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Body Language   Leave a comment

For just as the body is one and yet has many membersand all the members of the body – though many – are one bodyso too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one bodyWhether Jews or Greeks or slaves or freewe were all made to drink of the one Spirit. For in fact the body is not a single memberbut many.  If the foot says“Since I am not a handI am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says“Since I am not an eyeI am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that.  (1Corinthians 12:12-16)


Related imageHave you ever tried to go a day without using your non-dominate hand? Most of us who are right handed don’t use our left hands for much requiring dexterity, but I think if we didn’t have use of it, we’d be at a serious disadvantage to all the people with two hands.

Now, imagine if you lost that hand entirely. You couldn’t get it back. Yeah. Most of us, if we had a choice, would not choose to cut off a limb, and if we had a functioning limb, we wouldn’t choose not to use it … except as some weird writer exercise.

The Corinthian Christians don’t seem to have seen it this way. In a spiritual sense, they effectively cut off every member of the body except those who had a certain kind of gift and ministry. The Corinthians didn’t esteem all of the spiritual gifts, but seemed fixated upon only one or a few gifts, while disdaining the rest. As a result, those who didn’t possess the prize gift(s) concluded they had nothing to contribute to the church body. Others who did possess the highly regarded gift(s) felt smugly independent of the rest of the body.

Paul used the term “body” nearly 20 times in Chapter 12. He indicated the church is Christ’s body, the image of which should be illustrative of the nature and function of the church. One of the serious problems facing the Corinthian church was disunity. Paul didn’t hesitate to bring up the problem of factions at the outset of the letter (1:10). These divisions were certainly related to allegiances to certain leaders (1:12, etc.), but they may are also tied to what we might call strengths and weaknesses (1:18-31). Divisions were so intense they had even resulted in lawsuits brought before secular courts (6:1). The Corinthian Christian who thought he was wise and knew so much was the one who believed he was free to participate in heathen idol worship ceremonies without any concern that his doing so might cause another saint to stumble (8:1-13).

Paul wanted the Corinthians to stop thinking and acting like their behavior didn’t affect anyone else and to begin to act with a sense of corporate identity and responsibility. In athletic terms, Paul wanted the Corinthians to begin to think and behave like a team, rather than like a bunch of spiritual “Lone Rangers”. Paul introduced the imagery of the body to correct the Corinthians’ misconceptions concerning spiritual gifts.

Many images are employed for the people of God … a priesthood, a race, a nation, and a temple (see 1 Peter 2:4-9Ephesians 2:11-22). God’s people are referred to as a vine or a vineyard, which is to produce fruit (Isaiah 5John 15, etc.). The people of God are described as the bride, or wife, of God (see Isaiah 62:5Jeremiah 2:32-35; Hosea; Revelation 21:2, 9; 22:17). We are also likened to a flock of sheep, of which God is the Shepherd (see Psalm 23John 10; 21:15-17), and elders are under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Only the Paul referred to the church as a body. I’m going to attribute it to his traveling companion Luke, a physician. The church of Jesus Christ is His body. Every believer, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, is joined to the body of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (verse 13). There is one body into which every saint is baptized. There is but one people of God. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22).

The imagery of the church as the body of Christ underscores the unity of all believers (Ephesians 4:3-6). It shows how evil and counter-productive the divisions in the Corinthian church were. My identity is found in Christ, because I am a part of His body. My righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. His death is mine; His resurrection and new life, mine (see Romans 6:1-11). As a Christian, I cannot think of myself only as an individual. I must perceive myself as a part of the church … as a part of Christ’s body. To identify with Christ by faith is also to identify with His body, the church. No wonder Paul so quickly joins himself to fellow-believers (see Acts 9:19, 26). As a wife merges her identity with her husband, becoming one flesh, so the believer merges his or her identity with the body of Christ, the church. Those who fail to identify themselves with the body of Christ are disobedient in their refusal (see Hebrews 10:25).

Ah, but while we are one body, we have many functions. The Corinthian church was blessed with the full spectrum of spiritual gifts (see 1:4-7). Yet, in spite of this very broad range of gifts granted to this church, only a few select gifts were valued. Carrying forward with the metaphor of the body, if the Corinthian church had its way, the entire body would be only one organ.

If the whole body were an eyewhat part would do the hearing? If the whole were an earwhat part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decidedIf they were all the same memberwhere would the body be? So now there are many membersbut one body. The eye cannot say to the hand“I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot“I do not need you.” On the contrarythose members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honorand our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, (1Corinthians 12:17-23) 

Repeatedly, Paul emphasized that the body is one, but the members are many (see verses 12, 13, 14, 18, 20, 27). Christian unity does not mean uniformity. We’re not factory made. While there is only one body of Christ, there are many different members, many different limbs and organs, each of which has a unique role to play in the body. Paul emphasized that each member has a role that is essential to the health and ministry of the body, the church.

As a member of the church, the body of Christ, we find we are a part of a much greater whole—we belong to an organism whose “head” is Christ and whose function is to represent Christ to a fallen world. As a member of the universal church, we also find our true identity as an individual. The body imagery illustrates the individuality of every Christian. Each believer is, in body terms, an individual organ or member. Each believer is uniquely gifted with a blending of spiritual gifts and is given a particular function within the body. No two saints have the same place in the body. Thus, each believer is unique. In one sense, the Christian is inseparably joined to the whole body, and in another, each believer is absolutely unique in the body. We have our identity with Christ’s body and in His body.

Notice how this union with Christ’s body shaped Paul’s view of his own ministry, particularly of his sufferings:

but our presentable members do not need this. InsteadGod has blended together the bodygiving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the bodybut the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member sufferseveryone suffers with it. If a member is honoredall rejoice with it. (1Corinthians 12:24-26)

Paul saw himself as inseparably joined to the body of Christ. He viewed his ministry as Christ’s ministry. He viewed his sufferings for Christ as Christ’s sufferings. He saw his message as that of Christ and the power by which he ministered as His power, manifested through him. Paul summed up this matter in his own words to the Philippians:

For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:19-21).

Most of the Corinthian Christians wanted to be something they were not. The “foot” wanted to be a “hand” (12:15); the “ear” wished it were an “eye” (12:16). The matter of spiritual gifts and placement in the body of Christ is not something we control. Our spiritual gifts, our place of service in the body, and the results of our ministry are all divinely determined (12:4-6).

When we are discontent with the gift(s) God has given us, our protest is against the Holy Spirit of God, the sovereign Giver of gifts. To question either the Spirit’s goodness, or His infinite wisdom in giving us our gifts, is like my foot deciding it will no longer listen to my brain. While biologically possible, it’s not to my foot’s benefit. The Holy Spirit knows what the whole body of Christ needs far better than we do.

Spiritual gifts are “graces” sovereignly bestowed upon believers. Spiritual gifts, like salvation, are not a matter of merit. Gifts are not earned; they are sovereignly graced upon us. Because of this, those who take pride in their gifts reveal their own foolishness and ignorance (see 1 Corinthians 4:7).

Those who mistake gifts as an evidence of spirituality or of status are wrong, and those who mistake their gift as a symbol of insignificance are just as wrong in that they demean the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

This sovereign gracing is amply evidenced in the Book of Acts. Where are gifts ever given as a reward for service? Where are particular gifts granted because men sought them? In Acts 2Acts 8Acts 10, and Acts 19, the baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not sought; they came as a surprise to those who are granted them. I think that because the Corinthians highly valued a very few gifts and disdained the rest, these prized gifts were sought and perhaps even falsely pretended. I see Christians today trying desperately to obtain certain gifts, and I have to ask why. If they are sovereignly bestowed, why must we strive to get them?

