Agonizomai: 1Cor 12:8-11 - Christ In, Not Instead Of, You

Friday, July 25, 2008

1Cor 12:8-11 - Christ In, Not Instead Of, You

8-11 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

At this stage it is well to bear in mind, then, that Paul is educating the Corinthians about spiritual gifts, and not about natural talents. Many people have worldly wisdom and knowledge, for example, but that is not what is being spoken of here. Nor is medicinal or naturopathic talent, magical powers, fortune telling, spiritism, or ecstatic speech - all of which were and are in the world quite apart from the gifting of the Holy Spirit. Some of these things are natural/psychological and some are demonic. None constitutes what Paul is speaking about.

But it would also be a mistake to think that the spiritual gifts are manifested in some sort of trance or through a form of altered consciousness that is divorced from our normal humanity. The mind is a vehicle - reason and sense are vehicles - good things given by God and only corrupted by the natural man’s unrestrained carnal nature. After regeneration, and under the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit and the Word, there is a gradual sanctification of the mind and the reason, aligning it with the will of God. It is through the process of this sanctification of the whole man, by faith, through the Spirit, that the spiritual gifts are displayed. Some are more evidently supernatural than others, but all are reasonable, by God’s standards, and also to us, when mixed with faith.

Preserving the balance between the fact that the gifts are supernatural and the fact that they are manifested in "reasonable" human beings - that they are received by faith and yet involve the mind - helps in not going off on some tangent of hyper-spirituality that ends in unproductiveness. The Corinthians lost sight of the balance and ended up in a place where strong correction was needed. Genuine gifts were being misused and counterfeit gifts were being tolerated.

It’s hard to think of genuine gifts of the Spirit of God being misused. But the gifts of God are without repentance. Apparently genuine children of God may seriously misuse gifts, from which it can be gathered that the gifts are not micromanaged by God in the sense of them being some sort of mediumistic experience. We, the saints are both involved and responsible. We can mess up. We can go astray and yet the gifts will not be taken away. However, if we stray far enough and if we grieve the Spirit badly enough we may find that we ourselves no longer care to use them, or we become so ambivalent, confused or even guilty that they are useless for God’s redemptive and sanctifying purposes in the church and the world.

So whatever the gifts are (and they are mentioned by name here), though they are irrevocable and though they may be misused, they are given according to the Holy Spirit’s will. We may earnestly desire, and presumably petition for, the gifts - especially those of teaching and preaching, but the very fact that these must be petitioned speaks to the fact that they lie at God’s absolute sovereign disposal to give or to withhold as He sees fit.

Spiritual gifts are parallel to mental and physical abilities. We are born with certain attributes and nothing we do can give us talents that we did not have from the womb. If we have no ear for music we may still play an instrument or sing, but we cannot aspire to being a Bach or a Pavarotti no matter how hard we work. Some of that process is beyond our own ability to control. As children of God we were all given certain spiritual abilities when we were born into the kingdom of God. We are each made to display the attributes of God in various degrees and mixtures because, like living clock parts we have been made to fill a unique place in the church, and for eternity, that no other created being can fulfil. As every diamond has its own glory, so we each reflect the glorious light of God uniquely through the exercise of His gifts. Of course, we are not inanimate, insensate, robotic things - we are living, moral beings with wills and feelings, and this makes the whole process that much more amazing and wondrous.

The gifts mentioned here are as follows:
1) the utterance of wisdom

2) the utterance of knowledge

3) faith (meaning unusual and prolific manifestations of faith)

4) gifts of healing

5) the working of miracles

6) prophecy

7) the ability to distinguish between spirits

8) various kinds of tongues (meaning actual earthly languages not learned in childhood or by means of education)

9) the interpretation of tongues (meaning the ability to interpret in the mother tongue of the giftee, the meaning of communications spoken in an earthly language not learned in childhood or by means of education).
At least half of these gifts involve the spoken language - the tongue, if you like. And though, when genuine or when used properly they are beneficial to the body of believers, they are particularly susceptible to counterfeit or abuse. They must be tested. They must be adjudged by those who are mature and not received wholesale like a gannet swallowing a goby.

Also, the fact that there are wide disagreements and that there is a general lack of consensus about exactly what some of these gifts actually were is itself an indicator that at least some of the gifts have not been with the church since the first century. Some will say that this is the church’s fault for lack of faith and faithfulness, and others that it is God’s design - that some of the gifts were given only for a short time. It is clear, for example that Luther, Calvin, Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, A.A. Hodge and the massive preponderance of historical fathers back to the second century all believed that certain gifts faded away after the Apostolic age by the deliberate purpose of God.

Down through the ages, there have always been a few - mostly heretics - who have claimed that the sign gifts were still given (Marcion was one) - but there was no significant or accepted leader or group who actually believed this until the holiness movement arose in the latter half of the nineteenth Century and gave birth to Pentecostalism, which eventually combined with some new age elements to spawn the worst versions of charismatism. Theodore Rosak (not a Christian by any means) called it correctly when he said "Charismatic congregations in main-line churches are entry points into the Aquarian frontier." (Theodore Rosak, "Unfinished Animal: The Aquarian Frontier and the Evolution of Consciousness").

A distinction has to be made between signs gifts and miraculous events. Miracles undoubtedly still occur in answer to prayer or as special dispensations of God’s grace. But people gifted to perform miracles in the same way that Paul or Peter and a few others did in the early days of the church simply do not exist - and any reasonable study of church history must bring agreement that they have not for 19 centuries. Attempts to confute this evidence often lead to ignoring the fact that these were gifts, and people start trying to work up enough faith to manifest the gift, or to claim it - or some such nonsense.

But we just got through seeing that gifts were being misused in Corinth (or counterfeited). Note that the gifts themselves did not disappear on account of their misuse in Corinth - so why assume that they are no longer manifest because of misuse or because of lack of faith on behalf of the later church? The way most find around the facts of history, tradition and the accepted understanding of the Bible on these matters is to invent some sort of pouring out of the Spirit again because the end times are near. A scripture from Joel is generally introduced out of context and tortured in order to back this up.
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.. (Joel 2:28)
But this was expressly recalled by Peter in Acts and spoke of day of Pentecost when the Spirit was given to the church with marvellous demonstrations of power. It was fulfilled once for all at that time. It was the punctuation mark, the heralding, the attestation of God upon the start of the church age and beginnings of the gospel age. But it was never intended that many of these sign gifts should be normative for the church militant down through the ages.

If it had been thus intended, then has the same Spirit that gave the gifts to people in the church body in the first century simply lost the power to do so subsequently? That is a rhetorical question. Of course not! The appearance of the gifts never depended upon us in the first place, even though the responsibility of using the gifts given was ours.

All this said, there are claims by some that the sign gifts still exist today, but the burden of proof lies with the claimers.


Post a Comment

<< Home