Agonizomai: August 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

1Cor 14:33a-35 - No 'Honeymooners' Homily

33b-35 As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Verse 33b is sometimes put with the preceding verse and sometimes here. Does it make more sense to say that God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints? Doesn’t it go without saying that God is the same everywhere and in every way? But when it comes to human behaviour it is quite easy to understand the need to impress uniformity upon us since we all tend to leak out and stray all over the place. We need fences, rules, laws, shepherding, guidance, admonishment, exhortation and the occasional rebuke just to keep in the way. Otherwise we dumb sheep know how to do nothing else but stray. And so, it seems most likely that this phrase "as in all the churches of the saints " refers to the behaviour of women in the public assembly.

This is a subject that often generates far more heat than light. Radical feminism, the abdication of leadership roles by men and political correctness combine with the worst elements and sentiments of male domination, control and power thinking to create a poisoned atmosphere of either acrimony or of misguided and non-Biblical so-called "tolerance." But there can be only one right way of understanding what the Bible says and, for evangelicals (and I would argue, for Christians in general) the Bible must be the only rule of faith and practice. And that must hold regardless of how we personally feel about its edicts.

The law to which Paul refers here is generally taken to be Genesis 3:16. It is a creation ordinance - and also one confirmed after the fall of man. This is important to note, because such things are not subsequently repealed anywhere in the Bible. God made the world in a certain way with a certain order and, from the beginning he created them husband and wife with clearly defined roles. It is a matter of order, which is the very subject that Paul is hammering home again and again to the disorganized, chaotic, confused and willful Corinthians.

What has been going on in Corinth? What was going on there that was different from what was acceptable elsewhere? Well, elsewhere the women were to have no role in the general assembly that involved the speaking or instructional process. Why? Women were not to teach men because such an arrangement violated the creation order. It was a confusion of roles. Adam was created first and Eve came after because it was not good for him to be alone. Eve was created and appointed as a helpmeet for Adam. She was not an afterthought. She was not a consolation prize. She was not a slave. She was just as much essential to humanity as Adam. They were equal in value but different in the roles they were to fulfill and in their physical and emotional constitution, by which they were naturally fitted to carry out those roles.

No doubt Eve was not absolutely devoid of physical strength, nor of logic, nor yet detached reason. Nor was Adam devoid of sensitivity, emotion or gentleness. And men and women since have all shared the same broad range of physical and emotional assets in greater or lesser proportions but - and this is the but that trips many up - men and women, whatever their personal traits, are essentially different in the roles that God assigned to them both in Eden, and in the fallen world that arose because of disobedience. And they differ constitutionally according to their sex because God equipped them for these different roles.

There are often exceptions to general rules in the Bible, and the vastly preponderant and irrefutable teaching about the creation order and the differing roles of men and women is sometimes superseded. This is God’s prerogative but it is never ours. Thus Miriam and Huldah can prophesy - apparently to the congregation or to the elders. Deborah can show leadership. Esther can show initiative and courage. But the unprejudiced eye will look not upon what God occasionally causes for specific reasons, but upon what He has ordained for the general wellbeing and order of His creation and His creatures. He has the right to vary his ordinances because He is both omniscient and omnipotent but we, as dependent and derivative creatures do not.

This all needs to be put into the context of what was being manifested in the Corinthian church, and how this differed from what was acceptable in all the churches - and why. The Corinthians were going against God’s demonstrated and ordained desire for things to be done in an orderly manner. God is a God of order and He is not the author of confusion. Disorder in the church displeases Him and it dishonours Him because it misrepresents Him. If the church claims to be the temple of the Living God and behaves like a rabble, or displays chaotic, unbridled frenzied, uncontrolled, emotive, sensational behaviour just like the pagans - then where is the God of peace, order, self-control, humility and gentleness to be seen?

If the church claims to honour God’s creative order yet that order is nowhere to be observed in public worship because women are instructing the whole assembly, including the men - a practice even the pagans think of as shameful - then how is God being seen to be heeded? Note well that this is not, repeat NOT a matter of custom or culture. It is a matter of creation order and of obedience to God by observing that order in public worship in the church.

Plainly put "women should keep silent in the churches" means that they ought not to lead, but to take on the submissiveness of their ordained role so that God’s order is not only maintained but is seen to be maintained by all within and without.

Not only this, but the spiritual leadership of the church, involving teaching and preaching, is reserved for men alone. And the same goes for the home. The head of the woman is the man and the head of the man is Christ. This can mean nothing other than the fact that the spiritual leadership of the home falls to the man and the spiritual leadership of the church falls to the men in the church. No female pastors and no female elders. Also, there should be no female teachers of adult men. Anyone who resists, contravenes, ignores, counsels against or deliberately disobeys these clear instructions is failing to accept the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice for the Christian. They are behaving disorderly and are wreaking havoc in Christ’s church.

And there is no shortage of examples in today’s church of those who find ways to reinvent, reinterpret, twist and misuse scripture on this very point for the sake of their own agenda - be that radical feminism, cultural assimilation or any number of other things. The teaching is quite plain and it takes some mighty quick and slick footwork to avoid what is plainly stated, yet there is no shortage of those who are willing to try.

Paul cleared the whole matter up in his rebukes to the Corinthians. His appeal was to the scripture and the scripture has not changed. It was then as it now remains a matter of order - God’s ordained and created order - being manifested to His glory within the church and home.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Be Careful What You Pray For
I believe there is not a child of God, when in a good frame, but has prayed for great humility; they have prayed for great faith, they have prayed for great love, they have prayed for all the graces of the Spirit: Do ye know, when ye put us these prayers, that ye did also say, Lord send us great trials: for how is it possible to know ye have great faith, humility and love, unless God put you into great trials, that ye may know whether ye have them or not.

From the sermon "Marks of a True Conversion" by George Whitefield

Friday, August 29, 2008

1Cor 14:29-33a - The Way God Works in Us

29-33a Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33a For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

Context - the assembly of the church for public worship and fellowship. In the early church the model was similar to the synagogue, where every mature male could be heard. Scripture might be read and some commentary made upon it. Some insight regarding the passage might be put forward or discussed - always subject to the collective wisdom of the assembled body of men - especially those who were leaders and teachers.

The church was not radically different from this in format. Christianity was, for the first few decades at least, regarded as a Jewish sect, and not as a separate religion. Its roots were Jewish. Its governing mechanism was essentially Jewish, with an eldership comprised exclusively of men who were mature in the faith.

These are admittedly outward similarities related to form. Inwardly, the church was and is different in one major sense - that Jesus Christ is its head. Not that Jesus wasn’t also the de facto head of the old time religion - just that He has been declared Son of God in power by the Spirit through His resurrection from the dead. The foreshadowed and prophesied had now become historical reality. What had been partially hidden was now revealed for all time. God’s self-revelation for this world was complete.

But this self-revelation needed to be forthtold. It needed to be understood by the church in the context of God’s prior revelation to Israel. For this purpose, the Spirit gave gifts to men - that the whole church might be edified and their faith deepened through having opened up to their understanding the hand of God upon history for His express purposes of the eventual revelation of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Creation and Saviour of the world. The glory of God in Christ is magnified in such a way, as His people gain a deeper and deeper understanding of His character, power and purposes from the beginning of time to the end. This is the chief purpose of the Holy Spirit’s ministry - not to make Himself known, but to reveal Jesus Christ in all things to the glory of God the Father.

