Holy Spirit, Part 6: Gifts of the Spirit
As Christians who live in a society that is increasingly hostile and hurting and are part of a church in which new believers often bring the troubles of the world, we must be continually aware of our need of God’s Spirit.
One aspect of the Spirit’s work involves the gifts of the Spirit, yet many Christians end up ignoring or denying the gifts either because of the extremes they have encountered in some circles, or because their Christianity never goes beyond looking out for self! The gifts of the Spirit are for the edification of the church and not the promotion of self.
As we look at some of the giftings of the Holy Spirit, please don’t try and cherry-pick as if you are going to have this or that gift. The church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ and so do we. In understanding the gifting of the Holy Spirit in this area, we are consequently more open to all that God may want to do as we walk together as a fellowship. If we are not in the habit of wanting to help and support others, we are going to end up quenching our ability to receive what God desires to give. Another simple point to remember is that we cannot manifest God in our midst, but we can offer our lives to God in such a way that His Spirit is not quenched in what He wants to do as we meet before Him.
“No single believer possesses all of the Spirit’s endowments. Rather, each believer is uniquely endowed by the Spirit to help others grow in their Christian lives.”
C.E. Arnold in, Powers of Darkness, page 118.
Before looking at what Paul says about the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor 12-14, we remind ourselves of a King who came as a servant. The reason we do this is because this world is built on sacrificial love (e.g. Rev 13:8 “slain from the creation of the world”). Therefore, if we are to keep in step with the Spirit, we should seek to serve one another and not lord it over one-another as if we were more spiritual or spiritually gifted than them! It is the servant heart that is open to the leading of God’s Spirit, and the Holy Spirit always points to the work of Jesus and of the Father.
Jesus – a Man Filled with Spirit
“For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form…”
Jesus is the Pre-Incarnate Son of God incarnated in flesh. Yet when He arrived on earth, Jesus did not appear as someone who was barely human, with Deity shining through in such a way that all would instantly bow down and worship Him. Jesus came as a servant to show us what God is like. He came as a servant in the frailty of the flesh (Phil 2:6); fully human, with deity veiled and not removed, so that we could find life (2 Cor 8:9; John 20:31).
In Jesus, we see God’s willingness to stand in our place and pay the price for our sin so that his enemies could be reconciled to Him.
In Jesus, we see the One who truly binds the wounds of the broken-hearted and brings healing, restoration, blessing and wholeness. In Jesus, we see the One who dealt with every form of human breakdown, from emotional to physical and spiritual, and yet He did not come to save humanity out of pity.
Jesus came to save humanity because He had created them to be holy. He was and is the living embodiment of Isaiah 61:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
Luke 4:18-19 NET
For the Christian, being holy is first and foremost about belonging to God. It is only in belonging to God that we can be separate from the negative ways of the world, and yet active in the world under the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Revealing What God is Like
In His life, death and resurrection, Jesus showed the whole Universe that God’s way had always been the right and only way to live and, in His life, we see love and holiness intertwined. We also see great power exercised in gentleness and compassion.
Throughout the scriptures, we find Jesus helping the downtrodden, the disadvantaged and those held back by all manner of sin and suffering. He healed the sick, cast out demons and removed the bondage of false religion from all who were willing to receive His teaching. One of the areas that can hold Christians back today is a lack of desire to genuinely want to know and serve God.
Jesus did not condone sin, and yet neither did He condemn those who were by nature objects of wrath. Instead, in Jesus, we see that the power behind the Universe is a Person who loves us with no compromise to His holiness.
Brought Home Through the Work of Christ
God sees us as justified, sanctified, and glorified through the work of Jesus. This once-and-for-all-time work means that we are positionally seen as in Him.
To understand what is meant when we use the term ‘positionally’ (seen as in Him), think of yourself suddenly being pronounced king or queen. All the officials are present, as well as the necessary lawyers, and everything is signed and sealed. As of this moment, you have been given the position of king or queen. Yet, in experience, you are still the same person. Therefore, your life is now about learning and appropriating what is already yours due to your new position.
Biblically speaking, we are already ‘seated with Christ in heavenly realms’ and our life is now about learning and appropriating what He has given us (Eph 2:6; Col 1:18, 3:1-3).
God’s grace is seen, yet again, in the realisation that He does not expect us to appropriate all that the victory of Christ means in our own strength. Instead, God expects us to live by His Spirit
(Gal 5:16). This on-going work of sanctification comes about by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14-16). But what is sanctification?
“Sanctification is a higher word than purification, for it includes that word and vastly more. It is not sufficient to be negatively clean; we need to be adorned with all the virtues of the Spirit of God. If we are merely moral, our righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. If we pay our lawful debts, give alms to the poor, and observe the rites of our religion, we are not doing anything more than others whom we tend to consider as being in error. Sanctification makes it possible for the children of God to exhibit the love of God, be filled with zeal for his glory, and live generous, unselfish lives. It enables us to walk with God, and commune with the Most High.”
Dr J. Cornwall in, Let Us Be Holy, page 82
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth.”
The word ‘another’ (allon) speaks of one who is exactly like the other in every way. Therefore, if we were speaking about a car and claimed that there was another just like it, we would be referring to a car of the same make, model, colour, mileage, number plate, dents etc. In Jesus, we see exactly what the Father is like (John 14:9), and in the Holy Spirit we have One who is exactly like Jesus in nature and character.
The word ‘Counsellor’ (Parakleetos) speaks of one whose purpose it is to help in every way possible. In his book on the Holy Spirit, Dr William Barclay points out that within the word ‘Counsellor’ are many similar, yet different, pictures. For example, within this word we see the picture of a friend called in to help a person who is troubled, distressed or confused. There is also the picture of a lawyer – an advocate called in to help a defendant who needs his case pleaded. Another picture attached to ‘parakleetos’ is that of a commander called in to help a discouraged and dispirited army. Greek scholars tell us that there is no one word that can adequately translate ‘paracleetos,’ and that the English word that probably comes closest is simply ‘Helper.’
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Another helpful comment on the work of God’s Spirit is in Dr Barclay’s book, Promise of the Spirit (page 116), which reads as follows…
“If we wish to make a geographical journey from Glasgow to London, there are fixed roads, and there are signposts…. but in the spiritual journey from say eighteen years of age to fifty years of age there is no itinerary. Every man has to hack out his own way and make his own map and take his own route. Therefore, we need guidance, not advice from other men who know only their own road, but guidance from some mind and authority and wisdom, which stands outside life and sees all life. That guidance can only come to us from the Holy Spirit, from God acting and speaking in our lives, from Jesus Christ still with us in the Spirit whom He promised us. We need power. Our difficulty is seldom to know what to do – our difficulty is to do it. It is not lack of knowledge of goodness, which troubles us; it is the inability to be good.”
