Controlling Spiritual Gifts

If you feel prompted to speak in tongues in a meeting of the church, should you do so?

If you feel prompted to prophesy in a meeting of the church, should you do so?

We can definitively, unequivocally, with all authority, say… “Maybe!”  Maybe you should speak in tongues or prophesy; maybe you shouldn’t.

It’s not double talk.  It depends upon the meeting and your understanding of certain principles for the order of service that are clearly outlined in the remainder of First Corinthians fourteen.

We’re going to see that there should always be order within the public services of the church.  You can’t have order unless you first understand and agree that Christians can keep their speaking, including tongues and prophesy, under control.

The word “control” almost sounds unspiritual.  I mean, if the Holy Spirit wants to speak through you, is it really biblical to keep such gifted speaking under control?  Won’t you quench the Holy Spirit if you keep silent?

Drop down to verse thirty-two.

1 Corinthians 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 means by what it 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 you must always keep His supernatural promptings to speak under control.  Period.

Knowing we can control our speaking, we can embrace the principles for order within the public services of the church.

1 Corinthians 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 types of 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, and there was a church council.  The different meetings had different emphases.  Different things happened at them.

In the meetings we’re talking about, everyone has an opportunity to participate.  In singing, in teaching, in speaking in tongues, in interpreting tongues, in prophecy.

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

There are principles of order regarding how you are to conduct yourself at such a meeting.  Paul starts with speaking in tongues in verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight.

1 Corinthians 14:27  If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.
1 Corinthians 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.  Here are the basic principles governing the public exercise of the gift of tongues:

“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, for example, 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.

How is this practiced?  You are in a church service or meeting.  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 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 who 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 feel that God wants to give someone the gift of interpretation as they hear your tongues being spoken.  He will instruct you what to do.

That brings up an interesting point that is rarely considered.  God may genuinely prompt you to speak or sing in tongues.  You obey God, following the kind of procedures I’ve just outlined.  But there is no interpretation!  What happened?

It’s possible God wasn’t really prompting you at all.  But it is just as possible that there was someone there with the interpretation, but that they lacked the faith to share it!

These principles of control allow interpreted tongues to be a gift that edifies others.
Paul next turns your attention to the gift of prophecy.  How is this practiced?  You are in a small group meeting of believers.  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!

There are principles for the exercise of the gift of prophecy.

1 Corinthians 14:29  Let two or three prophets speak…

“Prophets” is shorthand for people having the gift of prophecy.  There are no “prophets” in the classic understanding of the term; it no longer exists as an office in the church.

“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.

1 Corinthians 14:29 …and let the others judge.

When someone speaks what they believe to be a word of prophecy the believers in the group must judge its accuracy according to God’s already revealed Word.  The leader of the group has a very real responsibility to judge the accuracy of the prophecy.  He should look at it 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?

I recommend you stop and discuss the prophecy right then and there.  Write it down while it is fresh.  Take it seriously from the beginning, and don’t take it to heart until you have examined it thoroughly.

1 Corinthians 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.

Here is what I think it means: 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.

That agrees with what he says next:

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 prophesy at the meeting should exercise it in an orderly way, one after another, allowing time for each to exercise their gifts.

1 Corinthians 14:32  And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
1 Corinthians 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.  Peace is achieved by controlling your gifts according to the principles set forth and especially to the overall principle that your gifts should be only always be exercised in ways that edify others.

“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.

There was another problem in the meetings at Corinth.  It involved the out-of-control behavior of certain women:

1 Corinthians 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.
1 Corinthians 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.

Women were allowed to speak in the meetings.  In chapter eleven verse five Paul already referred to women praying and prophesying in meetings.

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, and since Paul related it to being “submissive,” I take it to mean they were questioning authority.  They were thus exhibiting a “shameful” lack of proper submission to God and to their husbands.

I want to expand this and say that all of us, women and men, should bring our general speaking under control.  In another place Paul urged Christians to “know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Public conduct is deteriorating.  Years ago, if a person cussed, they didn’t do so around women and kids.  Now women and kids cuss!

Gone to a movie lately?  People are rude, interruptive, and belligerent.

Even though we are very casual in our services, we ought to “know how [we] ought to conduct [ourselves]” in the public meetings of the church.  We are here to build-up others and should speak to them in ways that are appropriate for doing so.

Paul summarized his thoughts on controlling yourself in public for the sake of others being built-up.

1 Corinthians 14:36  Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?
1 Corinthians 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.
1 Corinthians 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.

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 one church that was acting out-of-control, Corinth, was asked to come under control.

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

At the same time I would add that the gifts – all of them – were in operation.  They ought still to be in operation.  We must make allowance for their exercise.

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.

Dead Or The Devil

You’re dead if you don’t; you’re the devil if you do.

Those are the extremes when it comes to whether or not your church exercises the gift of speaking in tongues in its meetings.

“You’re dead if you don’t” speak in tongues is a prevalent view among Pentecostals.  One respected author, R. L. Brandt, said,

The concept that the gift of tongues is… the greatest of the gifts is well-founded… no Christian needs feel the gift is not for him… we conclude, with much assurance, that when men are baptized in the Holy Spirit they speak with other tongues… tongues is the… physical evidence of the baptism of the Spirit.

“You’re the devil if you do” speak in tongues is something cessationists say.  Answering a question about tongues, Pastor John MacArthur said,

I believe what we have today could basically be explained as demonic, counterfeit.  And, by the way, I don’t know if you know this, Tibetan Monks speak in tongues, Eskimos speak in tongues, many of their tribes, so do Mormons, who don’t even believe the Gospel.  So, it could be Satanic.

Dead or the devil – which is it?

Well, it’s neither.  Tongues is a gift still available to some, but not every, believer in the church.

It’s use in your private devotions is unrestricted but its exercise in public must follow the principle that God wants you to build others up by only, always speaking in ways that everyone can understand.

In the meetings of the church in Corinth the believers spoke and sang in tongues simultaneously, with no interpretation.  No one could understand what they were saying or singing.  Paul was writing to correct what he said was an error.

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

Speaking in tongues is often promoted as a sign of spiritual maturity.  The Corinthians certainly thought themselves mature in their exercise of the gift.

Paul said that their understanding of the gift was childish.  He encouraged them to heed his instruction so they would “in understanding be mature.”

While he was giving this illustration he hit them with the phrase “in malice be babes.”  Here is what I think he was saying.  It was childish for them to think that speaking in tongues was evidence of mature Christian behavior while at the same time they were acting maliciously towards one another by suing one another, divorcing one another, causing division, and openly practicing idolatry and immorality.

Some outward manifestation of the Spirit, like speaking in tongues, is not a sign you are mature or even spiritual.

Fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, produced in your life on a habitual basis, is the sign of Christian maturity.

Paul is going to analyze and criticize their speaking in uninterpreted tongues by appealing to a passage from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah.

1 Corinthians 14:21  In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord.

It’s a paraphrase of Isaiah 28:12.  Apparently this mostly Gentile congregation had a good handle on the Old Testament because Paul referred to it often.

Let me give you the background and context of the quote from Isaiah.  The Jews had been mocking the word of God Isaiah was speaking to them.  They spoke to Isaiah in a deriding, derogatory tone.  They refused to heed God’s clear, intelligible words of warning.

As a result God would allow the northern kingdom of the Jews, called 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 God’s prophet.

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 God’s judgment upon them for refusing to understand His Word and repent while there was still time.

Here comes the application:

1 Corinthians 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.

By “tongues” Paul was referring to the uninterpreted speaking in a language unknown to the hearers.  In Isaiah’s day, the uninterpreted speaking of the Assyrians to the Jews was a “sign” of God’s disapproval and displeasure with His disobedient people!

In other words, when God seems to be speaking but it is in a way that cannot be understood, it is a sign alright – a bad sign.

If an observer were to see God’s people in a context of uninterpreted language they 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.

Tongues and prophecy function as “signs” in two different ways, precisely in accord with the effect each will have on unbelievers who happen into the Christian assembly.lll

1 Corinthians 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?

In Corinth they had services in which “the whole church [came] together in one place.”  There were no church campuses; the believers mostly met in private homes.  So either the church in Corinth was fairly small, or there was at least one very large home, or they had some large meeting place for weekly gatherings.

At that weekly gathering “uninformed” people and “unbelievers” were invited and welcomed.  There is some debate among scholars as to exactly who the “uninformed” were.

It could be a reference to young believers, recently saved and with little information about the Christian life.
Or it could be a description of the “unbeliever” as a person who needs information about Jesus that he or she can understand in order to get saved.

In either case, speaking in uninterpreted tongues was counter-productive.  Not only did it withhold vital information about the Gospel, it left them thinking that being a believer meant you were out of your mind and being influenced by a ‘force’ you could not control.