Thus there are men in the church to whom this expositional, this revelatory, this preaching gift has been given from the very outset. But note how this gift works, because it will help us to understand how all the gifts work. This gift does not work absent the will, rationality, critical thinking and discernment of all involved. A man cannot claim to be speaking Spirit given or inspired revelation - he cannot claim to be forthtelling or preaching infallible truth without this being tested by others. Men are not oracles. God gives to no one absolute infallibility. Scripture is rife with this truth. The only Infallible One is Jesus Christ. All others fail the test. Noah, Lot, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Caleb, Elijah, David, Peter and all the other Apostles - you name them - all fall short. And to miss in a single point is to fall infinitely short the infinite perfection of Christ.

Old Testament Prophets were only "infallible" inasmuch as their utterances came true, and people were to look for this proof and to act towards the prophet accordingly. If it did not come true then God had not spoken - He had not put that word in the mouth of the prophet. Testing was an integral part of the process. Supernatural revelation came through fallible human agency, which needed to be tested. True revelation passed the test.

In the church, God’s revealing of Christ in the writings where He had previously been only foreshadowed is given through human agency; fallible human agency. As such it needs to be examined, tested and proven. The way that happens in the church is for others to be Bereans and for spiritually gifted men to check what has been asserted against what God has already said. Note, then, that this does not mean the Spirit of God is fallible, but that God chooses to speak through fallible human beings and that He permits error for our good - that we might learn to be watchful and discerning. The exercise of the New Testament Spiritual gifts is not exempt from this.

Also, good order is again emphasised. There may have been a number of people who believed they had something to say from God, but they had each to take a turn - and if someone got a revelation in the midst of someone else’s delivery they were to wait until the first had finished, and not burst forth with an interruption.

Once more we see that spiritual gifts are governed in their use by sanctified human faculties, such as self-control. It’s called self-control for a reason, even though such a thing is fruit of the Spirit; that reason is that the Spirit will not exercise self-control for a person. The person must do it. And I hope it is seen that Spiritual gifts are not manifested by "taking over" of a person’s consciousness or will, like a form of possession. There is no loss of control, no blanking out of the mind or abdication of the normal faculties that make us human. Possession is Satan’s imitation of Gods’ indwelling Spirit, and the graces and gifts that He brings. The Holy Spirit is gentle; He leads and woos and influences - He does not force or coerce or possess.

That’s not to say that He never acts in Sovereign power because He always does so - just that His means and His characteristic touch are amazingly gentle and self-effacing, as a general rule. The Holy Spirit is God, after all - and though He has a different function and is a separate Person from the Father and the Son, He is nevertheless one substance with them both. As such He shows Himself to be the same - gentle, but able to exhibit great power. Patient, but not without limit. Generally deferent towards His creatures, but always reserving sovereign authority unto Himself.

Indeed, God is not so much stated here to be a God of order (though he is that) as much as a God of peace; peace as opposed to confusion. Quietness, stillness, gentleness, patience and forbearance. God is longsuffering. He prefers that all things proceed without strife or noise and confusion - but He is not averse to showing wrath and thunder and destruction when it is indicated. And in His own House, in the Body of believers who are His temple, God sues for and will ultimately ensure that all is done according to His preference.

He therefore holds up to His church at Corinth in this admonishment from Paul His desire that all things be done without confusion and in good order - carefully and in a self-controlled manner. The commandment will soon enough bear its own fruit by those who heed it, with the aid of the grace and the Spirit of God.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bowing Before Transcedence
"If we regard this event, not as an effect of chance, not as a fatal necessity of nature, but as a result inevitable, just, holy, of a decree of His Providence, conceived from all eternity, to be executed in such a year, day, hour, and such a place and manner, we shall adore in humble silence the impenetrable loftiness of His secrets; we shall venerate the sanctity of His decrees; we shall bless the acts of His providence; and uniting our will with that of God Himself, we shall wish with Him, in Him and for Him, the thing that He has willed in us and for us for all eternity."

Blaise Pascal - writing to a bereaved friend.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Hit number 1,000 comes to us from a server in Reno, Nevada.

Welcome to Agonizomai and enjoy the site.

Approaching A Milestone

As of the time of writing the Agonizomai web site has had over 990 hits since re-opening in February. Some Christian blogs get that many hits in a week. But I like it this way. It keeps me humbled and away from the fruitless arguments that can take over some comment sections in the blogosphere. This is, after all a devotional blog and not a deeply theological one.

I'm glad that there are a few people who seem to like and benefit from what is said here. Over 25% of those who visit spend more than one minute here; 15% spend more than an hour. And a quarter of all hits are from return visitors. We are likely to pass the 1,000 hit marker later today. I'll post the name of the town of the server of the person who makes the 1,000th hit.

1Cor 14:26-28 - Hold Your Tongue!

26-28 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.
The gifts were given to the church in variety to different members so that each could exercise them. Here, Paul deals with gifts involving speech and information. Note the word "INFORM-ation." Much has been made of the intent of the language gifts (preaching, teaching and tongues) as means by which the whole church is edified. Paul does not wish to denigrate the gift of tongues because it is, after all, a gift of the Spirit of God to the church of Jesus Christ. He merely wishes that gift to be used properly whenever they are assembled together and in a timely and appropriate manner, benefitting all members.

The same Spirit gives impetus for one to praise with a hymn, inspires another to give a lesson drawn from the gospel and another to shed light upon the scripture and its revelation of Christ in the Law and the Prophets. Similarly, the Holy Spirit would preach through tongue speakers, if indeed it was the Spirit Who moved them to utter, and this was perfectly acceptable when done in good order and when whatever was said was interpreted for the benefit of all.

Tongue speaking was not to dominate the meeting or to intrude upon common sense and good order by which the minds of those present were provided with something spiritually useful. And Paul is emphatic in this - that tongue speakers ought to be utterly silent where no interpreter was present. And he means utterly silent. None of this speaking just low enough or moving the lips in a whispered but plainly non-natural sound so that those around get the impression that you are truly a gifted and spiritual person. Anathema! Just shut up and stuff it completely. It isn’t like occultic automatic writing where the person is taken over by a force he has no power to control. That is not God’s way, nor is it the way His gifts work. They work through people exercising their natural functions of choice and volition. The same Spirit that gives the gift produces the fruit of self-control by which the gift is administered.

The exhortation to keep silent and to "speak to himself and to God" is in no way an endorsement of the idea that tongues are a private prayer language that has no correlation with any earthly tongue. That is a tragic twisting of the sense of the text. What Paul is implying is that God, Who understands all languages because He knows what the heart is intending, is the only one present in the meeting who can receive anything from uninterpreted tongues. If a person prays silently in Senegalese in the meeting - well, God speaks that language and is not the least bit fazed by it. But the others have no use for it. And the proper understanding of Paul’s command to use the gift in private may be that it should be exercised at home, rather than in the public meeting, if there is no interpreter available.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Decisionism Distrusted
…God works through preaching. Our problem today is that we really don't believe that. It is after the message that we come to "the most important part of the service." At pastor's seminars instructions are given how to use the invitation time to "sneak up" on people and "get them to come forward" and "make a decision." All of this betrays a woeful mistrust of God's appointed means of grace.

