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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.

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The Spirit and Growth

Galatians 5:16-25

Memory verse: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

Context

The gospel message must include information about the Holy Spirit. Remember that Jesus told Nicodemus, a Jewish expert in the law, that he needed to be born again of water and the Spirit if he wanted to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5)? Nothing that this Pharisee had done in all his life was enough to bring him to the kingdom. Only the work of the Spirit could do that. Jesus then said that only those who believe (in the Son) may have eternal life (John 3:15). So, the work of the Spirit is to open the eyes of people to see Jesus as King and Saviour, and that believing, they can have eternal life. The Holy Spirit kicks off the Christian life.

In our previous two sermons (God willing) we have heard who the Holy Spirit is (God) and that the Holy Spirit is the giver of life. In today’s study we will use Galatians 5:16-26 to examine the Spirit’s work in our Christian growth.

The New Testament book of Galatians is a letter by Paul the Apostle to the Christian church in Galatia who, having received the gospel of Jesus Christ, were apparently returning to old religious practices (Galatians 6:12) – observing special religious days and seasons (Galatians 4:10-11) and reintroducing circumcision (Galatians 5:12). Paul is worried for them that they will forfeit their eternal life because of false teachers who try to persuade them to return to observing the law. In Galatians 5, he explains how living free from the law does not equal free from holiness since Christians walk in step with the Spirit of God.

Observation

Structure

  • 16-18 The Spirit and the Flesh are in conflict
  • 19-21 The Fruit of the Flesh are…
  • 22-25 The Fruit of the Spirit is…

16-18 The Spirit and the Flesh are in conflict.

“…walk by the Spirit…” It is clear from Galatians 3:2-5 that the Spirit mentioned in comparison to the flesh refers to the Spirit of God (Galatians 3:5) rather than the spirit of a person. We are not simply being told to live the way your own spirit drives you but to live and act influenced by the Spirit of God.

“…desires of the flesh.” It is more likely that the whims and passions of the human spirit is aligned with this word ‘flesh’. “‘Flesh’ describes humans in their opposite-ness to God in their opposition to God. It’s talking about people who haven’t been born again by the Spirit.” (Petty, S. Little Black Books: The Holy Spirit, Matthias Media, 2012, p55). This simple definition matches the statement by Paul that the Spirit and the flesh are in conflict. If the flesh were simply our bodies, then the Spirit of God would not dwell in us. The word is still useful since it picks up the passions and desires that seem to go hand-in-hand with a physical body such as sexual immorality and drunkenness – even hatred feels like a fire brewing in the flesh!

“…desires what is contrary…” Both the Spirit and the flesh desire or strive or are passionate for something and both desire what the other hates. To listen to one is to ignore or disobey the other. “They are in conflict with each other.”

“…you are not to do whatever you want.” This must not be confused with having to do what you don’t want – like living in the Spirit will always go against our wants. Paul has stated clearly that the Spirit and the flesh are in conflict and so we must choose which way to go. Doing whatever you want will often be in sync with the flesh while at times, we may make a choice which happens to work fine for the Spirit. What Paul is saying, however, is that we must choose to listen and obey the Spirit of God. That is what we need to want.

“…if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Again, this is not to be confused with abandoning the law outright. Paul’s case in its context is that living by the Spirit of God will pursue God’s desires without the need of any written law or code or commandments. We will not need a textbook since we have the Spirit of God!

Paul’s message in verses 16 to 18 is that we are to distinguish between things we do and the nature of God. The path ahead for us all is to follow the Spirit rather than anyone or anything else. Pursue the way of the Spirit of God. All other pursuits are worldly and in rebellion to Him.

19-21 The Fruit of the Flesh are…

“The acts of the flesh are obvious…” You can see the flesh in action easily. This is an interesting statement in today’s climate. Is it politically correct to say that impulses that people have are in conflict with God? Is it politically correct to call a sin evil? Paul lists things that are obviously out of sync with the Spirit and he is confident to say that it is easy to pick. Perhaps it is not politically correct to judge people out loud, but we can judge ourselves and discern rebellion in others quite plainly. We can see the rebellion against the Spirit in action clearly.

“The acts of the flesh…” The list which follows contains a fairly obvious list of sin. ‘Debauchery’ or ‘licentiousness’ describes an indulgence in sex or drugs or alcohol. ‘Hatred’, ‘jealousy’ and ‘envy’ all relate to an inward desire for another person’s demise. These are what the desires of the flesh produce and so the word ‘acts’ and ‘fruit’ seem to be working in parallel. The fruit will operate out of instinct and reflex when not put under control while the Spirit will not take control of a person but produce a different kind of action. The person is always performing the acts but some are reacting to their own desires and impulse while the saved are listening to the Spirit.

“…and the like…” The New Testament does not give lists in order for us to make more tablets of commandments. Instead, they are given as examples and illustrations to make a greater point. The point is that the acts of the flesh are obvious. If the Spirit of God is working in you, then it is obvious.

