reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

1 Corinthians 12 - the first instalment

posted by Little Mo | Permalink |

Hey - some people asked me to blog my talks on 1 Corinthians 12-14 that I did at Relay.

I don't use full script notes, so there's a fair bit missing from these, especially illustration and application, but I hope they'll be helpful. This is my first one on 1 Corinthians 12 a - it has a rather long introduction!

Main Point:
It is the content of the proclamation, not the gift used which shows spirituality, because the Spirit sovereignly gives different gifts to whom he wills to show Jesus as Lord.

Why do 1 Corinthians 12-14?

I suppose the real question for me is, why not do it? Many of us will be used to being asked by students about some of the issues in this part of 1 Corinthians and saying “whoops, secondary issue” and moving on. Now, in the context of a mission team where the discussion could be needlessly divisive in a particular situation that may be the wisest thing to do, but we don’t want you to get the impression that issues like the role of women and so-called charismatic gifts are totally off the agenda. The point of a secondary issue is not that we never talk about it, but that we say that the truths of the db provide us with gospel unity, and we agree to have different views on secondary issues. In saying that, even on the most contentious issues in this passage, there is plenty that we can all agree on, and that we really need to know, so the fact that secondary issues are mentioned does not, it seems to me, mean that we need to ignore the passage.

However, before we get into it, and just as a note of warning, we do need to be careful with passages like these ones, not to ask lots of questions of it that Paul just isn’t answering.

Reading the letters is Like one end of a phone conversation – we aren’t at the other end, so we can’t ask all of our interesting questions – so we want to say Paul, just exactly what do you mean by using the word prophecy?– He doesn’t answer, because the Corinthians knew what he was talking about already!

Also, “saying this must equal that thing I see in the church today”.

There are also a couple of very good reasons to do it. The first is that after Relay, for all of us, our main sphere of service and using what we have learned on Relay will be the local church. Now, it may well be that is a new thing for us, because CU has been so much part of our lives for the last 4 or 5 years, fact is, all of us have got to make a solid and positive commitment to a local church from here on in, and I think these chapters have a lot to say about what that looks like in practice. Body here means local church.

Secondly for positive reasons and more importantly, my prayer is that Relay workers will go off round the country and the world, and make a really positive contribution to their local churches, but what we see in 1 Corinthians is that young Christians who have had a very intense spiritual experience, and have a sense that they have a bank of knowledge about the Christian faith, can end up being an absolute pain in the neck in the local church.

You see, part of the problem going on in Corinth was that the young, full of life, enthusiastic Christians, who didn’t lack any spiritual gift according to Paul, had made their giftedness the source of their confidence that they were spiritual. The fact that they were good at one particular thing, and that it was accompanied by a particularly intense, clearly supernatural spiritual experience meant that in their thinking they were, or at least the ones that had shared this experience were, on some sort of spiritual plane. People who had this gift were valued much more in their church family than anyone else.

Because, as we can see in Corinth, young Christians who know a lot, who are very gifted, and have had something profoundly experiential happen to them in their Christian life can easily become superior, think that their giftedness makes them pleasing to God, develop a nauseating super-spirituality, and be a source of grave disunity in the church family, and it is that which Paul has in his sights here in these 3 chapters.

After a year of building up a bank of knowledge though core and I am sure equally diligently elective study. You are all young bright gifted people, lots to offer the church. This year I’m sure will hear over the next few days, will have been a profound and real spiritual experience for many of us.

I do hope and pray that Relay has been a very significant spiritual experience for you. But I hope it has been a path to real Christian spirituality – my worst nightmare is that it turns into a path to Corinthian spirituality, where it becomes a spiritual achievement you stand on to justify yourself before other Christians, and look down on other people in your church who haven’t done Relay.

I am constantly amazed by the giftedness of people on Relay, and reading your reports each month blown away by the quite remarkable things that you seem capable of, but as you leave Relay, I think it’s important that we spend some time thinking through how God wants to use those amazing gifts in whatever church family you end up being part of.

