Monday, February 13, 2012

1 Corinthians 14 : Biblical Worship : In Love and with Grace Gifts

TEXT : 1 Corinthians  14
TITLE:   Biblical Worship :  In love  and with  Grace gifts 
Date :  The Lord's Day 12/02/2012

The last time we  looked at this first letter  to the Corinthians  was in October  last year . We really need  to finish the study of this letter  for there is nothing to help us grow in  spiritual  knowledge  as much as   the  systematic pursuit of the logic of Scripture. Working through entire  books  of the  Bible  helps us  to  construct   a biblical worldview that  will stabilize our  thinking and therefore our lives. Even  if the matter at hand  does  not appear entirely relevant  to your situation right now  , it nevertheless produces  a vital deposit  of truth , which will come in handy in due time. We are always tempted  at  every stage of our lives  to forget  God and His Word. At such critical stages   we need a deposit of truth to  steer us through  difficult and barren times.   Let us pray   therefore for the Holy Spirit’s help  to listen well, and hide his truth in our hearts that we may not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11)!

We  begin with  some  review and  some historical  perspective on our passage .
Paul ,   the human agent of  the Holy Spirit had  ‘planted’ this church somewhere between  AD 50 and 52  ( see  Acts 18) .   First Corinthians  was probably  written in   AD 55   , which means  that it was  written to this church some  3-5 years after it was planted.  
This  church  had a worship problem.  It is a common problem  in the modern church, and that  makes this letter actually very  relevant! The worship problem  related  to  a  mind-shift which had taken place . The church had moved from  God centered thinking to man centered thinking ( see   1:10ff ;  Ch 3), a process which as you see,  can  happen very swiftly.  Without  solid  feeding and meditating  upon God’s truth  we revert very quickly to our human default thinking . So we see that  the  focus  shifted  from sound doctrine – God’s wisdom ,  to  man-  made solutions and man made wisdom .  When sound doctrine is absent , unsound thoughts  easily  flow from our unstable hearts and minds.  This is what is happening here . The problems translated themselves into  a wide spectrum of problems which the founding apostle needed to address  :
  •      Divisions- party spirit – which is focusing on men rather than on  Christ ; 
  •     A  questioning of   the  authority of the apostles  as servants of Christ  ( Ch4) which is really a rejection of  God’s authority since the  apostle’s  teachings were given to the church  for its  spiritual  health  and stability .  
  •   Sexual immorality-  which is a  giving into man centered,   fleshly desires  rather than to a  mind controlled by the Holy Spirit  (Ch5)
  •   Lawsuits among believers-   by which  they  were  trusting  worldly court systems  more than   godly counsel from fellows believers    (Ch 6) 
  •    Marriage problems ;  their  eyes were on  sex for personal gratification , and not in  godly consideration  of   their spouses  (Ch7) 
  •   A return to idolatry by not being careful   who they were associating with . Bad company corrupts good character   (Ch 10) 
  •  Abusing the Lord’s supper by not making the Lord but  making food and drink the main thing- leading to gluttony and drunkenness  ( Ch11)  ;  
  •  The  self centered   use of spiritual gifts in the church .  They were  using spiritual gifts not to glorify God  and  for the edification  of one another . They were bragging and boasting in them  and  using them  in a  way that was  hindering the church , and not building the church  up.
 At the heart of the  Corinthian  worship problem was a lack of  God centered  (agape)  love. (Ch 13). Love for God  and  neighbour (Mk 12:30,31)  had been replaced  with self  centered  attitudes.  This is where we find ourselves in our exposition . Chapters 12 – 14  are Paul’s  response to  what is lacking in the church  in terms of the  proper  use of   spiritual gifts, applied   in  biblical love (Ch 13) .

Chapter 14  
You will note the connecting statement between Ch’s  13 and 14  :  v.1  “Pursue  love” i.e. pursuit with persistence…. indicating a never terminating action  in the way described in  14:4-7 . The key  to  understanding the proper use of spiritual gifts is  to use them  in Christian  love . We have learned previously  in 1 Cor 13:1-3  that anything that we do or say  without love is empty or meaningless, and that anything done in godly love is   truly helpful   AND God glorifying . To live in  such attitude of  love as is described  in 1 Cor 13:4-7  is  to  truly worship  God .

 … and earnestly  desire  (covet earnestly) the spiritual gifts …. The point is that we must be eager  to  love the church by  the  use our spiritual gifts. You might have noticed that  one of the key phrases in  chapter 14 is  “to build up “ the church see  14 :4, 5, 12, 26
The goal of the use of our  spiritual gifts in love  is to build the church up .  To build a church up by our spiritual gift means , to  improve  our people , to leave them  in a better  shape  ; to make the  church ( the bride of Christ) more   beautiful in the eyes of Christ.   Once  we have  understood this, our capacity  to serve  others joyfully increases  and our  happiness increases as we see others built up.   So ask yourself   this question :  How can I increase the  joy  of  my fellow church members  and  their ability to praise  and serve God  more   through  that gift  which God has put into me ?  

Now,  we notice that the apostle Paul focuses on two particular spiritual gifts : tongues and prophecy . These are by no means the only spiritual gifts that edify and build up the church. We had  previously seen that there are over 20 spiritual gifts listed in the Scriptures . We have  reason to believe that these gift  lists may only be illustrative  and not exhaustive . There may be more spiritual gifts to build up the church than we think .  So  why  does he only mention these two controversial gifts   here  ?
We  must  remember  that  this  letter is written into a specific  situation. It was to correct excesses  in the church  with respect to these two gifts.   
 Also  note  that  Paul  speaks about these two gifts as a matter of fact. He  considers  “speaking in tongues”  and  “prophecy”  as a normal expression of church life. He himself claims to speak in tongues (14:18). Furthermore,   he exhorts the Corinthians in  14:39,40 to “… earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues… reminding them also ….  [40] But all things should be done decently and in order.” .
He says a similar thing to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 5:19-22) with respect to prophecies :  [19] Do not quench the Spirit. [20] Do not despise prophecies, …. reminding them also … [21] but test everything; hold fast what is good. [22] Abstain from every form of evil.
Notice    that in both cases he also issues warnings against excesses ! These gifts  were  easily abused  in the church , because they belonged to the realm  of the mysteries in the Spirit  (14:2) .