You can argue all day that speaking in uninterpreted tongues is a sign among “believers” that God has shown-up in your church service.  Paul would strongly disagree.

Paul also said (v22) that “prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.”  He explained what he meant in verses twenty-four and twenty-five.

1 Corinthians 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.

Remember the context of the illustration from Isaiah.  When God speaks to His people in ways that cannot be understood it is a sign of His disapproval and displeasure with their disobedience.

The opposite is true.  When God speaks to His people – to “believers” – in ways that are supernatural but can be understood (like “prophesy”) it is a sign to them of His approval and pleasure.

It is a “sign to believers,” but one that can also affect unbelievers in a positive and powerful way.

The unbeliever is “convinced” and “convicted” in order that he or she might be converted to Jesus Christ.

When Christians meet God wants to impart information to those who have gathered.  He certainly wants to do it supernaturally, by His Holy Spirit.  But it must be intelligible; it must be able to be understood.  That way if there is an “unbeliever” or an “uninformed” young believer in the service they will be “convinced by all” that is said and done.

What is this convincing?  It is nothing less than giving God’s Word the opportunity to affect the heart of the hearer.  It is presenting God’s Word in ways that can be understood so it can penetrate between the soul and the spirit and reveal Jesus to the hearer.

That is why earlier the apostle Paul said he would rather speak five words someone could understand than ten thousand in a tongue they could not understand.
One is a mere outward showing of the Holy Spirit’s gifting.  The other gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to do a miracle in a persons life.

Once “convinced,” the person can be “convicted.”

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 God’s Word is His enabling for them to live the Christian life.
If that person is in an apathetic or a backslidden state they are exhorted to repent and rededicate themselves to their Lord.

Now we’re talking manifestations of God’s power!

1 Corinthians 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!!

First of all, it’s debatable whether or not this was actually what Paul meant.  The phrase “falling down on his face” could simply be a figure of speech for the fact the person got saved or rededicated their life.  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 to their knees; or come forward weeping; or experience a wave of joy.

In the classic Pentecostal experience of being slain in the Spirit, the person always falls backward.  Just the opposite of what Paul said here.  You can’t, therefore, use this as a prooftext.

Note this, too.  The person Paul described who falls to his face does so after hearing a clear presentation of God’s Word – not after a frenzied worship service in which all manner of uninterpreted speaking in tongues has occurred.

If we sound overly critical of Pentecostalism, we’re not.  The context of our verses demand we speak plainly about Pentecostal excesses.  The church at Corinth needed correcting.  Any church that is misusing the gift of speaking in tongues in a similar manner needs this same correction.

We cannot conclude God is among us on the basis of outward, physical phenomena.  God is already among us whenever we gather together!

What He wants to do is penetrate our hearts with words spoken that can be understood then powerfully applied by His Holy Spirit.

Spirit-Directed Gifts

When is “five” greater than “ten thousand?”

When it comes to the words you speak in the public assembly of the church.

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

The cessationist wants to read this as if it says, “therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may prophesy… or teach.”

Paul nowhere in this chapter denigrates the gift of speaking in tongues.  Why would he?  It is, after all, a manifestation of God the Holy Spirit.  To denigrate His gifts – any of them – is to denigrate Him.

The solution to the Corinthian problem of simultaneously speaking in uninterpreted tongues is to speak in tongues one-by-one and ask for a corresponding gift of interpretation for each.

Interpretation renders the tongue intelligible, and as the hearers understand it, they are built-up.

1 Corinthians 14:14  For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

Do you immediately read that verse as a negative?  As a slam on tongues?  It isn’t.

Because tongues is a spiritual talk between your spirit and God’s that bypasses your “understanding” some say that speaking in tongues even in private is, well, stupid.  God says it builds you up to do so in private.

Let’s believe God and not our own arguments.  Too often the premium we place on our own intellect becomes a stumblingblock in our walk with God.

With the gift of tongues, even if I do not have it myself, I see that there is more to knowing God and loving God than my mere intellect can fathom.

1 Corinthians 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.

“What is the conclusion” that cessationists come to?  They dismiss “pray[ing] with the spirit” and only allow “pray[ing] with the understanding.”  And the same for “singing.”

By the way, apparently it’s OK to sing in tongues.

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

Whether it is spoken or sung, Paul says that he will do it both with tongues and with words that can be understood by everyone.

If you are in a public assembly, and are invited to participate, you can also do both, but with one additional rule: if you pray or praise in tongues, it needs a corresponding interpretation.

Let me pause for a moment to explain something important.  A charismatic might observe us as a church and object to our Sunday morning service since we disallow speaking in tongues and other manifestations of the Spirit.

I don’t think it’s fair to say we disallow them, although that is the end result.  It’s more like we disallow interruptions because we are led by the Holy Spirit in our order of service.

I hesitate to give an example because I don’t think a church service can be compared to anything else we attend.  I mean, in the meetings of the church, Jesus walks in our midst seeking to minister in the power of His resurrection.  Lives are changed for eternity.

That’s not gonna happen when you go see XMen: Days of Future Past.  But let’s say you are at the movie and the guy in front of you, for whatever reason, gets out his iPad, opens to Netflix, and starts watching Thor: The Dark World with the volume turned up.

Then a drama troupe goes forward, to the floor just in front of the screen, and begins to act out a play.

Those would be interruptions because you are there to see the movie.

Similarly, we trust God the Holy Spirit to tell us what He wants us to do at our services.  And we hear Him for Sunday morning telling us to emphasize uninterrupted, corporate singing, and the uninterrupted teaching and preaching of the Bible.

We hear Him telling us to do things very differently on Wednesday nights – encouraging participation and the exercise of spiritual gifts.

It’s not unspiritual to have order, or to plan; it does not in any way “quench” the Holy Spirit to follow His leading.

We need to somehow get over the notion that the Spirit can only be spontaneous, and that planning is somehow inherently unSpiritlike.

1 Corinthians 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?

“Bless with the spirit” is a description of speaking prayer or praise to God in tongues.

The “uninformed” seems to be a blanket description of anyone who hears you speaking in tongues but cannot understand because there is no interpretation.  You treat them, or make them, “uninformed” by speaking unintelligibly.

“Amen” assumes the setting of corporate worship, where this word, taken over from the Jewish synagogue, indicated wholehearted response to and endorsement of the words of another.
An utterance in tongues, either spoken or sung, cannot evoke an endorsement from others who hear it, because they have no way of knowing what you said.

There might be a slight hint in this that certain people might only seem to be speaking in tongues when, in fact, they do not have the gift at all.

How’s that???  It’s not uncommon in certain Pentecostal churches for the leaders to teach a person how to speak in tongues.  They might give you a word or words to repeat, or some other such exercise.

Here is an example of what one group recommends:

Get on your knees, close your eyes and bow your head in subjection and reverence to God.
Begin praising God saying the word “Hallelujah” and repeating it over and over.
When/if you start to stumble over this repetition of the word “Hallelujah” don’t try to correct your speech to say the word accurately.  It may be the Holy Spirit beginning to take control of your tongue and to change this word of praise to another language, which is what speaking in tongues is.
Continue to do these last two steps for as long it is necessary to allow the Spirit to take control of your tongue and to speak in tongues.

Truth is, you might only think you are speaking in tongues when, in reality, you’re not.

But if you speak in tongues and there is interpretation, you can be much more certain your gifting is genuine.

1 Corinthians 14:17  For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.

If your gift is genuine, it still cannot “edify” others without it being understood by them.

1 Corinthians 14:18  I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;

Apparently his life of personal devotion was regularly given to praying and praising in tongues.

“More than you all” certainly isn’t bragging.  Paul wasn’t one to boast.

He might be referring to the fact that, often enough, a person who has the gift of speaking in tongues rarely exercises it in private.  It would be no surprise if many of the tongues-speakers in Corinth were exercising their gift a lot in public but only a little in private.

1 Corinthians 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.

I can’t help but wonder if some were accusing Paul of being unspiritual, or of not being Spirit-filled, because all he did was “teach” them.

He could out-tongues them any day.  The manifestation of the gift was not enough.  It must be manifest in ways that could be understood so everyone might benefit.

We shouldn’t want to look spiritual, but rather to be spiritual, and that by thinking of others and not ourselves.

Has God given you the gift of speaking in tongues?  Then exercises it a lot by praying and praising in your devotions.  Be open to exercising it here, too.

Do you desire the gift of speaking in tongues?  We can’t teach it; but I would encourage you, if you are prompted by the Holy Spirit, to simply start praying without speaking English.

I came across the testimony of a woman named Jackie Pullinger.

