reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Friday, July 14, 2006

1 Corinthians 14a

posted by Little Mo | Permalink | 5 comments
Well done if you are still reading this, and can decipher my notes! I hope they are helping someone out there!

Main point: it is better to desire prophecy than tongues because it edifies the church through understanding.

The church that works properly or “We’re just a love machine”

Pursue love: main thing to aim for is loving each other – rules over everything in this passage. When it comes to whole area of exercising our gifts, much better instruction to follow than “I have this gift, so where can it be used?” – rather pursue love

It is in that context that Paul says, desire spiritual gifts, in the context of the command to pursue love. So it is good to desire spiritual gifts (again spiritual things possibly), it is good to want the work of the Spirit in your life: but in the context of that command to pursue love.

Do everything in your power to love other Christians; and so desire spiritual gifts, especially Corinthians need to desire the gift of prophecy.

Build the church (vs 2-5)

Why is it better to prophesy in church than to speak in tongues?

Because if you are speaking in tongues, you are talking to God, what you are saying are mysteries in your own Spirit, but if you prophesy you are speaking to people for their upbuilding and encouragement.

Someone speaking in tongues may be doing good to themselves, but they aren’t doing good to anyone else.

Pretty simple and straightforward, despite all the controversy that surrounds this chapter what Paul is saying. If you speak in tongues it may be a very intense and personal spiritual experience which helps you, but it doesn’t help anyone else. If you prophesy, you help other people – they can understand what you are saying and therefore be encouraged, built up and consoled by it. If you speak in tongues, they can’t.

That’s pretty clearly just an application of what Paul has said so far, isn’t about what the church is supposed to be like and what it is for. If the church is supposed to be a body, with many different parts working together, valuing each other, and particularly helping those who seem weaker, when the church gets together, what you contribute to the gathering should be understandable to the rest of the congregation.

I think it is pretty clear that Paul isn’t against speaking in tongues, and he does seem to say that it has some value for the person who is actually doing the tongues speaking – in v 4 , the tongues speaker does build him or herself up , but the one who prophesies builds up the church because people understand it.

Verse 5, on the first read can seem confusing at first. Hasn’t Paul been at pains in Chapter 12 to say no one is greater per se than anyone else so why is now saying that the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues?

Well, it’s partly I think, playing the Corinthians at their own game – they clearly thought tongues was better, and so paul is saying –actually it is the opposite of what you think – it is the person prophesying who is greater than the person speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets so people can understand.

I think what he is saying here is: gifts which build up the church are better than those which don’t. When it comes to prophecy and tongues, prophecy is better than tongues, because as we have seen in chapter 12, the point of manifestations of the Sprit is for the common good, and prophecy achieves the common good much better than tongues.

So, the point of the first section: pursue love, which means building the church. So want gifts, like prophecy which do that.

Prophecy builds better than tongues (vs 6-19)

- no one can understand tongues

This may seem slightly repetitive – it is! Paul is really banging the drum hard here.

If even a musical instrument is played without trying to hit distinctive notes, how will anyone know what is being played?

Try singing King of Kings majesty, without actually attempting to hit any notes. See if anyone recognises the tune!

If you say things which don’t involve actually using words, no one can understand what you are saying. As Paul quite sharply puts it in his own inimitable style, you are speaking into the air.

(it seems to have been quite a central part of their worship services, so he’s not pulling any punches!)

- tongues are isolating for individuals

That’s what verse 10 and 11 says. Paul says – it may well be that someone speaking Japanese is making sense to themselves, but if I talk to someone at church and they only talk back to me in Japanese, then I am a foreigner to them and them to me.

Again – not what the church is - a body where the strong help the weak – but instead divided because people can’t understand each other.

- tongues aren’t using your mind

we’ll come to this in a second, but this is the biggest hint in the passage I think that speaking in tongues isn’t speaking in other languages – but some type of ecstatic experience where you aren’t really conscious what even you are praying for. Paul says, if you are going to do it, pray that you will know what it means as well, pray with your mind as well as your spirit

- tongues aren’t fair to those who don’t understand

If you are praying in a tongue, how can someone who doesn’t understand say Amen to it. How can it be a corporate gathering if there are people who can’t say Amen to the prayers?

Paul finishes by reiterating that he is not against speaking in tongues per se, but in church he would rather speak five intelligible words than 10000 words in a tongue, which is equivalent, surely to saying he will basically never speak in tongues in church.

Apps:

The point of church gatherings is building up others

- whole attitude and approach to church – not going because won’t get much out of it. Go, sit and listen, leave (way we do church) not thinking over what point of gatherings are.

