:23  And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty,

We normally clothe the parts of our bodies that we’d consider unpresentable in polite company. By doing so, we “honor” these unpresentable parts.

1Co 12:24  but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it,
1Co 12:25  that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
1Co 12:26  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

With regard to the body of believers we are to understand that God also bestows honor on those members whose gifting(s) we might think less honorable. Emphasizing certain gifts as more honorable, or we would say more ‘spiritual,’ will cause “schism” among God’s people. Instead we ought to “care” for one another equally as members of the earthly body of Jesus.

All gifts and giftings are equally spiritual. If you want to cut a 2×4, would you rather use a circular saw, or hedge clippers? The best tool is the one that will do the job. Same with gifts. Your speaking in tongues is not the appropriate, or best, gift if a person needs healing, for example.

Those listening in Corinth would have understood this as a reproof because they did prefer certain gifts as more spiritual – notably, speaking in tongues. It was at the top of their lists, but purposefully on the bottom of Paul’s (v10&28).

1Co 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

We are one body AND each individual member has his or her gifting(s) to benefit all.

1Co 12:28  And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.

Gifted men established the church – men like the “apostles” and “prophets.”
A gifted man or men equipped the church – men who are “teachers.
Gifts are given to all in order to manifest the Holy Spirit in the life of the church to build it.

We gave an example for “miracles” and for “gifts of healings.” Let me add this: No one who is used this way can exercise a healing or a miracle anytime they want.

“Teaching” is not a natural ability. It’s a gift so that those hearing it have the sense that God is speaking through it to them. A supernatural transaction takes place.

In the Old Testament, Joshua had the gift of “helps” and he ministered to Moses. He was there beside Moses. “So Joshua did as Moses said unto him” (Exodus 17:10).

“Administrations” is tough. This word only appears here in the New Testament. Defined it means the steering of a ship with skill by a pilot. It has to do with governing the church, and what we’d call vision. Since it is a gift, it should not be confused with worldly success and leadership.

1Co 12:29  Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
1Co 12:30  Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

What is the emphatic answer to all those questions? “No.” Thus we can confidently declare: All do not speak with tongues.

In some fellowships, you’re told all do; or can.

In other fellowships, you’re told it is the outward sign you have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

In some, it is the sign you’ve been saved.

1Co 12:31  But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

Wait – I thought Paul said all are equal and necessary? He did – and that gives us the key to what he meant here. The believers in Corinth thought speaking in tongues to be superior to other gifts. By their assessment, and argument, they were “earnestly desir[ing] the best gifts.”

Those groups that elevate tongues today are making this same claim; and they are making this same error.

They, and we, ought to take a “more excellent” approach. It is to desire only to benefit others; and that will be guided by selfless love, to be described in chapter thirteen.

Amazing. The church was given the gift of the Holy Spirit; His indwelling, empowering us to serve the Lord. He then gives each of us gifts as He sees fit to manifest Himself to others. As we do, the many members build up our one body.

Instead of focusing on the gifts, and how to find yours:

Gather together in the assembly of God and listen for the Holy Spirit to direct you.

Go out into the world and listen for the Holy Spirit to direct you.

The way or ways you find yourself being used will reveal your gifting.

Gluttons For Punishment (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

Pippin was distraught to learn that Aragorn was not going to stop on their journey to Weathertop until nightfall.

“What about breakfast?,” the Hobbit asked. When Aragorn answered that they had already eaten breakfast, Pippin said, “We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?”

He went on to list Elevenses, Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Dinner, and Supper. He failed to mention Brunch, which is different than Elevenses. And some people refer to Linner – a late Lunch that’s almost Dinner.

There are Banquets and Barbecues and Buffets and Blue Plate Specials. There are Kid’s Meals and Meals on Wheels; Picnics and Pot Lucks.

The believers in Corinth came together every Sunday evening for two meals: A potluck that preceded the Lord’s Supper. It may have started well, but it had deteriorated:

1 Co 11:21  For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.

The potluck had gotten out of control. Correction was in order, and as Paul gave it, the Holy Spirit seized the opportunity to give the church additional insights into the meal that mattered, the Lord’s Supper.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 When You Come Together As The Lord’s Temple, Wait For One Another, and #2 When You Come Together To The Lord’s Table, Be A Witness To Others.