“…those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Everybody sins (1 John 1:8-9). But the person walking by the flesh will be characterised by these things. Ephesians 2:8-10 make it clear that we are saved because of what God has done for us in Christ and that he promises to work in us to be like Christ. An unrepentant person will demonstrate their allegiance to the flesh and their rebellion against God. Such a person will not inherit the kingdom of God.

It is possible for a person to be “Christian-ised” and be brought up to reject fleshly things while in the company of others. The Spirit of God, of course, knows the heart of a person and unless they turn to Christ, they too will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22-25 The Fruit of the Spirit

“…the fruit of the Spirit…” See the comment under ‘acts of the flesh’. The Spirit does not act on our behalf but produces fruit in us. Our actions are the result of listening and learning and growing through the Spirit.

“…fruit of the Spirit is…” The list here is in contrast to the acts of the flesh. It is a singular fruit and all of the virtues are to be built up in parallel. 1 Corinthians 13 expounds on the first in the list as an overarching chief of the other items listed.

Love – chooses others first and shows no favouritism (1 Corinthians 13). It is perhaps the best word we have to describe God (1 John 4:8)

Joy – is a gift to those whose names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20)

Peace – is also a gift from God through reconciliation between us and God and between one another (Ephesians 2:14-18)

Patience (forbearance), kindness – demonstrates the nature of God toward sinners (Romans 2:4; 3:25)

Goodness – is what we are saved for (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:17)

Faithfulness – is to stand firm in the faith as well as to be trustworthy (Hebrews 10:23; 3 John 3)

Gentleness – promotes love and graciousness to others (1 Peter 3:15)

Self-control – is a direct response to the gospel of God (Titus 2:11-12) and the road to love (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“Against such things there is no law.” As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8 – love never fails. There are no restrictions or limits to the extent that these virtues can and should go! The law never speaks against love, joy, peace etc. These are all virtues of the Christian life for those who are walking with the Spirit. Each of these are to increase in the Christian as they grow in their trust in God and love of Christ. Furthermore, there is no need for law when the Spirit is obeyed – the law is obsolete when you have the spirit – this is true freedom from the law when we pursue life in the Spirit.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh…” We work in response to the call of the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the flesh. You cannot belong to Christ and not be putting to death the deeds of the flesh. You cannot successfully put to death the deeds of the flesh unless you belong to Christ. The surrender of your life to Christ is more than knowledge of the gospel. It is an ongoing work between you and the Spirit to kill off the desires that are obviously driven by the flesh. Since the flesh and the Spirit are in conflict, we need to destroy what is in conflict with the Spirit. This is the Spiritual warfare that matters first in the Christian life.

“Since we live by the Spirit…” Note that we don’t strive to have the Spirit or gain the Spirit once we put on love and peace etc, but that having the Spirit already, we shall listen to the way of the Spirit of God and be conformed to his will and influence. We do not summon the Spirit to us by doing good work or worship or intense prayer. No, the Spirit is the gift of God to all who believe in and trust the Son of the Father.

“…keep in step with the Spirit.” This is our eternal partnership! We do not live by rules and laws that need legal experts to interpret and find loopholes. Rather, we live by the Spirit who is love, and is patient, and is joy. He knows exactly what to do in every situation and we need to pursue listening to Him and obeying Him.

Meaning

Christian growth does not concern learning rules, nor keeping traditions, but rather listening to the Spirit of God who lives with us. Two masters are at battle within us, the flesh and the Spirit. They are in conflict with one another and cannot be friends. Feeding the impulses of the flesh works against spiritual growth and is inline with all who are excluded from the kingdom of God. Responding to the Spirit of God is what people in the kingdom do and produces Christian growth. Christian growth is about partnering with the Spirit of God.

Application

  • Topic A: Keeping in step with the Spirit. This involves listening and obeying and discipline. It requires meditation over the word of God to know God and know His Spirit. Many may say that they hear the Spirit of God speak to them when they pray. Even so, how can you discern the difference between the voice of God and your own random thought or even an influence of a lying spirit? We know God by knowing his word. Talk together about how to go about this. Share your own practice of bible reading and prayer. Challenge one another to not simply read the bible but to engage with God continuously.
  • Topic B: Putting to death the deeds of the flesh. What obvious acts of the flesh do you struggle to kill off in your life? This can be a very hard conversation to have in a group, so it may be better to talk in triplets. Pray for one another about these things and be sure to talk not only about what needs to be put to death and how, but also what life giving gifts of the Spirit do we have to combat it. Examples include prayer, love, remembering the promises of God which bring peace and joy.
  • Topic C: Speaking words of the Spirit to one another. Verses 24 and 25 talk about those who belong to Christ and live by the Spirit. When we are together in Growth Group and at church, what conversations can we have to encourage Spiritual growth? Consider how we steer our conversations away from things the flesh is at home with and on to content and manners in step with the Spirit.