She is a British Protestant Christian charismatic missionary to Hong Kong and founder of the St Stephen’s Society.  She has been ministering in Hong Kong since 1966.  Her work has resulted in at least 500 drug addicts being saved from their drug addictions.  The early years of her Hong Kong ministry are chronicled in the book Chasing the Dragon.

The intervention process that the drug addicts go through is very intensive.  Instead of giving them medications they are put into a room for 10 days, and prayed over and cared for by a group of ex-addicts.

She was so successful in changing lives with the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the city officials gave her land to build a mission house to expand her work.

After an addict prayed to receive Jesus, Jackie and her volunteers would tell that new convert, “Now start speaking in a language not your own.”

Without biases or teaching to the contrary, they would.  And they would continue speaking in tongues, praying and praising God, and thereby get free of their addiction.

I’m not saying that every heroin addict who receives Jesus can speak in tongues; or that praying in tongues is the cure for anything.

It was God’s will and His way for that mission, at that time.

The advice they gave is sound.  “Start speaking in a language not your own.”

I mean, if you’re going to speak in tongues, at some point you’re going to have to open your mouth and say something.

If it seems far-fetched to you, the Holy Spirit isn’t giving you the gift.  But it just might be the step of faith you need to take.

Listen: I once thought I had received a prophecy.  I boldly started, “The Lord…”  And that was all I said.!

Needless to say, it wasn’t the Spirit prompting me.

The first time I was ever asked to teach, it lasted five minutes; and it was only that long because I kept repeating myself.

But as much as I knew I did not have the gift of prophecy, I knew I was called to pastor and, therefore, teach.  So I kept at it and allowed the Holy Spirit room to lead me hobbling along at first.

It’s a faith-thing, discovering your gift or gifts.  Step out.

Understandable Gifts

Seinfeld, Season 2, Episode 11, “The Chinese Restaurant.

Jerry, Elaine, and George endure a series of misadventures while waiting the entire episode to get a table at a Chinese restaurant.

A high point in the comedy is when the Chinese maitre d’ calls “Cartwright” instead of “Costanza,” and they cannot understand what he is saying.

We are in the “cartwright” section of First Corinthians fourteen.  It is where Paul goes to some lengths to point out that when what you say cannot be understood, it cannot be beneficial.

1 Corinthians 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?

I must reiterate something we established in our previous study about the gift of speaking in tongues.  In this chapter, Paul has in mind their practice of speaking in tongues without any corresponding gift of interpretation.

It is uninterpreted tongues that are the problem.  When an utterance in tongues is interpreted, and is therefore intelligible, it is on an equal par with any other speaking gift.

Interpreted tongues edifies; uninterpreted tongues does not, and it can not in Paul’s theology.
If Paul were to “come” to their meetings and speak with uninterpreted “tongues, it would not, it could not, “profit” them.

He mentions four examples of speaking that does profit everyone:

We are not exactly sure what Paul meant by the word “revelation.”  By that I mean we are not sure how it differs from “prophecy,” but apparently it did in Paul’s mind.  It may refer to the unique gifting of an apostle to reveal the Word of God – as Paul was doing in this letter to them.
“Knowledge” we take to be the gift of the word of knowledge – knowing by the Holy Spirit something that you did not know or find out for yourself.
“Prophesying” we’ve talked about.  It is an immediate word from God, including a verse or verses from the Word of God, that speaks to the situation a believer or believers are in.
“Teaching” certainly encompasses what we recognize as formal teaching of the Word; but it would include anointed use of God’s Word in discipling and otherwise instructing believers in a less formal setting.

It would be wrong to say Paul was ranking these speaking gifts in order of importance.  We’ve established that the best, or greater, gift is always whichever one is needed to accomplish God’s purposes at the time.

It is interesting to note that revelation and knowledge and prophecy and teaching are mentioned as four separate gifts.  Cessationists like to argue that the pastor, in his formal teaching of the Bible, automatically exercises all three of these.  But it would seem that Paul thought any one of them could be exercised independently of the others by lay persons who were thus gifted by the Holy Spirit.
Regardless the finer points of these four gifts, the argument Paul was making is clear: they profit the Christian because they are spoken in language that is intelligible and can be understood by any and all in the assembly.

To drive home his point, Paul appealed to two analogies – musical instruments, and foreign languages.

1 Corinthians 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?
1 Corinthians 14:8  For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?

This always reminds me of the game show, Name That Tune.  It’s pretty amazing, really, how quickly you can recognize certain songs.  In the more modern versions of the show, they also give you clues, and sometimes you can guess the song without even hearing a single note.  Lame!

Musical instruments must make distinct sounds in order for you to understand the song being played.

A military trumpet must make distinct sounds if you are to understand the order being given.

I’ve officiated at the graveside of funerals in which a military honor  guard is on hand; one of the things they do is play Taps.  It’s getting rarer to have a bugler who can actually play Taps.  The Ceremonial Bugle was introduced so that veterans’ families have a choice on how Taps will be sounded when a live bugler is not available for a military funeral.  The families may elect either a CD/cassette version or the Ceremonial Bugle.
The Ceremonial Bugle has an electronic insert that enables an individual to “symbolically” play Taps.

They really should do that for bagpipes, too!  I’ve heard some awful renditions of Amazing Grace.

1 Corinthians 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.

Pardon the pun, but I think Paul was being a little ‘tongue in cheek’ when he said “you will be speaking into the air.”  They were wasting their breath.

1 Corinthians 14:10  There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.
1 Corinthians 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.

If someone speaks to you in a foreign language, you cannot understand them without an interpretation.  It is frustrating and confusing.

In that same way, when someone speaks in an unknown tongue, you cannot understand them without an interpretation.  It is frustrating and confusing.

Something more needs to be said about this.  We need to be reminded that it is an analogy.  Paul was not saying tongues is a known foreign language that I have not learned but could if I wanted to.

No, he was saying that speaking in tongues publicly, without the corresponding gift of interpretation, is LIKE a foreigner speaking to me in a language I do not know.

An analogy of something is not the thing itself.  We talked at some length previously about why we believe that the supernatural gift of speaking in tongues is not a known or knowable human language.

The use of foreign languages as an analogy confirms that tongues is NOT a known language.

We’ve been tossing around the gift of interpretation.  If tongues is not a known foreign language, how can we interpret it?

First of all, we cannot interpret it.  It requires a gift of interpretation from the Holy Spirit.  If tongues were a known foreign language, you’d never say that it required a gift to interpret it; only a native speaker or someone who had learned it, to translate it.

Second of all, interpretation is not translation.  I translate a language; I interpret a poem, or a painting, or a sculpture.

The interpretation will capture the theme of the utterance rather than the detail of each word.

One charismatic author wrote:

Paul assumes that some people are known to have the gift of interpretation (v28), and ready to interpret a tongue that comes. Practically speaking, the best person to bring an interpretation is the one(s) who feel a rise of faith or excitement as the tongue is being brought, and who get a sense of the theme of the tongue – not the detail, just the theme.  If that is you, then step out in faith.

When I start to interpret I only ever have the idea of the first couple of sentences, and I find that as I start to speak God gives me the idea for the next sentence, and so on.  Remember, it is important that the interpretation is man-speaking-to-God.

Note that it is an interpretation, not a translation. This means that the interpretation will capture the theme of the utterance rather than the detail of each word.

1 Corinthians 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.

There’s nothing wrong with being “zealous for spiritual gifts.”  There is a sense in which it is better to be exercising gifts in a way that requires correction, than to not be exercising them at all.

This is no excuse for allowing error, or aberrant experiences.  Many times I’ve heard charismatics defend all manner of weird behaviors by saying that when people are in a discovery mode, they should be expected to get a little out of order.

This issue was raised during the Great Awakening and resulted in a conversation between John Wesley and George Whitfield.

John Wesley fiercely criticized Whitefield for allowing fanaticism to exist under his preaching.  Whitefield acknowledged that not all that took place under his ministry was of God.  Some of it was of the flesh indeed.

“Then stamp out the flesh and what is false,” countered Wesley.

“But,” said Whitefield, “if you stamp out what is of the flesh you will stamp out what is real as well.”

I’m not sure that’s even true.  The answer is to correct them and do things decently and orderly.

The believers who were out of order in Corinth needed to be redirected.  They needed to subordinate everything they said in public to the principle of building-up others.  And the only way to build-up others is to speak in ways that can be understood by them.

Gordon Fee comments,

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.

Another commentator had this insight:

The church as a whole should strive to have the gifts that build up its members.  It should support those who serve in those capacities, and it should redirect its zeal from a desire to speak in tongues to a desire to serve the Lord in the best way that will build up the church.