The Holy Spirit as a Gift
The last words of Jesus that Luke records in his gospel (Luke 24:48) are, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” In these words, we have the promise of the Giver giving Himself, and at Pentecost God poured His Spirit out on all believers. The reason this happened on the day of Pentecost is because Pentecost, yet again, captures a picture of God’s abundant blessing.
In the Old Testament, Pentecost speaks of the completion of the spring harvest. Fifty days before Pentecost (Pentecost means ’50 days’), Israel would have had the festival of first fruits.
In the festival of First Fruits a young sheaf of barley (representative and symbolic of the coming harvest) would be taken into the house of the Lord and waved before God. In doing this, the Israelites acknowledged, yet again, that all blessing came from God as they looked forward to the future blessing of full harvest.
Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18) and His resurrection points to the great harvest of believers that come through His victory (note Romans 8:13). At the completion of spring harvest (Pentecost), the priests offered up a cooked loaf of bread which was symbolic of the fullness of harvest blessing.
Pentecost was also a time when Israel remembered the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai. The law reveals both God’s character and what He expects from His people. Therefore, it also reveals that man is a transgressor and unable to bring about holiness in his own strength.
Pulling all the strands together, we see that Pentecost speaks of abundant blessing and freedom. This is the reason for which God poured out His Spirit at Pentecost; God is making His home with the believer in order to lead the believer to his or her true home in the Lord.
A Powerful Picture Behind the Word ‘Give’
“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
The word ‘give’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘Epichoregein.’ Our English word ‘epic’ is taken from the first part of this Greek word and was used to speak of that which goes beyond the ordinary (such as a film that was truly amazing).
The second part of the word is ‘Choregein’ from the word ‘Choregeia.’ In Paul’s day, this word spoke of over-flowing grace and blessing. It was later used in speaking of a husband giving himself and all that he had to his wife. God gives us Himself in Christ and by the Spirit.
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
The victory of Christ is in us and we are a new creation through Him (1 Cor 5:17). The work of revealing a Christ-centred life comes about primarily through the power of the Holy Spirit - the presence and nature of God within us. He enables us to live the victory that is ours.
Led by the Spirit
Jesus was not a passive bystander in life, nor was He dragged everywhere by the Spirit in accordance to the Father’s wishes. God does not work through us as by bypassing our minds as though we were puppets on a string. Whilst on earth, Jesus was led by the Spirit (e.g. Luke 4:1) which revealed not only a trust in what the Father said, but also a dependence on God for all things (John 4:34; 5:30).
In Jesus, we find One who actively put His Father’s wishes before all else and loved unconditionally despite never having experienced the limitations of flesh before. No sin separated Him from His Father and the Holy Spirit was always with Him, yet did not take responsibility for everything, or give automatic deliverance from the trials Jesus went through.
In Jesus, we see a man of prayer actively involved in putting His will alongside that of His heavenly Father and working in and with the Spirit’s power, which was also an involvement of the Deity that was within Him as the Son of God. Jesus did everything by the Spirit, despite being a perfect man. How much more then should we be seeking the Spirit’s leading and guidance in all things?
In the ascension, we see that the role of Jesus and the Spirit changes, without affecting perfect unity.
Jesus had risen from the dead (1 Cor 15:4), been exalted to the highest place (Phil 2:9) and received back the glory (Heb 1:3; Rev 5:9-14) that was His before His Incarnation (John 17:5). Now He, along with the Father, sends the Spirit (Acts 2:33).
“To the Christian thinker there is open the glorious adventure of following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. All life is an unfolding. Love is not the same thing to the infant in his mother’s arms, the young child, the teenager, the newly married couple, those who have gone down the road of the years past many milestones together, the one who is left when the other has gone from this earth. No truth is static, least of all God’s truth. If we believe in the Holy Spirit we shall be saved from intolerance, from arrogance, and from servitude to the dogmas of men.”
Dr. W Barclay, Promise of the Spirit, page 41
Encouraging Words for the Ephesians: The Holy Spirit Spoken of as a Seal and a Deposit
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.”
In Paul’s day, a seal would be placed upon goods that had been checked before being sent out. The seal would be a guarantee of quality and would indicate that the order was complete. For the Christian, the Holy Spirit is spoken of as a seal because Jesus has satisfied the just demands of God’s holy Law. The transaction is complete. We are sealed in Him. We do not have His seal of ownership on us because we are perfect, but because our standing is now in the perfect work of God’s one and only Son.
During this time, when a deposit was paid, it was a strong legally binding agreement. If you could not pay the remainder that was due, you would be taken to court to have payment exacted. There was no way out. You were obliged by law to pay the whole price if you had only paid in part. This highlights what Paul is saying in the words “a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance.” God has bound us to Himself in order to give us everything He speaks of in His word, in due time. Christ has paid for our sin and, in giving the Holy Spirit, God has guaranteed our complete salvation.
“The Spirit is seen as the power of the age to come given ahead of time in history, but as still only the beginning and guarantee of the salvation of that age which is yet to come.”
Dr A. Lincoln, Ephesians, page 41
Access by the Spirit
“For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
The word ‘access’ (prosagoge) refers to the court official in Paul’s day, who would make decisions regarding who was to be admitted to the king’s presence.
As believers, we approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace in our times of need (Heb 4:16). Although we are imperfect, we are accepted through the work of Christ and can always find grace and mercy. It is by the Spirit that we draw close to God.
Jesus is our salvation, and the fruit of His salvation is living by His Spirit. The power that renews us is the power of God’s Spirit; as those who are born again, we are called to know God.
In Phil 3:10, Paul writes that he ‘wants to know Christ’. The word that Paul uses for ‘knowing’ (ginoskein) speaks of personal knowledge and experience, and not simply intellectual knowledge. For example, we may know about the Prime Minister of this country but meeting him is something quite different. We do not have a relationship with him on a personal level. As Christians, we are called to know God personally.
“You sum up the whole of the New Testament teaching in a single phrase if you speak of it as a revelation of the fatherhood of the Holy Creator…If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as His Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and his prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all…’Father’ is the Christian name for God”
Dr J. I. Packer in, Knowing God, p182
If we do not seek anything more than an intellectual knowledge of God, then there is the danger that our meetings and corporate gatherings will degenerate into formulas and mechanically well-rehearsed showpieces. They may make us feel good at times, but this is so very far from what God wants for us. He wants us to participate in all that His does and grow in the grace that is ours through Jesus.
