While this post isn’t exactly a “part 4” of a series dedicated to the Person of God the Holy Spirit, I wasn’t comfortable concluding that series without taking the time to discuss the Gifts of God the Holy Spirit as laid out by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth. Once again, I’d like to emphasize that I am not following any guides or commentaries in this series, this is simply how I read the Scriptures and what I feel is the simplest, most direct interpretation of the written Word. The following 2 statements of faith, however, must be accepted as fundamental truths for this discussion to have any real meaning:
- The inerrancy of the Bible as the Word of God. In it we find that which God has revealed of Himself, His Nature, His Will, and His Love for us. While we cannot claim (nor should we) to know and explain everything about God (for we are only created beings) we can (and must) aim to know what He has given to us to know about Him, that which He has chosen to reveal about Himself by giving us His Word and His Spirit.
- The Trinity. There is only One God. He exists eternally as 3 distinct persons, God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit.
If this is your first visit to the blog and you feel you’d like to read the rest of the series, I encourage you to follow the links on the Welcome page. In this series, we’ve looked at the working of God the Holy Spirit filling men and women of faith throughout Scripture (Old and New Testaments). It was not an exhaustive look by any means, but I just wanted to present the case that being filled with God the Holy Spirit was not a completely new concept to the New Testament Jews. The only thing that changed in the New Covenant, is that Jesus promised to pour out the Holy Spirit onto all who believed and were baptized in His Name, not just select few as He did before the cross. We took a close look at how Luke highlighted the work of the person of God the Holy Spirit while working with God the Son Jesus Christ. An attentive reading of the book of Luke will show that Luke took great care to prepare us for what we would see in the Book of Acts. Finally, we looked at the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to send God the Holy Spirit to those who believed and were baptized. We see the Holy Spirit empowering the early church. In our conclusion to Part 3, I was heavily burdened to draw attention to a crucial element of doctrine, the Gifts of God the Holy Spirit are of God, not of men.
Let us begin our study in 1 Corinthians 12:
1 Corinthians 12 (ESV)
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
What an interesting way to open this topic, don’t you think? Remember that Paul is talking to Gentiles, so he needs to cover all of the bases. While they had already received the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and were believers and no doubt had the Scriptures taught to them, this is all still new. The Jews grew up honoring the Sabbath, keeping (or attempting to) the Law and studying the Prophets and the Psalms. We Gentiles did not (sadly, many of us whose testimony is that we grew up in the church, still fall woefully short of studying the Scriptures of even the lost Jews) thus we are exceedingly grateful for the Grace of God working through His Apostle Paul. Notice here that he begins by reminding them that when they were pagans they were led astray to mute idols. While the rational argument against the worship of mute idols, made by men is one Paul engages in frequently, he makes it clear here that this discussion is less on the idol, and more on what led them astray to the idols. No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed”... is our first lesson here in Spiritual discernment. Paul is not interested in providing a completely lesson on identifying each evil spirit by which men might speak; rather, he’s clearly defining a means of identifying one who is speaking in the Spirit of God. But Paul isn’t just speaking of his own here. Let us look first to the Law
Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (ESV) 1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says,‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.
I believe that Paul is explaining Spiritual Discernment in 1 Corinthians 12 as it was already laid out in the Law (Deu 13). Notice here that the test is not of whether the man is speaking of his own will (that test can be found in Deuteronomy 18:18-22); rather the Lord God is talking about a false prophet/dreamer whose sign or wonder comes to pass. If a sign or wonder comes to pass but the individual points to anyone other than God (the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit) the individual is a false prophet who is listening to unclean spirits, the spirit of error,or the doctrines of demons. Jesus also warned that we shouldn’t also be wary of false christs in Mark 13:21-22, “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” So, it is not enough for someone to just use the Name of Jesus Christ, if who they teach is not the real Jesus Christ, God the Son (Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, etc…). Let us continue in 1 Cor 12:
1 Corinthians 12:4-13 (ESV) 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
I truly believe that the Apostle Paul is trying to make it absolutely clear that regardless of the manifestation of God the Holy Spirit, it is all empowered by Him as He wills. It is not about us, or even about the Apostles, it is all about God the Holy Spirit. We are all baptized in One Spirit and made to drink of One Spirit… God the Holy Spirit. There is only one God the Holy Spirit. Any manifestation that is not of God the Holy Spirit is either falsified by the flesh (illusion, deception, fraud, vanity,presumption) or of unclean spirits, more commonly known as demons (again, 1 John 4:1-4). I believe that a blanket prohibition on these manifestations serves as a prohibition on God the Holy Spirit working in these ways among His people. I’ll revisit this view later on, for now let us continue.