From "The Altar Call" - © Word of Life Baptist Church, Pottsville, PA

Monday, August 25, 2008

1Cor 14:21-25 - Echoes of Babel?

21-25 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

In verse 12, Paul referred to the Corinthians’ eagerness for manifestations of the Spirit. What he means is overt, supernatural sign gifts - particularly tongues, which is what seemed to mesmerize them and capture their attention. Now Paul deals with the nature of this sign of "tongues" by citing the scripture.

He quotes a prophecy from Isaiah 28:11-12 and applies it directly to the case in point at Corinth, and to the new testament church in general. Isaiah was speaking to the Jews and not to Gentiles - so how are we to understand this in a Gentile context like Corinth? Isn’t the whole point of the gift of tongues to communicate the wonders of the gospel to people of foreign lands - many of whom might be Jewish proselytes, but many of whom also would be pagans?

And here we must distinguish between tongues as a genuine means of communication and tongues as a supernatural sign purporting to induce, or to bolster faith. This is the very essence of Paul’s point - that faith comes by hearing the word of God (or by hearing Christ preached) and not by outward manifestations or signs, or miracles. This is why he puts such a premium upon preaching and teaching and insists that tongues must communicate actual gospel information to people who can actually understand the message.

The Greeks look for knowledge and philosophy and the Jews seek signs but Paul preaches Christ crucified - foolishness to the Greeks and the stone of stumbling to the Jews. God knew this long before it happened. He knew that the Jews would demand miraculous signs because they would not listen to the plain truth in the Person of Christ and in the gospel preached by Him and His followers. But God was saying that they ought to have believed based on the message alone, without the signs. They were His people to whom had been given the prophets and the sacred writings containing His very laws and thoughts and purposes.

And it is precisely in the context of not hanging hopes or putting emphasis on signs like tongues for the sheer manifestation of itself that Paul speaks. He points to Isaiah and God’s promise that the Jews would hear their very God - the one Whom they purported to love and obey - they would hear Him speak (by the Spirit) through men in non-Hebrew language and, even though they demanded signs from Jesus during His incarnation, they would not believe even when given signs. It happened in the Lord’s ministry and it happened in the early church at Pentecost. Yes some - as many as 3,000 - did believe - but this was a drop in the bucket and many of them were the foreigners in Jerusalem for the feast, and not the native populace.

The Jews unwittingly fulfilled the Isaiah prophecy, proving that signs themselves are not the means of changing an unbelieving heart. Preaching and teaching Christ in His gospel are. So, based on Isaiah 28 tongues as a sign are given not to create belief, but to convict or condemn the unbelieving Jews. They were hoisted by their own petard, having demanded signs they missed the very signs they were given, despite the forewarning that they would do precisely that.

In the same way that tongues as a sign (emphasis - as a sign) were condemnation to unbelieving Jews - so prophecy (and by this we mean the new testament phenomenon of the inspired preaching of the Word) as a sign is confirmation of the truth to believers. Why? Because the truth is spiritually discerned. The Spirit speaks the truth in the mouth of the preacher, and the Spirit witnesses to that truth in the heart and mind of the believing hearer. So when a believer hears the Spirit of Truth through the preacher’s words, he is built up in faith and receives assurance.

So signs themselves have a place, but that place is governed by what the Word says, and never vice versa.

So, once more we speak of tongues as a sign - that is for their outward manifestation of supernatural activity - and we speak in the context of the public meeting. It may be a worship or an evangelistic meeting (if any distinction needs to be made) - but here Paul seems to refer to the evangelistic aspects. The Corinthians are so enamoured of manifestations that, not only are they open to the false - but also vulnerable to misuse of the real. You can see this today in meetings such as those at the TACF and in similar charismatic groups where people show up looking to see manifestations or to be slain in the spirit, overcome by laughter or even to bark and bray like animals. They seek manifestations and experiences rather than truth delivered by the Spirit through the inspired preaching of Christ. A simple comparison of the time and detail devoted to the sermon and the time devoted to visible, audible and emotion-driven experiences in such meetings ought to immediately give a clue as to the scriptural validity of the approach.

And, as proof that everything old is new again or that there is nothing new under the sun we can at once see the parallel between such modern misapplications and those in Corinth nearly 2,000 years ago. Paul isn’t speaking about a hypothetical situation when he pictures a whole church supposedly "manifesting" when non-Christians who may have been invited wander in. The immediate picture is one of confusion where it ought to be one of orderly and rational conduct. Not unemotional conduct - but conduct where the emotions are governed by the rational mind exercising self-control for the benefit of all. The laughing revival of Toronto, along with its antecedents, spin-offs and copycats gives us some idea of how Paul saw the Corinthian church. A cacophony that would persuade rational visitors that madmen had been set loose. In place of a witness to the risen Christ they would see a roomful of uncontrolled people glorying in immediate experiences without any semblance of order or control; an inordinate and unhealthy emphasis upon outward supernatural signs rather than upon the truth of the word preached under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Now, in the context of the early church where meetings were often small and secretive - held in the homes of believers - Paul says that it would be preferable that all prophesy (meaning preach). Paul means that it is far better that believers preach the gospel, in agreement with the scriptures, because people wandering in (or people coming by invitation) would be edified in plain language and an opportunity would be provided thereby for the Spirit to move in the hearts of hearers - through the understanding of the mind. Instead of chaos - instruction and revelation; in place of self-absorbed infatuation with the external manifestations of the miraculous, the far greater miracle of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Words of truth uttered by every believer in order and renewing inner men, unseen - but not without ultimate evidence. Instead of the childish desire to walk by sight and feeling, the mature and quiet walk of obedient faith that trusts God to do what He promised to do.

Order, truth, faith - self control and the focus upon Jesus and what has been provided in Him - these are God’s own means (through His church) of convicting sinful hearts. Witness by Word and in behaviour. The Spirit working in His people to call His people out from the world. He honours His way. He works in His way and the church must follow that way in order to bear fruit.

So how is a visitor to see the living God among us? Is it by supernatural manifestations? Is that what does the trick? Do these things convict? No! They put the focus on the wrong thing. They fascinate, they distract. What convicts - and it could hardly be any plainer that what Paul says here - what convicts and brings glory and people to God is the preaching of Christ under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by those so gifted by him in the church. As a consequence, our churches ought to be filled to overflowing with preaching and teaching instead of such things being relegated to 15 or 20 minutes once a week - and God help the preacher who goes past that!

The word discerns the hearts of people. It convicts. It is the God appointed means by which men are saved. Nothing else. Not manifestations. Not miracles. The Word preached.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

1Cor 14:15-20 - The Point is Communication

15-20 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

Putting himself in the place of the manifestation-seeking, tongues-gifted Corinthians Paul asks the rhetorical question, "What should I do?" What he means is to teach them what they, and all similar Christians should do in like circumstances. He says he will pray with his spirit (manifesting the gift), but will pray with his mind also (using the gift properly for the benefit of all). Just as praise arises from the heart due to the presence of the Holy Spirit within and finds expression in song carried by words which communicate ideas about God - so must tongue-speaking be.

