Category Archives: Church

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The Spirit and Gifts

Next Level Blessings?

Context

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he desired to give them some spiritual gift when and if he visited them in order to make them strong (Romans 1:11). In 1 Corinthians chapters 12 to 14 he speaks about gifts of the Spirit. In our study, we will try and bring some clarity to what these gifts were and what we ought to desire from God. Are Christians promised to receive more through the Spirit if they seek it? What is the difference between being gifted (talented) and having a Spiritual gift? We will not exhaust this topic but our aim will be to find truth from God’s word so that we may share his desires and vision for Christians and the church.

Observation

Romans 1:11-12 is the only occurrence of the phrase “spiritual gift” in the bible! And clearly it means mutual encouragement in the faith. Many translate 1 Corinthians 1:7 with “spiritual gifts” and yet the word “spiritual” is not in the original Greek but placed there for context.

Paul wants to visit the church in Rome to share his faith with them and hear about their faith and he calls that a spiritual gift. The word gift is to be aligned with the word grace and spiritual is from out of this world. Not a bad way to describe mutual edification.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 – ‘lack no spiritual gift’ is actually a mistranslation since it only refers to ‘gift’ – probably refers to the knowledge and speech of verse 5 but stems from the grace given in verse 4. Aside from the word ‘spiritual’ asserted into this paragraph, Paul is thanking God for gifting the church with speech (‘logos’ which means words) and knowledge which confirm the gospel of Christ. The gift is about words of faith.

So, the only places where ‘spiritual gifts’ are mentioned both refer to gospel words for building up and strengthening in the faith. The next place to look is where gifts are clearly associated with coming from the Spirit and it covers three chapters written to a church being rebuked for many things.

1 Corinthians 12-14 speak of gifts that are given by the Spirit. Paul makes a couple of points clear:

(1) if it is a gift of the Spirit of God then it will affirm that Jesus is Lord (1Cor12:3). And the gifts will not promote any other Spirit or other God or other Lord (1Cor12:4-6)

(2) That the gifts of the Spirit are for the benefit of the church and not for self (1Cor12:7).

(3) Though there are many gifts, there is one Spirit and one body – not many parts but one body. Unity is key. No matter what gift you have and exercise, the whole body is needed. (1Cor12:8-31 esp verses 11, 14, 20, 26)

(4) that the greatest gift is love! (2Cor12:31-13:13 esp verses 12:31, 13:13)

(5) That it is far better to speak recognisable sounds than unrecognisable ones (1Cor14:1-19 esp verse 19).

(6) gifts do not take over a person but the person is in control (14:12).

(7) What is required in the body is order and peace and understanding so that all may be built up and enquirers be able to repent because of the gospel (1Cor14:20-39 esp verses 28, 39)

Here are the four places in the New Testament which clearly list gifts (charismata). This is taken from a work by Ronald Y.K. Fung and republished in ‘Spirit of the Living God: Part One’ edited by B.G. Webb.

The numbers to the left of the gifts are aimed at numbering and categorising the gifts into 17 areas. The aim in presenting this is not to show the extent of the gifts since lists in the bible are not aimed at being exhaustive but rather to show where the emphasis lies. The order of each column is as appears in each text.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 Romans 12:6-8 Ephesians 4:11
3b word of wisdom

3c word of knowledge

10 faith

5 gifts of healing

4 workings of miracles

2 prophecy

11 discerning of spirits

8 various kinds of tongues

9 interpretation of tongues

1 apostles

2 prophets

3a teachers

4 workers of miracles

5 gifts of healing

6 helpers

7 administrators

8 various kinds of tongues

9 interpreters

2 prophecy

12 service

3a he who teaches

13 he who exhorts

14 he who contributes

15 he who gives aid

16 he who shows mercy

1 apostles

2 prophets

17 evangelists

3a [7b] pastors and teachers

 

Four criteria to hold against claims to spiritual gifts as concluded in Chambers, Neil, ‘Spiritual Gifts’ from ‘Spirit of the Living God: Part One’ ed B.G. Webb, Lancer Books, 1991, p141.