“I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and miracles through the power of the Spirit.” Romans 15: 18-19a
Christ in Us
Paul writes to the Galatians and speaks of the need for Christ to be formed in them because they had exchanged the leading of the Spirit for good works (Gal 3:5). The ways of God were being quenched.
“My dear children for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you.”
The word ‘formed’ is a passive verb, therefore speaking of something happening to me, yet not by me. For example, when I say that I have had my hair cut, I do not mean that I have done the cutting. In order to have my hair cut, I need to be willing to go to the right place and sit in the barber’s chair. If I am not willing to acknowledge my need of His help in all areas, then I will not get very far in the Christian life.
Only God can bring about fullness of life within us. When Jesus walked upon the earth, he healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons, and nothing could withstand His power and authority. When he ascended to heaven, he sent the Spirit to live in us and to lead us into all truth. In yielding to Him and coming under the authority of his perfect word, we can break down all strong-holds of wrong thinking in our lives, because walking in obedience to Him brings the power of His Word and the Spirit upon all that holds us back.
“Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit.”
Being filled with the Spirit does not present us with a picture of an empty heart that needs topping up with the Spirit as though He were some sort of fuel necessary for us to run the next few miles. God has already poured His Spirit into our hearts (Romans 5:5).
Being filled with the Spirit is the continual challenge from God to let Him have His rightful place in our lives. It is coming into the environment of the Spirit, which is not automatic because we have been brought into a relationship. If we desire to walk in His power, then we need to constantly yield our lives to His authority.
Church is to be Filled with the Fullness of God
“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
‘Church’ speaks of people who have been called out of the world and into fellowship with God through the blood of Christ. When Paul employs the word ‘fullness’ in what he says, he is using the Greek word ‘Plemora,’ meaning ‘that which is or has been filled.’ For example, a Greek warship had three ranks of rowers; Thayer (a well-known language scholar) says the word ‘filled’ is used of a ship inasmuch as it is filled (manned) with sailors, rowers and soldiers.
In the N.T. ‘filled’ speaks of the body of believers as those who are to be filled with the presence, power, agency and riches of God and of Christ. The church is not only spoken of as Christ’s body, but that which is filled by Him.
“For in Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the Head over every power and authority.”
Paul points out that, in Christ, there is the power to overcome any power in the Universe. Paul also demonstrates that Christians already have fullness in Christ.
“And God has raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6-7
On to Corinth….
A Corinthian Problem in the Present-Day Church?
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
1 Corinthians 12:27
Paul writes to the Corinthians and reminds them of their need to be Christ-centred in all things. Divisions had arisen and certain groups believed that their way of doing things was the best way.
These differences were not necessarily doctrinal and were probably personality centred and fuelled by pride. Christians in Corinth were in danger of making themselves, or others, a reference point concerning how life should be lived. In this sense, they were mistaking uniformity for spirituality. Unfortunately, there will always be those who think, “If only people did things my way, we’d really grow!”
Paul is aware that spirituality does not come about with people trying to get everyone else to do things their way. The body is made up of many parts and each part has its own role to play. We don’t want to take an illustration too far, but if a foot wants the rest of the body to act like a foot then very little work will get done.
There is a need to be Christ-centred and this is where we find our unity. Spirituality brings about unity (think of different colours coming together and making a portrait of Christ) and not uniformity - conforming everyone to our set method or plan. We are to yield to God. God is our reference point in all things and just because others do not do things our way does not mean they are not spiritual or that God is not present.
The gifts of the Spirit are distributed according to God’s creative purpose; they do not exist to meet the needs of our own agenda.
“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one just as he determines.”
1 Corinthians 12:1
The experience of the Spirit is the key to life in Christ. Unfortunately, we often fall into a rut or a way of looking at things and blindly follow a set plan as the ‘old Adam’ rules.
The Best Gifts
Paul states that no one has all the gifts and we should desire the greater gifts. The greatest gifts are not those that look most powerful, or make one look good, instead they are those that bring glory to God and build others up in particular ways:
“But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”
1 Cor 12:31
Gifts are nothing without love (1 Cor 13), and we should all be seeking gifts that will build up and edify the church. Considering this, certain gifts may be of greater use in some congregations than others, due to the needs amongst the people and the way God wants us to reach out to the lost.
“A carpenter does not say a hammer is more important than a saw. Each tool is vital in its proper time and function.”
Dr D. Lim, Spiritual Gifts, page 99.
The Gift of the Message of Wisdom
“To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom…”
1 Corinthians 12:8a
The main Hebrew word for wisdom is ‘Chockmah’, and the primary meaning is ‘to fasten’ or ‘to hold on to.’ God is the possessor of all wisdom and we, as believers, are called to hold to the ways of the Lord.
Wisdom understands what things really are and why they are present in the first place. It understands why the world has been made and has the ability to see what is going on and act accordingly as it embraces the biblical perspective. Wisdom reaches deep within the pages of Scripture and knows that we have been created to be loved as well as to love. In sharing His love with others, we begin to experience what it truly means to be human as we walk with our heavenly Father and share all that He has given us.
Wisdom carries within it the idea of being able to understand what is good and evil and separating what is good from what is bad. It also speaks of being skilled, for example, like a craftsman (2 Chron 2:7) or a leader (Deut 1:13). Wisdom is personified as building a perfect house (Prov 9:1) and we could contrast this with a house that we build in our own strength as a means of protecting self.
In clear distinction from the wisdom of other cultures, we see in the Bible that O.T. wisdom is the teaching of a personal God who is perfect in all His ways. Therefore, wisdom speaks of a way of thinking and an attitude towards life that comes from the Lord. As already mentioned, with wisdom we can make the distinction between good and bad - between that which his functional and that which is dysfunctional. Scripture always presents wisdom as tremendously valuable and as something that is to be sought out as one would seek out precious stones (Job 28:1-8, 12-12,23,28).
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….”
The writer of Proverbs informs us that the act of coming before God and recognising the power and position that He holds is the beginning of wisdom (the word ‘fear’ in Prov 3:5 is ‘yare’ speaking of reverence and awe). In Hebrew thought, one of the main purposes of study was not initially to do things for God, but to fear the Lord, thus invoking awe in the believer. This then (a clear seeing and understanding of God) was the motivation and encouragement to live in the presence of God.
Wisdom speaks of the actions that come about from gaining insight into the true nature of things, therefore, as already stated, biblical wisdom relates to a deep intimate knowledge of God (Col 1:9) who alone holds the blueprint to life.