No - Pursue love – the time when the church is gathered together is when the amazing ontological, real reality that we are one body working together to show Jesus as Lord actually happens, as we pursue love, and eagerly desire spiritual gifts which will help us build up others. Change in church nationwide if everyone who went thought like that!

Building up happens through intelligibility

- importance of the mind in spiritual growth. Divorcing of mind and experience in common practice – but I should want my mind to be fruitful, and other people only grow if they understand what is going on

- talking and praying in a way people will understand and be helped dave Bish “my faith is not strengthened by hearing an unintelligible spiritual language or someone speaking drivel in my own language” implications for us if we are to welcome internationals/those from unchurched backgrounds?

- Unhelpful “emergent” emphasis in increasing mystery – ie, it’s good if people don’t really understand but just experience.

-

Well, to be honest, I think for all of the controversy surrounding the passage that we have just looked at those two points are fairly easily seen and non-controversial. Build up the church by telling people things they understand – way the gathered church models the reality that we are brought into one body. In other words, love each other. Basically, all that passage is saying, love each other when you gather together as a church. Not rocket science.

However, have you spotted the elephant in the room. Rather 2 big elephants, 2 big issues, that are huge questions for us but we haven’t mentioned yet.

1) What are prophecy and tongues?

2) Do they still happen today?

Well, I’m going to have a go at those 2 questions briefly now, but 2 things to note. First is that, as I said at the beginning on Monday, we come to this passage with those questions, and they aren’t the questions Paul is answering here, so I’m not sure you can give a definitive answer from here, or in fact from anywhere. So I’ll try and present the evidence as I see it. Secondly, on the issue of whether these gifts still exist today and how they function, that is, what we call in the fellowship, a secondary issue. People who believe and apply the authority of the Bible who take a number of views, I will try to be fair, discussion. Thirdly, important we don’t use the controversy to ignore the question and answer that Paul is addressing here – can be a subtle but very theological way of ignoring the actual message of the Bible, which is what we do not want to do obviously.

What is prophecy?

- it is intelligible speech that people can understand

- it is for the benefit of the church, and builds them up

- it can have evangelistic content and lead to people being converted v 24

- it is under the control of the prophet v 29

- it is NOT like Old testament prophecy – it can be controlled and must be weighed

- it seems to be one of the main ways the church was taught

- men and women are allowed to do participate in giving it (11:5)

- it is subjected to the authority of the apostles

Not necessarily a spontaneous “thus says the Lord” type pronouncement.

What is tongues?

- V2 an ecstatic utterance that isn’t exclusively Christian

- May be viewed as some sort of heavenly language

- Does not involve using the mind

- Is not to be used in public gathering of the church without interpretation

- It is a good gift that does benefit the person using it (just not anyone else!)

As much as I think we can tell from this passage: ok do they or how do they continue today?

Main historical issue we are dealing with here, even though in our context today some sections of the church that talk about these gifts all the time, fact is, for about 19 centuries of the church’s history prophecy as a spontaneous revelation from God, and tongues as an outpouring of a non-human language didn’t really have any part in mainstream Christianity (fringes that soon became unorthodox on core things), and all of the views are attempts to explain or deal with this.

Cessationist: the view that revelatory and miraculous gifts ceased after the era of the apostles, usually argued because they were signs to attest to the truth of the Gospel before the canon of Scripture was closed.

Now, I grew up in a church that was basically cessationist, went through a time of thinking it was rubbish, now while I don’t think I agree with it, I can see that there are least persuasive arguments in its’ favour.

Because I heard: if we have extra revelation it threatens the authority of the Bible. Does it? But not argued from the Bible, self refuting if claim the point of believing it is to protect the authority of the Bible! The strongest argument against it by a writer with whom on most things I almost totally disagree: just read New Testament come to conclusion gifts don’t exist any more? Unlikely

3 arguments think are quite useful persuasive:

1) Not saying God doesn’t do miracles or even speak outside the Bible today, (criticism that closed to God’s working) but rather saying that there are not specific people with miraculous revelatory gifts to build the church. Clear – not a God limiting argument.

2) Seems Biblical Christians have to say that the gift of apostle, in the sense of someone commissioned by Christ with ability to give commands which have authority of Scripture, have to say that gift in that sense has ceased (although many churches do still say someone has apostolic giftings) but that gift has at least altered, so not a huge leap to say that the signs that accompanied it have too.

3) No matter what you think of the Corinthian church, it does seem clear that prophecy was the main way they were taught in their meetings. The later pastoral epistles (1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus) make it clear that the job of the church leader or teacher is to guard and teach the deposit, by then, given, and specifically not to seek new things from God.