#1 – When You Come Together As The Lord’s Temple, Wait For One Another (v17-22 & 33-34)

Little Country Church by Love Song was one of the great worship anthems of the Jesus Movement. It’s end lyrics:

Long hair, short hair, some coats and ties
People finally comin’ around
Lookin’ past the hair and straight into the eyes
People finally comin’ around
And it’s very plain to see
It’s not the way it used to be

It praises the Lord for bringing believers together as one in Christ; and as equals. Racial distinctions, class distinctions, age distinctions, economic distinctions, are all set aside because we are members of His body.

Men and women retain their gender, and respective roles, as established at creation; but we, too, are equals. Someone said, “The ground below the Cross is level.”

The behavior of the believers in Corinth prior to, and at, the Lord’s Supper was undermining their oneness and equality.

1Co 11:17  Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.

Their “coming together” is repeated about five times in this entire section. It is a technical term for the meetings of the church.

Each week, on Sunday evening, they came together to eat a common meal. Some refer to it as the Agape Feast, or the Love Feast. We would call it a potluck, as each family or member who had the means, brought food for the meal. But instead of being “together,” some were separating from others by partaking of their own food while ignoring the needs of others – thereby fostering a division based on socio-economic status.

Their behavior was not for “better,” but for “worse.”

1Co 11:18  For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.

There is no mandate in the Bible to have a potluck before celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It was their own idea. It was a good one, in that the wealthy could benefit the poor, and that both believing and nonbelieving onlookers and attendees could see a physical example of the spiritual oneness Christians have.

Instead… “there [were] divisions,” which we will see explained in verse twenty-one.

Paul said, “and in part I believe it.” He obviously believed it, because he was addressing it. Have you ever used the expression, “I just can’t believe it,” when, in fact, you know something is true?
1Co 11:19  For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.

The word translated “factions” might be heresies in your Bible. It’s accurate, but carries a different connotation for us. “Factions” is just another way of saying “divisions.”

Gordon Fee says of this verse, “This sentence is one of the true puzzles in the letter. How can he who earlier in the letter argued so strongly against divisions now confirm a kind of divine necessity to divisions?”

There is nothing in Paul’s words that would indicate their factions were a good thing. It’s a “must” given that we are all flawed, in our bodies of flesh, prone to yielding to our carnal impulses rather than to God the Holy Spirit.

Factions happen; and, when they do, “those who are approved may be recognized among you.” Their behavior at these potlucks exposed prejudice in the hearts of those separating themselves. It unexpectedly outed them. Those who understood our oneness and equality in Jesus were thereby revealed, too. They were thus “approved.”

1Co 11:20  Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.

Because they were dividing, their partaking of the bread and cup could in no way be the Lord’s Supper. Its very nature is to show unity.

1Co 11:21  For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.

The Corinthians were mostly Gentiles who had been saved from pagan religions.

In those religions, the worship of the deity was often accompanied by a feast in which meat sacrificed to an idol would be eaten, and in which drunkenness would ensue. They were carrying this over into the potluck.

“Takes his own supper” indicates they ate the food they brought, not sharing it, leaving others “hungry.”

1Co 11:22  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.

I should mention that some commentators argue that Paul was telling them to quit gathering before the service for a meal.

That wouldn’t solve the underlying problem. The problem wasn’t gluttony, or drunkenness.

Those were symptoms that there was a root problem – prejudice causing divisions.

More likely, he was pointing out that those who brought sumptuous baskets of food, only to consume it themselves, were “shaming” the poor.

The church of God isn’t the building; it’s the saints. The behavior of the wealthier members was showing spite on the poor members. How do you think that’s going to play at the Judgement Seat of Jesus?

“What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.”

It sounds like they were proud of their love feasts. Maybe they thought it was cutting edge, or trending, to add something to their liturgy.

1Co 11:33  Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
1Co 11:34  But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.

“Hungry” in this context means, “If you’re going to scarf the food.” In that case, eating at home prior to the potluck might be a practical suggestion.

The “judgment” will be described as we go back and comment on the remaining verses.

I used to wish we knew what was “the rest” that Paul would “set in order.” It would limit our freedom if we knew exactly how they celebrated the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. We’d feel obligated to do it just like Paul.

Verse thirty-three is fundamental not just to a potluck. It has broad application. Substitute other things in place of “eat.” “When you come together to (fill in the blank), wait for one another.”

By “wait” I mean to prefer; to put others ahead of yourself; to humble yourself.

If you practice waiting for one another, you can’t really go wrong.

#2 – When You Come Together To The Lord’s Table, Be A Witness To Others (v23-32)

Christians are trending towards rediscovering the Lord’s Supper. The claim is that we are not doing it right, and haven’t been for centuries. They say we need to get back to the practices of earlier believers.

