What Spirit Guides You?   Leave a comment

With regard to spiritual gifts, brothers and sistersI do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were often led astray by speechless idolshow everyou were led. So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says“Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say“Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corintians 12:1-3)


A lot of Christians believe “good” things that are not Biblical. For example, many Baptists believe that God is absolutely against consumption of alcohol. While that has advantages if you’re trying to keep people from tempting alcoholism, it negates that Jesus turned water into wine and it was an excellent vintage. Baptists have a distorted view on this subject that has spiritual implications. I have some very lovely, very spiritually minded friends who believe that the specific spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is required evidence of salvation. They have their reasons for believing this, but then try to find excuses why I, who they know to be a committed spiritual Christian, don’t speak in tongues. During this study of 1 Corinthians, we’ll learn that my friends believe something that is unBiblical and it impacts not only their own spirituality, but their judgment of the spirituality of others.

Image result for image of spirit guideA distorted view of what it means to be spiritual is nothing new. Jesus disagreed with the religious leaders of His day on the definition of what it means to be spiritual. The scribes and Pharisees measured spirituality on the basis of external appearances. They scoffed at Jesus’ parable of the shrewd steward in Luke 16:1-13, but they were offended by the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) because Jesus was clearly saying they were wrong to judge based on appearances rather than on the motives of the heart.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount exposition of the Old Testament Law stressed that true spirituality goes far beyond the letter of the law to the heart of the matter. Jesus encouraged the poor, the mourners, the gentle, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:12; Luke 6:20-26). He warned against practicing our righteousness in a way that would attract men’s attention to us (Matthew 6:1-18) and against hoarding our possessions. Jesus cautioned those who were quick to judge others that the standard they applied to others would also be applied to them (Matthew 7:1-5). We are to look to God for the good things of life and to treat others the way we wish to be treated by them (7:7-12). Jesus did not forbid us from making all judgments about others. He taught that we should not give what is holy to dogs (7:6) and that we should be on our guard against false prophets (7:13ff.). In short, Jesus turned the Jewish definition of spirituality inside-out and the spiritual system of His day upside-down.

Image result for image of speaking in tonguesIn contemporary Christian circles, there is still no consensus on true Christian spirituality. Christians have divided themselves over differing definitions of spirituality. Our study of 1 Corinthians is turning to a three-chapter study of true spirituality with a focus on spiritual gifts.

If you’ve stuck with me through the earlier studies, you know the Corinthians were ignorant of spirituality but arrogant enough to believe they had it all going on. Paul was clear that they’d been saved, but they hadn’t converted their thoughts to Christian principles. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Paul found it necessary to address the subject of spirituality with them because they didn’t know what they didn’t know and desperately needed to know.

With regard to spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 1 Corinthians 12:1

The Corinthians did not think they were ignorant. They were certain they were spiritual and they had the proof. They were a charismatic church possessed of all the spiritual gifts. (1 Corinthians 1:7). With this proof of their spirituality in hand, they tended to look down on Paul and the other apostles, which Paul dealt with often in his letters to this church. In their defense of their actions, some Corinthians actually dared to accuse Paul of being unspiritual:

Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face-to-face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I may not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:1-2).

The truth of the matter was that the Corinthian saints were unspiritual:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

Evidence of their lack of spirituality is easily discoverable. We’ve studied:

  • The Corinthian church was a divided church. There were factions, some based upon whom the group followed as their leader (1:10).
  • The Corinthians were proud and arrogant (1:18; 3:18-23; 4:6-10, etc.).
  • The Corinthians were soft on sin, especially sexual immorality (chapters 5-6). They were proud that they embraced a man whose sin shocked the pagan Corinthians (5:1-2).
  • The Corinthians took their disputes before the secular law courts rather than before the saints, or rather than suffer abuse for the sake of the kingdom of God (6:1-8).
  • While some Corinthians engaged in sexual immorality, others were guilty of setting aside sex within marriage, thus setting themselves up for sin (7:1-5).
  • Some Corinthians portrayed marriage as an evil to be avoided and thus encouraged unbiblical divorces (7:10).
  • Some Corinthians were not just eating meats offered to idols, which was fine, but were participating in the heathen idol-worship ceremonies (chapters 8-10), which was not. Yet those who so casually engaged in heathen worship thought themselves spiritual and looked down on those who refrained from such involvement with idols as “weak.”
  • Some of the Corinthian women seemed to think that since they were so spiritual, they could cast aside the roles which God has assigned to men and women (11:1-16).
  • Many of the Corinthian Christians celebrated communion in a way that failed to properly estimate the value of the body and blood of our Lord (11:17-34).

The Corinthian church was not a pretty sight. These relatively young Christians were already showing signs of serious spiritual problems.

Spirituality Requires Distinguishing the False From the True

You know that when you were pagans you were often led astray by speechless idolshowever you were led.  (1 Corinthians 12:2)

Paul wrote to remedy the Corinthians’ ignorance on the matter of spirituality. Yes, there is a tie between the two. Time for a Greek lesson, courtesy of a lot of Bible study help books and a pastor friend who has studied Greek.