It may be that the tongue-speaker is actually giving thanks to God in an unknown tongue and is, thereby, expressing a genuine concept "in the spirit." But so what? Quite aside from the question of how God is pleased by us uttering something that is nonsense to our own understanding, if it is also nonsense to the understanding of all those fellowshiping with us in worship then where is God’s pleasure to be found? Worship apart from understanding is absolutely pointless, and therefore ultimately meaningless. As Paul states, no one is able to say "Amen" with any sincerity if they do not know what was said.

Again, Paul indicates that "in the spirit" a person may (note may) actually be saying "thank you" words in some foreign language but nobody can share in that worship apart from understanding what was said.

Paul apparently had the gift of tongues. This would have been useful to him in his particular metier. It seems he reveals that he uses it quite a bit - so you can be sure that when he does use it, he conforms to his own advice and teaching. But in church especially - that is when the saints are gathered together for worship and fellowship - he would much rather use his mind to prophesy to the brethren things he understands and that will be of benefit to all in attendance. He so values cogent and thoughtful teaching above uninterpreted tongue-speaking that he gives a ratio of five cogent words to ten thousand unintelligible ones (2000:1) for dramatic effect.

So his whole point comes back to the underlying principles that the spiritually mature ought to understand. Gifts are for the benefit of the whole church, and due consideration of how this can be shown is vitally important, especially when the church is gathered together. It’s not about us and our gift, or about being seen or heard for ourselves - it’s about God desiring to bless others in us through the gifts given to us. Paul wants the Corinthians to grow up. It’s time to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves. It is the nature of the mature Christian to be harmless and meek and gentle and self-effacing - but not if it is a cover for being simplistic and childish. Be child-like - not child-ish. Behave harmlessly, but do not be naive. Be peaceable, but never make peace with sin or error.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Free Will Costs a Lot
"The greatest judgment which God Himself can, in this present life, inflict upon a man is, to leave him in the hand of his own boasted free-will."

Augustus Toplady

Friday, August 22, 2008

1Cor 14:12-14 - Blank Mind = Bad Theology

12-14 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. 13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.

In being careful to attest from scripture that Biblical tongues are always an actual earthly language, one must be careful not to denigrate the gift itself. It is a supernatural manifestation from God the Holy Spirit given to actual people in the church. It seems to be such that the people so gifted often did not themselves understand what they were saying. So they were speaking meaningful things about the glories of God in Jesus Christ in an actual language, but not with their understanding. It was for demonstrating and presenting the gospel to people from other lands - that they might hear and believe.

But it was a gift that could be used even in the company of people who were countrymen of the tongue-speaker; it could be used in the church but, as strongly pointed out by Paul, it wasn’t much use to anyone unless somebody could understand it and interpret it for everyone else - so that all might be edified. To this end Paul encouraged tongue-speakers to pray for the power to interpret themselves what they said in the foreign tongue. The alternative - absent interpretation, was to keep silent.

Now, to the question of praying in a tongue being "spirit prayer" without the engagement of the mind - we need to be careful. Christianity nowhere endorses putting the mind in neutral and going with the flow. That sort of thing has more in common with Eastern occultic mysticism. While it is true that genuine tongue-speaking was a supernatural manifestation and that it was a language often not understood by the speaker (unless he had the gift of interpretation) the thrust of Paul’s whole argument about tongues is precisely that the mind must be engaged and edified by the whole process. He is not saying "throw your mind to the wind and float in the Spirit," but rather "if the Spirit is not edifying the mind then don’t bother."

So we need to avoid falling into the trap of those who want to make verses like this tell us to blank our brains and not look for meaning. Rather, we should insist that, unless the meaning can be made plain so that the mind is informed then the practice ought not to be allowed in fellowship and worship. Only the enemy would ever have the audacity to stand God’s plain meaning here on it’s head and insist that it says the very opposite of Paul’s teaching - thereby encouraging Christians to think that lack of understanding with the mind is not only permissible, but actually desirable.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fenelon on Coveting the Gifts
Nothing is so flattering to self-love (as the desire to have extraordinary revelations, which may be regarded as supernatural gifts, and a mark of the special favor of God); all the greatness of the world at once could not so inflate the heart; these supernatural gifts nourish in secret the life of nature. It is an ambition of the most refined character, as it is wholly spiritual; but it is merely ambition; a desire to feel, to enjoy, to posses God and his gifts, to behold his light, to discern spirits, to prophesy, in short, to be an extraordinarily gifted person; for the enjoyment of illuminations and delights, leads the soul little by little towards a secret coveting of all these things.

Francois de Salignac de la Mothe Fenelon - "Spiritual Progress" - Chapter XXIV

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

1Cor 14:6-11 - Hammerin' Tongues

6-11 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.

Still harping on the need for language to actually communicate meaning to others, and putting tongue-speaking squarely in the category of communication, Paul absolutely insists once more that tongues spoken in the assembly of believers must be spoken only for the purpose of edifying others in a way that they can both receive and understand. Paul could come to the Corinthians speaking in some Swahili dialect and look very spiritual and miraculous and purport to show the power of the Holy Spirit upon him, but what good would that do for the congregation? It would be all very demonstrative and experiential and dramatic but it wouldn’t help anyone. It might do harm. It might get the focus on Paul and how great a Christian he must be to have been given such a showy gift. Where would Christ be in all of that?

Again, let us assume Paul is giving the speakers the benefit of the doubt. He is addressing those who have the genuine gift, but who are misusing it. But there are others who, coming out of pagan society, and being quite used to the idea of ecstatic speech or utterances as a manifestation of pagan spirituality do not actually have the gift at all, but are merely imitating the real thing. They assume that tongues are the same as they had become used to in their unredeemed state and, wishing to appear more spiritual than they really are, simply import the practice into the church. Thus appeared so-called tongues that were not actually any language at all, but merely noise and gibberish concocted by the human mind and emotion as a show, or for self-aggrandizing or self-ingratiating reasons.

Paul is quite clear about tongue-speaking and draws very succinct analogies. The voice is an instrument for communicating information, and information is only useful if the receiver understands what is being said. The Holy Spirit is the communicator and not the giftee. The Spirit’s main purpose is to communicate Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. By "communicate" is meant a whole range of riches, but specifically by making Jesus known through the Word preached and taught. The Holy Spirit, being the God Who is not a God of confusion, but of order, does not waste human effort by having people communicate what cannot be understood. (People may do that, but the Holy Spirit does not.) Christ is not revealed to anyone (speaker or hearer) in gibberish or in uninterpreted language. Does it sound like God when confusion or futility reigns? I trow not - and neither troweth Paul.