A New Set of Standards

Now you are Christ’s bodyand each of you is a member of it. And God has placed in the church first apostlessecond prophetsthird teachersthen miraclesgifts of healinghelpsgifts of leadershipdifferent kinds of tongues. Not all are apostlesare they? Not all are prophetsare they? Not all are teachersare they? Not all perform miraclesdo they? Not all have gifts of healingdo they? Not all speak in tonguesdo they? Not all interpretdo they? But you should be eager for the greater giftsAnd now I will show you a way that is beyond comparison. (1Corinthians 12:27-31)

There’s a real surprise of our text! The imagery of the body amazingly illustrates that the most visible, most attractive parts of the body are not the most important. I have a friend whose son was born with a birth defect … he lacked a rectum. While you can live without a hand, you can’t live without the functions involved with rectum. The “child” is now an adult and living an active life, but it took dozens of surgeries to correct his problem and every one of those surgeries were necessary for him to live. Conversely, I have cousins who were born deaf. While that complicates their lives, they have never been in fear of death from their disability. Getting a cochlear implant is a voluntary procedure. Similarly, the more attractive gifts of singing and preaching get all the attention in churches, but most churches would find it difficult to function without the janitor and the treasurer. While often we think these people are not really gifted, the gifts of administration and helps are found in the New Testament listened right along with preaching and prophesying (but not singing, which might give you some pause).

Paul rebuked these status-seeking saints at Corinth when he turned their value system upside-down. The body illustrates what he is teaching. Those members of the body which are of the least importance are those to which we devote the most attention and effort. We paint our toenails, put rings on our ears, and noses! We put rings and jewelry on our fingers. Truthfully, we can live without ears (or hearing), eyes (or seeing), fingers, hands, legs, toes. The least needed members of our body are the ones which are most visible and to which the most “glory” is given. Yet, they are the lesser gifts. Those gifts which are most visible, most vocal, most glorified in the Corinthian church were, in reality, the least important gifts. The Corinthians had been storing up sand in their safety deposit boxes and using gold for stepping stones.

The most important gifts, like the most important organs, are those which are not visible or spectacular, those of which we are least conscious. You cannot see my spleen, my kidneys, my liver, or my heart, but I cannot live without them. They do not get a lot of attention, but they are the most vital members of my body, whether others value them or not.

The concept of the church as the body of Christ should change our way of thinking of ourselves and of the church.

Within the body of Christ, we are far too individualistic in our thinking. We are far too competitive in our thinking and actions, so that the advance or success of others is viewed as a personal setback for us. We must begin to think cooperatively, realizing that the success of other saints is our victory, and, more importantly, our Lord’s victory. We need to strive not only for our own growth in Christ, but for the corporate and collective growth of the entire church (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

The concept of the church as the body of Christ should cause us to think in terms of the local church, but also beyond the local church.

The “church” is the body of Christ, but in the New Testament the “church” is often bigger than just one local church. Paul spoke of “the church” as those believers in a certain political or geographical setting (e.g., the seven “churches” of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3). In contemporary terms, there are many local churches in towns across America, but we might also think in terms of the collective of several churches that is in a particular town, the entire body of believers in a town. We speak of the church “in America” or “in Russia”. In prison ministry, we speak of the church “behind the walls.”

Just as individual believers think and act competitively, so local churches can fall into the same error. There should be ways in which we, as individual believers and as a local churches, express our identification with the larger “church.” Southern/Great Commission Baptists express this through our Cooperative Program, but all too often, even that fails to expand our minds beyond the four walls of our own congregation. We fixate on a handful of people killed in a mass shooting in some American city, but we ignore the deadly virus killing hundreds of thousands in Africa, for example. There isn’t the same degree of concern or involvement, yet African Christians are part of the body of Christ. They depend upon us, as we depend upon them. We should avoid isolationism in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

While there is a sense in which the body is to support and provide for the needs of each individual member, let us never forget that this is not the primary purpose of the church. 

Too many people attend church to have their “needs met.” Too many people leave churches, complaining that the church has not met their needs. The church is to build up itself in love, but the goal of the church is to live out the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, to His glory. We, the church, are the body of Christ. This means we, as the church, are to carry on His ministry in the world today. The church ministers to itself, to build itself up so that it may carry out its mission, and that mission is living out Christ in a fallen world. We have become so preoccupied with the church’s ministry to us as individuals that we have failed to concentrate on the church’s mission to the world, and our obligation to sacrifice ourselves in ministry to and through the church to the world. The question is not, “What is the church doing for me?” The question should be, “What can I contribute to the church to participate in its fulfillment of its mission and calling?“

Christians who are a part of the church, the body of Christ, need to understand that while differences may be the basis for division and strife in the world, these differences are by divine design and are intended to enhance our dependence upon one another, and thus to illustrate true Christian unity.

Unity is not evidenced by uniformity but by harmony and interdependence as each individual saint carries out his or her unique function in the body. That which results in division in the fallen world in which we live should be the occasion for unity and harmony in the church. We should not all want to look alike or function alike, but each should function as God has made him or her, so that the body is benefited by our presence and ministry. As God made Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female, one in Christ, we need to demonstrate this unity in diversity, because we are one body.

The concept of the church as a body calls into question one of the important operating principles of the modern day “church growth movement.” 

For most of my Christian life, I have attended churches that lacked homogeneity, but that is not the standard practice of American churches. In fact, homogeneous groupings are considered “best practices.” The principle goes something like this:

  • Birds of a feather flock together.
  • People are more comfortable around “their kind.”
  • There’s statistical evidence that the churches which are growing the fastest are those whose membership is largely of the same racial, social, and economic class.

The churches of today are encouraged to appeal to, or target, a particular segment of society. Rather than apologize for this, they are assured they will enjoy the fruits of success. I think that flies in the face of the imagery of the church as the body of Christ. I think it’s an affront to the gospel itself. We shouldn’t seek to present a look-alike face to the world. That condemns us to our own cultural values and way of thinking. We should strive to be different, as God intended, with each church member contributing our unique gifts and ministries which He has given, to the edification of the church and to the glory of God.

Gifted versus Talented   Leave a comment

If you’ve ever been involved in church events, you are familiar with the jockeying for positions of leadership and power. Yeah, you know what I mean. The average pewsitter may think pastors and Christian leaders are so spiritual they would never compete with one another for position and power, but anyone who has been in church leadership knows better. Christians remain humans and so we see that part of our human nature in the church. Jesus called it out in the scribes and Pharisees, but He also saw it among His disciples.

Image result for image of spiritual giftsThe Corinthian Christians were no different. They sought status and judged themselves and others on the basis of their spiritual gifts. We know from the early chapters of First Corinthians that divisions existed in the church. The Corinthians divided over different leaders, and probably the leaders who seemed to possess the most highly regarded gifts were the ones with the largest followings. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to clarify the relationship between spiritual gifts and true spirituality. The Corinthian church was highly gifted. Paul said they did not lack any of the gifts (1:7). Yet these saints were far from spiritual. Paul informed them that they were so fleshly he was hindered from teaching them all they need to know (3:1-3). 1Corinthians 12-15 corrects many misconceptions regarding spiritual gifts and their relationship to spirituality. These words were needed in Paul’s day as well as in our own. Nearly every church, denomination, and Christian organization has its own spiritual “pecking order” regarding spiritual gifts and spirituality. Each of us needs to hear what Paul has to say on this subject. Let us study then with open hearts and minds, not to confirm what we already believe, but for correction in those areas where we may be uninformed or disobedient.