Hank Hannegraaff, who inherited the title, “The Bible Answer Man,” has recently joined the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, he says it is not a “mere memorial,” but that the ‘real presence’ of Jesus in the elements is a “mystery” that cannot, and need not, be explained. He teaches that this is the belief of the early church.

This idea that somehow the ‘real presence’ of Jesus is in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper does not draw me closer to Jesus. It distances me, because I only have this ‘real presence,’ this mystery, when I’m at His Table. Throw-in the practice that only a priest can serve me the elements, and I’m even further from intimacy.

If that isn’t very theological, it is practical. Growing-up Roman Catholic, I thought I encountered Jesus once a week, in the wafer. Once it dissolved, I had a week to sin before my next confession. I have no desire to discover ancient practices like that; only biblical ones.

1Co 11:23  For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;

Sometime after he was saved on the road to Damascus, Paul spent time alone with Jesus. It is believed that he retired into Arabia for a time. He may have received instruction about the Lord’s Supper during that time.

Paul was the one who “delivered” the tradition to the Corinthians. He had founded the church, and stayed there for some eighteen months before moving on.

He said it was the same night Jesus was “betrayed.” It reads, “while He was being betrayed.” Paul was setting the scene. Judas left, and with only believers, the curtain went up on the New Covenant.

1Co 11:24  and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

Since Eden, God had required a sacrificial lamb to temporarily atone for sin. All those lambs anticipated the final Lamb of God Who would once-for-all take away the sin of the world. Jesus’ physical body was about to become the final sacrifice for sin.

1Co 11:25  In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

By “blood” Jesus meant His life. Again, there was nothing mystical about His blood, and the fruit of the vine we drink does not become His blood.

The Old Covenant required the constant blood of animals offered by men.

The New Covenant has been ratified once and for all by the death of Jesus Christ. Think of it as a new contract. A new contract nullifies the previous one. Some things might be carried over, but if not, they no longer apply.

The Lord’s Supper is a “remembrance,” not a re-enactment, of what Jesus did on the Cross.

1Co 11:26  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

It’s more obvious that “death” is prominent in the original word order of the Greek: “The death of the Lord you proclaim until He comes” is the more literal translation.

Jesus was born to die. His mission was to go to the Cross. It wasn’t an afterthought, or a mistake. It was necessary in order for mankind to be reconciled to God.

On the Cross, as the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world, Jesus Himself said, “It is finished!”

This is the second time Paul uses the words, “As often.” I believe that they give us freedom In the frequency and in the manner in which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. If you’re looking for precedents:

The Passover Meal that the Lord’s Supper followed was an annual celebration.

You can show from the Book of Acts that some believers celebrated daily in their homes.

In Corinth, they for sure celebrated weekly.

We can share the bread and cup everyday… Or weekly… Or monthly… We can share the bread and cup at a gathering of saints… Or in our homes.

To those who are pursuing the rediscovery of the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, what I’m saying may sound irreverent. It isn’t.

If they find some old communion liturgy, and start wearing robes, that doesn’t make it reverent. It makes it more mystical than mystery. There is already a genuine mystery at the Lord’s Supper. It is the church as His body on the earth. It is you and I proclaiming His death and living for Him “till He comes.”

“Till He comes.” What coming? For the church, in the resurrection and rapture, prior to the Great Tribulation and His Second Coming to establish the Kingdom. The Lord’s Supper, at least in part, is a public proclamation of the Lord’s death and of His two returns.

We may use it as a time of introspection and prayer; nothing wrong with that. But it is described here as a public proclamation; as a witness.

This word, “proclaim,” can mean that the Supper itself proclaims things, in its symbolism. It is, in fact, meant to communicate without words the death and the returns of Jesus; and therefore how we ought to live in-between.

Let’s say a nonbeliever having no previous church experience came to church for the first time ever. At that service, they were exposed to Jesus’ simple explanation of the elements, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me,” and, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Wouldn’t the nonbeliever understand the ceremony as proclaiming the Lord’s once-and-for-all physical death on the Cross as sealing the New Covenant?

An astute observer might even grasp that in taking the elements, you were also identifying with Jesus in His death. You were, in fact, dying with Him.

But in dying with Him, you remain alive, to serve Him, until His return for you. The nonbeliever might see in symbol what Paul states so clearly in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

1Co 11:27  Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
1Co 11:28  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
1Co 11:29  For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

The “unworthy manner” was, in context, being gluttonous and drunk. Pretty easy to “examine” themselves. “Guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” can be paraphrased, “Is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death” (MSG). Sometimes we need to see how serious our misbehavior really is.