Verse 10 tends to confirm the fact that tongues as a gift of the Holy Spirit are always actual languages, as spoken by earth-dwellers - languages which carry existing meaning in every word for those who grew up native to that language. Ergo - no angelic, or baby prayer, or ecstatic utterances are inferred in true Biblical tongue-speaking.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Evidence and Work of the Holy Spirit
It is the glory of the Spirit to uplift the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The mark of the Spirit-filled church is not a church that talks about the Spirit, it is a church that talks about Christ. The mark of the Spirit-filled person is not a person who is concerned and talking continually about the Spirit, but it is a person who is concerned and talking continually about the glory of Jesus Christ. This is the work of the Spirit in our lives.

Ray C. Stedman

Monday, August 18, 2008

1Cor 14:5 - Preach It, Brother!

5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Why on earth would Paul want all the Corinthians to speak in tongues? What would be the point? It would be to communicate to people of other languages and cultures and dialects the wonders of the gospel. But he has already explained - and here reiterates - that if they all prophesied it would be better.

Now before we go building a whole theology on a single verse and saying that all believers should at least want to speak in tongues because Paul said so (but, not curiously that we should all want to prophesy, for the same reason) let’s put it in perspective ... or make sure we keep it there. "Not all speak in tongues, do they?" "God has appointed first Apostles and prophets..." Remember those verses? Not everybody has or will have all the gifts. God decides. So Paul’s "want" is just that - Paul’s want. His desire is that they have as much of the gifts as God allows and his hope is for an overflowing abundance of them. But he still puts the forthtelling of God’s word in their own native language as number one. Is the message getting home yet?

The Spiritual gifts are for the building up of the body of believers; tongues can do this when interpreted - even when interpreted by the speaker of the tongue, because he/she would then actually be prophesying. But the best gifts are those which instruct and elighten and inform the whole body about the wonders of the gospel and God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

Speaking in tongues in public worship without an interpretation is unedifying to the body and must therefore not be done. I personally don’t think it ought even to be done as some sort of half-under-the-breath muttering that informs those in the immediate vicinity of the “great spirituality”, the gifting and the "restraint" of the giftee. I just think people should exercise the self-control that God gave them.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gibberish in Reformation Times
"Similarly, every Christian must be warned that when he hears them garbling as they do -- he must cut them off immediately at the spigot and say to them: 'Either speak the language that the Lord has taught us and which He uses in His Scriptures -- or go speak to the rocks and trees!'"

John Calvin - (speaking of the Anabaptist's Quintinist, pseudo-Pentecostalistic manifestation of their unintelligible "special language")

Saturday, August 16, 2008

1Cor 14:1-4 - Another Tongue Lashing

1-4 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.

The pre-eminence of love as the founding motivation in everything is continued here where Paul says "Pursue love..." first, before adding "and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts." It is, after all, the giver and not the gift that we truly seek. It is relationship that is important, and not manifestation purely of and for itself. To pursue in order to obtain for oneself is the very antithesis of the sort of love Paul is speaking of. If we pursue Love Himself, then in desiring the gifts we shall want them, not for ourselves, but for the purpose of ministry to others, which is their true purpose. And which is plainly not the purpose demonstrated by the improper use of tongues in worship and fellowship in the Corinthian church.

And, as if to punctuate the relative unimportance of tongues as an edifying gift for the church, Paul exhorts the church to especially desire to prophesy. This is not, repeat NOT, speaking of that prophesy which foretells what God will do in the future, but the prophesy which forthtells God’s already revealed will in His Word. This is how the whole body is built up - by God the Holy Spirit gifting the church with people in whom the prophetic gift has been implanted - so that they may open up God’s Word to the church and discover to all the riches and glory of Jesus Christ, Who is what the scriptures are all about from start to finish. And it is the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit not to draw attention to Himself, but to manifest Christ to His people - and, in them, before the whole world.

Expanding upon the relative uselessness of tongues as an edifier for the whole body of believers (remember, the context is still public assembly and worship) in verse 4 Paul states the obvious - that a foreign language spoken to those who do not know it - though it may contain wonderful truths about Jesus - is unable to edify them. The language is not more important than the message. Information must be intelligible to the hearer or it is simply noise.

Now, some take the statement that "he who speaks in a tongue builds himself up" to mean that, by some mysterious spiritual process, a person speaking noises that he cannot himself understand is building himself up in the knowledge of God. That is, frankly, a gibberish all of its own. Human understanding is built up by comprehension, not by mysticism. Take the whole thing in context again and perhaps you will see sarcasm here - a device not at all alien to Paul. The emphasis of Paul’s point is to show upon whom the focus of the activity ought to be. People who sound off in unintelligible noise can have only themselves as a focus because, by definition, they are not edifying anybody else.

Let us say that the genuine gift of tongues is being manifested in the church. It is a gift of the Spirit of God. Can that gift be misused? Of course it can. The misuse says nothing about the Giver, nor of the validity of the gift - it says something about the recipient of the gift. A genuine tongues speaker, when sounding off in the congregation cannot be speaking to the congregation in any meaningful sense of speech unless they understand what is being uttered. But God understands all languages so what is being spoken, if genuine, is only a mystery to the surrounding congregation; it is no mystery to God. But tongues are not a gift to God, but from God for ministry to men. What use is it to speak to God without our own understanding of the truths that we are uttering about Jesus Christ? God already knows because He is the truth. We cannot know because we do not understand. The congregation cannot know because they do not understand. Where’s the benefit?

Again, communication in tongues is not meant to mystify, but to edify. Language communicates content to those who hear it. The gift of tongues communicates the wonderful things of God in Christ to real people who speak that very language. If there are none present, and no interpreter, then tongues are being used uselessly and the motivation of the speaker is suspect; under such conditions, it cannot be love that undergirds it all.

Note, tongues are and always were real languages. Babbling and gibberish and so-called heavenly or angelic language have nothing to do with the gifts of the Spirit and are either pagan infiltrations or misinterpretations of what the Bible has to say on the subject. In any event, majoring on this minor is itself an error - as anyone can tell from the very great pains Paul has taken to set the record straight here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Gospel of Thomas?
Let Your name, not mine, be praised. Let Your work, not mine, be magnified. Let Your holy name be blessed, but let no human praise be given to me. You are my glory. You are the joy of my heart. In You I will glory and rejoice all the day, and for myself I will glory in nothing but my infirmities.

Thomas A Kempis - "Imitation of Christ" - Chapter 3.40

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Power of Magnification
He has so designed humanity that our fulfillment, emotionally and intellectually, is in returning praises to Him. But let us never think that we are doing something to enrich God. He is the God of all riches. All things already belong to Him. We are magnifying glasses through which the Light that He is passes to make Him appear greater. Yet we are not only the glass but also the observer looking through the glass. He is magnified to us through whom He shines, when we praise Him.

"Gleanings" - Volume 15 # 569

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

1Cor 13:8-13 - Stop in the Name of Love

8-13 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Here is a passage often used by cessationists to make the point that the gifts of tongues and knowledge were temporary, and restricted to the Apostolic age. The coming "perfect" is taken to be the completed canon of scripture - so that, once the New Testament is brought forth then the sign gifts disappear. Even as a cessationist I have problems with such an interpretation.