Let’s start by defining “spiritual gift”. A spiritual gift is a supernatural ability sovereignly bestowed upon every Christian by the Holy Spirit, enabling him or her to carry out their divinely assigned function as a member of Christ’s body, the church. Definition in a nutshell:

a spiritual gift is the supernatural ability to carry out the work of Christ through His church.

Spiritual gifts are dealt with in more than one New Testament passage:

Romans 12:3-8

Paul introduced the subject of spiritual gifts immediately after he called upon every Christian to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, the reasonable service of worship of every Christian (12:1-2). At Romans 12, Paul began to apply the doctrinal truths he had set down in the preceding 11 chapters. Spiritual gifts are the divine enablement which empower the Christian to worship God through serving Him as a part of the church, the body of Christ. The gifts enumerated in verses 6-8 are largely the “bread and butter” gifts, those gifts necessary for the on-going ministry of the church. Though addressing the Christians at Rome, Paul exhorts every Christian to exercise their spiritual gift, to do what God has equipped them to do. He also indicates the dangers which accompany each of several gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10

Paul seems to have focused on the more unusual spiritual gifts. These gifts probably represent those gifts most highly valued by the Corinthian saints.

1 Corinthians 12:28-30

Paul provided us with another list of spiritual gifts, not identical with the list given in verses 8-10. Apostles, prophets, and teachers seem to emphasize a particular function or office in the church, while there are the more unusual gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues, miracles, and healings named as well. In verses 8-10, Paul named gifts which some have, while in verses 28-30 Paul stressed that while some may possess a particular gift, not everyone does, nor should they be expected to possess it. Each gift listed is a possibility for all and a reality for some.

Ephesians 4:11

Paul again wrote about spiritual gifts. This short list of gifts was given in the midst of Paul’s exhortation for Christians to walk their talk, to practice their position and possessions in Christ (4:1). In the context, Paul emphasized Christian unity and its corollary, humility. The gifts of “apostles,” “prophets,” and “evangelists” refer to offices or functions which could be for the benefit of the church at large and are not restricted to a particular local church.

1 Peter 4:10-11

Peter spoke of the gifts in two major categories, those which are speaking gifts and those which are serving gifts. Peter emphasized the need for all who exercise their spiritual gifts to do so by divine enablement and not in the power of the flesh. Those who speak are to speak as though their words are the utterances of God. Their words should be God’s words and not their own. Those who serve should serve in the strength which God supplies. It is very easy to serve in the strength of the flesh and not by the power of the Spirit. If spiritual gifts are to produce spiritual fruit, they must be functioning by means of God’s power and not our own strength. Spiritual gifts, whether speaking or serving gifts, are a stewardship. We should employ these gifts as if they belong to God, because He entrusted them to us to be used for His glory, and for the advancement of His kingdom. Peter’s epistles were written in the context of suffering persecution for the sake of Christ. Peter urged his readers to live out Christ’s life and His sufferings (1 Peter 2:18-25). This is done, then and now, in part, as we exercise those spiritual gifts He has given us through His power and to His glory.

These are the only texts which actually list certain spiritual gifts. There are other texts (e.g., Acts 4:36) which refer to certain gifts individually. Paul’s words to Timothy are instructive to us on this matter of spiritual gifts.

2 Timothy

Image result for image of spiritual giftsPaul had at least three lessons for Timothy and for us. First, in 2 Timothy 1:6, we learn that spiritual gifts must be developed and maintained. Since spiritual gifts are sovereignly given, we are responsible to employ them in the most beneficial and efficient way. Second, in 2 Timothy 2:2, we see that spiritual gifts are to be reproduced. Timothy was to commit himself to faithful men who would also be able to teach others. Third, spiritual gifts are not an excuse to sidestep our responsibilities in areas where we are not gifted. In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul instructed Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” Some might argue that Timothy was an evangelist. Perhaps so, but it seems that teaching was his primary gift. If Timothy had been a little slack in employing his spiritual gifts (1:6), he may have been slack in other areas which were not the area of his gifts and strengths. Nevertheless, evangelism was important and necessary, even if it was not his gift.

Our brief survey of the New Testament teaching on spiritual gifts allows us to make some observations regarding spiritual gifts. No list of the spiritual gifts includes all the gifts mentioned in the New Testament. Each list of gifts includes some of the gifts mentioned elsewhere but has its own unique elements. There are significant differences in the way gifts are viewed, even by the same writer. In every listing of the spiritual gifts where tongues is included, it is listed last. I’m not sure that is coincidence. I think it might be an important signal to those who think tongues are the most important gift. Finally, it seems the spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament are not a complete list but only a partial listing.

Common Characteristics of the Spiritual Gifts

If there may be other spiritual gifts than those specifically identified in Scripture, how would we know them? What sets a spiritual gift apart?

(1) Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12).

These abilities aren’t not native within us; they are transmitted to us. I know some speak of a close relationship between natural abilities and spiritual gifts, but I am unconvinced by their arguments. Spiritual gifts are given to us to enable us to do what we cannot do in and of ourselves. We hear people speak of how this or that person could do so much for the Lord if they were saved, as if they think the natural abilities of men are simply baptized into one’s spiritual ministry. I see the human “strengths” of spiritual men like Peter and Paul who were set aside (perhaps even crucified) so that they ministered out of their weaknesses rather than out of their strengths (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-13).

(2) Spiritual gifts are divine enablement for service to and through the body of Christ.

Spiritual gifts are not given primarily for our own edification but for the edification of the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts are divinely bestowed strengths through which we may minister to the weaknesses (and needs) of others.

(3) Spiritual gifts produce spiritual results.

Spiritual gifts may be exercised through rather normal and mundane activities, but they differ from natural abilities in that they produce spiritual fruit. Spiritual gifts build up the body of Christ. A family may be facing a time of crisis or sorrow, and spiritual gifts may be exercised in ministering to them in their time of need. Someone may go to their home and clean; another may visit in the hospital; another may mow the grass. Sometimes that is just people being nice, but sometimes these activities are enabled by spiritual gifts. You can tell the difference when the use of spiritual gifts enables a spiritual result. Granted, the family in crisis could call a commercial lawn service to tend the yard, but the spiritually-inspired ministry of a Christian mowing the grass may produce encouragement for a Christian family or may result in evangelism if someone is unsaved. Spiritual ministry may look much the same as mere human service, but the result of spiritual service is spiritual.

(4) A spiritual gift is also a divine enablement which goes beyond the enablement the Holy Spirit gives other saints not gifted in the same way.

Jesus said, “apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from the miraculous working of God’s Spirit in us, we can do nothing. In this sense, nothing any Christian does will have a spiritual impact apart from the Spirit’s enablement. So when any Christian shares the gospel, the only way the unsaved person will be saved is by the working of God’s Spirit. Every Christian has a certain measure of enablement in every area of his or her Christian duty (i.e., keeping our Lord’s commands). Those spiritually gifted in an area show a greater measure of enablement than those who are ungifted in that area. Some seem even more gifted than others. It may well be through the prayers of a Christian who does not have any particular gift in this area that one dying of an illness may be cured. In the ungifted person’s life and experience, a healing would be an unusual event. We should expect the one who has the gift of healing to see healings more often. It may be that this is why we find “healings” in the plural in 1 Corinthians 12:30.

