Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (30)

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Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (30)

1 Corinthians 12:1-3

Broadcast: September 13, 1998; Message Number 1489

Spiritual Gifts (1)

In Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians Paul discusses the subject of spiritual gifts. It is a subject that is getting a lot of attention these days, but that is also causing much controversy. Churches are being split over the question as to whether such gifts as prophesy, faith healing and tongue speaking ceased with the death of the apostles or whether we should still seek them today.

The Corinthians were very interested in spiritual gifts. As such, that was not wrong. After all, they had received them from the Lord. As Paul reminds them in Chapter 1, "In everything you are enriched by Him, in all utterance [or speech] and all knowledge... so that you come behind in no gift." You are not lacking when it comes to gifts, he means. They were lacking many other things, as we have seen in previous messages. They were lacking in spiritual maturity, as well as moral purity. But they were not lacking in gifts.

The problem was, they did not know what to do with them. They were interested in those gifts as such; they were fascinated by them, and they were still seeking additional gifts, as we shall see in Chapter 14. Apparently they were not satisfied with the gifts they had received. God had given them the gift of speech and knowledge and other so-called "service" gifts. The reference is to the ability to witness and the knowledge of the gospel required in order to witness, as well as other gifts to be used in building up the church.

These gifts God bestows on all His people, also on the Corinthians. The problem was that they thought these gifts were too plain and too ordinary. They looked for more spectacular gifts, such as prophetic utterances and speaking in tongues. This craving for extraordinary gifts helps to explain why they were not too happy with Paul and why they even questioned his apostleship. He was too ordinary for them. His preaching was very plain and dealt with such elementary issues as salvation by grace, faith in Christ, repentance, holy living, etc. What they wanted was preaching that dealt more with the deeper issues, the mysteries of the faith. They liked preaching that was dynamic, exciting and yes, charismatic.

The word charismatic comes from the Greek word charismata which is the plural of charis, meaning gift of grace. All the gifts we receive are gifts of grace, of course. Paul told the Corinthians: "I thank my God always on your behalf for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ." Charismata refer to endowments by God of gracious gifts to His people to serve Him and His Church. These spiritual gifts are given to all believers, not to some select few who think of themselves as more spiritual than others. This is what modern charismatics believe. They distinguish between Christians who are merely saved by faith in Christ and Christians who have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The latter receive special gifts and therefore occupy a higher position in the church. They are looked up to as the truly spiritual and deeply led saints.

This is all wrong. All believers have spiritual gifts. We receive them the moment we are regenerated and believe in Christ. We get as many of these gifts as we need for serving the Lord and our fellow men. The problem is that many of us are slow to recognize our gifts and it takes years for us to develop them. Part of the reason for this is ignorance and the lack of teaching on this subject. That's why studying the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians is so instructive and so enlightening. We learn here what spiritual gifts are and how we must use them. But we also learn what are some of the dangers that threaten us in connection with this subject. The Corinthians were interested in spiritual gifts, but in the wrong way. They looked for special, attention grabbing kinds of gifts, while overlooking the ordinary gifts which God wants His people to use as they minister to Him.

One could sum up the problem this way: the Corinthians saw spiritual gifts as ends in themselves rather than means to an end--the end being the glory of God and the upbuilding of His Church. Their worship services were little more than experience meetings where the focus was on feelings and emotions rather than on Christ and His finished work. They reveled in what they thought was the Holy Spirit's powerful manifestations, but in reality they were grieving the Spirit, precisely because their focus was not on Christ. It is no exaggeration to say that the worship services in Corinth were not all that different from pagan worship in that it was not free from demonic influences. The Corinthians had been pagans before their conversion and it seems that they had not completely lost their old heathen ways of thinking, even when it came to expressing themselves in worship. Paul reminds them of their sad background when he says in verse 2: "You know that you were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led." In other words, when you were still pagans you were led astray by demonic forces that stand behind these idols you worshipped.

We saw in Chapter 10 that demons exercise a form of mind-control over their victims. Most of us are totally unaware of the sinister activities of these evil forces and we tend to pooh-pooh that sort of thing. The Bible, however, makes it abundantly clear that behind the visible structures of life is the invisible control of what Paul calls in Ephesians 6, "wicked spirits in high places," who exercise power over the minds of men and women. Darkness and death are the result, and this is what Paul is referring to here.

Eventually, therefore, all forms of idolatry, including those which we would think of today as rather harmless ones, become destructive of human life. We saw that a few years ago when about eighty followers of a self-proclaimed Messiah, David Koresh were burned to death in Waco, Texas. Earlier we have seen the same thing on a much larger scale in Nazi Germany before and during the Second World War. Demons can take possession of an entire nation and lead its citizens to commit incredible crimes. It always ends up in some form of mass death, either physical, or social and pathological within.

Demonism does not only manifest itself in violence. It shows itself also in the emptiness, loneliness, and boredom of materialism, or of hedonism--the pursuit of pleasure. One of the revealing statistics in this regard is that every Christmas season the suicide rate shoots up dramatically. Why is that? I think it is because of the binge of materialism on which people get high during that time of year. They hope to satisfy the aching of their hearts, the longing of their souls and the sense of desire for fulfilment with material gifts and things. Sooner or later they find that it is emptiness. How lonely many people feel at that time of year, even with all their Christmas gifts around them! That is death, and it comes from the mind-control exercised by demonic beings who are in control of the philosophy and thinking of men and women all over the world.

