Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is the Gift of Tongues Important?

Rom 12:6  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; Rom 12:7  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; Rom 12:8  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I have been preaching through 1 Corinthians and find myself in the middle of chapter twelve and the subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; a daunting task to say the least.  While the debate of which gifts are to continue throughout the church age continues there are certainly some practical things to consider no matter on which side of the subject one might come down. 

I find it interesting to see that there are only three times in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed for us in the NT.  In 1 Cor. 12 alone are tongues, miracles and healings listed.  In the other two places as seen in the above verses the listed gifts are exclusively gifts of service and exhortation and edification.  I find that a little more than interesting.  Similar gifts are also found in 1 Corinthians and none of the lists are the same indicating to me that there might be any number of different gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the church as they are needed.

What I find important is that the bulk of gifts mentioned in the NT are ones of serving each other in the church family.  Even what I and others would term the “sign gifts” were given to help in the church and they were not to be used in the church if they didn’t edify.  Paul takes pains to point out that speaking in tongues in which no one understands is pointless in 1 Cor. 14.  To me this indicates that the most important gifts are ones that help us serve each other.  When we think about how all this is played out in the modern Charismatic Movement a couple of red flags arise in my way of thinking.

Now I know that we cannot paint all Charismatics with the same brush and that not all practice what I am speaking of here but there is a general principle it seems among what I would see as traditional Pentecostalism that the most important gift is tongues.  They are told to pray for it because that is kind of the litmus test of whether one has the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  It is an important part of their worship services and we won’t even get into healings and “words of knowledge” and the like.  Now I think a good, sound case can be made that the whole idea of being baptized by the Spirit in the Charismatic sense is completely unbiblical but there is a fundamental problem with all this that in my mind reveals a flaw in how they view and use spiritual gifts.

My question, having said all this, is why are they so concerned with the gift of tongues when admittedly there is seldom any interpretation (and if there is, who can verify it beyond question) and so there is no edification?  At least one of the reasons Paul mentions tongues in in 1 Cor. 12-14 is because they saw themselves as more spiritual than others because they had this gift and so were using it to elevate themselves.  This is one reason why Paul says they need to be seeking the gift of prophecy because that was much more beneficial to the church because people could understand and be edified. 

Why the big emphasis in tongues and showy, potentially prideful gifts rather than the gifts that are mostly mentioned in the NT which are clearly serving gifts?  Why don’t we hear of people being exhorted to seek the gifts of cleaning the toilets in the church or being patient with the weak saint and helping them overcome problems in their lives?  How about seeking gifts of humility or the ability to teach clearly and faithfully our brothers and sisters the Word of God instead of being consumed with gibbering in a language that at best can only impress the poor confused person next to you in the pew who can only wish the Holy Spirit would display such amazing things in his life? 

Is not the Holy Spirit called “Holy” because he is to create Christlikeness in us and that is his primary function?  Even if tongues are to continue today is it not obvious that tongues are a minor gift that pales in comparison to gifts that cause us to serve and edify one another?  If we want to be Pentecostal in our theology then let us at least grasp what is important and what is not.  Unfortunately another abuse of gifts is to emphasize them over the careful study of God’s Word and so it becomes a vicious cycle of studying mainly the book of Acts and passages that deal with spectacular gifts and failing to put tongues in their proper relation to the other gifts.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Walking in the Spirit

Act 21:4  And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

This is one of those verses that forces us to stop and think for a while and compare to other passages.  There are at least a couple of questions that arise.  First of all, for the last few chapters it is clear that Paul is headed for Jerusalem and no less “through the Spirit” as well, Act 19:21  Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome."  So the first question is what does perceiving through the Spirit mean in these verses and second, why did Paul not let himself be persuaded since these men told him not to go through the Spirit? 

Without getting into the gifts of prophecy I think we can rule out that the Holy Spirit told these men specifically that he didn’t want Paul to go to Jerusalem.  If this was a “word” from the Lord then Paul clearly is sinning by going to Jerusalem and the rest of the book is merely an account of Paul in disobedience and clearly that is not the case.