(5) A spiritual gift is the divinely provided enablement to carry out a task which God has given us.

I suspect that most of us have been taught that the first order of priority is to discover our spiritual gift(s), then to develop them, and finally to find a place of ministry where these gifts can be put to use. It may be the opposite in some, if not many, cases. In the Old Testament, men were divinely gifted to carry out the task God had given them to perform. Bezalel and others whom God designated to be craftsmen for the construction of the tabernacle and its fixtures were gifted by God to carry out this task (Exodus 31:1-11). The 70 elders, who were to help Moses judge the people of God, were given a portion of his (Moses’) spirit to enable and equip them for their ministry (Numbers 11:25). Elisha was given a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9-15). Saul was chosen by God and designated as the king, and then he was endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Samuel 9:15–10:13). The same could be said of our Lord on whom the Spirit of God descended and remained at His baptism, equipping Him for His messianic ministry (Mark 1:9-13Luke 3:21-22; 4:1, 14John 1:29-34).

So What Did the Corinthians Get Wrong?

The church at Corinth was a troubled church and we can learn a great deal about Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts if we pause to ask “What did the Corinthians get wrong in this area?”

You know they got something wrong, else Paul wouldn’t have spent so much precious ink and paper on addressing the topic. \

The Corinthians are proud and arrogant (1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 4:7-13, 18-21; 5:2; 8:1; 2 Corinthians 10). From what Paul wrote in chapters 12-14 (see 12:21), we know some of the Corinthians’ pride lay in the possession of certain gifts or the following of some with more esteemed gifts. We know the Corinthians prized certain gifts and disdained others. This resulted in many seeking to obtain gifts God had not given them and those possessing certain “lowly” gifts feeling they had no contribution to make. Those possessing the visible, verbal gifts seemed intent upon showing these gifts off in the church meeting (see 14:26). Those with the “best” gifts felt independently self-sufficient and didn’t sense their dependence on less visible members of the body (12:21). Paul had some well-chosen words for these carnal Corinthians about the relationship between spirituality and spiritual gifts, words which knock the props out from under their pride and self-sufficiency.

Unity in Diversity

Now there are different giftsbut the same Spirit. And there are different ministriesbut the same Lord. And there are different resultsbut the same God who produces all of them in everyone. (1Corinthians 12:4-6)

The Corinthian church had short-changed itself by buying into the error that really significant ministry occurs on a very limited band width. They believed the important ministries were carried on by a very few elite leaders whose gifts everyone else covets. Less than a handful of gifts, and the same number of ministries, are considered significant by the Corinthian Christians. If any Corinthian Christian wanted to play an important role in the ministry of that church, he or she would have to imitate the gifts and ministries of a very small group. The end result was a large group of people discontent with their gifts and ministries, who sought to emulate or imitate the gifts and ministries of those most highly regarded in the church.

Knocking the props out from the “elitist” view of ministry, Paul contended that the gifts of God which equip men and women for ministry are many-splendored things. There are diversities of gifts (verse 4), diversities of ministries (verse 5), and diversities of effects (verse 6).

Varieties of gifts.

I always understood this expression to mean that there are different gifts, but I now realize these numerous gifts are also numerous in kind. Consider this illustration of what Paul means. We know that in the days of Moses, God “gifted” Bezalel as a master craftsman so that he could oversee the task of fashioning the furnishings and equipment for the tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5). This man was a master craftsman with skills that surpassed any other living craftsman. Another gift in the Old Testament would be prophecy (see Numbers 11:25). Kings like Saul were given gifts of the Spirit to equip them for their ministry (1 Samuel 10:10-13). In the New Testament lists of gifts, we find some gifts are linked with official functions like apostles, prophets, and evangelists (see Ephesians 4:11). Some gifts are spectacular and are not necessarily on-going gifts or ministries. Other gifts, like the gift of helps, may seem more mundane but are very much needed.

A very wide range of gifts is possible, and not all of these gifts may be included in the lists provided in the New Testament. I further suggest that Christians may possess more than one spiritual gift and that our gifts may in fact be a blend of gifts. This means there can be an almost infinite manifestation of “gifts” in the church. Christians, I believe, are bestowed with a unique blending of gifts which perfectly equips them to serve in the body of Christ where God has placed them.

Image result for image of spiritual giftsI also believe that some spiritual gifts may be evident at one period of our life but not necessarily another. One may not appear to possess a certain gift at the present time, but may suddenly manifest that gift at a later time when that ability is required. Our Lord trusted in His Father from the beginning, but He was not empowered by the Spirit until the time had come for His ministry to commence (see Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-21). Paul was called as an apostle in eternity past, but he did not begin to function as an apostle until a number of years after his salvation. Not until the Holy Spirit set Barnabas and Saul apart for their apostolic ministry (Acts 13:1) did Paul begin to function as an apostle. The Spirit came upon Him in a unique, unexpected way, and from that time on, Paul was designated as the leader (see Acts 13:6-13). Paul might have been gifted by God to be an apostle at the time of his conversion, but his gift was not evident until the time came for him to function as an apostle years later.

There are more than a few gifts and, when given to us in a wide variety of blends, no two Christians look or function alike. There is great diversity among Christians regarding their spiritual gifts. But, in spite of this broad diversity, there is one Spirit who empowers all, and He is the basis for the unity which we all should expect and experience in this great diversity of giftedness.

There is also a very broad spectrum of the ministries in which these gifts are deployed. All too often the gifts are stereotyped, usually in terms of a characterization which fits a well-known evangelical personality. When we think of the gift of evangelism, we think of Billy Graham or Luis Palau. When we think of the gift of teaching, we think of John MacArthur or Beth Moore. When we think of mercy, we may think of Mother Theresa. When we think of faith, we perhaps think of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These individuals may indeed possess these gifts, but there are an infinite variety of ways in which a particular gift may be employed. The spiritual gift is the God-given ability; the ministry is the sphere in which our divine enablement is exercised.

Evangelism need not occur in a large stadium and need not be practiced by a one-time exposure. It may occur in a living room, around a coffee table, and over a sustained period of time. Teaching may be done formally or informally. It does not always happen in a classroom or from behind a lectern. Not only is there a wide diversity of spiritual gifts, there is also an even broader range of ministries through which these gifts are exercised. But in the midst of this diversity, it is the same Lord who orchestrates our lives so that each of us ends up exercising our gifts in the context which He has purposed and provided.

Our ministries may also change over a period of time. This was certainly true for the apostle Paul who ministered effectively for years before functioning as an apostle. Not until after his first missionary journey did Paul begin to exercise his gifts through writing epistles. Joseph appears to have been given the gift of administration. It begins to emerge when he is still a youth of 17, working for his father back home, and far surpassing his brothers in skill. His administrative skills emerge in the household of Potiphar and in the prison and finally in the service of Pharaoh. Not only does my ministry differ from that of others who have similar gifts, but my ministry ten years from now may be very different from what it is at this moment.