  1. Is this person a Christian, as testified to by his or her testimony to Christ as Lord? (1 Corinthians 12:3)
  2. For what purpose is this activity practiced? Is it for congregational edification? (1 Corinthians 12:7)
  3. What, in our circumstances, is best for the edification of the congregation? One could imagine a situation where, although the person was a Christian whose intent was to edify, the expression of his or her gift may at that time not facilitate the edification of the congregation. (1 Corinthians 14:26-28)
  4. How is this gift practised? Is it exercised in love? (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

Meaning

When it comes to gifts of the Spirit, we must not jump to fanciful conclusions about them but we must always look at the context of the New Testament writings about them. Firstly, they are called gifts because they are manifestations of God’s grace. Secondly, they are for building up the church. Thirdly, they proclaim Jesus as Lord and are to serve him. Fourthly, they work together as individual parts for the benefit of the whole. Fifthly, there is reason and self-control involved in the gifts – not nonsense, chaos nor out-of-control. Sixthly, any gift must be exercised in faith, humility and obedience. Lastly, love trumps.

Application

  • What talents do you have which could be exercised for the building up of others in the faith? Discuss what you think your gifts may be and encourage others with what you have observed as their gifts. How might you exercise those gifts for the building up of the body of Christ?
  • How would you respond to someone who claims to have a spiritual gift? What if the gift was healing, prophecy or tongues? Use what we’ve read in the New Testament to shape your response.

Prayer of the Week

Lord God, we thank you for your Spirit and your generosity toward us. Help your church to grow in love and obedience to your word. Awaken our desire to serve one another in order to bring glory to you and build one another up in love. Amen.

Acts 18:1-17 – God’s people in Corinth

Context

Paul’s second missionary journey has taken him from Antioch in Syria to Athens in Greece. He is only a short boat ride away from Rome. He preached the gospel in Athens while he was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him there. He reasoned with the Athenians that Jesus is God’s chosen one, risen from the dead, who will judge the entire world one day with justice. No other so-called gods are anything.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-3 Paul meets refugees Priscilla and Aquila
  • 4-6 Paul is done with the Jews in Corinth
  • 7-11 God points Paul to his people in Corinth
  • 12-16 The Jews being pushed aside
  • 1-3 Paul meets refugees Priscilla and Aquila

“…went to Corinth…” A church was formed from Paul’s visit here which receives at least 3 letters from Paul (only 2 of them have survived). Crispus (v8) and Sosthenes (v16) are both spoken of in 1 Corinthians 1:14 and 1:1. Paul had impact in this first visit that would establish a church of Christ.

“…there he met Aquila…with his wife Priscilla…” This husband and wife team became partners in the gospel with Paul. They housed him while in Corinth and went on to travel with him before commencing gospel work of their own (see v19, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19).

“…Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome…” Priscilla and Aquila were refugees from Italy since Jews were being forced out of Rome. They were Greek since they were native of Pontus. Pontus is mentioned among the exiled Christians in 1 Peter 1:1.

“…he was a tentmaker…” Both Paul and Aquila were tentmakers. While Paul waited for his colleagues, Silas and Timothy, to arrive, he held an income alongside Aquila by working his trade. While tentmaking to earn money, he continued his habit of reasoning in the synagogues. This has become a modern shorthand phrase to refer to someone who works a low-key position somewhere in order to receive income while they continue their main goal in life which is to win people for Christ.

4-6 Paul is done with the Jews in Corinth

“…every Sabbath he reasoned…” Paul has continued to persist with the Jews in every town that he has visited. I am constantly amazed at how far and wide the Jewish faith had travelled for a religion that was all about the land and the Temple. It is apparent that the faith was also about the heritage and the hope that one day God would come and deliver them and re-establish his kingdom. And for this reason, Paul would reason with them every Saturday.

“…Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching…” When Siras and Timothy finally arrived to be with Paul, they may have brought rations and money with them to enable him to drop the tentmaking and devote all of his time to preaching.

“…testifying…that Jesus was the Messiah…” As we’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the subject of Paul’s message was not to establish the need for a Messiah but to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. In modern terms, we might say, in every context, that Jesus is the reason and purpose of life. Know Jesus, know life – No Jesus, no life. A Jewish faith that is honest and humble will recognise Jesus as the Messiah. But these Jews would not see it.

“…your blood be on your own heads…” Paul has made his case for Jesus and they have rejected Jesus as Lord. This will not fall on Paul’s head come judgement day, but on those who rejected. John 3:18 says that “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Condemnation falls on this fact alone: whether Jesus is accepted or rejected. Welcome Jesus today and you will be welcomed too into eternal life. Reject Jesus and you will receive the same response on the day of judgement. Paul is washing his hands of the Jews in Corinth.

