Tuesday, August 9, 2016

P1 - How spiritual gifts demonstrate the reality of the true and living God

1 Corinthians 12:1-3 "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit."

As the Apostle Paul begins his grand exposition on the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the first area he addresses deals with how the gifts are given to believers at salvation. Particularly, Paul contrasts a gift-enriched, Spirit-empowered group of believers to the lifeless, dead paganism from whence they were saved. After introducing his subject, he writes in 1 Corinthians 12:2 "You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led." 

As I was reading these verses, the thought dawned on me how the spiritual gifts are God's demonstration of His reality among believers in the world. In contrast to other so-called non-existent deities and false-gods worshiped in antiquity and today, Christianity alone proclaims that God in the Person of the Holy Spirit has given graces and giftings to every devotee of Jesus. 

How the truly and living God uniquely gifted His people in the Old Testament
Throughout the Bible we find contrasts between the lifeless idolatry and pagan practices of the ancients vs the genuine article that is God's revelation of Himself to His people (Psalm 115:5; 135:15; Habakkuk 2:18-19). Isaiah goes so far as to mock the practice of idolatry and paganism in Isaiah 41:21-24 “Present your case,” the Lord says.“Bring forward your strong arguments,” The King of Jacob says. 22 Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; 23 Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together. 24 Behold, you are of no account, And your work amounts to nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination." 

Whenever you read the first mention of God gifting His people in Exodus 35, you find that all sorts of people among the Hebrews were gifted by God to do what was needed to construct the tabernacle. God gave Moses the pattern for his worship center, and then gave various people differing abilities to complete the task. Moreover, he gifted Moses with wisdom to lead the people and called forth the priests, like Aaron, to represent the people before him. Eventually, God would gift and call forth prophets and kings in Israel's history to lead the people, while gifting certain individuals within the nation to do certain tasks or encourage others along the way. In contrast to the pagan systems of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia and Persia (the four principle empires that operated throughout the Old Testament), which had their devotees bringing gifts to them in an attempt to appease, the God of Old Testament revelation graced His people with the abilities they needed to do His will. Paganism had not concept of their deities giving to their people anything that didn't have some type of strings attached to it. Moreover, God had declared His loving intentions towards His people and conceived of them in father-to-child terms (Deuteronomy 32:6; Hosea 11:1). This was patently unprecedented in any other pagan culture.

How the truly and living God uniquely gifted His people in the New Testament
The Apostle Paul too contrasts the lifeless Graeco-Roman paganism of his day with the reality of Christianity. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-7 "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him."

By the time we arrive at the New Testament, especially in lieu of the Holy Spirit's arrival at Pentecost in Acts 2, we find that every Christian is endued with gifts and abilities from the Holy Spirit. Again, no other religion in the world can claim that its devotees are gifted in such a manner. The able commentator Matthew Henry notes on this score:  

"(1) That their idols never could have uttered the oracles which were ascribed to them, and consequently that they had been deluded.

(2) that these idols could never have endowed them with such spiritual privileges as they now had, and consequently that their present state was far preferable to their former condition.

Even as ye were led - Were led by the priests in the temples of the idols. They were under strong delusions and the arts of cunning and unprincipled people. The idea is, that they had been under a strong infatuation, and were entirely at the control of their spiritual leaders - a description remarkably applicable now to all forms of imposture in the world, No system of paganism consults the freedom and independence of the mind of man; but it is everywhere characterized as a system of "power," and not of "thought;" and all its arrangements are made to secure that power without an intelligent assent of the understanding and the heart."

In tomorrow's post we will consider how more recent examples of paganism contrast with Biblical Christianity in their treatment of the gifts. The spiritual gifts serve as one of the evidences for the reality of the One True and Living God, operating through His people by ways of the Person of the Holy Spirit. The unconditional giving of such gifts at salvation and their God-given empowerment of believers to perform the will of God is without parallel when compared to other worldviews, whether they be in antiquity or in modern times. 

More tomorrow........

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