For the Corinthians, it does seem like the gift of speaking in tongues was the one that they were using as having special significance in marking out spirituality – and Paul gets to talking about that particular gift and how it should be used in Chapter 14, but before he gets to that, he needs to give them some basic lessons in what the church is for, and in that context, what gifts are for, why they are given, and how they can tell if they are being used properly. That’s how he begins Chapter 12 – I do not want you to be uninformed:

And that’s what Paul does in this first bit of chapter 12 which we are going to look at this evening (apologies for the long introduction)

When the church has the spirit: (or, spice up your life)

The Spirit acts on us to bring Lordship of Christ: (vs 1-3)

Paul begins by saying that he doesn’t want the church to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. Well, actually, that may well be what he is saying, but the word here, pneumatikon, could equally mean spiritual people, or just spiritual stuff, spirituality, things of the Spirit. I think for various reasons, that is probably more likely, as Paul himself uses a different word for gifts later on for a particular reason I think – but the interesting things is that he writes to the whole church saying I don’t want you to be unaware about spiritual stuff. To some of the Corinthians, that in itself would have been a surprising thing – because they had this whole, special group thing going on.

Paul says, this knowledge about spirituality, it is a message for every person in the church. I don’t want you to be ignorant and unaware, I want you to understand.

And Paul’s base camp for the whole discussion is that the Spirit is all about Jesus being Lord.

He says, I don’t want you to be ignorant about these things, and once upon a time you were totally ignorant, led astray to totally mute idols, however you were led, or more literally acted upon. There’s a real sense in those words that in the past, a spiritual force external to yourself did act on you, but it led to you worshipping Gods who were, in fact, mute and not real. It seems that the Corinthians, many of them, had a history of pagan worship which seemed very real, which felt very much like they were being led and acted upon. It may even be that the prophecy and tongues speaking, and other sort of ecstatic experiences that they loved so much in their church meetings were things that had actually happened when they were pagans, and Paul is saying, you know, these things can hardly be measures of Christian spirituality if they happened to you when you were worshipping a pagan idol, can they?

No, it’s not the way it happens, it’s not the spontaneity, the experience that authenticates the Spirit’s work, it is what you say when you are speaking.

The content of your utterance or speech won’t be Jesus is accursed if you are speaking by the Spirit, and if the content of what you say is that Jesus is Lord (and that you mean it, I take as read) then that must be the action of the Holy Spirit.

Debate – who had said Jesus is cursed - I can’t believe someone had actually said that in the Christian gathering and Paul addresses it so lightly – maybe it was something they had said in their pagan past. The point is though that the Spirit’s work can be heard in what people say and in what they do by looking for the Lordship of Christ being proclaimed and believed.

All sorts of questions – what does that mean, what does it look like in practice to exercise your gifts in such a way that Jesus is proclaimed as Lord?

Well, I think the next 3 chapters are an exposition of that, especially as Paul finishes the section at the end of chapter 14 by reiterating that what he has said is the Lord’s command. 1 Cor 14: 37

Worth pausing. Not likely any of us going to a hear a sermon that says Jesus is anathema and terrible, and say “What an amazing spiritual sermon”. As, I don’t imagine, there are loads of us obsessed with ecstatic experiences to the point where the experience is more important than the content (although may well be true of the church culture we end up in) still think this applies.

But, the fact is that if the Corinthian problem is selfishness and self focus, and standing on their own gifts and abilities this is a very telling test.

Jesus being proclaimed as Lord and meaning it, is in fact, incompatible with the selfish self glorifying focus of the Corinthians isn’t it? I cannot genuinely be proclaiming Jesus as Lord and pushing and glorifying myself can I? I cannot have the conviction that Jesus is Lord and live it out, while simultaneously be using my gifts to show that I am brilliant and better than anyone else.

Still a useful test when we are serving the church – is my aim that Jesus should be confessed as Lord, that I and other people accept his authority over their lives – if it is, then the Holy Spirit is working.

Terrible important in the Corinthian context – seemed to have lost a grasp of the fact that normal day to day holiness is Christian spirituality (great gifts but bad attitude to other Christians) It’s living with Jesus as Lord – that is what Christian spirituality is!

The Spirit acts in the church to bring variety (vs 4-11)

That’s what we see very clearly in vs 4-6 isn’t it? Varieties given by the same. The same God, gives lots of different gifts and abilities.