7-11 God points Paul to his people in Corinth

“…Paul left the synagogue and went next door…” Paul’s next stop was not his lounge chair but to the next house. Right there, a stone’s throw away from the Jewish synagogue, stood another house containing a man who had regard for God. Perhaps his worship was unschooled or perhaps he fashioned his theology after the Jews that he heard next door.

“…many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptised…” Where one door had been closed to Paul, others were opened. Rejection by the Jews didn’t stop him from preaching and it turns out that some of the synagogue turned to Jesus and were baptised.

“…the Lord spoke…’I have many people in this city.’…” The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, encouraging him to remain in Corinth and to keep speaking because his elect are there waiting to hear and believe. The Jews may be hard-hearted but God had prepared many other hearts in the city to receive Jesus as Lord of their lives.

“…so Paul stayed…teaching them the word of God…” As Paul stayed, he continued to make the word of God his teaching platform. The gospel does not grow or expand or sway or vear or increase or mature with other things. It remains about Jesus the Messiah who died and rose again according to the scriptures. Paul wants the world to hear the word of God – not the wisdom of Paul. With all the self-help books in the world and the thousands of hours of podcasts from Christians and other insightful people, nothing can grow and mature us quite like knowing and reading and learning from the word of God.

12-16 The Jews being pushed aside

“…the Jews of Corinth…brought [Paul] to the place of judgement…” Once again, the Jews are on Paul’s case to try and stop him from preaching Jesus. Once again, the Jews used their local Roman official to cast judgement for them. There is nothing new under the sun. These Jews will not succeed because God has been protecting Paul along his journey plus God had spoken to Paul and said that no harm was going to come upon him. It seems almost like God’s word could go unfulfilled – but we know better than to think that!

“…settle the matter yourselves…” Even before Paul has a chance to defend himself, the proconsul silences everyone and declares that this is none of his business. This is a waste of time for him. What does he care what Paul is preaching?

“…the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader…” Sosthenes was one of the Jews who had believed Paul, we know this because he is later mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor 1:1. The Jews turned on one of their own who had succumbed to the new teaching. Unable to do any real damage to Paul on their own since he was not part of their synagogue, they made a violent point to those within.

“…Gallio showed no concern whatever…” The Roman view of the Jews is becoming increasingly low. Aquilla and Priscilla had been driven out of Italy because they were Jewish. Now Gallio seems totally unfazed by what the Jews do to themselves.

Meaning

The Jews are no longer considered the people of God but only those whom God has set aside to receive Jesus as Lord. Both God and the rulers of the land seem to cast the Jews aside.

Application

  1. When do you stop reasoning with people about the gospel? What do you do when one dead end is reached on the mission field?
  2. A five year plan was set for us all to bring one person to church and to Christ in the next five years. What stage of the plan are you up to? Take time to pray for the person or people you believe God has given you to witness to.
  3. Paul was a tentmaker for a time but later devoted himself fully to preaching the word of God. Discuss how we use “tentmaking” and giving people fully to the work of the gospel in our church and community.
  4. Reflect on Acts 9-18 and consider the various ways the gospel has been presented. Look back over a map and see the area that Paul has covered. Give thanks to God that the gospel spread so far and so quickly into a world that had only known darkness. Pray for our world today that still needs this gospel so that we can know God, know eternal life and know the freedom that comes from serving Him alone.

Acts 15:1-41 – The First Church Council – It’s a gospel issue

Context

After persecution broke out in Jerusalem (Acts 7), most of the believers were scattered abroad and preached the gospel wherever they went. To the north of Jerusalem and all of the Jewish region is the major city of Asia-minor, Antioch. The gospel was well received in Antioch and many Gentiles turned to Jesus for salvation. Paul and Barnabas preached there and were sent out from Antioch in Syria to go on their first missionary journey through Cyprus, Paphos, Pamphylia, Iconium and Lycaonian. Check out a map in your bibles or online to see where these locations are.

Peter had also experienced God’s teaching on Gentiles being included in His salvation plan. He was taught by God that He does not show favouritism. Peter saw the Holy Spirit come upon the household of Cornelius and he baptised them into the Christian faith. Peter remained based in Jerusalem along with James, while Paul and Barnabas enjoyed the fellowship in Antioch.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-4 Paul and Barnabas return to Jerusalem
  • 5-6 The council’s issue
  • 7-11 Peter’s opinion
  • 12 Paul and Barnabas present evidence
  • 13-21 James’ opinion
  • 22-35 The Epistle to the Gentiles
  • 36-41 The dream team have a Barny

1-4 Paul and Barnabas return to Jerusalem

“Certain people” They are not named, however, verse 24 tells us that they came from Jerusalem without the authorisation of the apostles there and verse 5 tells us that the Pharisees were somehow behind the thinking of these people (whether they were of the Pharisee group is unknown and unlikely but they were perhaps influenced by their teaching).