Gifts will have a variety of effects. I always understood these effects to be in terms of success, but I now think I was wrong. Some teachers draw larger crowds and seem to be more effective at communicating the truth than others. Some evangelists see thousands saved in one exposure; others but a handful. There are different levels of effectiveness or success, and these levels have nothing to do with our natural skills or abilities. They are the result of God’s sovereign will, Who determines how successful we will be. And this “success” has little or nothing to do with our spirituality. Jonah was one of the most “successful” prophets who ever lived; Isaiah was one of the least successful. But I think we must agree that Jonah was not “spiritual,” and Isaiah was. Billy Graham was the only person in the congregation to go forward the night he was saved. I don’t think we can claim that country preacher was unsuccessful that night.

Effects doesn’t just refer to the success of a particular person and ministry but to the nature of the result. We think far too simplistically here. We suppose the gift of teaching takes place in a ministry where there is a class, a classroom, and a podium. We suppose the “effect” of this gifted teacher’s ministry is learning. But the goal of Christian instruction is obedience (see Matthew 28:18-20). Paul linked teaching or instruction with love (see 1 Timothy 1:5Philippians 1:9-11). Evangelism is not some special way of presenting the gospel as much as it is the proclamation of the truth of the gospel. As I look at the ministry of our Lord, I see Him teaching, not “evangelizing.” Paul told the Ephesian saints they did not “learn” Christ in a fleshly way (Ephesians 4:17-20). In the ministries in which I have been involved, many of those saved have been saved through a teaching ministry.

What the Corinthians Needed to Know About Spiritual Gifts

To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdomand another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spiritand to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miraclesto another prophecyand to another discernment of spiritsto another different kinds of tonguesand to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spiritdistributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

Image result for image of spiritual giftsPaul began his instruction concerning spiritual gifts by indicating the Corinthians were ignorant of a number of truths which they needed to know. Please note what Paul did NOT say before we address what he did. Paul didn’t try to convince the Corinthian saints that there is no gift of tongues, or gift of interpretation of tongues, or faith. Paul wasn’t trying to distinguish between so-called “temporary” and “permanent” spiritual gifts, because all of the gifts are evident in the Corinthian church in that day (see 1 Corinthians 1:7). Yeah, we could debate about it. Charismatics and Baptists often wrangle on this subject. It’s a topic of disagreement in my own household. But let’s not let that debate dictate what the text says. This text is not about temporary and permanent gifts; it is about misconceptions regarding all gifts. Cessationism was not an issue at Corinth in Paul’s day.

Spiritual gifts are divinely bestowed upon every Christian.

No one is “ungifted” in the church of Jesus Christ, for each Christian has been individually given certain gifts (“each one,” 12:7; “individually,” 12:11). The work of the body of Christ is a supernatural work, and every believer has a place in the body and the spiritual enablement to perform their ministry.

Spiritual gifts are for the “common good” . 

Spiritual gifts are divine empowerment for service to and through the body of Christ. They are not primarily for the benefit of the one gifted by God. It is not our glory but His which we seek. We do not strive for our edification and building up through the exercise of spiritual gifts, but for the building up of the whole body of Christ (12:7; Ephesians 4:11-16). Those who seek certain gifts for the benefit they gain have already fallen short of the mark. Self-edification may be a fringe benefit, but it is not the major focus.

Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of the Spirit.

By direct statement or inference, Paul is clear that every spiritual gift possessed by the Corinthians is one given “through the Spirit.” It is the Spirit of God who lives out the life of Christ in and through us. Spiritual gifts are not an evidence of our spirituality but an evidence of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.

Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of divine grace.

In verse 1, the expression “spiritual gifts” is a translation of the original term meaning “spiritual.” Whether this means “spiritual things” or “spiritual people” is a matter of discussion, but the term “spiritual” is translated “spiritual gifts” in the NASB. When Paul gets to verse 4, however, he leaves the term “spirituals” behind and employs the Greek term whose root is Charis, the word for “grace.” Spiritual gifts are spiritual “graces.” They are not an indication of our merit or worth, but a manifestation of God’s sovereignly bestowed grace. There is never any basis for boasting in those things which are by grace, other than in the God Who graciously gave them (see 1:30-31; 4:7).

(5) In verses 8-10, Paul seems to list those gifts in which the Corinthians are most likely to take pride. The fleshly Corinthians are into wisdom and power. The gifts Paul sets down in verses 8-10 almost certainly reflect those manifestations of the Spirit in which the Corinthians take pride. Paul does not seek to precisely define each of these “gifts.” Some gifts are not mentioned elsewhere, and we could only conjecture as to where some of them may be illustrated or exemplified. If Paul did not find it necessary to precisely define each gift, I do not feel guilty for not doing so either. But there are many who would have us believe they know what each of the gifts named are. In particular are those two gifts, the “word of wisdom” and the “word of knowledge” in verse 8. I frankly do not have a handle on these two gifts (and some others). But I would point out that wisdom and knowledge are very important to the Corinthians. Perhaps Paul is simply reminding the Corinthians that whatever words of “wisdom” or “knowledge” they may seem to possess, they are the evidence of God’s gracious gifts sovereignly bestowed upon some of the saints.

Paul does not attribute the possession of any of these gifts to the recipient, but to the sovereign will and purpose of God the Spirit. 

These gifts are not described as the “gift of God” which results from agonizing hours of seeking on the part of the one thus gifted. No, these gifts are sovereign graces bestowed upon the believer “just as He wills” (verse 11).

I suggest we reverse some of our thinking on spiritual gifts and reject much of the remainder. God has given us a number of clear commands such as those outlined by Paul in Romans 12:9-21. Let us begin by focusing on these commands, and obey them in whatever circumstances God brings our way. In the process of obeying His commands, we will discover that God has given us a place of service. Rather than waiting to know our gifts and then seeking to serve God and His church, let us do the things God has commanded, trusting Him to empower us and produce supernatural results through His Spirit. We should give priority to those aspects of ministry which God has given us in which the power of His Spirit is evident. This does not always mean “success” as the world defines success. It is where spiritual fruit has been produced, where the gospel has been proclaimed, and where God has been glorified. Let us not agonize over the name or the label of the gift, but let us strive to develop the gifts God has given us (2 Timothy 1:6), and employ them as good stewards of the grace of God (1 Peter 4:10-11). Let us never take credit for what God has accomplished or take pride in God’s work in us or measure spirituality by one’s gifts.

Let us be confident that if we are a Christian, God has an important place of service for us, and He will provide us with all the means necessary to fulfill our calling. Spiritual gifts assure us that the body of Christ needs us and will suffer without us. Spiritual gifts enable us to do what God requires of us.

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.

Welcome One Another   Leave a comment

Being a parent is an amazing thing! Nothing I have ever done has given me more joy and rewards than being a parent. Do good to my children and you have my undying gratitude. Hurt one of my children and … mama grizzly. This is true even though they are now adults. My kids never really fought against one another. They were six years apart and a boy and a girl, so there just weren’t a lot of territorial issues. But I’ve observed friends’ kids who fight among themselves all the time. My cousins used to actually leave bruises on each other. I could never manage how I would feel if one of my kids hurt the other. Who would I be mama grizzly to? I suspect I would have taken Kiernan’s side because he was so much younger than his sister. How dare the big person pick on the little person.

Image result for image of christian fellowshipDid you know that God the Father feels the same way I do? He absolutely loves being a parent. He cares about each of His children in the deepest way imaginable. What grieves Him is when one of His children hurts another one of His children. Worse yet, He is deeply grieved when one of His children who has been given much dishonors one who has little.

God will not tolerate divisions and distinctions within His body—the church — because it is His body, the dwelling place of the Most High God and He is serious about defending it, even from itself. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul provided three exhortations for us to follow.