The context is still the motivation for worship and service in the body of Christ. In saying that love never ends Paul is pointing to the eternal, and in mentioning tongues and knowledge he is pointing to the temporal. We are to have an eternal perspective. Our treasure is in heaven to where we look for the coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is our treasure, and what is wrought in Him through the love He bore us, and in the faith He gives us to believe in that love so much that it overflows us here in this veil of tears - these things are eternal. Naturally then, by comparison, all the merely earthly things such as languages and (human) knowledge are destined - no, are ordained - to pass away. Stick with the things that really matter for eternity. Put such things first and all other things will fall into their rightful place.

We are destined to be fully conformed to the image of Christ when we are glorified. Right now we are myopic, sin darkened, heavenly foetuses almost utterly without comprehension of what we shall be. We bumble along, moved by the Spirit, sanctified in the Word - shepherded like dumb sheep towards the final fold that only the True Shepherd really knows. In the eternal by and by our eyes will be gloriously opened to things we never dreamed of and wonders we only caught the faintest scent of during our whole woe-filled, meandering pitiful excuse for lives here and now. We shall see Christ as He truly is - Lord, Author, Creator, Redeemer, Friend, Glorious, Holy, Righteous, Truth and Love and we shall see how everything from the farthest sun to the smallest insect was made by Him and for Him and through Him. We shall comprehend the depths of our depravity and the heights of His grace and mercy and love such that our feeble inklings now will seem but faint wisps of vapour on a far horizon. And this new, dawning apprehension and appreciation of Jesus Christ will expand and grow in us eternally, for in Him are infinite riches and we ourselves shall ever be finite recipients of His never-ending self-revelation.

"So now" or "and now" or "but now" can all be inferred from the Greek expression preceding faith, hope and love in verse 13. Whichever it is, I believe that Paul is still emphasising those graces that will abide not only now, but also eternally. They are graces attendant upon those who have eternal life. It is not as if we are marching to the inexorable end of our earthly lives to wait and see if we shall attain to eternity with God; no, but we who belong to Him have eternal life in the here and now, from the moment we receive Him Who is life itself. Eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ His Son. We don’t wait until we die to know Him - we know Him now and also forevermore. Admittedly our knowledge is flimsy and is only the first step in an infinite journey, but it is the same Life now as it will be eternally.

There is a sense in which faith and hope will be as obsolete as these other temporal things when we are glorified with Him - for faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, so that when we see Him face to face faith is not needed. But there is also some merit to the idea that we shall live eternally by the faith of the Son of God and by faith in the Son of God. I speak not of saving faith, but of that sort of trust that enables, nay engenders in us, eternal peace, joy and contentment in Him. Safe forevermore, with no more tears, no more pain and suffering, no more death. We shall have unshakeable, unimaginable, unfathomable faith that rests and trust God for eternity - a faith that grows unendingly with the knowledge of Him.

Some might think that we have, or that we must have this sort of faith now. To such I say that we do not know ourselves if we think we can do any more than begin to scratch the surface of all that God was doing in Christ in the incarnation and the crucifixion. Our appreciation of these things only begins in the here and now - but the wonder of it stretches to infinity.

And shall we also hope in God for eternity? In some sense, yes. We shall never lack the confident expectation that God will remain faithful to all that He has promised. In eternity our hope will be perfected in perfect resting upon the promises of God - not the least of which is our betrothal to His Son - a joining made by a God who hates divorce, and who will never be the cause of separation; a God who fitted us to be the bride and ensured our perfect suitability and our heartfelt acceptance; a God Whose word is written in the heavens and in our hearts also.

This leads us to the undisputed eternal grace of love. Which quality of God conceived the purpose of creating and saving the bride of Christ? It was the eternal love that is found in God alone. Remember - God is love. Not some love, not a bunch, not a big bunch - it is not quantitative in that sense. God simply is love. All love finds its origin in Him. His love is so unfathomable that it generates outwards towards undeserving creatures absolutely independent of anything in them. He loves the unlovely. While we were yet sinners (rebels, God-haters), Christ died for the ungodly. God paid for His bride with a price we cannot calculate - a price that ransomed we who believe from His fierce and abiding wrath, a wrath which still abides on the rest of mankind.

But this love of God is so rich and free towards those who are in Christ that the fruit of the actions that it has brought forth according to the definite plan of God is a redeemed people conformed to the image of His Son - accepted in Him and for His sake - changed by grace from hateful, proud, evildoers into the very persons that God purposed us to be in Christ before the foundation of the world. It is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful in our sight.

So - see the fruit of God’s love in Christ to usward is love for Him and for the church, and also for all mankind - for His sake. And this is what Paul is driving at, I think, by putting the petty jealousies, cliques, boasting and self-promotion of some in the Corinthian church up against the eternal picture of God’s graces in the overarching plan of redemption - Paul is giving perspective to people. In another letter to the same church Paul will remind them that we are all vessels of God’s glory - not our own {2Co 4:7}, as in this letter; he has already given sound reason why all boasting is excluded
{1Cor 4:7}.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Devotion - Not Infatuation
(That is why) the bedrock of Christianity is personal, passionate devotion to the Lord Jesus. We mistake the ecstasy of our first introduction into the Kingdom for the purpose of God in getting us there; His purpose in getting us there is that we may realize all that identification with Jesus Christ means.

Oswald Chambers - "My Utmost for His Highest - December 23rd"

Monday, August 11, 2008

1Cor 13:4-7 - Up and Out Thru the Overflow

4-7 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I cannot imagine a person less qualified to speak to the subject of having love than myself ... unless every other human being that was ever born, including all those who have been made saints by the grace of God are right alongside me. We are so quick to read here that we must do something in love, and we extrapolate from that that love is somehow generated by us for the actual act.

I don’t think that is what is being spoken of here. It doesn’t say "if I do not do it in love" but "if I have not love (when I do it)," which is an entirely different thing. It is not like I receive a spiritual gift from God that I then have to mix with a love from my own resources in order for it to be applied properly. If that is the case then woe is me. God is love, I’m not. Again, God is love. If I am to apply a spiritual gift in love whose love is at work? God’s or mine?

So if I find myself doing apart from love, and thereby missing the joy of knowing God at work in me, then I go to God and beseech Him for eyes to behold His love for me and for all the saints. I’m not speaking of a momentary mental picture of a cross, or a whipping, or even a remembrance of the theology of my justification - I’m speaking of falling at the feet of the Living Christ and clinging to His ankles until He presses down into my stone cold hardened heart the understanding and the acceptance of His love for me. This is how I "have love." Do I see the source? Do I believe He is the source? It’s not that Jesus loved me so I must copy Him and love others. That will end in dust. It is that I must so embrace the love of Christ for me and all His blood-bought children that the light of that love overflows my own being. Without that reality, all I have is pietism and busyness.

Hence the fruit of the Spirit of God in me is expressed in the love of Christ for me, realized by faith and manifested in the character of Christ. It is "Christ in me" and not me of myself. Christ is patient and kind and these things are brought forth in my soul through faith in Him because of His faithfulness. I myself, apart from Him, am testy and brutal. He is non-grasping and humble but I, apart from Him, am covetous and proud. He is deferent where I am insistent. He is peaceable and forgiving where I am irritable and resentful. He weeps over sin and insists He is the Truth where I, apart from Him, would revel in iniquity and clothe myself in deceit and lies. He shoulders all the burdens of all the saints, delivers faithfulness in superabundance, encourages us and also suffers all the failures of His people. Without Him, we would complain, we would be bereft of all faith and hope and we would finally quit.