“…wisdom teaching is creation theology, a reflection upon lived experience in an attempt to discern the regularities of life that are taken to be the ordering of reality that the creator God decreed and guaranteed. Such regularities are most characteristically expressed as simple proverbial sayings, such as the familiar, pride goes before a fall" (see Prov 11:2 KJV).
Prof W. Brueggemann in, Reverberations of Faith, p233
Wisdom speaks of the skill – the dexterity - of the mind to build the right way, and of the ability to discern between two or more things. One of the early pictures speaking of wisdom is the dividing wall in a tent, separating one person from another. Wisdom speaks of discerning and separating right from wrong.
God created us with the ability to assimilate wisdom, knowledge and understanding. He can, at times, impart greater wisdom. This wisdom is the ability to see and weigh up everything in the light of God’s instruction. For example, in 1 Kings 3:12, we read of God giving king Solomon a wise and discerning heart because Solomon only sought to gain from God that which he could use for the purpose of blessing his people.
Solomon had a heart and mind that was open to the Lord, and he submitted to Him. Consequently, he could receive instruction and was specially equipped for the task at hand.
The perfect wisdom of God is seen in Jesus Christ. Through his life, death and resurrection, God showed the Universe that the perfection of His creation came by the way of love and holiness meeting together in order to bless others. It is love that conquers all; it is love that takes us out from condemnation and brings us into fellowship with our heavenly Father.
“Wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
In Corinth (1 Cor 1:17-2:16), there were many areas of society in which worldly wisdom was exercised, therefore the city brought its own harvest of confusion and isolation, yet it did not have to be that way. For example, James tells us that if we lack wisdom, we need only ask God for it (James 1:5), yet must do so with a “believing heart.” The question we need to ask ourselves is: Are we prepared to ask for wisdom? We could also ask ourselves, “Do I ask for wisdom to benefit my own life alone, or do I ask for wisdom so that I may help others?”
‘The wisdom that Jesus taught was not meant as a topic for debate in religious or philosophical schools – it was something to be lived out and it is proved right in the works his followers do. This is a, “By their fruits you will know them” situation; wisdom does not need people to commend her, for the deeds of those who accept her vindicate her.”’
Dr Leon Morris in, The Gospel According to Matthew, page 286.
It is important for us to realise that those who bring forth a message of wisdom are not, by virtue of doing so, wiser than others in all areas! This is because the gift is not a bestowal of wisdom (as if you are the wise one) but a message of wisdom. It speaks of the grace of God working, by His Spirit, to bless the community of believers.
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” declares the LORD.”
In the above verse, the word ‘boast’ means ‘to shine,’ ‘to show’ or ‘to celebrate.’ We do not seek to elevate or prove ourselves in any way, instead we point to God who gives us everything we need for life.
The Gift of the Message of Knowledge
“…to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 12:8b
God created us with minds that were able to assimilate wisdom, knowledge and understanding that can be shared, along with His love, with all others. We have been created to know God, and as Paul writes in Philippians, we are to seek Christ above all else:
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all.”
As already mentioned, in Hebrew thought, knowledge is much more than the acquisition of facts alone (as one would learn for an exam, for example). Instead, knowing speaks of actively participating in what has been made known. Therefore, Paul is speaking of a personal relationship with God which is a knowing and engaging with God on a deeply personal level.
There are many people who know and accept certain things about Jesus intellectually but do not push or pursue this knowledge on a deeper level. Knowledge, in the biblical sense, speaks of a relationship between the person knowing, and the object known. As we said in page six, I can know about the Prime Minister but knowing him personally is completely different. God wants us to know him personally.
Scripture reveals that in the beginning humanity clearly knew God, yet eventually exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images (Romans 1:20-23). In doing so, humanity manufactured their own gods/belief systems and sought to motivate themselves in this way. Yet humanity desperately needs the love of a heavenly Father and His wise counsel. We need to be more than self-motivated; we need to be Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered.
If we seek to live our lives by occasionally flipping through the Bible to find a verse that makes us feel good for a day or so, then we run the danger of becoming little more than self-motivated rather than God-empowered. We were made to know; knowing involves participation in all that God has said and done. We were not created to be bystanders, neither are we created to stand on our own. We are to roll up our sleeves and get involved with ‘called out people’ (the Church) whom we may have nothing in common with other than Christ.
Lack of Knowledge Can Destroy Us
In Hosea 4:6a we read, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” In Hosea’s day, God’s people were not living out what they were supposed to know concerning the truth. Later we read of God speaking these words to Israel through Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Outward actions are empty, ritualistic and bring their own rewards (Matthew 6:5) which are far removed from the blessing of God.
It is when we study Scripture with an open-heart, with the purpose of pleasing God and reaching out to others, that we become truly open to the Lord. In the gift of knowledge there will be times during which God gives us greater insight into Scripture or a situation that we, or those around us, may be facing and need extra help with.
Remember, all the gifting of the Spirit is for the glory of God and the common advantage of all. Messages of knowledge can come forth in our meetings, but they are the result of men and women who humble themselves before the Lord, with the purpose of knowing His will and being a blessing to others.
The Gift of Faith
“…to another faith by the same Spirit.”
1 Cor 12:9
Biblical faith speaks of standing firm through taking hold and trusting in something else. Think of a person leaning on the shoulder of another as they are helped along a path and you get the idea.
From Genesis to Revelation we find God reaching out and communicating with man in ways that invite man to respond in faith (eg Isaiah 1:16-18). For example, in Numbers 12:7-8 we find Moses being spoken of as ‘faithful in all God’s house.’ Yet without the burning bush (Ex 3:2ff), subsequent conversations (Ex 3:5ff) and God’s continuing disclosure of Himself, (Ex 3:14) Moses would have remained in the desert. Whilst it is true that Moses had to put his trust in God, he could only do so because God was about His work of grace, mercy and reconciliation in the first place; He shows us someone we can hold onto – God!
As believers, we have placed our trust in the work of another. We do not simply say, ‘Yes I believe this’ in an intellectual sense. We engage in the relationship offered as an act of trust in the unchanging One who has always proved Himself faithful.
“Unless Jesus’ death is viewed through the eyes of faith, its significance can be easily overlooked. We could readily dismiss it as the sacrifice of a well-intended popular hero and martyr. Or we could reject it as the self-induced demise of a deluded idealist……Jesus’ death derives its great significance from the truth that he is divine. Only if Jesus is Immanuel does his death become the self-sacrifice of God for sinful humankind.”
Dr. S.J. Grenz in, Created for Community, page 110.
All too often people view faith as little more than a leap in the dark or something to be drummed up through emotions. Considering all this, it is hardly surprising that faith is often made into something that has little to do with Christianity.
