Category Archives: Faith

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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 17:1-15 – Reasoning from the scriptures

Context

Paul and Silas left Antioch in Syria for Paul’s second missionary journey. In chapter 16, they had spent time in Philippi where they met a lady named Lydia who, along with her household, gave their life to Christ. And he met a jailer who did the same – he and his household. They left Philippi of their own will to continue their journey. Their mission is to take the word of the Lord – the message of salvation – to the Gentiles but it has been Paul’s practice to begin wherever he found a Jewish Synagogue.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-4 Believers in Thessalonica
  • 5-9 Jealousy in Thessalonica
  • 10-12 Studying the scriptures in Berea
  • 13-17 Stirring the crowd in Berea

1-4 Believers in Thessalonica

“…As was his custom…” Paul’s strategy has been consistant in his missions. Any time that he came to a town where there was a Jewish Synagogue, he began his ministry at that place. When there was no Synagogue, he looked for a place of worship. The Synagogues gave him a starting point to reason with the Jewish community to teach them what the Scriptures say about the Messiah. He is a man who is dependant on the Spirit and goes when he is called and follows opportunities as they arise but who had a plan and a system to follow. Rather than waiting for things to happen, he put his plans to work. Whether the plan was fruitful or not, well, that is a different issue. Paul knew that the Jews had already received the word of God and should have first opportunity to respond to the gospel. If they receive it, then they also provide a base to work out from.

“…he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving…” We live in a world overwhelmed with short pithy phrases that are supposed to set our hearts at ease. “Dance like there’s nobody watching – Love like you’ve never been hurt – Sing like nobody’s listening – Live like it’s heaven on earth.” There’s one example of what I mean. And there you go. Life’s problems have been solved right there! Do you think that Jesus and the Scriptures are often boiled down so simplistically that they are no more profound than that? God is love. Jesus teaches us to do unto others… But life is complex – not simple. God is love and yet he has prepared hell for those who reject Jesus. The Scriptures are neither a child’s book nor a list of Twitter feeds. The bible is a grown up book to be read like a grown up. In them, you can find eternal life. In them, you can discuss the complex issue of suffering and how to find joy in every situation – really. Paul had his brain switched on and expected his hearers to be attentive and think while he reasoned with them, explaining and proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is Lord. God has not given us a child’s book but a sophisticated story which unpacks the issues of life and death and everything in between.

“…that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead…” Thinking as a first century Jew, the concept of the Messiah was for God to raise up a king for Israel who will gather his people and rule again. This is a concept that comes from reading the Old Testament (or just the Scriptures as Paul would refer to them). What Paul wanted to convince the Thessalonian Jews of was this: that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. The disciples found it hard to digest that Jesus was preparing to die and rise to life again because that was not part of the Messiah description they were used to. Paul thought like this right up until his conversion on the Damascus road. After that, he saw clearly that the Messiah is God’s chosen king to rule over his people but it involved him suffering the cross and rising to life again. That this is supported and proven through the reading of the Scriptures means that God always had this planned – although unclear. The proof is scattered throughout Scripture in many and various ways. The clearest passage to go to is Isaiah 52-53. Knowing that the Messiah must suffer and rise again actually sheds light on passages to give them clarity. God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts and taught at our church helps in this learning.

“…Some of the Jews were persuaded and … prominent women…” Not an overwhelming response from the Jews in Thessalonica. It’s not easy to know what Luke meant by “prominent women” or why he adds this. Luke draws attention to women in his story from time to time (1:14; 5:14; 8:12; 13:50; 16:13; 17:12). Although only a small response came from the Jews in the positive sense, a larger following was gathered from the Greeks and prominent women.

5-9 Jealousy in Thessalonica

“…But other Jews were jealous…” Perhaps they were jealous that high standing Greeks and women were moving their attention to the gospel. Their perceived power was being taken from them and they became jealous – an immature response which exists outside the gospel and must be removed as soon as possible for any convert (1 Corinthians 3:3). Their actions were worse than their motives since they drummed up a mob from the marketplace full of bad characters. Their response was not simply disbelief but vengeance and hate. They accuse Paul of causing trouble all over the place but Paul is not the one gathering up vigilantes and shouting before the city officials.

“…saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” The fact is that if someone else appeared claiming to be the Messiah and seeking to raise an army of Jews to overthrow Rome, then these Jews would most likely be on the side of that king. But since Jesus is a so-called king who gives them no power, he is rejected as their king and they speak hypocrisy for their own sakes.