Of course the weakness of cessationism is that the Bible nowhere clearly says it is the case: it is all the outworking of some other doctrine.

Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third Wave

View that the full range of gifts mentioned here and elsewhere in the New Testament are functioning and alive today.

No one, it seems can deny, that there did seem to be a long gap in the church’s history didn’t experience the gifts in the way that these type of Christians say we should today. So most would hold with the idea that God withheld the gifts for some time, but re-blessed the church with them, Pentecostals at the start of the century, charismatics through a renewal in a lot of the main denominations, and Third Wave, again in 80s and 90s especially through the Vineyard churches.

Great advantage of this view is that it does seem to accord with the way the church is described as working in the New Testament. Textually, it is very convincing, particularly if you take the book of Acts as showing the church as it should always function. Furthermore, real sense that God is alive, real, living and active in the church which the NT encourages, and which non-charismatic churches often seem to miss.

Couple of difficulties with it: that about apostles and about the pastoral epistles I have already mentioned, as well as historical difficulties (although not insurmountable)

- Main difficulty, sometimes experience becomes very important, and self authenticating – and some have even taught that speaking in tongues is a necessary sign of Christian maturity, and doctrine can become sidelined and less important than it should be: in short charismatic churches have sometimes been very Corinthian (commentators would agree) They may well respond, the solution in Corinth is never to tell them to stop using gifts but to use them properly, and that, ISTM is a pretty convincing argument against anyone saying that the gifts musn’t be real because they distract from the Gospel.

- Why did God remove gifts and bring them back?

- Other is, I just don’t see how you can be sure: 4 views, and definition of prophecy how do you know, certainly not like OT prophecy – how can you know what Paul is talking about – enough to strictly define it and say that you are using it?

Continuationist:

The gifts actually never really stopped, and they just happened a lot less in the early church than we thought they did, and people still use some of them without realising.

I can’t quite decide, this is definitely where the church I go to is at, insofar as we are anywhere.

So, these people would say, a small number of people in the church probably always did obey 1 Corinthians 14 and use tongues in private, miracles did and do still happen now and again – even if you average out the number of miracles in Acts it wasn’t that many. Prophecy is much more of an insight and application of truth type thing, and churches have always done that, type of thing that happens in all churches now in homegroups and personal discussion, someone has amazing practical insight, that’s prophecy. God may well do something miraculous and revelatory through one particular person.

I think this has a lot to commend it – not least it’s definitely the peacemaker option as you can nod and agree with nearly everybody who says anything. It is a genuine attempt to be fair to the text, that says these gifts are good things, and should be used, but the job of the church is to protect the apostolic deposit.

You’ll tend to find that churches that take the continuationist view tend to be “open but cautious” when it comes to revelatory and miraculous gifts – as in, it might happen, but probably not.

It’s downfall I hold up my hands and admit, is cautious is not something that the NT writers and particularly here in 1 Corinthians , Paul, advise when it comes to God working through gifts. Got the gift, use it all the time for the benefit of the body. Nevertheless, I think that the great advantage of it, and the reason that it is the view I come closest to, is that it does allow you to follow the instructions in the pastorals about church leadership and the guarding what is entrusted to us, while not saying that God will or won’t do what he wishes through particular individuals, and that he hasn’t substantially altered the way he works since the NT canon was completed.

Well, the point of all of that is this: in UCCF we work together with people who take all of those views and hope we gain from each other’s strengths.

No matter which gifts you think operate to do, God is much more concerned about what you do with the gifts you have got, rather than which ones you have, or think operate today.

What God through Paul here commands (and everything else we have done is speculation, not Bible teaching) is that we strive in our churches to do whatever builds up and encourages others, and what builds up is what we understand.

The church works how God wants it to.



Wednesday, July 12, 2006

1 Corinthians 12 - the second bit

posted by Little Mo | Permalink | 2 comments

Main Point: Jesus is one, so as his body we all belong together in different parts doing different things, so don’t feel superior or inferior

How the church shows Jesus - "I'm in the middle of a chain reaction"

No matter how much we might wish it to be different, we are not all good at the same things. Temperamentally we all deal with that fact of life in different ways.

Those of us here who look at how we are different from others, and spend our time wishing we could be like them. Thinking, because I can’t do what they can do, I’m rubbish. Maybe feel like that at Relay conferences.

Then there are those with slightly bigger egos. We look at people who good at different things that us, and we think, well I’m really glad I am good at this and not at what they do. In fact, secretly, I’m not really sure what people like that add to the mix at all to be honest.