“Unless you…you cannot be saved” This is a classic gospel issue. Many can have opinions and practices of conscience which are practiced and adhered to quietly and be saved by grace. Examples of this are abstaining from alcohol; not working on a Sunday; or going to church in a specially made building for church. These practices, when they are personal decisions of faith while trusting only in the blood of Jesus for salvation, are disputable matters (Romans 14:1). But any time someone says something like, you must only worship in this building or else you cannot be saved – then we have a gospel issue. We are saved through Christ alone. There is no additions to this statement. Christ’s blood PLUS [insert something here] is a false gospel.

“Unless you are circumcised…” The Jews followed the custom of circumcision since the days of Abraham. It was a physical sign of faith and obedience to Yahweh. Of course, only the males did this, but it was a national ritual indication inclusion in the people of God. As the Old Testament explains, however, the issue of circumcision was an outward sign of an inward reality and God was more interested in the inward devotion to Him from the heart (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4). “Certain people” from Judah were convinced that if the Gentiles were to be included as the people of God, then they needed to be circumcised. It’s a forgivable mistake that they were making. In their minds, being the people of God meant that you were circumcised. Now that God is welcoming in the Gentiles, they ought to be circumcised to participate as the people of God. Missionaries encounter this type of problem all the time – how do you distinguish between our Christian culture and the raw gospel that we preach. What things do others need to adopt? To become a Christian, do you need to become like other Christians?

“…sharp dispute…” Paul and Barnabas had strong views on this issue and disagreed clearly with the people from Judah. The story in chapter 15 begins with a sharp dispute which finds a happy resolution before ending finally with another sharp disagreement – in the end it will be Paul and Barnabas who disagree with one another. The issue in the first place is a gospel issue and deserves stern, clear, precise argument. The issue in the end will be a matter of opinion and perhaps could have been resolved in a more godly manner.

“…as they traveled…they told how the Gentiles had been converted…” Paul and Barnabas had seen many Gentiles turn to Jesus and believe the good news. As they travelled to Jerusalem through many Jewish towns, they told people of what God was doing through them and many were encouraged and glad to hear it. By and large, the Jewish-Christian community were enjoying the news that God is loving the Gentiles too. Paul and Barnabas received the same welcome in Jerusalem. The church of Christ was growing strong.

5-6 The council’s issue

“The Gentiles must … keep the law of Moses.” The issue is a lot bigger than just circumcision now. It called in the whole law of Moses. The Pharisees were infamous for loving the law of Moses so much that they expounded on them and expanded their reach to include all sorts of minute detail. Jesus regularly sparred with the Pharisees over their hypocritical lives and love of the law over their love of God. To caricature the Pharisees, they saw the law that God gave to Moses but failed to see the character of God behind the law.

Paul wrote to the church in Galatia about these very matters and described the law of Moses like a guardian – like the parent of a child before the child is old enough to know better. He wrote, “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Galatians 3:23-25 (see also 3:26-4:7).

“The apostles and elders met to consider the question.” The organisation of the church now included apostles, elders and deacons. This simple structure allowed for the word of the Lord to be taught to the believers. The apostles and elders were trustworthy men of the faith, able to teach the word of God. The deacons were equally trustworthy men of faith but had the role of administering the funds to help widows and orphans and the needy in the church. The believers of Christ were not all growing in faith directly through the Holy Spirit and disconnected from one another – rather, they were a Christian community devoted to maturing in Jesus by sitting under the leadership of the apostles, elders and deacons. The Holy Spirit taught the church, through the word of God, using the gifts of people to teach and exhort and preach. Church structure began very early.

7-11 Peter’s opinion

“God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.” Peter made a case against this statement by showing what God has decided to do among them. Peter was instructed to go and preach to the house of Cornelius the gospel of grace. Peter witnessed that household be saved. Peter has seen first hand that the gospel is for the Gentiles as much as it is for the Jews.