Paul says that the Corinthian believers were delivered from that by the grace of Christ. He warns them that they should take care not to come under the influence of demons again. The best way to ensure that this will not happen is to know the difference between the Spirit of the Lord and the evil spirits and their various fruits and results. How can the Corinthians and how can we tell the difference? What are the marks of a true work of the Holy Spirit and how can we detect its counterfeit?

Many people are asking such questions, and they should. How do we know that the Spirit of God is at work in the religious movements in our day? What must we think of the mega churches that draw huge crowds, where so many healings seem to take place and people seem so happy and excited? What about tongue speaking, holy laughter and other forms of ecstasy that we hear so much about? Should these things be taken as evidence of the Holy Spirit's work?

Are there Biblical criteria whereby we can judge such things? Yes, there are, and Paul mentions one of them in verse 3. "I want you to understand," he says, "that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, Jesus be cursed! and no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Paul puts it both negatively and positively.

First, negatively: no one who speaks by the Spirit of God ever demeans or in any way diminishes the centrality of Christ in the Christian life or in the Christian faith. The person and the work of Jesus are always the central thing. I am sure that very few people today would ever say these words, "Jesus is cursed." Perhaps there are groups that would say that; some of the Satanist groups perhaps. In the first century this was common, especially in the synagogues and in Jewish organizations where Christ was seen as a threat to Judaism. It may be that Paul is referring to the fact that when he was a young fanatic, fighting and arresting Christians, he may have forced them to say these words: "Jesus is accursed." But why does Paul say this to the Corinthians? After all, they were Christians. Surely they would never utter such blasphemy!

Apparently that was happening or something close to that. Remember where these people had come from. Before their conversion they had been deeply involved in mystery religions and cults. Worship in those cults was characterized by frenzy, ecstasy, and all kinds of emotional outbursts. People would babble and shriek, falling to the ground and roll around. Their worship was altogether experience-centred. Consequently, these newly converted Corinthians were trying to do the same thing in their Christian faith. They were thrilled and overjoyed with their experience of Christ and they were seeking to worship Him with the same kind of worship they were familiar with.

Some of them got into such a frenzy that they said blasphemous things about the Lord. They did not know what they were saying probably, but others heard them and apparently did nothing to stop them. They must have thought this was part of spiritual worship. Paul therefore rebukes them for being so confused and so undiscerning about what is spiritual and what is demonic. No one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed," he warns them. Conclusion: such utterances can only come from Satan or one of his demons.

But how could they possibly say this and still be Christians? Perhaps it happened when they were so filled with ecstasy that they didn't know what they were saying and demonic spirits took control of their minds, causing them to speak blasphemies without realizing what they were doing.

"No man speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed." This passage has a great deal to say to us today too. We are also living in an experience-centred time. People are looking for worship services that will turn them on. As such, the desire for experience is not wrong, of course. But experience should not be our primary goal while worshipping the Lord. The most wonderful experiences are no sure indication that the Spirit of God is at work. We always have to be careful to discern what or who is behind our experience. It can be just emotions. Some people are very easily brought to tears or to outbursts of any kind. But, and this is what Paul cautions us against, there is also the frightful possibility of being influenced by evil and demonic forces.

It is obvious to all of us that a person who says, "Jesus is accursed" cannot possibly be led by the Holy Spirit. But there are other, less obvious signs that would suggest that something sinister is going on in worship. A good rule of thumb is to say that whatever detracts from Jesus' glory, whatever draws us away from the centrality of Christ and His finished work and causes us to focus on ourselves or someone else or something else has an element of the demonic in it.

That's why Paul says next: "No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit." Where the Spirit of God is at work, he always seeks to exalt and magnify Christ as Lord. "Jesus is Lord" was the creed of the early Church. The Romans attacked that. They tried to hold up Caesar as Lord, and during the persecutions they made the Christians choose between saying, "Caesar is Lord," or "Jesus is Lord." Choosing to say only the latter would result in a meeting with lions or burning at the stake. It can be said to the glory of most of the early Christians that they held fast and gave up their lives rather than deny that Jesus is Lord. I think we have lost that conviction today.

Certainly, we expect Jesus will be Lord when He returns. Then every knee shall bow and every tongue acclaim that he is Lord. But what the New Testament emphasizes is that Jesus is Lord now already. He is in charge now; He is the One Who controls history. This is what Peter declared to the assembled crowd on the day of Pentecost: "Him whom you crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ." This was what made the early Christians so fearless: "Jesus is Lord" was for many the last words they spoke as they met a martyr's death.

For many people today, not Jesus, but science is Lord, or pleasure, or money and especially self. But where the Spirit is at work, Christ will be glorified and worshipped as Saviour and Lord. This is the whole point of this passage. Jesus said, "When he is come he will not speak of himself; he will take the things of mine and make them known unto you."

Therefore, a church that makes much of the Spirit and little of Christ is not teaching Christian truth. It is only a church that makes much of Jesus, Who exalts Him and sees that everything is focused and centred on Him that will manifest the power of the Spirit of God.

We have seen that the Spirit bestows gifts upon all believers. In our next study we will see what these gifts are and how they should be used. Let me close by asking you: what is your gift or gifts? Would you like to know? Are you interested in finding out? The Corinthians were very interested--too much so we heard. The problem many of us have is that we are not interested enough in this subject.

If you are a Christian, God has given you at least one gift. First of all, the greatest of all Gifts: His Own dear Son Who loved you and gave Himself for you. But having received the gift of salvation by faith, receive also the gifts of service--those talents, or that one talent--whereby you may do something in His Church and Kingdom to the glory of His holy Name and the benefit of your neighbour.

Additional Info

  • Audio: 1205155723
  • Speaker: Rev. C. Pronk
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