Next , I want you to see that  Paul makes a  quality distinction  between ‘speaking in tongues’ and  ‘prophesying’ .   In fact , the whole chapter is really an argument of the supremacy of prophecies  over  the use  of tongues.  Interesting!
The logic of his argument  is as follows :  Since tongues (speaking in other languages)  are unintelligible   to the  hearer  they cannot build up the church  unless they are interpreted  (14:13). Tongues  appear  to be mostly  for  personal edification  ( 14:4). By way of contrast  he argues that prophecy edifies the church. Paul  says that  the act of prophesying produces “upbuilding , encouragement and  consolation (comfort)”  for the church (4:3). Therefore  Paul  says that he prefers intelligible speech (14:9) to  language that no one can understand .

Paul’s point is consistent :  the church  must be helped by gifts  (14:12). If people are not being  helped by  tongues ,  the chief goal of worship cannot be attained. God must be glorified  in the building up of the church ! It appears then as if  these man  centered  Corinthians  were  seeking to speak  in tongues , but not for the building up of the church.
At this point it  may be helpful to  seek to understand the  Greek culture of the day. Greek culture was steeped in the so called  “mystery religions” -  in the mystical and the metaphysical.   Many converts came from such backgrounds . 
African culture  and religion is  by and large also pervaded by  the  fear , awe  and  seeking after  the  “spirit world“.  The world of the ancestors   forms  a big part  of African mind and culture.

Since we are born into a cultural setting we are steeped in cultural preferences. It  is very hard  to separate ourselves  from  this , since it is so much  a part of our identity.  Returning  to the  Greek mindset  (obsessed with the metaphysical world ) they were forever seeking for the key to higher knowledge[2] – the key that would open up the world of the unknown, the world of the gods.   The Greek mystery religions also practiced  glossolalia – ‘speaking in tongues’ … in fact many  other modern  religions  (Muslims , Buddhists  , Hindu’s , Occult)  have  mystic offshoots  that claim to speak in tongues . It is by no means a Christian phenomenon . 

Paul’s desire was for  intelligibility ; clarity! The Christian  faith  is not about   keeping secrets. The Christian faith is open. “We speak the truth plainly”,  says Paul  (2 Cor 4:2)  ! Christianity  is about revelation. The Christian faith is about the fact that God has not kept himself hidden  and unapproachable. In the OT  He  revealed  Himself  through His prophets !   In the NT  He has  revealed Himself in Christ and then through the apostles. He has revealed Himself  by  the Holy Spirit  who was clearly announced and  who Himself  manifested   as a mighty , rushing wind at Pentecost . From that perspective we need to remember that Pentecost is a unique, once for all , never to be repeated event. 
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus  to give gifts to the church. In Chapter 12  we learn that the Holy Spirit is the sovereign dispenser of  spiritual gifts . “ He … apportions to each one individually as He wills .”  (1 Cor 12:11) .
Spiritual gifts  and in this context , tongues and prophecy are not  chosen to be used by   us – they are  to be corporately  desired among us (14:1)   , but in themselves  they are  sovereignly given to us, and  when the Holy Spirit gives them , you cannot resist  them or  ignore them  !

We still have to do a lot of work in this passage  , but  I need to wrap up  for today and make some  important  comments  with respect to the modern phenomenon  of  spiritual gifts  ,and especially  tongues . I will comment on  “prophecy“ next time.

1.     The Sovereign Holy Spirit  can  do whatever He chooses. He is  God. He can  therefore give and withhold any gift  at any moment .
2.    Just because the gifts  are mentioned in Scripture , this   does not mean  that  there must be tongues  or prophecy or  routine healings  today . God decides – not we !  There was a time in the OT  when  God even  withheld the preaching of the Word (Amos 8:11-12)  . There was a time   of 400 years before the coming of Christ  (The Inter-testamental period )  when there was no  prophecy – no word from the Lord. Preaching was not heard. This is unthinkable  for  Reformed Baptists !  We may well be in such a time today, when the true  word of God is rare!
3.    Any attempt by  people  to manipulate the gifts of the Spirit will  ultimately  play into the hands of Satan,  who thrives where there is disobedience and chaos,   and who uses trickery and deceit  to confuse and divide the church . This is precisely what has happened in the Corinthian church  and it has happened to the 20th century church. I warn you , as did Paul . Do not  seek to manipulate spiritual gifts . Desire  ( you all – plural) to have  spiritual gifts in the church  by all means  (that is the plain  meaning of 14:1) .  But do not  trivialize tongues through babbling  or  claim  to prophesy  spuriously. To do that means that you will put out the Spirit’s fire . To do that means  to treat prophecies with contempt . I am afraid that as in the day of Jeremiah ( e.g. Jer  5:30,31  ; 8 :11 ; 14:13ff)  , there are far too many false prophets in our   churches and in our society  and they are not building our people up . They are destroying and dividing churches. That is not the work of the Holy Spirit .
4.      Spiritual gifts  bless , heal  , unite and build up the church . That is their  mark !

[1] Leon Morris  : 1 Corinthians (IVP ) p.190
[2] Gnosticism : A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realization of Gnosis (esoteric or intuitive knowledge), is the way to salvation of the soul from the material world.

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