The word gifts has been supplied by the translators, as indicated by the fact that “gifts” is in italics. If we were going to read this verse literally, Paul wrote, “Now concerning spirituals, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.” The word rendered “spiritual gifts” here is not the same word which is rendered “gifts” in verse 4.

Image result for image of holy spiritThe word “spirituals” in verse 1 is a rendering of a word whose root (pneuma) refers to the spiritual realm. Translators have a difficulty here because pneuma represents both the neuter and the masculine genders. If the term is understood as masculine in gender, Paul referred to “spiritual people.” If the term is really neuter, Paul referred to “spiritual things” or “spiritual gifts.” In 1 Corinthians 2:15; 3:1, and 14:37, Paul used the term in the masculine gender, so we understand “spiritual” to describe people. In 1 Corinthians 14:1, the term is used as a neuter and thus is rendered “spiritual gifts.”

Since I don’t read Greek, I went to my study helps and when they gave me conflicting answers, I asked a friend who does read Greek and he says we don’t have to choose between the masculine and neuter gender. He believes the two senses may be combined. We are not forced to choose one and reject the other. In introducing the subject of spiritual gifts, Paul used the term “spirituals” to emphasize the source of the spiritual gifts given to Christians. The root word charisma, employed in verses 4 and following, emphasizes the fact that gifts are manifestations of divine grace and not obtained on the basis of merit. Consequently, spiritual gifts are not the benchmark of spirituality or of status in the church, but rather are a tool for service.

Spirituality is related to spiritual gifts, but not in the way the Corinthians supposed. The Corinthians, as we will see later in Chapter 12, supposed certain spiritual gifts are evidence of superior spirituality, while the absence of these gifts is proof of spiritual inferiority. Does that sound familiar? We’ll get to that later. Paul had a great deal to say about the relationship between spirituality and spiritual gifts. He started by making sure his readers recognized there are two kinds of spirituality and they are divided by source. False spirituality originates from unclean “spirits” and thus, ultimately, from Satan himself. True spirituality originates from the Holy Spirit. Paul set down a test for distinguishing the Spirit of God from other spirits.

In verse 2, Paul reminded those relatively new believers in Corinth who thought they were so spiritual that not all that long ago they were “spiritual” by means of demonic spirits. Now, their minds were capable of understanding spiritual things, but they were pagans just a little while ago. While in that pagan state, they were “spirit led” … led “astray to the dumb idols” rather than God’s Spirit. The Old Testament prophets repeatedly emphasized that idols are lifeless and speechless. God is eternal, immortal, the Creator and Sustainer of all life. He is the God Who speaks and Whose words are certain to accomplish His purposes (See Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 115:1-8; Habakkuk 2:18-20).

The idols the Corinthians had worshipped as pagans and the idols we Americans worship today are dumb — they cannot and do not speak. But this does not mean the demons behind the idols are speechless or that there isn’t inspired utterance in pagan or false religion. The Scriptures clearly state that the demons which lead men astray to the dumb idols are also those spirits who inspire speech which solicits them to engage in false and idolatrous worship. The demons inspire false religious worship (see Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:19-22).

The demons not only inspire false religion, they corrupt true religion (see 2 Corinthians 11:3, 12-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-5).

The inference of Paul’s words in verse 2 is clear. The Corinthians were spiritual; they were “spirit led,” even while practicing their pagan religion. There’s also a subtle warning here. Paul implied that those who had been falsely led astray in the past by deceitful and demonic spirits might also be susceptible to the same influence as Christians. The appeal of the “spirit world” then and now is power. The Corinthians were enticed by power and spirituality. In their eagerness to “tap into” spiritual power, they might have involved themselves in the pagan spirit power of their past.

Israel’s history should teach us that the warning is not hypothetical. The Old Testament prophets reminded the Israelites that the “gods” of Egypt were not really left behind in Egypt, but came along with the Israelites for the exodus (see Joshua 24:14-15; Amos 5:25-26; Acts 7:42-43).

When Jehoshaphat (the king of Judah) was conned into an evil alliance with Ahab (the wicked king of Israel) to fight with Syria, Jehoshaphat was rightly apprehensive. The false prophets put on a great show of support. They gave the go-ahead, indicating God’s approval and certain victory. Jehoshaphat was not convinced. When a true prophet, Micaiah, was summoned, he reluctantly informed Jehoshaphat that such an alliance would be futile for the king of Judah and fatal for Ahab, king of Israel. He then explained the role of the false prophets with these words:

And Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ “And the Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you” (1 Kings 22:19-23).

While demonic spirits are not specifically mentioned in Deuteronomy 13:1-18 and 18:14-22, they are at least implied. In Deuteronomy 13, God warned the Israelites regarding false prophets. The assumption in 13:1-2 is that a false prophet may produce miraculous signs and wonders (see also Matthew 7:22). These miraculous works do not prove that one claiming to speak for God is truly a genuine prophet of God who is to be obeyed. When an alleged prophet makes predictions and promises which fail to come true, this is a sure indication that he or she is a fraud. But when miraculous power is demonstrated, the final test is whether or not this prophet’s words and deeds lead men to submit to the lordship (authority) of God by obeying His word.

Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Why did Paul emphasize “speech”? He had already referred to the idols of the Corinthians’ past as “dumb idols” (verse 2). Now he wrote about the speech of worshipers. Ordinary speech is not the subject. He’s talking about inspired utterance … speech made under the controlling influence of a spirit. In other words, it is the Spirit of God, speaking through a person, who is incapable of saying, “Jesus is accursed.” On the other hand, a person speaking under demonic control is incapable of saying, “Jesus is Lord.” Nowhere in the gospels does a demon-possessed person say this. The demons reluctantly acknowledge that Jesus is the “Son of God,” or the “Holy One of God,” but not that He is Lord. Even when commanded to come out of a possessed person, the demons seem to resist and rebel to the last moment (see Mark 1:23-26).

The test Paul provided in verse 3 focuses on the inspiration of a person’s speech. The Corinthians certainly knew that pagan spirituality could be spirit-led … just by demons, who hate and oppose the lordship of Christ. A person can be spirit-led, but not necessarily by the Spirit of God. Those who are led by the Spirit of God will profess Jesus as Lord, and they will be led to intimacy with God, not away from Him by deceit.

In the final analysis, spirituality is the work of a spirit. Paul’s letter reminds us there are two kinds of spirituality, the false and the true. All people are, in one sense, “spiritual.” Some are spiritual in the sense that they are actively involved with the spirit world, led by demonic spirits to worship idols. Other unbelievers may be spirit-led without even knowing it (see Ephesians 2:1-3). A spirit-led unbeliever may be an atheist. He may not believe in any god or practice any religion at all. Nevertheless, he or she is still spirit-led, still under the control of Satan. Those who indulge in and serve the flesh are not only “walking according to the course of this world,” they are also walking “according to the prince of the power of the air,” the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Unbelievers reading this will probably scoff. In our unbelief and rebellion against God, we want to believe we are the “captains of our own souls,” the “masters of our own fate.” The Bible teaches that is a delusion. Satan has blinded us to the truth. When we seek our own interests by serving the flesh, we are spirit-led—we are led astray, ultimately to idolatry. The only solution to being led astray by a demonic spirit is to be saved by the blood of Christ and to be delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. I urge you, my friend, to recognize that, apart from faith in Jesus Christ, you are a pagan, and you are spirit-controlled.

These first three verses set up on the next three chapters of discussion on spirituality. If Paul wanted to talk about true spirituality, he had to first distinguish between pagan spirituality and Godly spirituality. The real issue is … which spirit is in control of our life:

  • The Spirit of God, Who promotes submission to the Lordship of Christ
  • A false spirit, who detests and demeans the person and work of Christ and resists His authority.

The lordship of Jesus Christ is the dividing line between false prophets and the true, and between false spirituality and the true. Ultimately, it does not matter how spiritual we appear to ourselves or to other people. It does not matter even if we display seemingly miraculous evidences of power. What matters is whether Jesus Christ is worshiped and served as Lord.

The test in 1 Corinthians 12:3 should not be viewed just as distinguishing a false spirit from the Holy Spirit; it should also be seen as the basis for unity among believers. We Christians are a divided lot. Calvinists separate themselves from Armenians; dispensationalists wage war with amillennialists; charismatics are often at odds with non-charismatics. While Christians must be very careful to discern false prophets and false religion, we should be very earnest in our desire to express the unity of the saints by embracing all who submit to the lordship of Christ in sincerity and truth. This is why I’m friends with Christians who speak in tongues, some of whom are not wholly convinced of my Christianity since God has not given me the gift of speaking in tongues. (More on that later). While verses 1-3 point out the need for the Corinthian saints to keep their distance from the false spirituality they once practiced, verses 4-31 urge them (and us) to maintain the unity of the Spirit, which spiritual gifts are designed to necessitate and facilitate.

Christians should distrust anything we bring to Christianity which is a part of our non-Christian past. We should beware of “baptizing” our old vices and characteristics of our flesh into our Christian life by giving them new, Christian names. A man or woman who is self-confident (arrogant?) and assertive is sometimes called an evangelist because he or she constantly badgers the lost with the gospel. A person who likes to hear himself (or herself) talk may be called a “teacher” or an “exhorter,” when he or she is simply continuing the bad habit of giving others their opinion on matters. Paul didn’t seek to minister out of the strengths he once employed in his unbelief, and which the world found impressive. He ministered out of weakness (see 1 Corinthians 4:11-132 Corinthians 2:14-17; 4:1-15; 10:1-18; 12:1-10).

Spiritual gifts are given to believers in Christ because we are incapable of producing spiritual fruit in the power of the flesh. Thus, the Spirit of God empowers each of us so that we may participate in and contribute to the maintenance and ministry of the body of Christ, the church. Spiritual gifts and spirituality are not about what we have brought with us into the faith but about what we have left behind (mortified, put to death), and what the Spirit of God has bestowed upon us in His sovereign grace. Thus, there is no basis for pride or boasting in the gifts which we have been given, as we will learn later in Paul’s letter.


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