“He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” He had witnessed the Holy Spirit come upon them and believed that God had affirmed their faith right then and there. Peter is arguing that the Gentiles are not lesser than the Jews but are equal before God.

“No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Here is a simple statement of faith and notice the order that Peter states – this is how ‘we’ are saved – just as ‘they’ are. He is not only arguing that the Gentiles need not take up the law of Moses, but that the Jews also are freed from such a ‘yoke that neither [they] nor [their] ancestors have been able to bear’ (v10). The gospel is freedom to serve God outside of the law.

12 Paul and Barnabas present evidence

“The whole assembly became silent…” I wonder how Peter might have felt when Paul and Barnabas follow his one story and involvement in ministry to the Gentiles with their many stories of God’s grace being spread across the known world! The church in Jerusalem may have been mildly excited by the idea of God’s word going to the Gentiles when Peter had one experience of it – now they are gobsmacked to hear how fast the gospel is moving.

13-21 James’ opinion

“Simon has described to us…” James, the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19), was a chief pillar in the Christian church. He firstly affirms that Simon Peter had experienced the hand of God saving the first people from the Gentiles in a significant way.

“The words of the prophets are in agreement…” James confirms that what is happening fits with what the scriptures have said. He tests the experiences of Peter and Paul against the word of God. This is a great illustration of decision making and discerning the will of God. Things can look beneficial and promising but not everything is in line with the word of God.

“as it is written…” James quotes from Amos 9:11-12 but he is quoting from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

“It is my judgement, therefore…” James’s conclusion is to agree with Peter. He doesn’t see why they should make things difficult when God has not imposed this on them. Rather than making things harder, we ought to encourage our new brothers!

“…telling them to abstain…” Rather than rules and rituals to overload them, they send advise and recommendation to help them live holy lives. They are three areas which emphasise separation from previous life of ignorance on to their new life of truth. 1) Remove yourselves from the idol worshiping practices by abstaining from the food offered to idols. 2) Sexual immorality was closely linked to idol worship also. It is the first thing to go when people take their eyes off God and his grace. As Paul reflects in 1 Cor 10:6-8, the Israelites sinned as soon as they left Egypt by revelling in sexual immorality. 3) The meat of strangled animals and from blood – another element of idol worship. 4) The law of Moses has been preached in every city – this could be added as enticement to continue to learn from the law of Moses. Just because we are not wanting to burden people with rules and regulations, it is still good and excellent that the word of God be known as it has been for centuries, near and far.

22-35 The Epistle to the Gentiles

“…the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch…with the following letter…” Another wonderful moment in the history of the church – unity, approval, action, encouragement and gospel thinking. It would be wonderful to continually see the activities we take part in as participating in the mission of the gospel rather than in keeping things afloat and salvaging old ways and traditions and practices. And in seeing the church across the planet as one church under God.

“The apostles and elders, your brothers, to the Gentile believers in Antioch…” This short letter follows the same formula as most of the letters in the New Testament and is possibly the shortest epistle that we have access to! It’s lovely that they are greeting the Gentiles in Antioch and so on as brothers!

“You will do well to avoid these things.” A gentle encouragement to avoid these things for their benefit – that’s the language of love and care. There have been no mandates or consequences described. There is only the advice from one brother to another.

36-41 The dream team have a Barny

“…sharp disagreement…” The beautiful conclusion to this chapter is soured by the “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas. The language of verse 2 in the Greek is much harsher than the language of verse 39. Although Paul and Barnabas held different opinions here, it seems that they were so separate in their thinking that they couldn’t resolve the issue. So, they parted ways. Paul went on the mission that he had proposed but took Silas with him, while Barnabas took Mark and went on a different mission. By the grace of God, this expanded the mission teams and enlarged the area being covered for mission.

Meaning

Unity in the gospel comes through putting the mission and vision of God before our own. For the church to grow as one body, it must function together with the word of God at the head.

Application

  1. The Anglican Church exists in order to preserve a common way of thinking about church life. It contains a list of 39 articles to describe what we all hold commonly together. What are the pros and cons of denominations such as the Anglican Church?
  2. The Clark family are doing God’s work in Germany and Karen Darda is serving the Lord in Japan. How can we encourage them and the churches that they are ministering to?
  3. Romans 14:1 contains instructions on avoiding quarrels over disputable matters. Discuss what you know about such things and how that applies to this passage.
  4. What advice would you give to a young Christian in the faith? What would you recommend as beneficial to them?