Hope what we have done already in 1 Corinthians has showed you that in the local church that will never be the case. It is never the case that either I am not needed, or that someone else isn’t needed. God hasn’t short changed anybody, nor has he specially privileged others because there are many gifts all given by the same Spirit. God loves the variety of the local church in gifting so that they can be one in creed. God through his one Spirit gives many gifts so the one message can be proclaimed and shown.

And so Paul in a very pastorally wise manner deals with those two issues diversity is likely to raise in turn – inferiority and superiority. But this section begins with an assertion, and it’s a rather surprising assertion. Paul’s been saying, all of the gifts are given by the Spirit as he wills. Verse 12 begins for, or because, just as the body (the human body) is one and has many members, and all the members of the body are part of one body so it is with - expect him to say the church, wouldn’t you? But he doesn’t, so it is with Christ.

Quite a remarkable thing isn’t it – but this thing about all the members of the body, the local church, working together doing different things, it is important because Christ himself considers the church so highly that it is himself – we are as Christians, in Christ, all of us one in him, and so it is desperately important that the church shows that. In some sense, we are him. We are all one in Christ because we, as Paul has already said have been baptised by the Holy Spirit, whoever we are, wherever are from into one body, a body that Christ hold so highly and so dearly that he includes it in his very self.

So I have called this talk “how the church shows Jesus” – because it seems to me that this idea that we are all the body of Christ, and therefore we must be one is central to it.

And bodies, Paul points out in verse 14, do not consist of one member but many.

All sorts of different bits of bodies, but none of them make any sense without the others, and so it is with the church, the body of Christ.

And using that picture, Paul addresses both sets of people, in the Corinthian church – people who felt like they couldn’t do what someone else could do, and people who thought they could do without everyone else.

The Inferior: “It doesn’t really make any difference”

Look at v 15 – the foot feels bad that they are not a hand. Hands are so cool, they have opposable thumbs, so much more useful than silly old feet which smell, and grow mould, and look slightly strange. Or an ear saying, I am fed up with being waxy and being taped to the side of the head for playing rugby, eyes are so much better than me, I musn’t properly belong.

V pastorally aware, not so much wanting to be the other part of the body, but saying I don’t properly belong because I am not this part of the body. There is difference here, I should be with people like me, not people who aren’t like me.

I am not needed because I am not like them. Totally out world’s culture’s and sinful nature’s reaction to a situation – where people are not like me, that means I don’t fit in. I should be surrounded by people like me. Way world works – fill my life with people I am comfortable with – people like me.

In the Christian worldview, that is not the case, certainly with church. I should not choose a church, or frame my feelings about church simply on the gauge of how many people there are like me. No, we saw in first part of chapter 12, everyone is different, it is that way on purpose – it’s because we are different that we do belong.

Paul says, well that may well be true, but you’re still a part of the body. Doesn’t really matter how you feel about it, you are part of the body. No ego massaging for you really if you feel inferior so say you don’t belong – whether you like it or not, you do.

After all, how would the body function if it were just one big eye?

Body wouldn’t actually work if it was just one body part.

God, according to verse 18, has arranged the members of the body just as he wants them, as he chose. It’s not up to the parts of the body to say, I don’t really belong here because I’m not like that part. No, it’s not your job, the body wouldn’t work otherwise, and God has arranged it as it needs to be arranged for it to work.

You may feel like you aren’t really part of the body because you aren’t the same as someone else, but it doesn’t really make any difference what you feel about it – you are part of the body and God has made you this way and placed you where you are for a reason. Not a Christian response to the church to say I am different from everyone here, not as good as them, therefore I don’t belong.

You know, I was talking last week with a team leader about doing these passages at Relay, and after registering the initial controversial shock, he said, I actually think that is a brilliant bit of the Bible to do with UCCF people. In fact, it’s probably something that we should all look at all of the time.

Why? Because much as UCCF is a brilliant ministry, strategic and important it, and its CUs are not churches. But often they become a place where people who feel like they don’t fit in to the local church think – well I can have ministry here, it doesn’t matter so much about my church commitment. I feel like a bit of a foot, and everyone is a hand. In UCCF everyone is a hand, I’d fit in much better there.

That’s not a good enough response. The fact is, that if you are a part of the body, the church, no matter how much you don’t feel at home in it, and God doesn’t expect you to say, oh I’ll find a place where everyone is more like me. He expects you to say, it’s great that everyone here is different from me: it’s the great work of the Spirit that has brought variety to the church, it would be totally useless if the whole church is like me, and God has me here for a sovereign reason.

Using CU and UCCF that way? Maybe – well it’s got to stop now, the body needs you – God is sovereign, and has a job for you in the church, and the glorious truth is – you aren’t the same as everyone else there, that’s the point. As Paul says, as it is, there are many parts but one body. If you have been using CU and UCCF to run from that, because everyone is more like you here – well, time to stop.