But He does all these things in us. He sanctifies us. He upholds us. And all these things are expressions of His love for us. They are outpourings, manifestations, declarations and demonstrations of His love at work in us, His people. And we become the expression of His love for each other. We are means in the hands of God - vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory - and that glory is seen in the lives of the sanctified brotherhood of the church. So the whole point is that, in order for the gifts of the Spirit to be profitable to the kingdom of God they must be wrought in love by abiding in Christ - the Christ whose character is manifested in fruit of the Spirit.

The modern church - that is, the evangelical church of the last 50 years or so - has gone love crazy. They have majored in love (what kind of love is another matter) but minored in the other attributes of God. They have made man the subject rather than God. They will go a thousand miles on the statement that God is love, but barely stir an inch on the fact that He and His Word are truth. They will go gaga over God’s love for mankind and yawn at the chief end of man being to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. They see salvation as something God does primarily for man rather than something He does primarily for His own glory.

So passages like this one receive a great deal of attention. Passages like Romans chapter 9, however, are ignored or marginalized - and a rarely, if ever, preached upon. This says a very great deal about us, but it means that the sort of God we worship is a distortion of the truth. Some come close to idolatry by refusing to see Him as He reveals Himself in scripture - all of scripture. I bring this up to put the love of God in context of the passage, the book, the covenant and the whole Bible.

God is indeed love. His love for His church is from everlasting to everlasting. He went through hell to show it. But His love for us finds it’s impetus not in our loveliness, but solely in His Being. We are loved because He loved us and He did all that was necessary to seek, to save and to sanctify and glorify us. He did it. And He did it for His own glory, because His glory is the most important thing to Him. And because we have been made His - born again of His Spirit - then His glory is our own chief end - which glory is manifested in His church. His love in and for His people is the mark of His presence and the sign of His handiwork, and He is the more excellent way.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Discerning the Spirits
There is a clamor today in religion for the miraculous and sensational and spectacular. And this is because people tire of the word of God. People who are looking for miracles as a sign or proof of God’s presence and favor are putting themselves in a good position to be deceived. What is supernatural is not necessarily Divine.

C.D. Cole (1885-1968) - Definitions of Doctrine Vol 1 (The Doctrine of God) - 1945

Saturday, August 09, 2008

1Cor 13:1-3 - The Dreaded 'L' Word

1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Paul is about to show us a better way - but better than what? Better than that displayed in the Corinth of his day, and better than that displayed in the Corinth within us and our own local congregation. That wrong attitude was laid out in the last chapter in verses 15-16 {1Co 12:15-16} where motivations were jealousy and pride over the gifts of the Spirit.

In order to make his point he resorts to a device called hyperbole. This is how Wikipedia describes the meaning of the term:
Largely synonymous with exaggeration and overstatement, hyperbole is a figure of speech in which statements are exaggerated. It may be used due to strong feelings or is used to create a strong impression and is not meant to be taken literally. It gives greater emphasis. It is often used in poetry and is a literary device as well as a referendum. Some examples include:

"He has a brain the size of a pinhead."
"I could eat a horse."
"I’ve heard that a billion and one times."
"She is one hundred feet tall."
Here, Paul is using such a device to underscore his point that even desiring the higher gifts in and of themselves is pretty useless if the motivation for wanting them is selfish or corrupt. Perhaps mocking a little bit the chaotic atmosphere of unrestrained tongue-speakers, strutting like peacocks at their worship gatherings, thinking themselves more spiritual than others, Paul goes over the top. "Even if I spoke with the language men and of angels..." he is effectively saying, "I wouldn’t mean anything, apart from love."

He first presents the plain truth - that there is the gift of speaking in a language not learned (what is called here "the tongues of men"); then he goes way over the top by alluding to communication between angels (however that is done). We are mere mortal men, tied to bodies of death, but angels are spiritual beings living in the light of the glory of God - messengers of very God of very God. But even if we could speak like them (the inference being that we can’t) then we would be nothing without love. {In fact, angels everywhere in the Bible, when speaking to men, speak in the language of the person to whom the message is being given. That is because they are communicating ideas and facts - truth, actually - in a way that will benefit the hearers. How angels speak to God and each other is not fully revealed to us.}

Why am I beating this to death with a stick? It is because, over the years, some people have taken what Paul is teaching here about tongues and made it stand upon its head to say the very thing that Paul was rebuking in the first place. They have taken Paul’s hyperbole against inappropriate and wrong tongue-speaking and twisted it to say that the Bible refers to the spiritual gift of tongues as an angelic language, or as a special prayer language. It would be laughable if there were not so many who are deceived by a shallow and cursory and prejudiced and deceived reading of the text. Over-literalism that does not take note of figures of speech can lead to error just as surely as can the refusal to receive the supernatural things described in the text.

Language is for communicating ideas and information so that others can receive it. That is why the gift of tongues was given to the early church - to communicate the things of God to people in their own language with the corollary that it was a deliberate miraculous sign to unbelievers (especially unbelieving Gentiles) in fulfilment of a prophecy that was given to shame the unbelieving Jews. {Isa 28:11-12,1Co 14:21-22}

Though this is not the place for a full treatment of the charismatic and Pentecostal errors regarding tongues it is worth noting that some will maintain that the reference "he that speaks in a tongue edifies himself" {1Co 14:4} supports the idea of a non-earthly language known only to God in which they pray, as if in some sort of blissful ignorance. Yet they maintain that they are being built up by the exercise of it. It’s a sort of "let your feelings go and abandon all sense of control and trust God moment." In other words it is a call to disengaging the mind from worship and it is nothing less than eastern mysticism in disguise - a deadly deceit and a trap for the unwary.

Those whose rationality simply evaporates once the subject of tongues comes to the fore, and who still insist that Paul is speaking of a heavenly language here - holding onto the idea that his reference to "tongues of angels" is literal, should take a look at verse 2 in which exactly the same tone is seen. "If I understand all mysteries" is equally hyperbolic. God alone understands all mysteries because nothing is hid from His eyes. But we are not God. We are nothing in and of ourselves. So the language is necessarily hyperbolic - a figure of speech only. It’s done for dramatic effect.

Similarly, no one has all faith and nobody I ever heard of had faith enough that actual mountains were moved. These are literary devices. "Even if this were true" Paul is saying "the gifts and the acts resulting from their use wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans without love being the underlying motive."

Paul does include some extreme things that people have done at various times throughout the gospel era - especially early on. Some sold their possessions and gave them for the common welfare - the widows and orphans in the church. Some were martyred through burning, and in other gruesome ways. But even these extreme acts of devotion, devoid of love, are quite without value. Pagans have been known to die for their own causes - noble, horrible deaths, in fact. Heretics have been burned at the stake and gone straight to hell where they will burn eternally - for whom Michael Servetus seems to be the poster boy. Communism purported to ensure that all things belonged to the people and were held in common because all were equal. The early idealogues of that system were no less sincere than many of today’s social gospelers.