10-12 Studying the scriptures in Berea

“…the Berean Jews were of more noble character…” A funny translation for the NIV. Literally the phrase is “noble-minded” or “open-minded”. We are not being told that because the Bereans were more upper class that they listened like educated folk but that they had a mind to listen to alternate perspectives. Since they gave more time and attention to what the apostle had to say, they were described as open-minded.

“…examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true…” The Bereans responded to the message of Paul with equal interest and vigor to learn. They approached the subject with sincerity and purpose to know and understand. They were not won over by short, sharp propaganda. When they believed, it was with a depth of understanding. They applied their confidence in the Scriptures to test the truth about Jesus. Yet again, the story of Acts is about the truth that Jesus is Lord in connection to the ancient faith of the Jews. He is the fulfillment to the unfolding story of salvation through the promises of God to Israel. The gospel does not require that we throw away, abandon or move on from the Old Testament. On the contrary, the good news is that Jesus is the Messiah of the Old Testament – the Lord.

13-17 Stirring the crowd in Berea

“…Jews in Thessalonica…agitating the crowds and stirring them up.” It’s truly amazing the extent that haters of Jesus will go to. Paul was as convicted against the uprising Christian church that he once travelled abroad to take them down. It’s such an extreme reaction to a message which brings hope and peace and life and truth.

“Those who escorted Paul brought him…and then left with instructions…” Paul travels on from Berea but not with his missionary companions. This time he is escorted for his own safety by a band who do not engage or remain with him for the mission. When he arrived in Athens, probably seeing the potential there, he sent instructions with the same men to have Silas and Timothy join him again on mission.

Meaning

The gospel demands a thorough investigation. It is a message grounded by…

  1. an ancient text predicting its fulfillment in Jesus and
  2. in an historic event where a man suffered and rose to life again having shown himself to be the Messiah.

To disprove Christianity, there are two clear places to attack: the ancient texts and the historic event. A fool who does not wish to believe can then attack the believers out of jealousy and hate. The wise man, however, will search the evidence thoroughly and come to see that Jesus is Messiah and Lord.

Application

  1. How thoroughly do you search the scriptures? Is your beliefs and convictions driven more by surface feelings and thought or are they grounded in deep understanding and study? Talk about how you study the scriptures or how you could learn to study them better.
  2. What is the gospel? Can you sum it up in one word? Can you sum it up in a sentence? A paragraph? A page? What things are important in the gospel message and what things are of secondary importance? Where does the cross and resurrection fit in your answer?
  3. Do you have anybody that you should or could disciple? Discuss how that is going and what you need to do to improve in the area of discipling others. (If you are a parent then you clearly have some people that you need to disciple.)

Acts 3 – The Author of Life

We’re back to looking at a larger chunk of text and so Growth Group leaders will need to decide how to divide the text and what to focus on. In this week’s passage, it is possible to discuss the whole passage from an eagle-view and then zoom in on a few sentences to discuss.

Context

The book of Acts is dealing with the early days of the Christian church. Jesus is risen and ascended to the right side of God the Father. From there he has poured out the Holy Spirit on all who believe. A great crowd of Jewish God-fearers hear Peter’s conviction that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah whom they had crucified. About 3000 of them repented and were baptised. During this time of revival, the church enjoyed the excitement of Learning together, meeting together, eating together and praying together. The days of the early church sound amazing! The apostles were excited to teach about Christ and their teaching was accompanied with many wonders and signs (2:43).