“Not discerning the Lord’s body” is referring to His body on the earth – the church. Those misbehaving were despising the unity of the body by creating divisions.

1Co 11:30  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
1Co 11:31  For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.

“Sleep” is how Paul liked to describe the death of a believer. To be absent from your body is to be immediately, consciously present with Jesus. You will one day be resurrected, so it’s like your body is asleep, as it were, awaiting His coming.

As a temporal (not eternal) discipline from their loving Heavenly Father, some of those misbehaving were falling ill, and even dying. They were not judging themselves so God stepped in with Fatherly discipline.

1Co 11:32  But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

In case you were wondering if those misbehaving were going to Hell, they weren’t. Paul was reminding us that we are no longer among those “condemned with the world” for sin. Our sins are forgiven and if we continue in them, we are disciplined – like those in Corinth who were already “weak,” “sick,” and “sleep[ing].”

A common meme on the internet goes something like this: “This may come as a shock to you, but let me let you in on a little secret: Everything isn’t about you!”

Paul’s emphasis throughout his teaching on the Lord’s Supper has been corporate, not individual. He has been concerned with our attitude toward others.

He described it as an activity that proclaims we are the corporate body of Jesus.

He spoke of the elements as proclaiming the Lord’s death to onlookers, as a public testimony, not as a private devotion.

The problem that the believers in Corinth were experiencing at the Lord’s Supper was due to them thinking too much about themselves, and not enough – or at all – about others.

We might summarize what we’re getting at by saying, “The Lord’s Supper isn’t about you.”

Wait for one another at the Lord’s Supper, but always as well, and it will be a witness.

The Lord’s Supper can be meaningful without being mystical. We don’t need to re-enact Jesus’ body and blood. In fact, it kind of flies in the face of His declaration from the Cross, “It is finished.”

The Shorn Ultimatum (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

I refer to it as ‘Witness Wear.’ It is clothing that presents a Christian witness. The first one I owned was a sweatshirt from a start-up company called Living Epistles that simply but boldly said, Jesus is Lord.

Typically it is a t-shirt or a hat, but you can get beanies and socks and shoes that have a Christian symbol (or Scripture) witnessing of your faith. Not to mention jewelry of all kinds.

I came across one article that reported the following:

The Christian clothing sector has become one of the most popular in the American fashion industry. Total sales are more than $4.5 billion every year. Christian t-shirts are the number one choice of teenagers and youth below 23 years of age, exceeding the popularity of t-shirts from even the NBA.

Among the believers in the church in Corinth, there was a ‘witness wear’ and a ‘witness not-wear’ that was causing problems in the worship service:

There was something that the men were wearing that they shouldn’t have been wearing: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head” (v4).
There was something that the women were not wearing that they should have been wearing: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…” (v5).

Does this have any significance to us today? I mean, after all, among the Christian sisters, there are very few head coverings. And the brothers with hats sometimes leave them on during the worship service. Are we therefore violating Scripture?

I’ll organize my comments around two questions: #1 What Was The Dishonoring Head Covering?, and #2 Who Was The Head To Be Honored?

#1 – What Was The Dishonoring Head Covering?

It’s a website devoted to bringing back the wearing of head covering by all Christian women in worship services. I’ll say this: They have a really cool logo.

One of the first things you read on the site is this:

The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church?

You might not realize that in many denominations, even in America, head covering for women is still the norm.

There is so much disagreement on these verses that I want to do something a little different.

I want to first try to identify what the men were wearing, and what the women were not wearing. Then, with that in mind, we’ll go verse-by-verse.

With so many really competent Bible scholars and commentators in disagreement on certain particulars, we are not going to be the ones who solve this topic once and for all. But we do need to make discoveries and, then, decisions. It isn’t enough to dismiss head covering as cultural. We need to see if it’s biblical. You sisters either can go on just as you are… Or you’ll need to scarf-up.

The Christian brothers in Corinth were wearing something they shouldn’t. “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head (v4). A man ought not to cover his head” (v7).

“Head covered” is a poor translation in terms of what is being said about the men. It should be, having down the head.

It doesn’t mean hanging down your head; it means there is something hanging down from your head. A Greek scholar says further that it is an expression that would be used of a type of fabric. The question to ask is, “What fabric did the brothers in Corinth hang down from their heads?”