Prayer of the Week

Spirit of God, guide us each day to think and act as children of God and heirs to the Kingdom of God. Help us to be conscious of your presence and your desire to shape us as those who belong to Christ Jesus. Give us strength and resolution to put to death the ways of the flesh and give us love, joy and peace in Jesus’ name. Amen.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Partnership in prayer

“Now may the Lord direct your hearts toward the love of God and the endurance of Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5

Context

Paul has commenced the letter to the Thessalonians with great encouraging words about their progress in the gospel and he then prayed for their continued faith in the Lord. In chapter 2, he assured them not to be distressed by the current state of affairs but remember that Jesus is Lord and his second coming will not go unmissed. He prayed for them again that they would be encouraged and stand firm in the faith. Paul’s’ concern has been for the Thessalonians to not waver from the message that they received from Paul about the gospel and to make that their comfort and their strength.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-2 Pray for Paul and co.
  • 3-4 Trust the Lord
  • 5 Prayer for them

1-2 Pray for Paul and co.

“Finally, pray for us” Paul has more to say in the letter but this ‘finally’ (ESV) signals that he has covered the main concern and purpose of his letter. He has prayed for them and prays for them always (1:11). Now he looks for reciprical love. He has been calling them brothers (and sisters) throughout the letter (1:3, 2:1, 2:13) and this emphasises the equality which he views between him and the Thessalonian converts.

“…that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly…” Above health and safety comes the priority for the gospel message to be spread. It is a general prayer in that he doesn’t pray for a particular town or region or person. Yet it is specific because it is about the only message that saves continuing to spread. Again, this is a prayer which calls on God to fulfill his plans and promises. Jesus said that the gospel must go out to the ends of the earth. This reminds us to focus our prayers on the things which God has taught us to pray for. Prayer is calling on the Lord to do his will.

It’s also a specific prayer in that it is for Paul and his partners to be freed to take the gospel far without delay.

“…that the message of the Lord…be honoured, just as it was with you.” Paul is asking for the gospel to find happy recipients. This is the positive side of the prayer. As if to say, if it is God’s will, we desire to take the gospel straight to those who will receive it well and believe without experiencing delay from those who will only reject it anyway. Paul is hoping that Thessalonians will want others to receive the gospel just as they have. That leads us to the other side of the prayer…

“And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people…” The word delivered is related to ‘saved’. Paul desires to avoid hangups from people who only wish to cause trouble. Paul is realistic, though, and knows from experience that there will be wicked and evil people that need to be held back through prayer.

“For not everyone has faith.” Nor will everyone believe the gospel. Jesus said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” (Matt 7:13). He also said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt 19:23). But…some people will have faith!

3-4 Trust the Lord

“But the Lord is faithful…” Although many will not have faith to trust God, the Thessalonians have no reason to. God is faithful. He does not save through the gospel only to give up on those he has called. So, trust the Lord.

“…he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” Now the promise here is protection from the evil one. It is possible that “wicked and evil people” (3:2) cause delay or harm but those who have “honoured” the gospel will be protected from the evil one, namely Satan. It is those who believe the lie who stand condemned but God will hold the believer in their belief. Predestination is a comfort to those who believe but not to those who will not.

“We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command.” Paul cannot guarantee that their gospel mission will go uncontended but he is certain that the Thessalonians will remain in the faith. What is Paul’s command? To stand firm and hold fast to the teachings passed on to them (2:15) and then…(see verse 5 below)

5 Pray for them

“May the Lord…” Paul articulates his prayer and therefore his desire for the Thessalonians.

“…direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” How beautiful is this prayer! Where your heart is, there is your treasure. Paul desires for the Thessalonians to treasure the love that God has and the work that Christ has done. It is a prayer overflowing with grace. Paul wants the church to grow deeper in the conviction of what God has done. It is God who loves and therefore sends the Son to redeem. It is the Son (Christ) who loves the Father without fault or failing. He remains faithful even when we do not. The phrase ‘Christ’s perseverance’ describes the endurance that Christ showed or is showing. It is both a celebration of the righteousness of Christ as well as the primary example for the Thessalonians to remain faithful even under trial and persecution.

Meaning

What is of utmost importance is that the gospel be honoured in our lives. It must be spread regardless of possible hostility. It provides assurance and comfort to those who believe. It is to be our treasure. We are to uphold one another in prayer for the sake of the gospel.

Application

  • Paul desired the gospel to spread rapidly. Is this a desire for us? In what way do we seek for the gospel to be passed on? Is ‘rapid’ a word you could use of yourself or the church?
  • Pray for missionaries. Paul requested prayer as he desired to take the gospel abroad and be unhindered in doing that. Talk about the missionaries that we support as a church and how we can be praying for them. Spend time in prayer.
  • Paul promised protection from the evil one and prayed for the hearts of the believers to be oriented toward God. Are you conscious of the spiritual battle and our need to pray for one another in this manner? Paul doesn’t need to ask the Thessalonians for prayer points when he decides to pray for them.

Prayer of the Week

Heavenly Father, we pray for the gospel to go out into all the world. Both at home and abroad, would you hold back wicked and evil people and keep your servants faithful to the gospel. May we all direct our hearts to your love and the work of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.