This is going to be a lengthy entry as I am going to attempt to deal with three chapters in one post. I am going to do this, because all three chapters are dealing with the same issue. That issue is spiritual gifts. This is an issue that creates division between denominations fairly often.
The first issue that comes up when we talk about spiritual gifts is this question, are all the gifts still to be used in church today? Theologically it is a question, are you a cessationist or a non-cessationist? There are 18 spiritual gifts that are talked about in four passages (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4). There are 11 gifts that are referred to many times as administrative gifts (pastor, teacher, evangelist, administration, giver, wisdom, discernment of spirits, exhortation, ministering, faith, and mercy shower). Then there are seven gifts often referred to as sign gifts (prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, miracles, apostleship, and knowledge). The question is are the sign gifts still in use today. It is not my intent to give a lengthy argument concerning this for time and space reasons. My conviction on the matter is this, God can do whatever, whenever He desires. Therefore, if God chose to reveal Himself in one of those seven ways then He certainly can. However, it is my conviction that because we have the finished revelation of God known as the Bible, that He does not reveal Himself in those ways on a regular basis. Again, I realize that this can be an issue that causes division and that is not my intent here, it is simply my conviction. There are two reasons I personally feel this way. First, again we have the completed revelation of God in the form of the Bible. Many times these gifts were used to authenticate the messenger delivering the message. Now, we can open up the Bible and see if what someone is teaching or preaching lines up with the whole counsel of God or not. Secondly, in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says that certain things will pass away. In that passage he specifically mentions prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. Those are three specific sign gifts. But again, I will never limit what God can do. He can do what He desires, when He desires, and how He desires. That is what it means to be all-powerful. The last thing I will say concerning this issue is that with all spiritual gifts, there are certain, written absolute rules for how the gifts should be used. Any violation of these written rules is clearly a sin and a violation of the Word of God.
Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians generally speaking gives us the purpose of spiritual gifts. In the chapter Paul reminds us that though there are a diversity of gifts, there is only one God who gives them in verses 1-11. Then in verses 12 -31, Paul begins to talk about how the gifts are to be used. If you would like to know more about it, I encourage you to watch the sermon from August 10th, 2014 as we will study two reasons for God giving us spiritual gifts.
Chapter 13 is often called the “love chapter.” It is quoted at weddings fairly often, especially verses four through eight. The main thrust of the chapter is how we are to use our spiritual gifts. I will give you a hint (but not all of it as I plan on preaching on it soon), the key word is love.
Chapter 14 deals with the proper use of one specific gift, speaking in tongues. The gift of speaking in tongues is one of the sign gifts mentioned earlier. It causes the most debate out of all of the gifts. With regards to it as a spiritual gift, we again must realize that God gave us specific rules to follow in using the gift. Therefore, anytime those rules are violated it is sinful (I encourage you to read ch. 14 to learn the prohibitions mentioned). The interesting thing to note in chapter 14 is Paul is urging the Corinthian believers to use what they have to build up the church, rather than themselves as individuals. We see that specifically in verses 3-5. 1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” If what we are doing isn’t about glorifying God, then it doesn’t matter we are wrong for doing it.
The interesting thing to see about these chapters is how they flow seamlessly. In chapter 12 Paul is dealing with the misusing of spiritual gifts by the Corinthian church. The last phrase in chapter 12 is this, “yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” Paul says, “this is what you have been doing, but I want to show you a better way.” He then launches into how we are to use our gifts in love for the good of others. The breakdown of the chapters would flow something like this. It would start in chapter 12:-13:3 talking about using our spiritual gifts. Then Paul would describe what true love looks like in 13:4-13. But notice, Paul in chapter 14:1 picks up right where he left off in 13:3. Paul stops his entire train of thought to explain what true love looks like and behaves like, especially within the context of the church. What can we learn from that? We can learn this, as important as using our spiritual gifts to the glory of God and the building up of God’s kingdom is, if we are not motivated by love for God and others then we are really using our God-given spiritual gift to glorify ourselves. Obviously that is never a good thing.
Regardless of where you fall on the belief of do all gifts apply to today or not, my greatest prayer for the church as a whole is this, that we would love God, love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we would work together to reach the lost. The world hears the church saying the word love, but it seldom sees us love each other. My fear is that is one of the greatest reasons people aren’t flocking to churches in America. They have seen right through us. The fact that we say one thing, yet we live something entirely different. I love a deep theological discussion as much as the next person, but for the sake of the glory of God and the building up of His kingdom, can we keep the main thing, the main thing? That is there is only one way into heaven, trusting what Jesus did on the cross as our only hope of forgiveness of sins and our only hope for salvation. How sad of a commentary it would be for us to stand before God, to see the number of theological arguments we got into and fought over, while missing the countless numbers of people dying without Christ and spending eternity in hell. Let’s not focus on winning an insignificant battle while losing the most important war. People need the Gospel, only the Gospel can save. If we are going to fight, let’s fight for who is going to spread the Gospel the furthest and the fastest. That way we and many more may win as they trust Christ as Lord and Savior and have heaven as their eternal home.
By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him