1 Corinthians 12:14-31 (ESV) 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 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.
What we see here is a discussion of a wide array of problems that can arise out of a selfish or self-centered misunderstanding of the Gifts of God the Holy Spirit. The very first lie Paul addresses here is the, “Since I don’t move in that way I must not really be a part of the Body of Christ” lie. How does this play out? I happens a lot in even the most biblical of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. Many feel that since they do not speak in tongues or have not spoken a word of wisdom, knowledge, or prophecy that maybe they aren’t really in the Body of Christ, or worse, that they aren’t truly saved. This is a lie of the enemy. Paul immediately flips the coin and demonstrates the utter fallacy of telling someone else that since he is not manifesting the same Spiritual Gifts (gifts, not fruit) that somehow he isn’t really a member of the Body of Christ. Relying solely on a particular manifestation to determine his membership in the Body of Christ is insidious because it is not judging the fruit of the Spirit; rather, it is judging him by a Gift of God the Holy Spirit who chooses at His discretion how He will move in each individual. So, if you’ve decided that speaking in tongues is required proof of salvation, you are adding to the Scriptures, for no such determination can be found in Scripture. If you’ve decided that speaking in tongues was only for the Apostles, you’ve made the same error, for no such connection is in scripture. God the Holy Spirit determines His gifts. We are told to judge them by their fruit, and to test the spirit behind the person to see if they are of God the Holy Spirit.
That last statement is important. Paul began this discussion with discernment. Once it is clear that God the Holy Spirit is working, then he addressed the need to keep focused on the fact that regardless of the service or gift or manifestation, it is God who is working, not men. We also see that as a body of believers, not everyone will serve the same functions or even look the same, yet we are all part of the same body and necessary. It is not up to the body to decide who belongs or who serves which function, that is up to God. Thus far, we’ve been able to demonstrate bad theology regarding the Gifts of the Spirit, but now Paul wants to address the heart of the issue. I believe, that at the heart of what Paul is addressing here in Corinth, is a body of believers who have drifted in the faith away from the Greatest Commandments to comparing their spirituality based on the gifts of the spirit. What is that more excellent way? Love. 1 Corinthians 13 is devoted to the centrality of love as the foundation for the Law and the Prophets. If you’ve not read our discussion of Christian Relationships, I recommend doing so very soon. If you’ve never read 1 Cor 13, please take a few minutes to read through it now before continuing on to Ch 14.
Before we get into chapter 14, let’s at least acknowledge that of the Gifts of God the Holy Spirit, the most feared, mocked, maligned and faked, copied, counterfeited gifts are Prophecy and Tongues. Few have any problem with knowledge, wisdom, faith, or even healing (though I hear many who reject that God heals anymore). How interesting that Paul, by the guidance of God the Holy Spirit, dedicated the next chapter to these Gifts.
1 Corinthians 14 (ESV) 1 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. 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.
With love as both the foundation AND the goal, we are told to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that we may prophesy. In Luke 11:13, Jesus tells us to ask God the Father for the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Based on what we’ve seen in chapter 12, we know that we are to look to God the Holy Spirit for these gifts. Why does Paul want everyone to speak in tongues? Does he want people to speak in foreign languages fluently without studying them? Well, that would be awesome, but that is not really the context he set up here. He has already established that he is talking about those who speak in tongues building up himself and speaking to God uttering the mysteries in the Spirit… for no one understands him. This isn’t the miraculous instant-Rosetta-Stone of languages we saw in Acts 2 that Paul is talking about here. Notice also that within this context, tongues with interpretation are equal to prophesy; tongues without interpretation is inferior to prophecy, since the church isn’t built up by tongues without interpretation the way it is with prophecy. Let us continue…
1 Corinthians 14:13-25 (ESV) 13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 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. 21 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.