Include the Entire Body of Christ in Worship

Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For in the first placewhen you come together as a church I hear there are divisions among youand in part I believe it. For there must in fact be divisions among youso that those of you who are approved may be evident. Now when you come together at the same placeyou are not really eating the Lord’s Supper. For when it is time to eateveryone proceeds with his own supperOne is hungry and another becomes drunk. Do you not have houses so that you can eat and drink? Or are you trying to show contempt for the church of God by shaming those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I will not praise you for this! 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

Let’s remember, that Paul has just concluded his remarks on the role of women in the church with praised mixed with some correction. Now, he rebuked the church at Corinth for being divided. The conjunction “but” (or “now” in the NET translation) serves to contrast the worship events of 11:17-34 with 11:2-16. The equality the Corinthians were misusing in 11:2-16 was resolutely denied when it came to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. This is confirmed by the use of the verb “praise.”7 In 11:2, Paul praised the Corinthians because they remembered him in everything and maintained the teachings he passed on to them, while in in 11:17 he did not praise them on account of their class divisions. Instead, he declared that they gathered together not for the better but for the worse.

Image result for image of the lord's supperThe verb translated here “come together” (sunercomai) is used five times in this passage (11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34). Elsewhere, the verb referred to either coming or going with one or more persons — basically to travel together with someone). Additionally, sunercomai is used in sexual contexts to describe coming together to unite in an intimate relationship. There’s some irony when Paul repeatedly described the Corinthians as coming together in one location, knowing full well that their eating was anything but “together” as a unified body. The ritual that was intended to celebrate the gospel and symbolically act out their oneness in Christ had become an occasion for splitting the church on the basis of status.

What were they doing that Paul disapproved of? Instead of treating one another with brotherly love and acting as the family of God, there are divisions among them. Some had more than enough to eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper while others got insufficient quantities. The “have-nots,” were humiliated by the actions of their counterparts. A situation like that in the Body of Christ deeply grieves God.

“Factions” or “divisions” can have a positive side. They serve to clarify whom God approves as faithful and who He doesn’t. God’s approval (dokimoi) contrasts with what Paul had written earlier about being disapproved (adokimos; 9:27) by God. Mature Christians will become evident in times of crisis.

The Lord’s Supper was usually part of a meal the early Christians shared together—the “love feast.” In Corinth, instead of sharing their food and drinks, each family was bringing its own and eating what it had brought. The result was that the rich had plenty but the poor had little and suffered embarrassment. Not exactly a picture of Christian love and unity. They were eating their own private meals rather than sharing a meal consecrated to the Lord. Worse, some with plenty of wine to drink were getting drunk and we all know how drunk people act.

Instead of partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the Corinthians devour their food while the poor go hungry. It’s not really the eating that is the issue, so much as the refusing to share food and drink. The grammar suggests that the “devouring” took place during the meal itself. The wealthy members of the Corinthian church were guilty of gluttony and drunkenness while the poor went without. This notion can also be supported from the customary practice at Greco-Roman banquets where wealthy hosts—those with homes large enough to host the communal meal—would have assigned the biggest and best portions of food to the more privileged.

Paul refused to tolerate what was socially acceptable in ancient Corinth. He felt grieved at the behavior of the church and the only appropriate response of the Corinthians was repentance. A meal designed to express unity was being abused in a way that highlighted  the disunity of this church. The cliquish behavior of the Corinthians reflected significant social and economic differences. What should have been an inclusive community meal had become an occasion for simultaneously private meals. This was an affront to Christ and His gospel.

Guess what? The 21st century churches are no more immune to divisions than Corinth was. Take a look around your congregation when you attend church. Does everybody pretty much look like you? Because of American zoning regulations, we often go to churches that are very homogenous. We all make about the same amount of money and often work in very similar industries. Because of our history of doing ethnic ministries as church starts, most congregations speak the same language and have a similar skin color. We struggle to reach out to those who are different from us. Maybe if we go to a “white” church, we feel guilty that there are only Caucasians in the congregation, but many ethnic congregations see absolutely nothing wrong with their ethnic insularity. Paul would have and I can assure you that God does.

Recapture the Significance of the Lord’s Supper

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to youthat the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and said“This is my bodywhich is for youDo this in remembrance of me.” In the same wayhe also took the cup after suppersaying“This cup is the new covenant in my bloodDo thisevery time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink the cupyou proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Paul gave a brief theology of the Lord’s Supper, reminding the Corinthians and us to remember the Lord’s Supper symbolizes Christ’s self-sacrifice on behalf of His people. Twice, Paul urged the Corinthians to remember the death of Christ. By partaking of the bread and the cup, we remember that Jesus Christ took our hell that we might have His heaven. It is His “body on our behalf.” The Lord’s Supper is God’s way of getting us to keep the cross of Christ central in the life of the church. We use the Lord’s Supper to draw close to Jesus in gratitude for what He has done for the entire church through His cross. As we draw near to Him through His Supper, He will draw near to us.

Image result for image of a multicultural church

The new covenant represents God’s declaration of His devotion and commitment, even though the other covenant partner, His people, had not remained faithful. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we remember what Jesus has done for us in spite of ourselves. The proclamation of the Lord’s Supper is to show forth the Lord’s death until He comes. The Corinthians were to use the Lord’s Supper as an illustration of the death of Jesus and what it accomplished for their salvation and corporate fellowship. The Corinthians shouldn’t overindulge themselves, despise and shame others, or allow brothers and sisters to go hungry, for all those behaviors are selfish.

Judge Yourselves to Avoid God’s Judgment

For this reasonwhoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. That is why many of you are weak and sickand quite a few are dead. But if we examined ourselveswe would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lordwe are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.  1 Corinthians 11:27

The opening word “therefore” (also seen in. 10:12; 11:33) indicates that Paul was resuming his main discussion from 11:22. He was drawing a conclusion from what he had said and giving an explanation to his teaching. Since the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of Christ’s death (11:23-26), eating and drinking “unworthily” is unconscionable. The word rendered “unworthy manner” is not an adjective describing the condition of the one partaking of communion, but an adverb, describing the manner in which one partakes of the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians themselves are not unworthy. They’re God’s children. The sin of the Corinthians was that they were observing the Lord Supper in a way that was unworthy of it.

Paul didn’t command the Corinthians to examine themselves to see whether or not they are Christians, or even to see if they have sin in their lives, but to see if they are properly discerning the body of Christ. One who treats fellow believers poorly fails to discern that they are members of Christ’s church, His body. One may also fail to discern the significance of Christ’s death since by His death He created a people; and therefore one who mistreats fellow believers at the Lord’s Supper reveals that he or she has little understanding of why Christ died. If you are not in fellowship with another believer, you should strive to resolve the schism in your relationship before you partake of the Lord’s Supper. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus told His disciples not to worship God until you have first reconciled with your brother. Fortunately, Paul provided a supplementary note … “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). It’s not always possible to attain this, but God’s goal is that there not be any outstanding balance in your fellowship bank account. Instead, we are to pursue peace.

It always amazes me that people still believe God doesn’t judge us and doesn’t want us to judge ourselves. What Bible are they reading? Not the same one I read. Here in 1 Corinthians the judgement is physical and progressive: weakness, sickness, death. The word “weak” refers to illness of any kind (depression, anxiety could be included) while the term “sick” refers to weakness and on-going poor health. The verb “sleep” refers to the death of a believer. Paul was dealing with illness as a physical divine judgment; but not all illness is a judgment. These verses apply only if and when the problems of weakness, sickness, and death are problems resulting from divine discipline because of unconfessed sin.