I like that last idea – “the best way that will build up the church.”  It’s the Lord’s church and He knows the best way to build up each local expression of it.

I might think we are lacking in some gift, or activity, or discipline.  It’s possible we are; but its’s also possible that I have my own ideas and agenda that is different from the Lord’s.

I’m not being rebellious; just not staying connected to The Lord, not listening to Him.

We wait… Wait… Wait on The Lord to direct us in the things that He knows, from searching our hearts, that we definitely need.

To Be Continued – Tongues For Today

The controversy over the cessation versus the continuation of certain gifts of the Holy Spirit is as intense as I’ve ever seen it in. Cessationists are definitely on the offensive.

One of their arguments is that continuationists are not very biblically astute.  We’re not very smart, they say, when it comes to the Bible.

That’s why it was interesting to me to come across a recent interview in Relevant Magazine with John Piper.  Piper is a champion of the modern Reformed movement and, while we disagree with Reformed theology in general, he’s an intellect and a force to be reckoned with by cessationists.

Here is what he said about the gift of speaking in tongues, transcribed by me as I listened:

I see no reason for arguing that anything has changed in the history of redemption that between the age of the apostles and today that gift should have disappeared… I don’t see any mandate  that we not pursue it, but I see encouragements that we do.

We’ve come to chapter fourteen.  It is where Paul applies chapters twelve and thirteen, telling the church how to properly exercise and manifest the gifts when they assemble.

If you want to successfully study chapter fourteen, you need to keep verse five in mind:
1Corinthians 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.

The last clause, beginning with the word “unless,” is uber-important.  When Paul says “speaking in tongues” in this chapter, and compares it to “prophecy,” he means speaking in tongues that go uninterpreted.

His focus in this chapter is not your private devotions; it’s the public worship of the church.

In verse six Paul will ask, “What shall I profit you?”  In other words, “What kind of public speaking in the Church will profit you and build you up?”

The answer is a word he uses nine times in this chapter in various forms: “Understood,” “understand,” “understanding.”  In the assembly of the church, you must only and always speak with understanding in order to profit others and build them up.

Paul was in no way demeaning or devaluing or disparaging the gift of speaking in tongues.

When it is interpreted so that everyone can understand what was being said to God by the speaker in tongues, it is on equal par with prophecy or any other speaking gift.

At the end of verse twenty-six you read, “Let all things be done for edification.”  “Edify” means to build up.  You should only and always exercise your gifts in ways that encourage the spiritual growth and progress of others in the assembly.

This is so important that Paul uses the word “edify” in one form or another six times in this chapter and it is implied in everything he says even when he is not using the word.

“The concern is edification (v3-5), the issue intelligibility.  [Uninterpreted] tongues is not understandable (v2), hence it cannot edify the church (v4).  Prophecy is addressed to people precisely for their edification (v3), and in that sense is the greater gift” (Gordon Fee).

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

“Pursue love” summarizes chapter thirteen.  “Desire spiritual gifts” summarizes chapter twelve.

You might recall that chapter twelve closed with the exhortation, “desire the best [greater] gifts.”  Chapter fourteen defines what Paul meant by “best” or “greater.”

Certain gifts are to be preferred in the public assembly because they can edify others.  The gifts aren’t better or greater in and of themselves; only in their use.

If you desire spiritual gifts in the context of love you will want to “prophesy” in the public assembly because it can be understood by all.  You will not speak in tongues unless there is the possibility of an interpretation.

1 Corinthians 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.

Paul defined the gift of “tongue[s]” as an unknown language by which a believer speaks to God.  It is the supernatural enabling to worship God through prayer and praise in an unknown language you have not naturally learned.

We spent a great deal of time in a previous study examining whether or not the speaking in tongues Paul was describing was a known human language.  It is not.

We also pointed out some reasons why we don’t believe that what happened on the Day of Pentecost was the gift of tongues.  It was a miracle of languages as the disciples spoke in known human languages that the travelers gathered in the Temple could understand.

One point I failed to mention, something Geno pointed out to me, is that, on the Day of Pentecost, when the 120 disciples were praising God in languages they did not know, you get the distinct impression they were all speaking at once.  The hearers could pick out their own native language from the symphony of voices.

If that is, in fact, true, then it is another evidence that what happened on the Day of Pentecost was not the gift of tongues because Paul will tell us later in this chapter that it is wrong to practice simultaneous speaking in tongues.

“In the spirit speak[ing] mysteries” emphasizes that the meaning of the language is not immediately understood by anyone except God.  Thus, if you speak in tongues in the assembly, “no one understands” you.

By definition, speaking in tongues by itself cannot edify other believers since your words are a “mystery” to them.
Some people, who believe tongues have ceased or otherwise have problems with the gift, argue that you cannot be personally edified by something you cannot understand.

God says you can!

We all agree and take comfort with Romans eight, where we are told some of our own groanings in prayer can be interpreted by the Holy Spirit.  If groanings, then why not utterances I cannot understand?

In passing we should note that by Paul’s definition speaking in tongues is never God speaking to you; it is you addressing God with prayer and praise.  If you are in an assembly and someone speaks in tongues and then it is interpreted by them or someone else as a message from God, that just isn’t biblical.  Period.

The things Paul said about tongues are all very positive.  We are not justified in thinking he in any way thought badly of the gift – only its misuse and abuse.

1 Corinthians 14:3  But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.

Prophesy “speaks edification” in that it focuses my attention on a specific message from God.  It is as if God is speaking directly to me at that very moment.  It builds me up in the moment, for what I am enduring or about to face.

Prophesy “speaks exhortation” in that it reminds me I am empowered to receive and, if necessary, obey the message from God.

Prophesy “speaks comfort” in that I realize God is speaking to me to encourage me in my walk.

One thing to notice about the gift of prophesy as Paul understood it.  It was more about the present than the future.  It was a means by which God could take His Word and apply it in an immediate sense.  It can be a foretelling of the future but it seems most often to be a forth-telling of God’s Word.

This is why I think a powerful but often overlooked way to exercise prophesy is to simply be directed to a Scripture, to a Bible verse or verses.

Even if it isn’t something God has already said, if it is a ‘word’ purported to be from God, then we simply judge what is said by His already revealed Word.

Either way, the gift of prophecy depends upon and is anchored by the written Word of God.

1 Corinthians 14:4  He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

There’s no wiggle room here.  Speaking in uninterpreted tongues builds you up and it does not build-up others.  Speaking intelligible words, like prophecy, does build-up others.

The apostle Paul said that the way to build-up others is to speak in ways they can understand.  I may think otherwise.

I may think that hearing an assembly of believers speak with tongues simultaneously is a beautiful thing that can build-up others.  But I am wrong!

I may say that I am, in fact, built-up by such a phenomena.  But I’d be wrong!

The inspired Word of God says that the words spoken church, in public, must be understood in order to edify.

1 Corinthians 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.

Don’t miss Paul’s point.  Whenever you speak in a public assembly of the church you’re to do so “that the church may receive edification.”  That’s why the gift of prophecy is to be preferred over the gift of speaking in tongues (unless interpreted).

By the way: It seems clear that by “prophesy” Paul wasn’t talking about the prepared sermons of the pastor.  Certainly those can be prophetic.  God very much speaks to us through them.  But his emphasis here was on a more immediate bringing forth of a Word from God that speaks to the situation a believers or believers are in.

Paul gave a side-by-side comparison of two speaking gifts of the Spirit with regard to their ability to build-up others when exercised publicly.  From the standpoint of public worship, prophesy trumps tongues because it can be understood by all.

Paul wished that they “all spoke with tongues.”  That tells us two things:

It tells us that he held the gift of tongues in high esteem.  It was not an inferior gift; it just needed to be exercised properly.

It re-tells us that not every believer is given the gift of speaking in tongues.  Earlier, in chapter twelve, Paul had clearly stated that tongues was not a gift for every believer.

We cannot deem tongues inferior or unnecessary.  We cannot ignore it or say it has passed away.

Speaking in tongues is not a gift for every believer.  It is not the sign that you are a Christian; it is not the sign that you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit.  It is not even a sign of spiritual maturity.  It is a gift that is distributed to some members of the body of Christ according to the will of the Holy Spirit.

Since it is a gift, you can’t learn how to speak in tongues.  No one can help you learn how to do it by giving you certain words to release your faith.  It must be given to you.

If you do have the gift, are you using it?  Especially in your private devotions.

When Will The Gifts Cease?

When it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, cessationists and charismatics 100% agree on one thing: One day the gifts will cease.

We just don’t agree on the day.

To bring you up to speed, if you haven’t been following this series:

Cessationists believe certain gifts of the Holy Spirit have already ceased to function in the church.

Continuationists believe all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit will continue to operate until the coming of The Lord.