Throughout Scripture, and especially in the Lord Jesus Christ, we see God offering us Himself and that true faith involves dwelling within the framework of thinking that is given through God’s revelation of Himself and the world in which we live.
God always wants us to look to and trust in Him. This is why, for example, we find stories of people like Gideon who raised an army of 33,000 men only to have this army reduced to 300 by God (Judges 7). If the Israelites had taken victory with an army of 33,000, they may have assumed that victory came by way of their strength. In using only 300 men, and having signs accompanying them, it was obvious that the Lord was on their side and the Israelites were therefore encouraged to trust in God more fully.
“Israel’s great joy and confidence is that the One who upholds its life and the life of the world is completely trustworthy. Israel proposes to live a trustworthy life in response.”
Prof W. Brueggemann in, Reverberations of Faith, p79
By faith we understand that what God commands us to do He, at the same time, enables us to do by His Spirit.
Crucified with Christ
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Crucifixion with Christ implies not only death to the jurisdiction of the Mosaic Law, but also death to our own ways of seeing and dealing with life. Jesus Christ is now the basis of our faith and we live in the strength of the Holy Spirit, according to the teaching given in His word. In doing so, we find real freedom.
People often struggle with faith because they do not give themselves enough time to read Scripture and understand the nature and character of God. Because of this, there are many who have faith in their ideas about faith but not faith in the living God. They build a picture of what they think is going to happen in any given situation and then throw these pictures at God, expecting things to happen.
At times life can be very difficult for us as individuals, families or a church. It is then that we should be asking God for an increase in faith, recognising that we are asking God to show us more of Himself in a particular way at that time so that we remain stable and strong no matter what is going on.
Belief and Unbelief
“I do believe, help me in my unbelief.”
In Mark 9, we read of the disciple’s failure to cast a spirit out of a boy. Along with the boy’s father, the disciples went to Jesus for help. The father then asked Jesus to do something if He could, and Jesus replied by stating that everything is possible for him who believes. Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
The father knew that he did believe but part of him didn’t believe and he recognised that only Jesus could help Him overcome unbelief and give him faith. So, what did Jesus do? In the particular incident above, Jesus cast out the spirit and thus encouraged the man in what belief he did have. This prompted the disciples to wonder why it was that they had been unable to cast out the spirit. In response to their questioning Jesus said, “This kind only comes about by prayer and fasting.” In part, prayer speaks of intimate and open communion with God, whilst fasting speaks of a cessation of one’s own activities in order to take up the ways of God (see Isaiah 55:8ff). In other words, it is those who are in communion with the Lord and seek to do things for His glory that will be able to bring about all that God desires to be done.
On another occasion, a leper came to Jesus saying, “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2). The leper had taken a risk even in simply approaching Jesus seeing as he was not allowed to move around at will in the community because of his condition. In what was already a very difficult life, the leprous man would have dealt with the additional pressure of people seeing his illness as the result of sin in either his own life or that of his parents. The leper knew that Jesus could heal him yet was not sure that he would. Jesus met him at his point of confessed need by responding, “I am willing.”
In both of the above incidences we do not see Jesus berating the men who came to Him or demanding a ‘higher’ level of faith. They were honest and open, and Jesus encouraged their faith through His actions.
“Faith is not merely doing something; it is receiving something. It is not the earning of a reward, but the acceptance of a gift. Living by faith does not mean doing without or not doing at all; it means doing his will. It is a walking with God into new territory as Abraham did. It is obeying God when the request seems incongruous to all known facts, as in Noah’s life. The life of faith is not optional it is obligatory…the just shall live by faith.”
Dr J. Cornwall in, Back to Basics, p123
Co-operating with God
Faith gets things done by co-operating with God; it is not a latent attitude of mind. God does not demand faith and then leave us to produce it. Instead, He asks us to receive (recognise His presence and what He is doing) and release it. His purpose in giving faith is to make us more like His Son, thus enabling us to enjoy the friendship that He offers. It is His word that speaks faith into existence; He requires us to hear it with our hearts and minds and live out what we know to be true. We may not always know what we are going through but we can always have deep trusting faith in the One who goes through life with us because Jesus is the Shepherd who walks with His sheep.
As we have hinted at already, the gift of faith is not saving faith or faithfulness that develops as a fruit of the Spirit. The gift of faith is miraculous faith for specific situations and opportunities that we face. It may be special faith that someone needs as they go through great difficulty, or faith that runs against the ‘norm’ and trusts God for what seems impossible to man. In all things, let us remember that this sort of faith is a special gift of the Spirit. He opens eyes, ears and minds in a special way at times, all for the purpose of bringing glory to the Father and uplifting the church. Faith takes the initiative in situations and those who take the initiative are those who first submit to the Word of God.
“It is no good trying to be ‘myself’ without Him.”
C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality, p63
Gifts of Healing(s)
Sickness was not part of God’s original creation but came into existence as a result of the fall. From humanity’s decreasing lifespan, as recorded in Genesis, we see that humanity’s biological makeup was affected by separation from God. Considering this, we must be very careful not to make the mistake of thinking that all sickness is because of personal sin.
Primarily, sickness is experienced because of separation from God and because of a changing world and lifestyle. However, sickness can be a result of sin at times (as can general ill-health). See, for example, Psalm 32 (David before his confession), 1 Corinthians 11:30, Hebrews 12:12-13 and James 5:13-20. But why is it that Christians get ill when Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death?
Through Christ, we live in the now but not yet. I have been given life in Christ but the fullness of this life awaits the return of Christ. I am saved, I am being saved and I will be saved. At times, God can ordain that I receive a greater portion of that future blessing here and now and I may be healed instantly. Then again, healing could occur over a period or may not occur until I leave these dusty realms. After all, even the best of health is but a shadow of what man is destined to have.
“In the cases of the man who was touched twice (Mark 8:22-25), the lepers who were cleansed as they went from Jesus (Luke 17:12-14); and the blind man who had mud applied to his eyes and was commanded to wash in the pool of Siloam (John 9:6-7), a passage of time was involved. This perspective enables us to grow positively through each experience. It believes for an instantaneous miracle but understands that God can also heal progressively.”
Dr D. Lim, Spiritual Gifts, a Fresh Look.
Understanding “By His wounds we are healed.”
The Hebrew word for ‘healing’ (raphe) speaks of the restoring of something or someone to a normal or useful state; of renewing and making fresh. This is the opposite of being heavy-burdened and ‘out of joint’, so to speak, like a jigsaw that has worn edges and individual pieces forced together at will. The strength, power and healing that comes from God is from the One who knows how all things should fit together; it contains both physical and spiritual elements.