So person, who thinks they are inferior, well it really doesn’t make any difference, you are a part of the body no matter what you feel like, and God has arranged to have you there, and that’s his choice. Paul sort of say – erm..suck it up.

The Superior: you have forgotten the Gospel

How did I get that out of verses 21 to 26? I’ll tell you in a second.

Look down at the issue read vs 21.

This time we have a body part thinking that they don’t need another body part. And it’s part you might think were more important, are more visibly important, saying to the weaker part, I don’t need you.

Now, I think while a lot of us may, temperamentally lean towards feeling inferior, and like we don’t belong in the church, I do think leaving Relay this is the real risk for us.

We’ve had some pretty good training, you guys have worked alongside some of the most gifted and godly people I know in Christian work, and there are loads and loads of people in churches around the country and around the world that just haven’t had that privilege. People who know less, have had less opportunity than you guys to discover and hone their gifts, just less gifted.

And Paul is addressing those types of differences in church life: people who are eyes and hands, people who heads and feet, people that seem to be weaker, and seem to be less honourable, less flashy or outstanding.

For people like us, there will be loads of people in church life who seem weaker. In a spiritual sense, perhaps they don’t have the priorities of evangelism and discipleship that we have been so clearly taught. Maybe they are weak emotionally, and find it hard to do anything visible in church life. Maybe they are old and their public ministry is more or less over, maybe they can’t even get to church. Maybe just less gifted.

I think Paul is very careful here, because he does say seem weaker, sometimes those who seem weak are often the strongest

Addressing those who may feel others weaker than them, especially with regard to gifts.

In most churches you might go to, apart from a few large well resourced places, having done something like Relay you’ll be viewed as strong, and a lot of you are very strong, and, as I have said, very gifted, but guard yourself against ever beginning to think about those who seem weak, I don’t need you.

Why? Paul uses quite an amusing metaphor here: genitals. I think that’s what he is getting at: those bits seem pretty sort of embarrassing and unmentionable but actually they are pretty darn important, and in fact, we show we think that by taking, erm…special care of them.

Hardly believe he uses that image – but Paul makes it clear, God has composed the body with parts that seem weak so that they can be honoured and cared for.

The point of having weak and seemingly embarrassing bits is so that they can be cared for – so that all the members can look after each other.

Surprising answer – we think – no the weak do useful things too!

Weakness, is good, we need it, so the weak can be cared for.

The Christian community that God wants to create through the Spirit could not exist without those that seem weak, God has composed the body in this way so that we can care for each other. The point is so that the body can be a body, suffering together as a body and rejoicing together as a body: for that we need the weak and the strong.

If you ever find yourself doing a Corinth, and saying look at me I’m strong, don’t you wish you were like me, missing the point, that we are those who seem weak and those who seem strong together on purpose, so that there can be care for one another.

The thing is, as Paul has been showing the Corinthian Christians this truth about the Gospel all the way through the letter.

1:26-29

You see what Paul is saying, the point of the Gospel is that God chooses the weak to shame the strong, so the last thing you need in the church is an environment where you say no, I’m strong, you are weak I don’t need you here, than in itself is totally counter to the truth we base our life on – Gospel is about the one who is strong helping those who acknowledge we are weak – the community that creates should not model the opposite of that.

God has put the body together to model that great truth of the Gospel that we need each other, in the words of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, we go together like ramalamama a dingidy ding de dong.

Sometimes when driving, think if everyone was as good as me it would be ok – but I must never begin to think like that in church.

True in any Christian relationship – hope you have been that way, not thought, you should have been more like me, staff worker, me and Roz. Lots of times we have been weak in lots of areas, hope you have seen it as a chance to model the Gospel.

But it seems to me that local church is God’s vehicle for that specially to be modelled as a community

Cf 12: 1 – one of the ways the Holy Spirit works to show Jesus is Lord, by his body. God has organised the body that way so that there won’t be division, but so that the members will care for each other, and that shows Jesus.

Man, we have come a long way from Corinth in this one chapter. Gifts, far from being something stand on, boast about, and focus on, become a way and a means to model the fact that we are one body. If we use them as a way to try and distance ourselves from each other to separate the body, instead of feeling joy and sorrow as one, we have totally missed the point.

List of gifts, Answer to all of those questions in Paul’s mind is no. We are not all the same. But we are all one.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

1 Corinthians 12 - the first instalment

posted by Little Mo | Permalink | 3 comments

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.

Questions:

What does living with Jesus as Lord look like?

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