Thursday, September 8, 2016

P1 - Be a blessing with your spiritual gifts - 1 Corinthians 14:1-19

1 Corinthians 14:1-5 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. 4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying."

Over the past several weeks I have written off and on on the subject of spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. The links below are to those posts which specifically give an outline to those chapters, as well as a summary of their main points:

In those posts we looked at how the Apostle Paul expresses how every Christian is supernaturally gifted by God, how one can discover their gifts and the various categories of gifts found in the New Testament. These particular topics were the focus of 1 Corinthians 12. In 1 Corinthians 13 we looked at how God's love is the priority, the practice and the power in effective exercise of the spiritual gifts. No matter what the gift, if the Christian fails to rely upon and express God's love to others, then whatever else we may say about the gifts will be in vain. 

Today's post is an attempt to begin understanding the the most difficult chapter of the section on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14 - namely chapter 14 itself. What is prominent in Paul's material is of course his exposition on the gift of tongues, prophecy, proper conduct and principles for exercising the spiritual gifts. Many people have found this particular chapter of 1 Corinthians to be the most difficult due to two things: 

a). The complex elements that were at play at Corinth that led to Paul's corrective remarks. Clearly there was misuse and abuse of the gift of tongues. It is vital to understand what exactly Paul was communicating in order for us to apply this chapter to today.

b). The prior century of the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Third-Wave movements that have swept through nearly every denomination throughout the world. The mixture of legitimate and questionable practices and theology makes exposition of this chapter even more difficult. If for anything, the need for sound explanation of 1 Corinthians 12-14 is needed in our day. 

The main point of 1 Corinthians 14 - "Gifted to be a blessing"
In as much as the main subjects of 1 Corinthians 14 has to do with tongues, the function of men and women in the church and the way in which our church services ought to function - all of these topics serve a backdrop to Paul's overall concern: how to be a blessing with the gifts God has given.  How is it that we can use our gifts to be a blessing to others?

Avoid self-centeredness
This was the problem at Corinth. The Corinthians had taken the gift of tongues and began to both abuse it and misuse it. The abuse came in the form of using it for a different purpose than which it was intended by the Spirit of God. Often our Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers will attempt to distinguish between the tongues of the Book of Acts and those found in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Particularly, 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 is taken to be a prescriptive pattern for Christians today as to advocate some "second-blessing" or "baptism in the Holy Spirit" as evidenced in speaking in tongues. But a closer look at 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 will reveal that Paul is not "prescribing" some sort of "prayer-language" theology or "second-blessing" experience subsequent to salvation. Instead, Paul is being "descriptive" of what missteps were occurring at the Corinthian church. The abuses going on at Corinth was in taking the gift of tongues out of its evangelistic use in Acts 2,8,10 and 19 and co-opting it for some private form of self-edification. These abuses, and thus misuses, were leading the Corinthians to view the gift of tongues as the superior of the gifts. In reality, the gift of tongues is described by Paul as the lesser of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:5. The gift of tongues was taken to be a badge of pride and had resulted in church services that demoted God's word, God's glory and edification. 

Paul is correcting two extremes in 1 Corinthians 12-14
Perhaps readers may be thinking that non-Pentecostal or non-Charismatic Christian bodies are immune from these tendencies, or even worst, some may think I'm picking on modern-day Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers. I must hasten to add that I still to this day have many dear friends and know wonderful pastors and church leaders who are involved in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. Moreover, some of the positive contributions made by those movements (reminding the church of the need for the Holy Spirit's ministry as well as some of the wonderful hymns and choruses sung today) are not to be forgotten. Let me say that as one who began their Christian walk in Pentecostal and then later Charismatic Christianity, the self-centered tendencies were there, which, I would say, were the results of some well-meaning people over emphasizing one gift at the expense of the others. Although I don't advocate a "second-blessing" or "prayer-language" theology, I still admire the way my dear Pentecostal/Charismatic brothers and sisters prize the value of prayer and seeking of God. 

What am I saying? As a Christian and a pastor in a non-Pentecostal and non-Charismatic denomination, the dangers of self-centered Christianity are not any less. If anything, non-Pentecostal and non-Charismatic groups can greatly under-value the gifts due to self-centered thinking. Paul's aim in these three chapters is to correct what can be two ditches in the realm of the spiritual gifts. Corinth was guilty of over-emphasis on one gift (tongues), which is the issue we find him dealing with in 1 Corinthians 14. In 1 Corinthians 12, he begins his discussion by alerting others to "not be ignorant" about the gifts. It would seem that all-too-often, most churches barely talk about the gifts or at least possess an adequate Biblical understanding of such. If anything, both ditches can be avoided when we remember to exercise and express God's love through the gifts. 

Closing thoughts: the dangers of being self-centered in our exercise of the gifts
And thus, when we consider the need to avoid self-centered Christianity in our use of the gifts, Paul's words apply to all Christians today, whether they be Pentecostal/Charismatic believers or their non-Pentecostal/Charismatic contemporaries. The principle of avoiding self-centered Christianity not only applies in the realm of the specific gift of tongues, but also to how we practice any of the gifts. I will close out today's post with three dangers that come with self-centered expressions of the gifts, and why we as Christians must avoid it in order to be a blessing to others:

1. Self-centered Christianity makes for less effective Christianity. 1 Corinthians 14:1-5

2. Self-centered Christianity lessens the value of the Word. 1 Corinthians 14:6-12

3. Self-centered Christianity limits the gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:13-19

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