Notice that the first few acts mentioned relate to what I am, and that the more down-to-earth things - if you like, the more real and practical things - relate to what I gain. In other words, I am nothing and I can do nothing of eternal value without love. Nor without faith, but a real faith is a faith that is born of love. We love Him because he first loved us. In fact, if we give up things (goods and even life itself) with the object of getting something we are being sub-Christian. Christians "sacrifice" not in order to gain, but because they have already gained all, through the free gift of God.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The "Now but Not Yet" of the Faith
"After all that God has done by sending His Son, and the Son by sending the Holy Spirit, it is only with difficulty, exceeding difficulty, that the work of saving the righteous advances to its consummation. The entrance into the kingdom lies through much tribulation - through fightings without and fears within - through the world’s seductions, and its frowns - through the utter weakness and continual failures of the flesh, and the many fiery darts of Satan."

John Lillie

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Echoes of Pelagius?
It (a revival) is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means - as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.

C.G. Finney - Lecture 13 on Revivals of Religion - "What a Revival of Religion Is"

"At our Easter services in the last three years more than 5,000 people opened their lives to Christ - because YOU invited them! It's almost guaranteed that if you bring those you care about to a Saddleback Easter service, they will come to know Jesus".

Rick Warren - Ministry Tools Message #247 Feb 22, 2006

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

1Cor 12:27-31 - Order and Unity

27-31 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Though all are members of the same body and are unified in the Spirit under the headship of Christ - all this being true, yet there is still an order by which God administers His graces within the church. We are temporal and mutable beings. We must grow in grace and we must learn Christ. This necessarily means that so long as God uses members of the church to minister to other members by means of unique spiritual gifts, then some must communicate truth and doctrine to others.

And since the knowledge of God is through His Word, by His Spirit, God has provided in all ages and circumstances spiritually gifted people through whom a deeper understanding of what God has said in His Word is disseminated to the church as a whole. This does not mean that the teachers and preachers themselves are of any more value than those who serve in less visible ways. But they have more responsibility and will therefore be held more accountable.

A person who stumbles in administration or helping surely creates problems - and it is no small matter when that stumbling comes through carelessness or thoughtlessness - or even willful ignorance; others can be adversely affected. But a person who is charged with teaching and preaching the truth to others can have a far wider, longer and deeper impact upon hearers for good or for evil. To be careless, thoughtless or willfully ignorant as a pastor/teacher is to corrupt the truth of the gospel and by that means to introduce corruption into the church. Corruption can come to a body by starvation or by poison - but both are debilitating and both can be deadly.

So, while all are equal in the body of Christ, not all are equally charged with responsibility. Some bear more than others. Some are placed in what the world might think of as positions of authority or power or influence - but to God and to the saint all positions are positions of service. Service to God and church for Christ’s sake and service to God and the church as vessels of the fruit of Christ’s labours.

Because there is order in the church, God is able to say through Paul that He has appointed first, second, third...and so on. It’s not a matter of time, but of order - and in this particular context, Paul is at great pains to emphasize this because he wants to underscore the relative unimportance of the showy gift of speaking in tongues and their interpretation. And where does he place them? Dead last!

And not only are they dead last but it is made crystal clear that they are not gifts that are given to everyone - but only to some, as the Holy Spirit wills. This puts a dagger in the hearts of all those purveyors of false doctrine (including the early, and some still extant Pentecostals) that claim that speaking in tongues is a necessary sign of salvation. Such teaching is nothing less than re-introducing the circumcision claims in a way that is bloodless and virtually unverifiable.

It is especially helpful to read Paul’s questions in this way - "All aren’t Apostles, are they?" And "All don’t speak in tongues, do they?" As such they are rhetorical questions that answer themselves.

But tongue-speaking and its attendant misbeliefs can be far more subtle than simply a false and easy-to-disprove-from-scripture claim that is added to the gospel. In its more subtle variations it is a repository for spiritual pride, imitation, falsification, deception, judgment and dissent. Let it not be forgotten that true Biblical tongues is speaking in an earthly language that was never learned by the speaker, given by the Holy Spirit in order to communicate the truth to people whose language it actually was. It was supernatural yes - but it was not irrational, unfalsifiable or for careless or indiscriminate use. Self-control was not only possible, but it was mandatory in the use of this, as with all other gifts.

Rather than try to separate that which was false and imitation from that which was true in tongue-speaking, Paul simply laid down the parameters by which the tongues related gifts were to be used in the church body. That way, the true gift would be used responsibly and the imitation (if present) would be restrained. Very elegant.

In exhorting the Corinthians to "earnestly desire the higher gifts" Paul is actually saying that some gifts are higher than others. The highest gifts (note, it is the gifts that are higher, not the recipients of the gift - because they are gifts to the church and not to the individuals themselves) - the highest gifts are preaching and teaching, as stated elsewhere. {1Co 14:1,1Ti 5:17} These are not obviously supernatural. They are not miraculous and showy. They are not short-term, visible signs for unbelievers. No - they are gifts requiring the unglamorous application of the mind and effort in study, and the faithful exposition of the Word of God to His people. They require a devotion and a willingness that sails a straight course regardless of the circumstances and the reception or opposition of the hearers. They require a willingness to be opposed and despised within the church, if necessary for the sake of Christ and His gospel. They bring a heavy onus to the person so gifted because God puts such a premium upon His Word. How big a premium? What does God say? "...for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name." {AV Ps 138:2}

Aside: {Now, I realize that David is speaking of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise(s) and that other versions (the ESV, for example) speak of exalting His Name and His word, but there is still application here. The ultimate promise of God, the One upon and for Whom and in Whom all other promises were made and kept is the Living Word, Who has been given a Name above all names. And this Living Word is now communicated to us by the Spirit in the written Word. Communicating Christ, Who is the fulfillment of all promises, from the Word of God is the most choice and sacred calling and gift of God to his church.}

In the face of the Corinthian fascination with showy but minor gifts, Paul is focused on getting their attention fixed upon the Word and the gospel it contains. To know Christ better they must know the Word, because this is how God has chosen to communicate wisdom to His people - and the Holy Spirit has been sent for the purpose of revealing Jesus Christ. He does not do this apart from the Word of Truth. Rather than having a bunch of children fascinated with bright and noisy toys, he desires that they grow and mature by actually learning Christ.

Wherefore, he exhorts them to earnestly desire the higher gifts (preaching and teaching) as opposed to the more showy gifts, many of which were kick-starters for the church and self-evidently abated after the Apostolic age. What will sustain the church for daily living in all generations is not miracles, future-telling or the use of unlearned languages, but being continually steeped in the Word.

Are they to desire the higher gifts for themselves or for the church? By this I mean to ask if they are to want the higher gifts for their own selves, or to want that God would grant them to the church in no matter whom? You see, if we are looking for the right thing we shall be grateful no matter where it shows up. It’s not, after all, about us but about God and His church.

While we are desiring the higher gifts to be manifested in the church through the gifting of the Holy Spirit there may be still one thing lacking, as there was in the Corinthians’ behaviour. And Paul is about to tell us what that actually is.