Paul is going to tell us, in these verses, exactly when the gifts will cease.

1 Corinthians 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.

The first seven verses highlighted love.  Love is the way all the gifts must operate.  Anything selfish, or self-centered, cannot be a genuine manifestation of God the Holy Spirit.

Remember that Paul was writing to correct the misuse, the abuse really, of the gift of speaking in tongues.  The way the Corinthians were doing it lacked love.

“Love never fails” means, first of all, that their activities, as bad as they were, would not defeat God’s love.  The church will go on, move forward, despite the bad behavior of its members at times.

Second of all, “love never fails” means that it will still be the way of things in the future, in eternity.  It is permanent; the gifts are not.

Why single out these three gifts of the Spirit?

“Tongues” and “knowledge” were especially troublesome in Corinth, so you’ve got to mention them that there be no confusion.

“Prophecy” is a gift Paul will talk a lot about in chapter fourteen.  Perhaps he wanted to head-off any criticism that he had a ‘favorite’ gift that was coloring his thinking.

There is nothing wrong with these gifts or with the truth they convey.  In fact, they are necessary for the church.  It’s just that one day they will be unnecessary!

When will that be?

1 Corinthians 13:9  For we know in part and we prophesy in part.

“In part” means incomplete.  It’s a reminder that believers, and that the church comprised of believers, is an on-going project of the Lord’s.  We are not complete; but we will be.

1 Corinthians 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.  He was describing the day you are translated or transformed into your glorified body, taken to Heaven, and see Jesus face-to-face.

John MacArthur is at the head of the cessationist movement.  He is sometimes accused of teaching “that which is perfect” is the Bible; and since the Bible is now complete, certain gifts are unnecessary and have ceased.

He does not teach that.  Here is his teaching:

The “perfect” is not the completion of Scripture, since there is still the operation of those two gifts and will be in the future kingdom (cf. Joel 2:28; Act 2:17; Revelation 11:3).  The Scriptures do not allow us to see “face to face” or have perfect knowledge as God does (1Corinthians 13:12).

The “perfect” is not the rapture of the church or the second coming of Christ, since the kingdom to follow these events will have an abundance of preachers and teachers (cf. Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 32:3-4; Joel 2:28; Revelation 11:3).

The perfect must be the eternal state, when we in glory see God face to face (Revelation 22:4) and have full knowledge in the eternal new heavens and new earth.  Just as a child grows to full understanding, believers will come to perfect knowledge and no such gifts will be necessary.

In 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!

OK, so why do guys like MacArthur say certain gifts – like tongues and prophecy – have, in fact, ceased?

In his own words:

Though we are told here that all three gifts would someday cease to exist, two different verbs are used to indicate their cessation.  Prophecy and knowledge will be “done away,” whereas tongues will “cease.”  

Done away… means to reduce to inactivity, or to abolish.  The gifts of prophecy and knowledge one day will be made inoperative…

Cease… means to stop, to come to an end… The cause comes from within; it is built in.  God gave the gift of tongues a built-in stopping place… Like a battery, it had a limited… lifespan.

OK, but when was tongues set to run out of juice?  There is no passage in the Bible to substantiate a particular time tongues would cease, so all the arguments as to when it supposedly did cease are extrabiblical, logical, or theoretical.

MacArthur says, “it is reasonable to believe that tongues have ceased because their use is mentioned only in the earlier New Testament books.  Most of the books, in fact, do not mention it.”

His argument is based on what seems “reasonable” to him.  At least he’s honest; it’s reasonable – but not necessarily biblical.

Not all scholars would agree that you should base such a tremendous, far-reaching conclusion on a verb or its tense.  Gordon Fee, a renowned scholar in his own right, says,

[Some] have argued that the change of verbs with tongues has independent significance, as though this meant tongues might cease before prophecy and knowledge… [but] just as one can scarcely distinguish between “cease” and “pass away” in English, when used in the same context, neither can one distinguish between [the Greek words used] in this context.

In other words, Paul was not making a huge announcement about the cessation of a gift by choosing that particular verb.  He just wasn’t; or, at the very least, we cannot say without a doubt that he was.

The gifts will cease in eternity, when they are no longer necessary.  Until then, they are needed.

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

1 Corinthians 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 considered 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 seem childish by way of comparison.

The second illustration is the mirror:

1 Corinthians 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 see 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.

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

The Bible says that we walk by faith, not by sight.  Thus “faith” is only necessary for our time on earth.  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.  In eternity hope will become reality when we are with Jesus.

“Love” does not have the same temporary quality.  It will go on for eternity as the context 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 the normal Christian behavior.

If I am falling short in love in one or more of these ways it isn’t a matter of my trying harder but of realizing I am refusing to yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit.  These are the qualities that ought to characterize my life simply because the Holy Spirit indwells me.  I don’t learn how to do them; He produces them when I get out of the way of His work.

The love we’ve been examining was so amazing, so different, that an entirely new word had to be coined to capture its essence.  It is the Greek word agape.

According to Alan Redpath we get our English word ‘agony’ from agape.  “It means the actual absorption of our being in one great passion.”

Here is a simple way of challenging yourself.  What are you really passionate about?

When Jesus is your one great passion there will be agape overflowing from you all over the place!

To Be Continued – What’s In Your Worship?

Capital One has made the slogan, “Whatʼs in your wallet?”, iconic.

The ads Iʼm thinking of feature a group of somewhat friendly Vikings (or Visigoths) as they interact with modern society. They always end up smashing or breaking something on account of their horrible manners.

If the apostle Paul had been tech-savvy he might have produced a series of short parody videos showing the horrible manners of the believers at Corinth.  Sure, they were exercising spectacular gifts of the Holy Spirit.  But they were simultaneously tolerating all manner of sexual sin, they were promoting divisions, they were suing one another, they were divorcing one another, and they were given over to idolatry.

Paul might have adopted the slogan, “Whatʼs in your worship?”

What wasnʼt in their worship was love.  Before he tells them what they ought to do to bring order to their worship services, he establishes the way they ought to do it (and everything else).

In Corinth the believers were exercising their gifts selfishly in ways that called attention to themselves.  Paul illustrated this by comparing individual believers to the instruments of a symphony orchestra being conducted by a great master conductor.

1 Corinthians 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.

Although this is arguably the most famous ‘stand alone’ chapter in all the Bible, we want to keep its context in mind.  Paul was correcting the Corinthians for their abuse of the gift of speaking in tongues.  So he starts right there – with that gift.

To “have love” means to be toward others the way God in Christ has been toward us.  To “have not love” is to act in a way that only seems spiritual by your own standards.

He mentions “tongues of men and of angels.”  We probably need to pause to ask and attempt to answer the question, Is tongues a language – a known human or angelic language?

It’s not an easy question to answer, but I say the gift of tongues is not a known human or angelic language.  Let me give you one reason why I think it isn’t.

In chapter fourteen Paul uses known foreign languages as an illustration.

1Corinthians 14:10    There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.
1Corinthians 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.

The phenomenon of different, known foreign languages, would have been commonplace in a cosmopolitan center such as Corinth.  Because of this verse, some argue that speaking in tongues was nothing more than people speaking in their native language, which others could not understand.

Those who use that argument overlook a most important point: Paul was using the confusion caused by foreign languages as an analogy of what uninterpreted speaking in tongues was like.  It was like the phenomena of hearing a person speak French when you only know English.  It was like that, but not that.

This, then, is powerful evidence that whatever the gift of tongues is, it isn’t a known foreign language.

What about the corresponding phrase in First Corinthians 13:1, “the tongues of angels”?

While it seems likely to me that angels must have a common language, this phrase most likely describes the superior attitude of the Corinthians.  They thought of their speaking in tongues as having achieved some level of spirituality akin to the angels.

It sounds weird, but Gordon Fee puts it into perspective:

… they believed that they had already entered into some expression of angelic existence.  This would explain their rejection of sexual life and sexual roles (cf. 7:1–7; 11:2–16) and would also partly explain their denial of a future bodily existence (15:12, 35)… For them the evidence of having “arrived” at such a “spiritual” state would be their speaking the “tongues of angels.”  Hence the high value placed on this gift.

“What just a minute,” you say; “On the Day of Pentecost, didn’t everyone hear the disciples speaking to them in their own, known native languages?”

Yessirree, they did.  But that was not the gift of tongues; that was a miracle of languages.  I know that because Paul is going to say,

1Corinthians 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.

It seems clear that Paul thought of the gift of tongues as an utterance that “no one” could understand (without the corresponding supernatural gift of interpretation), because “in the spirit he speaks mysteries.”

He didn’t say, “only others who speak his native language can understand him, so go find a translator.”