The primary thrust of Scripture speaks of restoration and empowerment coming about through reconciliation with God through Christ. Through Christ, we can enter into our true position as sons or daughters of the living God. This restoration also speaks of healing from all that comes about in areas of weakness and failure through broken relationships. Healing can also speak of physical healing from illness that has nothing to do with anything except the fall. How much healing and restoration we receive here and now is down to the Lord and His plans, not ours. I have prayed for and seen people healed in amazing ways, yet I also have a friend who said he was trusting in God to heal him and who died having refused to get medical help.
“Surely, he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
There is a lot of confusion concerning the above verse, which is often taken to mean that God will bring physical healing to all people here and now. But is this what is really being said? Some say ‘yes’ and subject others to increasingly intense prayers which can, at times, end up leading them on a merry-go-round of self-analysis as they seek to impart healing. Others may deny that healing occurs at all. So, what is the answer?
In this portion of Isaiah (chapter 53), we see that the cost of the atonement is the dominant theme, as Scripture speaks of the suffering that Christ underwent so that we could come back to our heavenly Father. Therefore, the passage from Isaiah speaks of the healing of wounds inflicted by both self and others in a life of sin. This is not to say that physical healing does not occur at times but the main ‘ingredient’ in the passage is about healing through reconciliation and restoration of a broken relationship.
In Jesus, we find a man who had done nothing wrong, who knew no sin and who shared nothing but the love of God with fallen mankind. He alone represented the ultimate authority in the Universe, yet did not come into the world to condemn but to save – and look at how He was treated. The horrific damage done to His body speaks of the way that sin seeks to destroy everything that is good, right and true. Our sin damages us and prevents us from having a relationship with God, with those around us and with ourselves (for example, think of those who hate themselves or live out an image that makes them feel secure).
Our contribution to the atonement was our own sinfulness, whilst Jesus’ was unconditional love. We were His enemies yet He still chose to give His life; in the pain and suffering that Christ went through before and at Calvary, we see the destructive nature of sin contrasted with perfect love.
As already mentioned, the way in which sin seeks to destroy our lives can be seen in the beaten, bruised and bloodied body of Christ that was nailed to the cross. Our minds and hearts are not as they should be. We do not live by His wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and the destructive nature of sin knows no boundaries – it even eats away at our own lives.
In the resurrected Christ we find that the destructive effects of sin are no more as the marks of His beating and humiliation were no longer present. The only marks that were left were there to help others. If you want to know more about this then please ask!
“We cannot change the colour of our skin, nor can the leopard change his spots, but the Lord can and does change the heart and remove the stains from the sinner.”
Prof Thieseen, Lectures in Theology, page 13.
Through Christ’s atoning work, believers are brought back into fellowship with a loving heavenly Father and the destructive nature of sin is broken (2 Corinthians 5:17). As we grow in Him, we can know healing and renewal in heart and mind here and now– the healing of past hurts, wrong views of life, damage caused by others and the way we have tried to deal with pain and suffering in our own strength.
Christ rose from the dead without the destructive effects of sin upon Him (seen in the horrific beating and punishment He underwent). Because of Him we can deal with the hurt, pain and bitterness that so often dominates our lives; we do not need to live with old ways of doing things or as a victim who always needs ministering to.
“If you let me, I will make you perfect – The moment you put yourself in My hands that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that – He will never rest until the work is done…. we are to rest in Him…each time you fall, he will pick you up again. He is beginning to guide you.”
C.S. Lewis, Beyond personality, page 46.
Jesus heals today, yet we cannot tie him down with a set of scriptures to make it seem as though He must heal everyone at this very moment; as has been seen, this is not the primary thrust of what Isaiah is saying. Through His sacrificial work, the damage of sin can be removed from our lives. At this point, please remember that we are not claiming that God does not bring about physical healing today - we are simply saying that this is not the thrust of this verse from Isaiah.
God heals today.
In Matthew 8:1-9:34 we see Jesus revealing His authority and power as the Messiah in both word and work. Whether in public (the leper) or in private (such as raising Peter’s mother-in-law from a bed of sickness), Jesus reached out to minister to those in need, and all were healed and set free.
“When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the Prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” Matthew 8:16-17
It is important to realise that God can and does heal today in many varied ways. It is also important to recognise that no one has the gift of being able to heal, as if it were a present for their personal use or as if one person were a healer. Each healing is therefore a gift in its own right which is why Paul writes “gifts of healing by the one Spirit.”
“The plural, which implies various kinds of healings, should also be given its full scope. The kinds may appear to include sudden or gradual, physical, psychosomatic, or mental, the use of medication or more “direct” divine agency, and variations which are not to be subsumed in advance under some stereotypical pattern of expectation.”
Dr W.R. Jones quoted by Prof A. Thiselton in, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, page 948.
Gifts of Miraculous Powers
“…….to another miraculous power……”
1 Cor 12:10
“The Biblical record is replete with miraculous stories. Moses stretched out his hand over the waters and the Red Sea divided. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky for a whole day. Elisha made an iron axe float on the water. Jesus gave sight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, and raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. He walked on water, turned water into wine, and multiplied a few loaves and some fish into food for five thousand people. This is the world of the Bible. It is a world of unusual and miraculous events – and a world almost totally foreign to the modern mind………. A miracle is an unusual, irregular, specific way in which God acts within the world.”
Prof. N. Geisler in, Miracles and the Modern Mind, pages 13 and 14.
Miracles are events in space and time that come from beyond nature and are contrary to the way things normally work. The purpose of all biblical miracles is to bring glory to God as they direct our attention away from self and orderly natural events, to God. In one sense, we could say they are the ‘normal’ of the kingdom of God working in space and time.
In the New Testament, the power that is seen at work is the power that God exhibited in the resurrection of Christ (Ephesians 1:19-21). In the book of Hebrews, we find the writer speaking of signs, wonders and miracles as that which clearly testifies to the grace of God:
“This salvation which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Hebrews 2:3b-4.
Signs (semeion): An indication or signal of something or someone
significant. It is a sign or mark which points away from itself to something else
and it is intended to appeal to the understanding.
Wonder (teras): Something unusual and causes the beholder to marvel. It appeals to
the imagination and is usually accompanied by ‘signs’.
Power (dunamis): Indicates that the source is supernatural.
As can be seen, each of the above terms have a different emphasis. The first suggests the purpose of the miracle, the second the result or effect of such an event, and the third speaks of the means by which the event took place.