The words Paul uses to describe gifts also get wider and wider don’t they?

So we start with Paul’s preferred word for gifts: charismata – which we musn’t let ourselves get coloured with the way we use the word charismatic – it means grace gift – any good thing given by God’s grace. The same word he uses for salvation elsewhere in the letters – Paul’s conception of a gift given by the Spirit is much wider than the Corinthians – for him it is any good thing given by God’s grace.

In verse 5, it’s not the gift at all, but what it done with it which is in focus – in every type of ministry or service, the same Lord Jesus is working. Jesus isn’t just working Corinthians when you can see one of the visible gifts that you value so much – but when anyone is serving the church it is Jesus working.

Word gets wider again – different types of working or activities, all the work that people do in the church, but it is the same God working all of that out.

Paul says, it is all God, the Trinity doing the same thing in lots of different ways through different people.

All of those things – God’s grace gifts, people serving one another in the church, the whole work of the church being built, they are all manifestations, visible signs of the Spirit for the benefit of everyone in the church. They are give to each one for the common good of the church.

Then in verses 8-10, Paul gives a list of the different types of gifts that might be used. Read.

Question – what are they? Word of knowledge or wisdom etc.

Who knows? One commentator, a Pentecostal commentator interestingly, says he’s not even convinced that Paul was sure that he was referring to a list of specific different gifts.

The point is the repeated use of one and the same Spirit, doing all of these different things, and distributing these things as he wills.

No far from one particular gift or set of gifts being the mark of Christian maturity, all of the gifts, given by the same Spirit as he wills, are given to attain the common good in a huge variety of ways

A couple of things to note:

First, it does seem that Paul means to flatten the distinction between so-called charismatic and non-charismatic gifts (more on Weds about use of that word!) but he does seem to saying to the Corinthians – it is the Spirit working whenever anyone does anything to build the church. Where you build the church, God the holy Spirit is working in your life.

Second: Easy to feel superior or inferior, next bit of the passage is about. Talk about that tomorrow, but if that is you at the end of Relay, feeling like you should be good at something someone else can do, or that you are better because you can so something someone else can’t do, doubting what God says here – it is one and the same Spirit working if we are doing anything for the common good of believers. What you can do for the common good is as spiritual as what the next person can do for the common good.

God hasn’t short changed anybody

Way to measure the spirituality or Christian maturity of what you go on to do isn’t really very much to do with what you do at all – how you do what you do and why you do it – is Jesus Lord 1 Cor 7: 17-24. Do whatever you were do it with Jesus as your Lord. Implications for after Relay.

Practice thankfulness that church is common in creed – Jesus is Lord, but hugely diverse as the way God works that out in and through us. (Cf – cloning)

Point is not to say – I can or can’t do that – if I trust Jesus then the same Spirit works in me doing what I can do as works, in that person doing what they can do, all of us helping each other so Jesus is seen as Lord. The church showing the Spirit, by having one creed but many gifts, is a great place to be.


What does living with Jesus as Lord look like?

How does us working for the common good show Jesus as Lord?


Blogger Sean Clokey said...

Hey thanks for that. Can now see how good a note taker I am. You stay up quite late for the blogging!

1:33 AM  
Blogger Digital Diet 365 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:18 AM  
Anonymous chris oldifeld said...

yup. cheers mo. I cant say enough how much I've been troubled by what I heard from 1 corinthians 12-14 - it's like god's just shown me a whole new realm of selfishness - like how I'm way more aware of present frustrations and stuff to improve on in, well any christian or group of christians I can think of... than I am aware of God's calling them. while I of course, am developing a light and skilful touch with the plank that rests in mine eye, to administer my infinite insight to the world that so badly needs, uhh..preach it. please. for the sake of the old chris and many others like him.

and sean, I hope that rather than being puffed up in your note taking prowess, you will use it to edify others who, say, miss talks, rather than steamroller those lacking in note taking...
for we know in part, and we take notes in part, but when the perfect comes, you may rejoice that the imperfect has passed away, not lamenting Jesus' presence for lack of your notes.

missing the north b(w)est already.

12:32 PM  

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