Further, the word “mysteries” indicates neither the speaker nor the hearer can understand without supernatural assistance.  A mystery, in the Bible, is something that must be supernaturally revealed.

To refer to a foreign language that can be translated by a native speaker with these words makes no sense.  Known foreign languages are not mysteries that no one understands.

Let’s get back to love.  The problem at Corinth was the uncontrolled exercise of uninterpreted tongues.  It was evidence of a lack of love.

The “sounding brass” is really a brass vase that was used to amplify sound in the outdoor theaters.

The “cymbal” has its proper and necessary place in the symphony orchestra.  Think of it, though, when played out of place and amplified: It distracts from the conductor’s presentation of the musical score and inevitably calls attention to the one clanging it through the amplifying brass.

The exercise of spiritual gifts in public like the playing of a symphony orchestra being conducted by a great master conductor.  You each have your necessary and proper place in the symphony.  But you can exercise your gift or gifts in such a way as to call attention to yourself and away from your conductor.

You can be like a gong or a cymbal being played out of place.

1 Corinthians 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.
1 Corinthians 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 described various gifts in their most spectacular operation. But he quickly added that they must flow from love.  Otherwise there is no spiritual impact on others, and there is no spiritual inheritance for yourself.

There were two competing notions of what it meant to be spiritual in Corinth.  Or, I should say, the Corinthians had defined what it meant to be spiritual as exercising the gift of tongues, period.

The mere manifestation of speaking in tongues could never be a sign of spirituality.  God’s standard is love that is self-sacrificing and that puts the needs of others ahead of your own.

“Whatʼs in your worship?”  In Corinth it was self and selfishness.

The “more excellent way,” the way of love, is active and practical.

In the Greek language these next words describing love are all present tense, continuous action verbs.  Love is something you do or don’t do.

These next few verses cannot be improved upon by commentary. G. Campbell Morgan said that talking about them is like dissecting a flower.  You know something about the parts, but you’ve ruined the beauty of the flower.

Perhaps the best way to have these verses impact our lives is to simply define what the words mean then substitute your name for the word “love” as a means of self-examination.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;

“Love suffers long and is kind” – You are patient in enduring injury from others and active in conferring good toward them.  You do not give place to bitterness or wrath; you harbor no resentment.

“Love does not envy” – You don’t begrudge others their success. You don’t enter into rivalries.

“Love does not parade itself” – You are never anxious to be on display.  You are not upset when you do not receive recognition.

“[Love] is not puffed up” – You aren’t smug in your superior knowledge or position.

1 Corinthians 13:5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;

“[Love] does not behave rudely” – You are genuinely sympathetic towards the feelings of others and, so, will not wound, distress or embarrass others.

“[Love] does not seek its own” – You don’t feel the need to insist on your rights.

People can “provoke” us.  They can arouse us to anger; we get in the flesh because of what they say and do.  We then blame them for our reaction.  Love guards against being irritated, upset, or angered by the things done and said against us.

“Think[ing] evil” is a bookkeeping term that means to keep a record.  Love is ready to forgive so we can keep no such records.

1 Corinthians 13:6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;

When others sin we have a tendency to “rejoice” that they have fallen; it makes us seem better somehow.  This is what fuels the gossip columns and magazines.  Love “rejoices in the truth,” rejecting gossip and slander.

1 Corinthians 13:7 [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This does not mean we blindly overlook everything people say or do.  Paul didn’t; he was writing these very words as a correction to the Corinthians, and throughout the letter he has strong words to say to them.

The phrase “all things” is reminiscent of Romans 8:28 where Paul says, “all things work together for good to those that love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

We are able to practice the way of love because we have absolute confidence in God to bring us through to our certain future with its reward.

“What’s in your worship?”  Each of us can only, ultimately, answer for ourselves.

But when we see someone hogging the spotlight, stealing the show, putting on a display of their gift or gifts, interrupting others… Then we can be certain they are not following the direction of our Conductor.

To Be Continued – Apostles, Prophets and Teachers

“Who’s on first?”

After 58 years of calling games, Vin Scully has seen just about everything both on the field and in the stands.

In all those years, there’s only been one thing Scully couldn’t do, one elusive thing that he confessed on-air he’s always wanted to do.  He’s always wanted to say three little words: “Who’s on first.”

That was until Chin-Lung Hu, a native of Taiwan, joined the Dodgers at the beginning of September.  Hu’s first hit as a Dodger was a homer in a game with the San Diego Padres.  Bummer!

In the third game of the series, Hu got his first single.  Scully took a deep breath and said, “OK everybody.  All together… Hu’s on first!”

As chapter twelve draws to a close, the apostle Paul speaks of certain individuals being “first,” “second,” and “third,” with respect to the church.  Let’s see what he meant and how it fits into his larger correction to the church at Corinth.

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

If the Corinthians were unsure; if they still had any doubts; Paul directly says, “you are the body of Christ.”  In their common relationship to Jesus by the Spirit of God, they form His body on the earth.

The human body is one but made up of many members, and likewise Christians each have their own individual function and giftedness as members of Jesus’ body.

Paul was emphasizing their diversity.  They should not all be doing the same thing, or exercising the same gifts.

As I keep reminding us, the problem in Corinth was that, when the church gathered, they were encouraging everyone to exercise the gift of speaking in tongues simultaneously, and with no corresponding gift of interpretation.

They were acting as though their body was one huge tongue.

This is Church 101.  They, however, had gotten away from the basics.

The basics start with the first, second, and third things Paul listed:

1Co 12:28    And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…

Paul has all the while been discussing gifts of the Spirit.  These seem to be gifted men, or offices, within the church, rather than gifts per se.

What we forget, in the twenty-first century, is that, in the first century, the church was just being established.  To establish it, Jesus used apostles, prophets, and teachers.

In Ephesians 2:20, Paul said that the church was, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”

Then, in Ephesians 4:11-12 he expanded, saying,

Eph 4:11    And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
Eph 4:12    for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

In the first century, apostles and prophets were establishing churches, which would then be continued through the centuries by evangelists, pastors and teachers.

In the twenty-first century, the “church,” as an entity, has been established for, well, twenty centuries.  There are no apostles; there are no prophets.

There are evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

Back to Corinth: Paul was starting from scratch, reminding them of the basics, helping them to remember how they came into being as a body, spiritually speaking.  He, an apostle, had founded the church on his second missionary journey.  As he preached the Gospel, individuals were baptized into the body of Christ, gifted by the Holy Spirit to function as one of it’s many members.

It ought to have continued to function after his departure as a body – a whole body – not just a tongue.

To emphasize, again, the diversity of a properly functioning body, Paul throws out a random list of gifts.

1Cor 12:28  …after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.

There is no ranking of these gifts.  He said, “after that,” and it indicates they are in no particular order.

In fact, to put them in any order is to miss Paul’s point entirely.

Putting “tongues” last doesn’t mean it is the least of the gifts, only that it certainly wasn’t to be highlighted, either.  It was just one of the many possible manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

For various reasons, including some observations in Scripture, folks continue to argue that speaking in tongues is in its own category when it comes to gifts of the Holy Spirit.

For example since it is a language of prayer and praise, they argue that all believers can and should have the gift.

While that might make some logical sense, or appeal to reasoning – it just isn’t true, as the next two verses makes clear.

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?

When he says, “do all speak with tongues?,” it means do all have the gift of speaking in tongues.

Focusing in on the problem in Corinth, “Do all speak with tongues?” is answered by saying “No.”

Despite the clarity of Paul’s argument, there are those who argue that he only means the gift of speaking in tongues publicly.

They’d concede that not every believer should speak in tongues publicly, but they go on to say that every believer can and should speak in tongues privately.

All I can say to that is, while it is clever, it is wrong.  Paul does not distinguish between a gift of public tongues and a gift of private tongues.  He only distinguishes between exercising your gift of tongues either in public or in private.

Proponents of the position that everyone can and should speak in tongues are reading their position into the Bible.  It is not what Paul taught.

And his question, “Do all speak with tongues?,” must be answered negatively, or else words have no meaning.

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

We just said that Paul wasn’t ranking the gifts, and that he put them in a random order.  What does he mean, then, by saying the “best” gifts?

That depends on what you mean by best.  It doesn’t mean that certain gifts are intrinsically better than others, but rather that certain gifts are best in certain situations.

The “best” gift depends on the spiritual circumstances, does it not?

Think of the gifts as tools you build with.  You don’t cut down a tree with a hammer, or drive a nail with a saw.  Depending on the task, the “best” tool is the one that can accomplish something.

In that sense, there are no “best” gifts.  Only those that are most useful.  The “best” gift is the one that most ministers at the time.