In the Homiletical Handbook (p177), Professor Donald Hamilton states that there are generally three purposes which cover most biblical miracles. The first purpose is that some miracles are evidential and are intended to elicit a favourable response among observers – especially faith (e.g. John 20:30-31). Closely related to the first is the second purpose which is that miracles are an expression or demonstration of kingdom power – such as in Matthew 12:28 where Jesus casts out demons, or in Luke 10:17-20 where the disciples report the victory over the demonic. The third general purpose that Professor Hamilton writes of is that miracles are acts of compassion as they demonstrate God’s care for those who suffer various kinds of need. Note, for example, the words of Jesus preceding the miraculous feeding of the four thousand:
“Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” Matthew 15:32
As believers, we are all called to be ‘signs and wonders’ that testify to the glory and goodness of God and it is in the book of Acts that we find believers first being called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). At that time, Antioch was known for its religious tolerance yet the change that came about in Jews and Gentiles who turned to Christ was so great that they were called Christians, meaning ‘followers of Christ.’
God can and does work in miraculous ways today, which points us away from self to His power and glory, and in the N.T. we see God’s miraculous power working with and through believers in a variety of ways. For example, we have the casting out of a spirit from a slave girl (Acts 16:16ff), the blindness that came upon Elymas (Acts 13:6ff), and Peter’s pronouncement of God’s judgement upon Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter five.
“Whenever there was a serious question in the Bible as to which events were of God, a contest followed in which good triumphed over evil by an even greater miracle than the magic or satanic signs. In the contest between Moses and the Egyptian magicians, they could not reduplicate the sign of turning dust into life and gave up: “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:18-19). In the dispute between Moses and Korah the earth opened up and swallowed Korah and company, and the dispute ended abruptly (Num16). Elijah triumphed over the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel when fire came from heaven and consumed the water-soaked sacrifices (1 Kings 18). In the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles triumphed over evil spirits and even exorcised them……Satan is the master magician and the super- scientist. With his vast knowledge and deceptive ability, he is able to convince many that he can do what God does, but he cannot. Only God can suspend the natural laws he has made.”
Prof. N. Geisler in, Miracles and the Modern Mind, page 123
Miraculous powers speak of the mighty works of God expressed through Christians in a way that is above the norm. Such miraculous events come about for the benefit of the whole and clearly point to Christ’s victory that overcomes all spiritual and earthly opposition.
“The New Creation is just breaking in. For a moment it looks as if it were going to spread. For a moment two men are living in that New World. St Peter also walks on the water – a pace or two: then his trust fails him, and he sinks. He is back in the Old Nature. The momentary glimpse was a snowdrop of a miracle. The snowdrops show that we have turned the corner of the year. Summer is coming. But it is a long way off and the snowdrops do not last long. The Miracles of Reversal all belong to the New Creation. It is a Miracle of Reversal when the dead are raised.”
C.S. Lewis, Miracles, page 145.
Whilst understanding C.S. Lewis’ statement ‘miracles of reversal’ we recognise that miracles are, in a real sense, the future breaking into the present and drawing us ever onwards into the completeness of creation, which awaits the return of Christ. This is a completion of creation and therefore much more than a return to pre-fall living. When we sit down and read the Bible or meet together to worship the Lord, we must have our eyes upon the fulfilment of God’s creation and all His purposes - this is what we look forward to, and this is what we long for. We are not patching up the old quilt, we are appropriating new life that is already ours in spiritual realms.
Gift of Prophecy
Prophetic speech challenges a world that seeks safety and security in its own plans and actions. On many occasions throughout Scripture, prophetic utterance is a reminder that history does not begin, nor continue, with human initiative or cleverness. It begins with God who holds all things in His hands.
The gift of prophecy speaks of bringing God’s word to bear on a particular situation and is not intended to open the future to idle curiosity. Instead, it brings light to those whose faith might need encouraging and uplifting. Therefore, prophecy is the declaration of the mind of God in the power of the Spirit for the benefit of believers.
“By revelation is meant, then, not some vague, inarticulate awareness of God projected out of the human consciousness, but an intelligible, articulate revealing of God by God whom we are enabled to apprehend through the creative power His Word addressed to us, yet a revealing of God by God who is actualised within the conditions of our creaturely existence and therefore within the medium of our human thought and speech.”
Prof T.F. Torrance in, Reality and Evangelical Theology, page 85
Prophecy reminds people about what God is like and it brings God’s perspective to bear on a given situation. Throughout the O.T. we see that the work of a prophet was often a call to repentance and a refocussing of life around the teaching of God. Therefore, prophetic utterance will always point to God and what He is doing. Prophecy also spoke of God as being the true Master of History.
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire, do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
All prophecy is to be measured by Scripture, and in 1 Corinthians 14:29ff we see that prophecy should come about in an orderly fashion so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
“Prophecy must be received seriously and not be ignored. …..There may have been a tendency at Thessalonica, as later at Corinth, to value more spectacular gifts above prophecy; hence the warning that prophecy must not be depreciated but heard with the respect due to the Spirit whose voice is communicated through the prophet………The gift of prophecy lent itself to imitation, and it was important that counterfeit prophets should be detected.”
Prof F.F. Bruce, Thessalonians, page 125 (Word series)
Prophecy assures us that God is both the Master and interpreter of all history: past, present and future, and He holds your life in His hands.
We may find that in our corporate gatherings God prompts us to read out a Scripture or we may find a burden to share something that God has done, is doing, or we believe He wants to bring about. In all things there is a need to reach out with the sole purpose of uplifting the name of Jesus and not simply sharing our own ideas.
“For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21.
Distinguishing Between Spirits
“……to another distinguishing between spirits….”
1 Cor 12:10b
The basic meaning of the word ‘spirit’ is ‘breath’, which speaks of life and power as opposed to death and decay. Within humanity, the soul/spirit speaks of the non-material element – that place in which vitality, power and energy reside.
Within Scripture, we see this usage being extended further still to speak of any predominating determination or prevailing direction in the mind. Therefore, if the predominating idea in the human mind was towards idolatry, one could be spoken of as having a spirit of prostitution. This is mentioned in Hosea 4:12 where we read, “They consult a wooden idol and are answered by a stick of wood. A spirit of prostitution leads them astray they are unfaithful to their God.”
Hebrew idioms often describe inner tendencies in terms of ‘spirit’ and in the above verse the people of Israel were rejecting the ways of God and living by the power of their own minds – they were leading themselves astray with their own thinking and could not discern anything correctly.
This had gone on for so long that many in Israel were far from the Lord. Their drive (motivating power within self) was ‘a spirit of prostitution’ in God’s eyes; this was the prevailing direction of their minds.