Another command, that those who speak in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. That, however, is up to God the Holy Spirit. So what does Paul do? He prays with his spirit and his mind also, he sings praises with his spirit and sings with his mind also. Notice, he doesn’t abandon speaking in a tongue that is unintelligible. He trusts that God the Holy Spirit who dwells in him is faithful and just to activate his spirit in prayer to God (not men), while Paul also praises God and prays to God in his mind. And he does this more than all of those to whom he is writing this letter. Settle that in your hearts, because we are about to shift gears a bit in verse 19. Nevertheless… while all of what he said is absolutely true, in church, he’d rather speak five words of instruction than 10,000 words that will only benefit him in prayer to God. The gathering of believers is not about catching up on your personal prayer time, it’s about building up the Body of Christ. Primarily through the reading of God’s Word, but also through the ministering of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given for the Body of Christ. While his focus has shifted now to start thinking less about our individual moving in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Paul has not yet established any rules, he is merely highlighting the needs of the body are different from the needs of the individual members. As an Apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul does establish in his letters the order and structure of the church (Titus, 1 & 2 Timothy bear it out extensively), but in the interest of time now I want to stay focused on the order of service as far as Tongues and Prophecy are concerned. Let us continue on…
1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (ESV) 26 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. 29 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. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
I’d like to make mention of a couple of observations. Here, it seems Paul isn’t just talking about praying in tongues and being overheard, he’s talking about someone launching into speech as though it were a “Thus says the Lord” prophecy. The idea here is that there will be an interpretation and the Body of Christ edified. If that doesn’t happen, then the speaker got carried away and was simply being disorderly. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets serves as a reminder that God the Holy Spirit isn’t in the business of creating confusion in the church, so the prophet can wait for his turn to share what God the Holy Spirit has to say. When we gather together, there should be a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue & interpretation or a prophecy for the edification of the Body. In order, so that all can be encouraged by what God the Holy Spirit has to say. But remember, again, that there is only One God the Holy Spirit. God gives the utterances, the messages, and manifestations. God is a God of peace. If the speaking in tongues and prophesying devolve into frenzied chaos, that is either the work of the flesh or of unclean spirits. Test the spirits, and weigh what is said. I’d also like to highlight, that verse 32 applies also to speaking in tongues. If you don’t have an interpretation. The speaking of unintelligible tongues is for praying to God, not for edifying the Body of Christ. There is no benefit or need to do so loudly. God the Father hears the prayers from your Spirit as well as your Mind, so unless God the Holy Spirit is compelling you to proclaim something specific in another tongue with the interpretation, or asking you to speak so that another can interpret, keep your prayer language quiet as you pray with your mind and your spirit just as Paul said he did in verse 15. I’d like to close this post by looking a how Paul closed this discussion on Tongues and Prophecy:
1 Corinthians 14:39-40 (ESV) So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.
All things should be done decently and in order. This is not a prohibition on prophesy nor tongues. While it is absolutely true that nothing will be added to Scripture, that does not mean that God the Holy Spirit does not still give prophesies, tongues, interpretations, or any other of the gifts we’ve discussed in God’s Word. We know that God the Holy Spirit is unchanging, and that His role is to point us to God the Son Jesus Christ, and who gives us access to the Throne of God the Father. Refusing the gifts of the Holy Spirit to avoid “getting carried away” or the task of discernment is not unlike rejecting music to avoid sensuality. Sure you can get buy without music, but why not discipline yourself so that you can enjoy the gift of music in your life? Similarly, while God the Holy Spirit is Sovereign over His Gifts, why not allow Him to move in your life as He Wills, rather than force him to only use you to speak English? I know you will be spending daily devotional time in prayer and reading Scripture, so allow the Holy Spirit freedom in your life. Test the spirits always, but know that the Holy Spirit is God and the Spirit of God will not lead you astray. God is so very good, and His Gifts are His to give to those whom He saved, by grace, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the Gift of God.
May the Lord bless and keep you,