So, when Paul says “earnestly desire the best gifts,” he isn’t ranking them.  We’ve already seen that the idea of ranking them misses his point altogether.

If we could jump directly to chapter fourteen, right after Paul said, “but earnestly desire the best gifts,” we’d see exactly what he meant.

In chapter fourteen he will argue convincingly that, in the public assembly, speech that can be understood by everyone is ‘better’ than speech that cannot be understood.  He will point out that even a few words of prophecy that can be understood by all are better than thousands of ‘words’ in an unknown tongue.

He will go on to say that if speaking in tongues is interpreted, then it, too, is ‘better.’

Prophecy isn’t therefore ‘better’ than tongues, or vice-versa.  It all depends on the circumstances.
The “best” gifts in the public assembly are the ones that take others into consideration and minister to their needs.

Another way of saying that is to say if you simply think of others, rather than yourself, you will find yourself ministering to them selflessly rather than selfishly.

And that’s why, instead of going directly to chapter fourteen, Paul wrote the love chapter in between.  It provides the context for the exercising of the gifts of the Spirit.

You, for example, would want to prophecy to someone else rather than speak in uninterpreted tongues to them… Or show them mercy rather than speak in uninterpreted tongues to them… Or pray for their healing rather than speak in uninterpreted tongues to them.

We all have our own ideas of what we think is more ‘spiritual.’  For continuationists like ourselves, it can seem more spiritual if, at our meetings, someone speaks in tongues; or if we all do; or if we break into singing in tongues.

Prophecy that suddenly comes over someone so that they feel they must interrupt the meeting to share it – that might seem very spiritual.

We should judge what is ‘spiritual’ by whether or not it is loving in the self-sacrificing way described in chapter thirteen.

With love as the guiding principle, there will be no interrupting others, no calling attention to ourselves, no showboating.

To Be Continued part 5 (1 Corinthians 12v15-26)

In the early 1950s, Brooklyn-born toy inventor George Lerner came up with the idea of inserting small, pronged body and face parts into fruits and vegetables to create what he called a “funny face man.”

Mr. Potato Head was “born” on May 1, 1952.  The original toy cost $0.98, and contained hands, feet, ears, two mouths, two pairs of eyes, four noses, three hats, eyeglasses, a pipe, and eight felt pieces resembling facial hair.

The original Mr. Potato Head kit did not come with a potato “body,” so parents had to provide their own potato into which children could stick the various pieces.

In the 1960s, government regulations forced the Potato Head parts to be less sharp, leaving them unable to puncture vegetables easily.  By 1964, the company was therefore forced to include a plastic potato “body” in its kit.

I thought of Mr. Potato Head because Paul starts talking about various body parts claiming independent identity from the whole body.  His point is simple enough: the true nature of your human body is that it is one body consisting of many necessary parts.

He will argue from that very obvious illustration that the body of Christ on earth – His church – is also one with many parts.

The application in Corinth was that the whole body was not to gather together only to speak in tongues.  Many other manifestations of the Spirit ought to be be present as well.

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?

Is it just me, or does this read like a stand-up comedy routine?

Obviously the foot and the ear are parts of the body, regardless their function differing from the hand and the eye.

The parts of the body cannot deny their own place on the body.  The ear cannot function as an eye; the foot cannot function as a hand.  All have their divinely appointed place.

In the body of Christ, that place is appointed for you by God the Holy Spirit as He gifts you to function according to His will.

It would be pretty noticeable if my ear, wanting to be my eye, left its place on the side of my head and was on my face.

It is less noticeable when a believer wants to be, or thinks they are, gifted in some way or ways that they are not.  You can appear gifted but be ministering in the energy of the flesh.

Let’s pause and talk about this for just a minute.  Christians are always wondering, “how do I discover my gift or gifts?”
You should also be asking, “How do I know if I’m not gifted in the way I want to be, but am pursuing it for fleshly reasons?”

The answer is that there are a lot of ways to answer that question.  I’m not trying to be evasive; it’s just that every situation is a little bit different.

Let me give you two anecdotes to mull over:

I knew a guy, a gifted worship leader; I mean, awesomely gifted.  He also taught a home Bible study.  It was OK, his teaching, in the sense you’d say he was ‘able to teach.’  But when he announced his plans to go out and start a church as the senior, teaching pastor – all the honest brothers giving him counsel told him he was not gifted as a teacher.  He should have heeded their counsel.

I knew a guy who thought he was a gifted Bible teacher.  In fact, he told me he was.  The trouble was, he never, not ever, lifted a finger to do anything in the church.  He refused to serve unless he could teach because, after all, he was a gifted teacher.  He might even have a gift for teaching; but he needs to learn humility before it will translate to something meaningful.

The best way to discover whether you’re an ear or an eye is to gather together with believers and serve them by seeing the needs and meeting them.  We will learn in chapter thirteen that love is the principle thing.  Love others and you will discover your gifts.

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?

People have opinions on whether they’d rather be deaf versus blind, but really all your members are important in their own right.  Especially when they are functioning for the good of the rest of the body.

1Co 12:18    But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.

However God the Holy Spirit has gifted you – it’s good and you should accept it joyfully for the greater good of the entire body.

1Co 12:19    And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

There wouldn’t be a “body” if your whole body was a single member.  It would be a monstrosity.

Don’t forget what Paul was speaking to in this argument.  The body of believers at Corinth was like one giant tongue.  In the way they were functioning, they weren’t really a body at all.

1Co 12:20    But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.

“Many members,” in Corinth, ought to mean the manifestation of many gifts – not just tongues, or any other gift, for that matter.

When the many members are all functioning, then you’ve got body life as God intended it to be.

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.”

Paul adds a little twist to the illustration.  Gordon Fee points out, “Both the direction and content of what is said imply a view ‘from above,’ where those who consider themselves at the top of the “hierarchy” of persons in the community suggest that they can get along without some others, who do not have their allegedly superior rank.”

There are lots of ways believers can think themselves superior to other believers:

One is to think that their gift or gifts are superior.  To that we’d say, “try cutting down a tree with a hammer, or using a saw to drive nails.”
Another way believers think themselves superior has to do with wealth and social status.  There’s no denying that we have a natural bent to think those with wealth and power are somehow more blessed by God.  If you read the warnings in the New Testament to those who are rich, you’ll be glad you’re not!

Maybe you can think of some other ways believers can feel superior.  The point is that we are one body, gathering together to minister to one another as we’ve been gifted by God.

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

Your weaker members are your internal organs.  They need protection from the outside to go on functioning.  But you can’t function properly without them.  Modern medicine can compensate to a certain extent, e.g., dialysis for kidney function.  But that only proves Paul’s point about how valuable they are.

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,
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,

He was talking here about wearing clothing and making a general observation that the very act of adorning those parts of the body, while letting others mostly alone, shows that we generally care for our whole body as is appropriate.

1Co 12:25    that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.

He’s starting to drive home his point.  Your human body is a marvel of cooperation in order to function properly and allow you to do remarkable things.

Likewise the body of Christ must cooperate according to God’s gifting in order to accomplish its purposes on the earth.

For example I’ve mentioned that, because everyone in Corinth was speaking in tongues simultaneously, young believers and nonbelievers thought they were crazy.  They should instead have been functioning properly, as a body should, so that those who visited them would instead be “convinced by all, [be] convicted by all… and so, falling down on [their] face[s], [they] will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (First Corinthians 14:24-25).

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.

Ever have an abscessed tooth?  I can totally relate to that scene in Castaway where Tom Hanks uses an ice-skate blade to remove one of his teeth.

As far as one member of my physical body being “honored,” I’m at a loss for an analogy.  Closest I can come is my love of physical therapy.  When that tens unit is zapping my back with high voltage, my whole body is honored.

Paul was saying, “start acting like a body rather than like a bunch of independent members.”

Olaf the snowman in Frozen is an immediate classic Disney character.  One of the things that’s fun with him is that his body parts and his carrot nose and branch arms are always coming off or getting rearranged.  He can’t function properly until he’s put back together.

Any church – cessationist or continuationist – that is over-emphasizing a particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit is not functioning properly; not according to Paul, anyway.

As we’ve pointed out, there is no biblical teaching that certain gifts have ceased.  The historical arguments are inaccurate at best.  The observational arguments, e.g., you don’t see certain gifts mentioned later in the Book of Acts, are weak arguments from silence.  If you say certain gifts have ceased, you are obviously emphasizing other gifts over them.  You’re not functioning properly.

A continuationist church that is like Corinth – emphasizing certain gifts because they seem outwardly to be more supernatural – is just as wrong.

We need to act like a body whose many members are functioning together as The Lord leads us by His Holy Spirit.