I think we get a big clue in Paul’s second letter to these same believers:

2Co 3:12  Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech –
2Co 3:13  unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.

When Moses came back from visiting God, his face shone with the glory of God. Moses wore a veil afterward so that the Israelites would not see the glory fade. Paul used it to teach a spiritual truth:

2Co 3:15  But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
2Co 3:16  Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

There’s a lot we could say, but the point for today is this: Wearing the veil wasn’t a good thing because it represented God’s glory as temporary and fading, whereas in Jesus “the veil is taken away” so that under the New Covenant we go from glory-to-glory.

I suggest (as do others) that what was hanging down the head of the brothers in Corinth was a veil. We can’t be certain, but the mention of the veil in the second letter adds weight to the argument.

They were wearing a ‘Moses-veil,’ they thought, to call attention to the glory of God… Which was the exact opposite of what the veil Moses wore represented. So, guys: No more veils, OK?

What the sisters in Corinth were not wearing that they should have been was a head covering, e.g., a scarf or a shawl or some such fabric that covered her hair.

It doesn’t follow that we ought to join the head covering movement. Head covering was definitely a concern in Corinth, but it was not universally practiced by all the sisters in the New Testament. Two examples:

Paul gave instructions to Pastor Timothy in Ephesus on how believers ought to conduct themselves in the household of God. In First Timothy 2:9, Paul instructs, “The women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” He did not mention head covering. In fact, by telling them not to go overboard braiding their hair he was letting us know that in Ephesus the sisters did not wear head covering.

The apostle Peter wrote to dispersed Christians throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (which was much of the Roman Empire South of the Black Sea). In First Peter 3:3, he admonishes the women concerning their adornment, and – almost verbatim what Paul said – says that it should not be based on externals, including braided hair. Again, if the women were practicing head covering, their hair would not be in view. It is reasonable to conclude that the sisters of Peter’s audience were not wearing head coverings.

Notice, too, that the head covering is specifically connected to public ministry. “Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (v5). The sisters in Corinth were not being told to wear head coverings at all times – only while participating in worship.

There are other biblical customs that read like commands but are situational:

We’re told to greet one another with a holy kiss, for example. Inappropriate.

Jesus said we were to wash one another’s feet. Not gonna happen.

This instruction on head coverings follows hard on Paul saying, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God…” (10:23-24). For whatever reason or reasons, women not wearing head covering when participating in the services was offensive in Corinth in a way it wasn’t in other places.

We thus teach that brothers should avoid the temptation to wear Moses-veils; and that sisters are free to wear or to not wear head covering.

When in other countries or cultures, or even here in the US, both brothers and sisters ought to conform to what is the norm, becoming all things to all men in order to win them to Jesus.

#2 – Who Was The Head To Be Honored? (v2-16)

Taking these verses from the top… A new topic has begun, and it is order in the worship service. Paul is going to address mistakes they were making with regard to the roles of men and women; mistakes they were making at the communion table; and mistakes with regard to the exercise of spiritual gifts, especially the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy.

1Co 11:2  Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

Wait – I thought they were making mistakes? They were. But they were making them during the practices Paul had established: The worship service, and the Lord’s Supper. They were keeping the traditions, just not entirely correctly.

I’d rather have to correct someone who is out of order than wonder where they are.

1Co 11:3  But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

Whoa; that seems out of nowhere. But it is the foundation for everything Paul had to say about church order – including the roles of men and women in the church. The traditions he established weren’t his own man-made order. It was God’s order, going all the way back to the creation of Adam and Eve.

We understand God as revealed in the inspired Word of God to be a trinity, a tri-unity, of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There is one God Who exists eternally in three Persons. They are equally God.

However, for the purpose of achieving the plan of salvation for the human race, God the Son, Jesus Christ, voluntarily subordinated Himself to God the Father. Elsewhere we learn that likewise God the Holy Spirit subordinated Himself to both Father and Son as He is sent by the Father to reveal the Son.

God the Father is the “head.” He exercises authority over God the Son. In essence they are equal but for your sake, so that you might be saved, they have adopted different functions. There is a proper order to things.

There is also supposed to be a proper order among human beings. Jesus Christ is the “head” of every man. Each Christian man is to be in voluntary subordination to Jesus.

Where does that put women? It leaves them in voluntary subordination to their husbands and to church leaders. The man is not superior to the woman; in Jesus Christ we are equal.

However, to function according to God’s plan for the family and for the church, the man has been assigned as the “head” of the woman.