Therefore, the word ‘spirit’ often speaks of the disposition of one’s mind – the ‘life’ from which one is empowered. For example, it could refer to the greed that motivates a person, or paranoia that drives people to think and act a certain way. It could refer to sin that has not been dealt with and consequently fuels wrong action, or the ‘chip on the shoulder’ that causes us to react harshly to others rather than acting out of God’s grace. That which is always uttermost in one’s mind almost always affects our decisions and suggests the sort of spirit we have.
(If you want an in-depth look at body/soul/spirit, then please ask for course 28 in our Genesis series)
In Paul’s day, the church at Corinth was being split by groups who adhered to certain personalities (e.g. Apollos, Cephas etc). Because of this, the church needed to clearly discern what was of God and what was not. This would come about through measuring all that was seen or done by the Word of God. As Kittel rightly states in his dictionary, ‘Man alone understands whereas other creatures perceive by the senses but do not understand” (Kittel, page 187).
In the Bible, discernment speaks of both reception into a state of knowledge (thus being able to discern) and judgement (whether moral or religious). For example, in Job 23:5 we read, “I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say.” The reception of information means that it could be sifted/discerned. From this we see that the biblical understanding of discernment speaks of correctly perceiving the truth – God’s word.
Lack of Understanding
"Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men." But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.” Luke 9:45
The disciples were unable to understand what was being said at this time because of their own framework of thinking. They, like many in Israel, were looking for a political Messiah who would restore the fortunes of His people. Their own thinking, based on misinformation, prevented them from understanding. In this way, the truth was hidden from them.
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Cor 2:14-16.
In the above verse the word ‘mind’ does not speak of a physical instrument of thought, but of a particular manner of thinking. Through understanding the word of God and being led by His Spirit, believers can know and think as Jesus knew and thought; hence the importance of studying God’s word.
As the writer to Hebrews points out, people can remain immature because they do not exercise their mental and spiritual capacities to study, fellowship with one another and teach the truth in word and action.
“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:14
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,”
It is the Word of God that we submit to and upon looking back to Corinth, we find a church that needed to critically discern between that which was of the Holy Spirit and that which was merely generated by certain personalities or had its roots in the powers of darkness. The question that needed to be asked was, ‘does all that is going on point to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and bring glory to Him, or simply result in error and confusion?
“When a prophet or a spirit comes to you, the test of whether he should be accepted or rejected is not the experience that the spirit or prophet gives you. Nor is it the strength of the emotions, which the spirit or the prophet gives you. Nor is it any special outward manifestation that the spirit or the prophet may give you. The basis of accepting the spirit or prophet – and the basis of Christian fellowship – is Christian doctrine. There is no other final test. Satan can counterfeit, and he will.”
Dr. F. Shaeffer in, A Christian View of Spirituality, page 415
All who study God’s word have an ability to discern truth from error, yet the gift of distinguishing between spirits goes beyond this. The gift of distinguishing between spirits speaks of God giving greater ability (by the Spirit) in a situation where it may be difficult to know the truth. Concerning Corinth, this gift speaks of the God-given ability to see through all the confusion and know what was of God and what was not of God.
The Gift of Tongues and Interpretation
"…to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.”
In 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we read of the gift of tongues and interpretation. This gift was being abused in Corinth (1 Cor 12:10b; 1 Cor 14). Unlike Pentecost (where tongues were known languages), the ‘tongues’ at Corinth were not always a known language. If they were simply known languages then there would be no need for the gift of interpretation, as someone who knew the language spoken could translate where necessary. Therefore, tongues speak of God-given language.
In 1 Cor 14:2 Paul writes, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no-one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” Paul then goes on to say that a person who speaks in a tongue in this way edifies himself (v4). There is nothing wrong with this, yet Paul points out that he would rather have people prophesy in church because it is for the edification of all (v5).
However, this is not the case if someone speaks out in tongues during a meeting. In this situation, an interpretation needed to be given so that the whole church may be edified. Paul wants the Corinthians to excel in gifts that build up the Church.
In 1 Corinthians 14:20-22, we find Paul quoting Isaiah 28:11-12, which reads, “Brothers stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written: “Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people but even then, they will not listen to me,” says the Lord. Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy is for believers not unbelievers.” So, what does all this mean?
Looking back to Isaiah, we find that Judah was becoming increasingly autonomous as she ignored God’s word and sought to live in her own strength. Because of this, God tells them that the next message would come through the “strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners.’ This spoke of the Assyrians who would later cause so many problems for Judah. Their ‘foreign tongues’ were a sign of God’s presence and mastery over all history amidst judgement. Assyria was ruling, but only because God had allowed this to occur, with the purpose (in this case) of chastising his people. He is the Master of all.
In Corinth, the gift of tongues did not speak of judgment on believers but was a sign to unbelievers (1 Cor 14:22). Perhaps we could go so far as to say it could be viewed as a judgment against the unbeliever (which fits contextually with Paul’s use of Isaiah 28 where Israel has lack of belief).
The believer already knew that God was with His people; with a spoken-out tongue and interpretation the unbeliever is made aware that something of a supernatural nature is going on (hence Paul says that it is a sign for the unbeliever).
In Corinth, men and women were being taken up in their worship yet it appears that many were speaking out in tongues in such a way that unbelievers would think them out of their mind.
Therefore in 1 Corinthians 14:27, Paul says that if a person is speaking out a tongue to the whole congregation then there must be an interpretation given. Paul suggests that only 2 or 3 tongues will be given in this way at most, and in verse 28 we see that if those who have been known to interpret are not present, then the speaker should keep quiet. From this we see that the speaker is going to have to be aware of who is around them, and not simply taken up in what they are doing.
“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”
1 Corinthians 12:11.
In 1 Cor 12:11 the word “determines” (bouletai) is written in the present tense and strongly implies a continually creative personality. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the encouragement and edification of all and are given according to divine decision. These gifts speak of God’s power at work in our own lives and are not about trying to ‘learn up’ or ‘practice’ gifts, which we think we should have. All we are called to do is understand something of the gifts of the Spirit and be open to the Lord in all things, desiring whatever is the very best for the fellowship of believers whom we seek to serve as we yield to His ways.
Our Father has poured His Spirit into our hearts (Romans 5:5) so that we, despite our failings, can have all the qualities that are needed for life as His children. We are called to yield and receive all that is offered by His Spirit…
“…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” Col 1:11-12
The word strengthen in the above verse (dumanoumenai) literally means to cause someone to have the ability to do something - to give him or her the capacity and ability to achieve something. Let us genuinely strive to seek His ways and not our own.
We have been created to know God’s love and live out that love as an expression of the new life that is ours through His Son. This is only possible by His Spirit. If it were not so, there would be no need for the fruit or gifts of the Spirit, nor for the words of Jesus who said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Be encouraged!