I think we get some light on this beginning in verse 10.  While staying with Phillip, Agabus visits and had a prophecy of his own.  Just as with some OT prophets he acts out the word of the Lord, Act 21:11  And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'"  Notice that the Holy Spirit does not say that Paul shouldn’t go to Jerusalem but merely lets them know what is going to happen when he gets there.  As we read further, while everyone was telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem, he is even more determined even if it means imprisonment.  He says “Let the will of the Lord be done”, showing that he understood God’s message of what was going to happen.

I think this explains the verses above.  While these men did receive a word from the Holy Spirit, it was not that Paul was not to go but merely revealing what was going to happen.  One good benefit for this revelation would be that when they saw this actually come to pass then they would have to give glory to God for his sovereign direction in all things and they would be built up in their faith.  It also certainly showcases Paul’s faith for even after repeated warnings he is happy to go and suffer for the Lord.

It is interesting that in my study Bible for instance it is assumed that the prophecy of vs. 4 was inaccurately understood and so these men were wrong in telling Paul not to go.  They then go on to apply it to those who had the gift of prophecy and that even with that it is possible to misinterpret it and so the early church had to be really careful, etc.

The problem I have with that is it makes God the author of confusion.  I find it unacceptable that the Holy Spirit would go to the trouble to give these revelations to his people only for them to completely miss the point.  A lot could be said how this applies to supposed gifts of knowledge and prophecy today but we will refrain.

I see no reason to assume anything other than that the Holy Spirit very clearly told them that Paul was going to suffer in Jerusalem and they did what anyone would expect them to do, warn Paul not to go.  But Paul was responsible to do what he believed he needed to do for the cause of Christ and so he did the right thing for him.  If anything this teaches us that at the end of the day each one of us is responsible to serve the Lord directed by our own conscience, guided by the Word of God and not to follow someone else’s opinions on what you should do. 

I believe that for us today the “through the Spirit” instances are when we are led by our knowledge of the completed canon of Scripture.  After considering all the information, as Paul did, we must make up our minds as to how best to obey.  For this to work well we must have a heart full of Christ and not ourselves and Paul is a great example of this.  This is New Covenant living.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hiding in the Garden

Gen 3:7  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Gen 3:8  And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Gen 3:9  But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" Gen 3:10  And he said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself."

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith states that when Adam and Eve fell they not only fell into sin and death but they lost communion with God.  Spiritual death is separation from the source of all life, God, not just bodily and legally but also to be at odds with him spiritually.  We would expect, and I believe the Bible supports this, that our salvation would fix this communion problem.  Unfortunately many want to ignore or deemphasize this today and the result is easy beliefism or a complete jettison of the gospel entirely. 

It is clear that God created us to have a relationship with him in which we know him, love him and do all in light of pleasing him.  He did not create us just so we can live forever and so our salvation did not just secure for us the forgiveness of sins so that we can get on with our lives (see post below).  When we center our existence and our salvation around man and how much God loves us rather than around God and getting back to a life of glorifying him, we begin to redefine what conversion is all about. 

In the above verses clearly Adam and Eve became guilty sinners seen in their realization that they were naked and the accompanying guilt and shame.  But the other result of this was that they hid from God rather than look for him for help.  One of the identifying marks of the unregenerated is that they are still hiding in the world rather than coming to God.   I see this every Sunday and any number of ways throughout the week.  Instead of our churches filled to capacity, the golf courses, bars, lakes, sports arenas,  workplaces, etc. are filled to capacity.  The lost hide from God because they are at odds with him.  Apparently a lot of “Christians” are hiding from God also! 

But the effect this has on the gospel is that when we think God merely wants us to make it to Heaven so we can have “eternal life” then we don’t have much of a call to repentance and we don't expect a completely different kind of life if one is truly saved, we merely tell them that God loves them just as they are and wants them to accept his love seen in the cross.  In other words, "Just believe that Jesus died for you and then if you want to stay out and hide among the trees, that is okay".  Never mind that it displeases and dishonors the Lord; he will let you live “carnally” as long as you “get saved”. 

I don’t think so.  Jesus said that anyone who is worthy of him must take up his cross and follow him; they will love him with all their heart.  Mat 10:37  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Mat 10:38  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  I can’t see how one can hide out in the world on Sunday or any other day for that matter and still be described as a saint of God.