To Be Continued part 4 (1 Corinthians 12v12-14)

Ad agencies seem to understand that people like things either one way or the other.  Remember the long-running Miller Lite Beer commercials?  Celebrities and sports figures would argue as to whether they thought it was good because it was “less filling,” or because it “tastes great.”

Another way of saying people like things either one way or the other is to say that we are prone to go to extremes.  No where is this more prevalent than among Christians, who cannot seem to abide any amount of disagreement even over nonessential points of doctrine.

Issues surrounding the Holy Spirit and His gifts are fraught with either/or arguments.  Tonight we’re going to see one of those areas where we tend to go to extremes and I’m going to suggest that both extremes are, well, extreme.

The issue I’m talking about is the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

In verse thirteen Paul says, “we were all baptized into one body.”  We’ll see what he meant, and at first it will seem contrary to charismatics and to Pentecostal theology; but this one verse is not the whole story.

Let’s get into it.

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 draws upon the human body as an illustration for the church.  You have one body, but it is made up of many different “members,” or parts, controlled by your head.

When Paul says, “so also is Christ,” he means the church of which Christ is the head.  The different members of a congregation, with their diversity of gifts, form a united body, the body of Christ.

It’s a very simple illustration, is it not?  Now think of this illustration with regard to the situation in Corinth.  As we’ve said, and as we will see in chapter fourteen, the Corinthians seemed to believe that every Christian could have the gift of speaking in tongues, and they insisted that everyone speak in tongues simultaneously during their church services.

That would make no sense from the standpoint of a human body.  As Paul will say later, our body isn’t just one giant member.  Isn’t there an allergy commercial where the person suffering from hay fever starts off as one giant nose?

If you were going to make a commercial for the church in Corinth, you’d have to depict them as a room full of giant tongues.

This illustration was intended to get them thinking.

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.

Before we tackle the issue of Pentecostal Spirit baptism, let’s complete Paul’s thoughts about the diversity of the one body of Christ.

The body of Christ – the church – is “one” because we have all received the Holy Spirit.  The things that distinguish us in the greater culture – like ethnicity and social status – are eliminated in the church because of our common experience of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t mean those distinctions don’t matter, or cannot be celebrated.  It means that they have no significance in the church.  We are all one in Christ and on equal, spiritual footing before The Lord.

“All have been made to drink into one Spirit” is emphasizing the Spirit indwelling you as a believer.  Just as you ingest water, and it is then inside your body, so you receive the Holy Spirit and He comes to indwell each of us personally, and all of us corporately, as Christ’s spiritual body on the earth.

1Co 12:14    For in fact the body is not one member but many.

Again, please note, Paul was stressing the diversity of the “many” members who make up the one body.

A thoughtful person, listening to Paul’s letter, would start to conclude on their own that the practice of emphasizing tongues over other gifts was not what Jesus had in mind for the many members of His one body.

They ought rather to be encouraging a diversity of gifts in order to minister to one another and glorify The Lord.

In the ongoing debate about the Holy Spirit and His gifts, the phrase in verse thirteen, “for by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” is often one of those extremes of either/or teaching.

It has become a key text, maybe the key text, that cessationists (and other non-Pentecostals) use to try to prove that since you are baptized by the Spirit at your conversion, there is no further experience with Him that could properly and biblically be called “the baptism with the Holy Spirit.”

One popular author writes,

It is unfortunate that the term “baptism of the Spirit” has been divorced from its original New Testament meaning.  The baptism of the Spirit occurs at conversion when the Spirit enters the believing sinner, gives him new life, and makes his body the temple of God.  All believers have experienced this once-for-all baptism.  Nowhere does the Scripture command us to seek this baptism, because we have already experienced it and it need not be repeated.

For their part, Pentecostals have long argued that not only is there such a further experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit – sometimes called the second blessing – but that speaking in tongues is, in fact, the evidence that you have received it.

I’m saying that both of those arguments are extreme, either/or arguments.

First, let’s deal with what Paul meant in context.

Let me quickly say that none of this has anything to do with water baptism.  He says, “you are baptized by the Spirit,” and you, “drink into one Spirit.”  There is nothing here about water baptism, or about receiving the Spirit through, or because of, water baptism.

He was most definitely describing the common experience of every genuine believer at the moment of conversion.  I must honestly admit that Paul was not referring to what Pentecostals commonly call the baptism with the Holy Spirit.  He was not talking about an experience with the Holy Spirit that was separate from conversion.

His whole point in these verses, or we would say in the context, is that the body of Christ is “one” precisely because every person who gets saved receives the Holy Spirit indwelling them.

However – and this is a huge “however” – that does not mean conversion is the final experience a believer can or should have with the Holy Spirit.  That would be saying too much, going beyond what Paul said here, and beyond what he says elsewhere.

In his writings, Paul seems to think of the Christian life as being very dynamic, and by that I mean full of the Holy Spirit’s power, from conversion to completion.

For example in Galatians 3:5, Paul told the believers that God had given them the Spirit and that He worked miracles among them.  It’s in a section where he was telling them to continue in the Spirit, rather than try to live the Christian life by self-effort.

We learn from his larger exchange with the Galatians that Paul thought that when you received the Spirit at conversion, you would also receive His empowering, and that it would manifest itself in some dynamic way.

That this was Paul’s belief is further proven by his encounter with certain disciples of John in the Book of Acts.

Act 19:1    And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples
Act 19:2    he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
Act 19:3    And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
Act 19:4    Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
Act 19:5    When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Act 19:6    And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
Act 19:7    Now the men were about twelve in all.

There’s a lot going on with these guys, but the one point I’m making is that Paul recognized they had not received the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit.  Either they were not yet saved; or they were saved and needed to understand the dynamic of the Spirit.

Notice, too, Paul certainly thought they were saved when he baptized them in water.  We would say that they were baptized in the Spirit, then baptized in water.

But subsequent to both of those baptisms, Paul laid his hands on them and then “the Holy Spirit came upon them,” and there was a manifestation of dynamic power.

Paul thought there absolutely would be a dynamic power in your life.  And he went on to teach that your experience with the Holy Spirit was not a one-time thing, but that since He is necessary for living-out the Christian life, that there would be further, ongoing experiences and appropriations of His empowering.

You might say that Paul’s theology of the Holy Spirit was that what happens, or ought to happen, at conversion needs renewing throughout your Christian life.  In many places, e.g., Ephesians 5:18, he talked about a present tense, ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Think about it for a minute.  It’s the first century.  People were getting saved, and there was a manifestation of the  dynamic power of the Holy Spirit.  So much so that Paul could say to the Galatians matter-of-factly, God gave you His Spirit and did miracles among you.

So much so that he immediately recognized something lacking in the twelve disciples of John the Baptist.

As time transpired, Paul had to warn the Galatians of the danger that having begun in the Spirit, Christians would try to perfect their walk by rules and regulations, by law, by worldly wisdom, instead of being refreshed and renewed in ongoing appropriations of the Spirit.

What if Christians fail to heed Paul’s warnings and, in fact, begin to minimize the dynamic of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and in their churches?  I think it was Alan Redpath who I first heard say, “If the Holy Spirit were to be removed from most churches, 95% of their activities would continue unhindered.”

I want to be fair.  The conservatives, the cessationists, do talk about the need to go on being filled with the Holy Spirit.  But they simultaneously deny certain gifts and almost all supernatural manifestations of the Spirit.

On a practical level, they downplay any show of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power, even at the time of conversion, emphasizing that conversion is mostly intellectual and that you ‘get’ everything your going to get except the spiritual maturity that comes from the Holy Spirit helping you understand more about the Bible.

It can end up being a great deal like having begun in the Spirit while trying to be perfected in the flesh.

If such a person, a believer, finally comes to see that they are trying to make themselves perfect in the flesh rather than by the Spirit, they often have what could be described as a “second” experience with the Holy Spirit that can be understandably called a “baptism with the Holy Spirit.”

Technically, biblically, you are baptized with the Spirit at the moment of your conversion.  The experience ought to be dynamic, and it ought to be ongoing and renewable throughout your Christian life.

If it wasn’t dynamic at the time of your conversion; if, for example, you’re like the disciples of John the Baptist; then you might, in fact, experience something – a second blessing or “baptism” – that is dynamic, and then go seeking its renewal.

You could even be like the Galatians who had a dynamic experience, with miracles in their midst, but who were not seeking ongoing renewal but, rather, to be made perfect by their own efforts.  Then you, too, would need to again experience the dynamic of the Holy Spirit.

The “Spirit baptism” in this verse is definitely describing the receiving of the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion.  It is the common experience of everyone who gets saved by which they are placed into the body of Christ.

But it ought to be dynamic and powerful and go on being so.  If not, then receive by faith a fresh baptism, and then go on living in the Spirit.