1Co 11:4  Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.

As TaserFace explained to Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, when asked why he chose that name, “It’s metaphorical.” The “head” being dishonored isn’t a man’s physical head. It is Jesus – our spiritual “Head,” the Head of His body on earth, the church.

Wearing a Moses-veil to appear spiritual was a big step backward, in a sense devaluing Jesus’ work on the Cross.

1Co 11:5  But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.
1Co 11:6  For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.

Commentators have a lot to say about the customs in Corinth, and what kind of women shaved their heads, and what it symbolized. Truth is, no one knows – except the original recipients – what it was in Corinth that made this shameful. We only know that it did, and that Sinead O’Connor wasn’t popular there.

1Co 11:7  For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
1Co 11:8  For man is not from woman, but woman from man.
1Co 11:9  Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.

There’s nothing here that is weird, or chauvinistic, or prejudicial. Look back to the foundational principle in verse three, and read where it says, “the head of Christ is God.” Does that mean Jesus is somehow less than God, inferior to God? That would be blasphemy. Paul is talking about order; about the right way of doing church, based on God’s order established at creation.

Woman is equal to man, as Jesus is equal to God the Father. But Jesus voluntarily assumed the subordinate role of Savior in submission to the Father. Woman, then, as helper is a compliment to man. She is complementarian.

Paul’s point: How a sister acts and dresses in public, especially public worship, should adhere to God’s divine order in creation.

1Co 11:10  For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

Ahh. The head covering is a “symbol” of her submission to the “authority” of the man. Once again, before you get upset, think of Jesus, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

What do “angels” have to do with the worship service? Warren Wiersbe comments, “In some special way, the angels share in the public worship of the church and learn from the church. Public worship is a serious thing, for the angels are present.”

In Ephesians 3:10, we read, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,”
1Pe 1:12  To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things which angels desire to look into.

1Co 11:11  Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.
1Co 11:12  For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.

Not a matter of superiority; only proper order.

1Co 11:13  Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
1Co 11:14  Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?
1Co 11:15  But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.

Hair styles and length can be rebellious:

She asks me why, I’m just a hairy guy
I’m hairy noon and night, hair that’s a fright
I’m hairy high and low, don’t ask me why, Don’t know
It’s not for lack of bread, like the Grateful Dead
Darlin’, give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there hair, shoulder length or longer
Here, baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy
Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair

In the ‘60s, Singapore enacted a ban on long hair on men, which amounted to a locked door for rock bands like Led Zeppelin. In 1972 the band wasn’t even allowed to leave their private jet once they landed in the country.

The Bible nowhere commands a proper length of hair for men and women. If you think this is it – a command – then how do you explain Samson and John the Baptist? They were Nazirites from birth, and as a symbol of their dedication to God, they were never supposed to get a haircut. Paul himself, in the Book of Acts, took a Nazirite vow – which included him not cutting his hair.

Generally speaking, throughout history men have worn their hair shorter, and women longer. The principle behind Paul’s comments is that – wait for it – we should always be careful to maintain biological gender distinctions. They reveal the order of creation.

Verse fifteen is clarifying: “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.” A more literal translation is, “her hair is given to her instead of a covering.”

Was Paul confused? First he said that the sisters must have their heads covered, but then he said their hair was sufficient as a head covering?

It’s because of the distinction we pointed out earlier. The sisters in Corinth, for a reason or reasons known to them but not to us, must cover their heads when praying or prophesying. But they need not all the time wear head covering. Their long hair was sufficient – so long as it wasn’t elaborately braided and decorated so as to call undue attention to themselves

1Co 11:16  But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

John Wesley said, “The several churches that were in the apostles’ time had different customs in things that were not essential; and that under one and the same apostle, as circumstances, in different places, made it convenient.”
What if Jesus, in His earthly ministry, even one time acted independently of His Father? To quote Vizzini, “Inconceivable.” So, too, when we mess with God’s order for the family or the church. It fails to communicate the true servant-nature of our Lord.

You could apply this to contemporary contentions:

Do women pastors and elders communicate the order God established at creation?
Does same-sex marriage communicate the order God established at creation?
Does gender neutrality communicate the order God established at creation?

There’s a lot more here than shawls.

To quote Warren Wiersbe again, “The important thing is the submission of the heart to the Lord and the public manifestation of obedience to God’s order.”

“The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” We are to communicate that foundational truth to the world by maintaining it in the home and in the household of faith.

Creation declares the glory of God. So can we when we maintain God’s order.