Observations

  •  Notice how similar chapter 3 is to chapter 2!
  1. 3:1-10…A miracle occurs through the apostles resulting in praises to God (2:1-12)
  2. 3:11-14…Peter steps up and declares that this is because of Jesus (2:14-23)
  3. 3:15-16…Peter convicts his fellow Jews of their wicked treatment of the Messiah (2:24-32)
  4. 3:17-26…Peter calls the hearers to repent for the forgiveness of sins (2:33-40)
  • While chapter 2 ends with 3000 converts, this episode leads to the first sign of persecution in the church (Ch4). Instead of converts, they get critics!
  • What the lame man expected from anyone was, at best, some money, and has experience of getting little or nothing as people walk by. Getting money from pious Jews was why he was brought to the temple and this is what he asked for. Even when he asks Peter and John, it seems like he hasn’t made any eye contact with them – he sees them and asks them for alms, but does not know for sure that he’ll get anything from them.
  • “In the name of Jesus Christ” – this phrase could be read as a magical word to provoke a miracle but this doesn’t fit at all with the gospel, of Jesus ministry or of the teaching of the apostles. It’s better to be read as a command for the man to get up and walk in Jesus name. That is, he’s being asked to trust Jesus and the power of Jesus. Verse 16 supports this. So, the man responded immediately to the call to trust Jesus.
  • Notice the physical aspect of this story. The man was carried to, probably, a routine location to receive alms from folk who were not even going to look him in the eye – any gifts from the crowd would be passed on with minimal to no personal contact. But Peter and John asked the man to look at them. Peter looked at them and said, “look at us!” After talking with the man (more than what he’d be use to) they took him by the hand (v7) and helped him up. What follows (7-8) is quite a visual description of the man’s activity – strength returned, jumping and walking and shouting praises to God (yes, go ahead and sing that song). Lastly, we read that the man held on to Peter and John (v11). The physical elements of the story take us from lame and distant, mechanical and dreary – to leaping and touching and talking and praising. It sounds like death has come back to life.
  • Notice the descriptions or titles attributed to Jesus in the story:
    1. “servant” (v13) which reflects the language of the Servant Messiah in Isaiah (eg, Isa52);
    2. “Holy and Righteous One” (v14) which seems again to point to the Messiah (note Mark 1:24);
    3. “author of life” (v15) – this doesn’t seem to have any past usage but clearly refers to Jesus’ divinity and work in creation. John 1 covers this theology and it’s brilliant to see Peter, only weeks after the resurrection, preaching this conclusion about Jesus.
    4. “Messiah” (18 and 20)
    5. “Prophet like [Moses]” (v22) – from Deut 18:15
  • The sermon from Peter is quite similar to the sermon in chapter 2. It’s where it differs which helps us to learn. Peter continues to emphasise the teaching of the Old Testament but rather than quoting as much as he did in chapter 2, he refers to key figures in the Old Testament: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, “all the prophets” beginning with Samuel, Moses. Jesus is the fulfilment of all that God has been promising beforehand.
  • Peter is encouraging the Jews to respond to all of this on the basis that the promise is first for the Jews (v25-26). The inference is that if they don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, then others will be offered the gospel to accept.
  • Verse 18 – God fulfilled, God foretold – the Jews recent participation in the death of Christ was part of God’s plan. This doesn’t make what they did any less wicked and wrong – they killed the author of life! But repentance and forgiveness is still there’s to take hold of if they would turn to God.
  • Verse 19 – Repentance means turning to God. These are not two things. We can say sorry but it is only valid if you turn to the one you are sorry to! It’s being turned away from God and working, seemingly, against him that we are to repent of and be sorry for.
  • “Times of refreshing” – here is a recollection to the Deuteronomy choice: choose life or choose death! Choosing life will see you live long in the land that the Lord has given you! The difference now is that the times of refreshing are looking forward to the reality of the kingdom of God. See verse 21 which describes when the time comes for God to restore everything! So the times of refreshing are not prosperous times here on earth but are the day ahead of us when God restores all things – that is, when Jesus returns and the new heaven and new earth are revealed.
  • “Completely cut off from their people” – This is the flip side of the coin – if you do not repent, you will miss out on the refreshing times and will be cut off and removed from the people of God.
  • The Jews all needed to come to terms that Jesus Christ the Nazarene is the suffering servant, the holy one of God, the author of life and the Messiah whom God has promised. Unless they turn to God and repent, they will not be saved.

Meaning

Peter has taken another opportunity to teach his fellow Jews that Jesus is the promised Messiah and that all of his brothers, the descendants of Abraham, must turn from their wickedness and turn back to God. God will make all things new through Jesus.

Application

  • Faith healing is not about the power of the preacher/healer, but of the trust that we place on Jesus. This does not mean that we need more or greater faith in order to receive healing, but that our trust and confidence must be in Jesus. It’s not ours to demand a healing, but it is Jesus’ who demands to be trusted.
  • Peter had preached that Jesus is Lord in chapter 2 and his message and focus has not changed in chapter 3 – nor will it for the rest of his days or the book of Acts. The question of who Jesus is to us is key to Christian ministry. Who do you say that Jesus is?
  • Jesus had said that he would work first in Jerusalem before the gospel goes beyond (Acts 1:8) and this sermon is directed to the Jews in Jerusalem. Therefore, the mission of God is going exactly how God said that it would. He uses us to preach and teach and speak about Jesus but it is his mission.
  • Jesus is the author of life – in the name of Jesus, we will see people move from spiritual death to spiritual life – their sins are wiped out! And in the name of Jesus, we will see the whole of creation see refreshing and restored times – illustrated by the lame man. Are we living like the cripple who didn’t expect much improvement or are we seeing clearly like Peter who waits for the Messiah to return and make all things new?!

Prayer for the week

Author of life, wake us up to the mission you have for this world. Gift us with great joy to be praising you for the life you have given us and for the refreshing times you promise ahead. Amen.