Paul clearly stated that the Corinthians would not be judged if they judge themselves. Our goal must be to judge the sin in our own lives before God must expose it. We must humble ourselves before we are humbled or humiliated. I don’t know about you, but I have enough issues in my life to keep me busy.

But we humans are so good at judging others. Some of us look down on people who listen to worldly music, watch R-rated movies, drink alcohol, dance, play cards, spend money on things we wouldn’t buy. The ability to see sin in others and ignore it in your own heart is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a Pharisee, and being a Pharisee is so easy. It’s great to make rules to guide our own behavior, but when we extend those rules to everyone around us, we’re in danger of becoming pharisaical.

The verbs “judged” and “disciplined” are both present tense verbs indicating on-going activity. This suggests that the goal of God’s discipline is remedial. It’s not a punishment. It’s meant for our good, not for a pound of flesh. God disciplines us because He is a loving Father (Hebrews 12:5-11) Who desperately wants our good.

Scripture speaks of three levels of God’s chastening, or discipline:

  • Internal Chastening. God deals with us in our hearts and nobody knows it is happening except us. If God is disciplining you at this moment, that is the best way to have your problem solved. If you and I can come to the place that God puts His finger on something, and we say, “Thank you, Lord, for loving me this much,” then we are judging yourself. If this level of discipline is not effective, God moves to…
  • External Chastening. The consequences of our sin become obvious because God’s discipline goes public. This is where Jonah ran from the Lord, and God chastened him. He was not weak or sick. He was swallowed by the fish. Had Jonah not surrendered to God’s will the second time, God had another plan. If this second level of discipline fails, God will up the ante.
  • Terminal Chastening. In this level, God calls the believer home prematurely.


Welcome One Another

So thenmy brothers and sisters, when you come together to eatwait for one another. If anyone is hungrylet him eat at homeso that when you assemble it does not lead to judgmentI will give directions about other matters when I come. 1 Corinthians 11:33-34

Instead of some gorging themselves while others go hungry, each should share what they have, and all should eat together. In this way the Corinthians would have reflected the unity of the body (“they judge rightly,” 11:29), and averted the judgment of God.

The phrase (ekdechomai) translated “wait for one another” really means something more like “welcome one another.” When used in relation to people, it usually means “to take or receive from another” or “to entertain”. And this makes logical sense. Taking your turn would not solve the problem in the Corinthian church of that poor being without food. The rich “waiting” for the poor to arrive and then partaking together will not remedy this difficulty. Paul was saying “care for one another by showing hospitality to one another! Receive each other as equal members of the body of Christ.” If the Corinthians are just there to indulge their appetites, Paul advised them to stay home. If the church’s gathering is to be meaningful it has to be an expression of real fellowship, which includes sharing.


Let Your Dress Match Your Attitude   1 comment

Image result for image of modest Christian attire

Back in college, I took a road trip with some other Christian friends and we stopped at a church on Wednesday night. We didn’t really know anything about the church and we were just off the road. I remembering showering in cold water at a campground before we went, but I don’t think we gave any thought to dress standards. We were all Southern Baptist 20-somethings with Alaska’s practical style. Clean jeans and shirts who hadn’t sweated through were Sunday-evening-go-to-meeting garb, pretty much just like at home.

Unfortunately, the church we picked was a very fundamentalist congregation … you know, bun ladies, and dresses down to mid-calf without a female bicep in sight. The pastor changed his sermon just for us, talking about how women shouldn’t have unbound hair, or wear makeup or jewelry. As we were the only ones in the crowd that fit that description, we had no doubt as to who he was preaching at. I’d like to say we walked out or at least ran to the van for jackets to cover our biceps, but mostly we were just embarrassed and uncomfortable. So, I know what Paul’s readers felt when they reached our subject section for this week.

The church in Corinth had a problem with culture. They lived in a very pagan city and the culture around them was forever trying to creep in. We’re starting a new section in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 11-14 focuses on how God’s people conduct themselves in a church worship setting. Through it, Paul touched on gender distinction, the Lord’s Supper, and spiritual gifts. We’re going to start with the roles of men and women in the churches.

First, remember that Paul had just concluded the last section with “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” That’s important because it provides a transition into the section we’re looking at now:

I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every manand the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.  1 Corinthians 11:2-3

Honor your head for the sake of Biblical teaching

Image result for image of modest Christian attireNothing like starting off with a little controversy. I know women who utterly reject the Bible because this passage insults them. Of course, they haven’t read it thoughtfully and in context with the rest of the Bible. It just justifies their rejection of what they do not know or understand.

These five verses aren’t so much about how women fix their hair as about the importance of honoring your spiritual head. Paul began with praise for the Corinthians for remembering him in everything and honoring the traditions he had taught them. Was he being sarcastic? How could his praise really be sincere? The church at Corinth had been disobedient to many of Paul’s “traditions” or “teachings.” In just a few verses, Paul will adamantly state that he will not praise them! I think he started with praise so that they would be receptive to critical advice (see 1:4-9). Speaking some positive words to a person that you are in conflict with before addressing your concerns is always wise and may result in the person hearing what you have to say.

I have a dozen books in my home library by evangelical authors who differ radically from one another on their view of women in ministry. Pastors and professors I respect for their intelligent handling of the Scripture hold widely differing views on the role of women in the church, including women’s ordination. There is even a difference in opinion among leaders of my own church. They finally got over the whole a-woman-can’t-be-a-worship-leader issue when a talented female musician was the only one available to step into the role. God leading? I think so. But women still can’t teach men above the elementary school level and I struggle with that. Women still can’t be deacons and that bothers me because there were female deacons in the churches Paul founded. There is no evidence women ever served as pastors, so there is likely a line drawn there, in light of Paul’s words here in 1 Corinthians. This is one area of doctrine where all of us could use a large dose of humility and caution. Anyone who speaks with strong dogmatism on this topic is actually demonstrating his or her ignorance. This is not an easy topic.

In this passage, Paul introduced the basic premise that everyone has a “head.” The word “head” is difficult to interpret because it can have three possible meanings in Greek:

  • prominence
  • authority
  • source

The same ambiguity exists in English when we talk about the head/top of a mountain, the head/leader of a company, or the head/source of a river. In most cases where “head” does not mean a particular body part, the word carries the nuance of prominence. Thus, Paul seems to mean that just as Christ as the Son acknowledges the preeminence of the Father and men acknowledge the preeminence of Christ over them, so women acknowledge the preeminence of men in the male-female relationship (or at least the husband-wife relationship). And this is where most modern women balk at the concept and where many men try to take advantage. Prominence in a relationship does not imply superiority. It certainly doesn’t carry that meaning in the relationship between the Father and the Son, Who are coequal. So why should it mean that between men and women in the church?

Image result for image of modest Christian attireWhile Jesus was on earth, He modeled sacrificial servant leadership (see Mark 10:42-45). He always put His Father and His Father’s will first. Jesus was fully God and equal to the Father, but chose of His own accord to grant the Father prominence. Likewise, men are called to submit to Christ and put Him first in every area. This means living sacrificially for the good of others. Similarly, the head of a woman is man. Evidently, Paul referred to women who were in a dependent relationship to a man, such as a wife to a husband or a daughter to a father. Paul probably did not mean every woman universally since he said the male is the head of woman, or a woman, but not the women. He was evidently not talking about every relationship involving men and women (for example the relationship between men and women in the workplace). Paul was saying that as a wife, daughter, or church member, women ought to honor their spiritual head: husband (Ephesians 5:22-33), father (Ephesians 6:1-3), or elders (1 Timothy 2:9-3:7).

Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her headfor it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head. For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hairBut if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shavedshe should cover her head. 1 Corinthians 11:4-6

Image result for image of modest Christian attireIn the 1st century Corinthian setting, men apparently didn’t have their heads covered, but women did. It took some digging to find out why. Apparently in Corinth at the time, men with covered heads were associated with idolatry, thus men in the Christian church honored Christ as preeminent by not covering their heads. Also at that time in Corinth, women covered their heads with a scarf or shawl that concealed their hair as a demonstration of their respect for their husbands and the church leadership.

Culturally, refusing to wear such a shawl was as disgraceful as refusing to cover up in Muslim culture today. Muslims will often say that a woman who appears in mixed company with her head uncovered is seeking to attract men. That would be distracting in the worship setting. Today, it might be a really short dress or a plunging cleavage. Worship is not the time to dwell on male-female attractiveness. It’s the time to focus on God and His Word. Women have a responsibility to both God and men to dress modestly so as not to attract unnecessary attention to themselves.

Men, you’re also are responsible to vigilantly guard your minds during worship and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We all attend church to worship God, not to eyeball the opposite sex. We all need to do our part and seek to honor one another.

So, is Paul saying Christian women must cover their heads in church meetings today? I don’t think so. I think the culture he lived in was very different from ours. The head covering is merely a cultural symbol of the honor and submission that should characterize our Christian lives. For a woman to wear a head covering today would seem to be a distinctively humiliating experience. Many women—even Biblically submissive wives—resist the notion precisely because they feel awkward and self-conscious. You might as well shave our heads if you’re going to humiliate us. Plus, it would confuse and even concern visitors and we’ll learn in 1 Corinthians 14 that the the church should not do things that might freak out unbelieving visitors.

Image result for image of modest Christian attireFrom this Scripture, we know that men and women were equally free to pray and prophesy when the church gathered. The meaning of the term “prophecy” is debated, but we will see in Chapter 14 that “prophesy” is for the edification of the church and is very close to what we would call teaching or preaching today. It is reflecting or illuminating the Word of God. It could take the form of a word of instruction, refutation, reproof, admonition, or comfort for others (see Chapters 13 and 14). Women in the early church who had the gift of prophecy were free to exercise it. They were also permitted to pray in public meetings. Paul’s churches allowed greater freedom to women than the surrounding culture did, but he drew a line at women being elders who exercised authoritative teaching gifts during the corporate worship service (1 Timothy 2:9-3:7). Moreover, they were to honor their head. Paul is not trying to repress women and to restrain their expression of spiritual gifts, but to impress upon them the need to project modesty and virtue in their dress.


Honor Your Head for the Sake of Creation

For a man should not have his head coveredsince he is the image and glory of GodBut the woman is the glory of the man. For man did not come from womanbut woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of womanbut woman for man. For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her headbecause of the angels.  1 Corinthians 11:7-10

Spiritual headship has been true since God created the world. The Genesis creation narratives show that both man and woman equally bear the image and the glory of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-2). But in Genesis 2 when God created Eve, He took her from Adam’s rib. Woman was created from the man and for the man. In other words, woman completes man. As the help and strength man needs, woman helps him be all that God desires. Woman reflects the glory of man when she submits to God’s order.

But what does “glory” mean here? Ancient culture was an “honor–shame” culture, meaning people normally protected the honor of their family and the family name and would not knowingly bring dishonor and shame to it. This concept may lie in the background of this passage. By going unveiled, a woman was bringing shame on herself and her reputation, and that of her family. Paul implied that a woman should be bringing honor and glory to herself and her family, and especially to her husband and any other men in her life.

Now verse 10 is weird. It’s mysterious. “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” My Bible study helps tell me this verse is considered one of the most difficult verses in the entire Bible. It’s an important verse, however, because Paul is clearly summing something up. You can see that in the use of the word “therefore” which means “in light of what I just said.” So we ought to seek to understand it. According to my study helps, the phrase “a symbol of” doesn’t appear in the Greek text. But that word “authority” is in there, which usually means “having the freedom or right to choose.” The best interpretation I found was that the woman has authority over her head (man) to do as she pleases. She can choose to submit or not. Maybe Paul meant that women have freedom to decide how they will pray and prophesy within the constraint that Paul had imposed, namely, with heads covered. An elder friend of mine said “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” If dressing modestly is the price to be paid for exercising God’s gifts freely, so be it.

The final phrase, “because of the angels” is a mystery to all interpreters. Really, nobody knows. Perhaps Paul was encouraging women to worship with that same submissive humility as angelic ministers, who are the guardians of God’s created order.

In any casein the Lord woman is not independent of mannor is man independent of woman. For just as woman came from manso man comes through womanBut all things come from God. 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

Paul then concluded with strong emphasis on the mutuality of men and women in marriage in the church. Paul was still arguing from the creation order, particularly mutual interdependence. The phrase “in the Lord” clearly envisions Christian marriage and life in the body of Christ. And this mutual dependence of man and woman speaks of full equality in personhood (1 Peter 3:7). We can’t get along without each other. We are mutually dependent on each other. We complement one another. Paul was concerned to promote love between the sexes. Neither man nor woman because of their different positions or advantages should consider themselves better, or treat the other with contempt or condescension. This mutual dependence of the man and the woman is grounded in creation. The first woman, Eve, was originally created from the man. But from that point on every single man is birthed by a mother. Paul clearly saw their inter-dependence as grounded in the Lord Himself. All things are from God, which gives us another reason for humility in the relationships between believing men and women.

It’s common to read the first part of this passage and insist Paul taught that women are inferior to men, partly on the basis of the story of the creation of woman from man in  Genesis 2, but the last two verses remind us that ever since the creation of Eve, the order has been reversed (i.e., men are now born from women). When all is said and done, there is equality between men and women. Neither of them is independent of the other; both need each other. In Paul’s prior letter to the Galatians, he’d written “there is neither…male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). Paul seems to have struggled in this passage. He didn’t want the Corinthians to interpret his letter to mean that “in the Lord” women are inferior to men. We all come from God, and all of us equally belong to God through his Son, Jesus.

Honor Your Head for the Sake of Nature’s Pattern

Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hairit is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hairit is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 1 Corinthians 11:13-15

Verse 13 is the key verse in this entire section because Paul clearly emphasized the single point of his passage: Women should stop praying with their heads uncovered. Paul oscillated back and forth between men and women in 11:4-15. In 11:13 he broke this pattern and focused solely on women. This is a literary device that Biblical writers used to bring home their point. This verse also contains the only imperative besides 11:6 where the point is that a woman should cover herself.

In the culture of 1st century Corinth, it was not proper for a woman to act as a spokesman for people with God by praying publicly with her head uncovered. To do so was tantamount to claiming the position of a man in God’s order. The apostle did not think it wise for Christian women to exercise their liberty in a way that would violate socially accepted behavior even though they were personally submissive. Let your dress match your attitude.

Obviously, when Paul referred to Nature, he was not saying that in the world of animals all males have short hair and all females have long hair. Just think about lions and recognize that’s not what he meant. Historical evidence suggests that for 1st-century men long hair was considered effeminate, even homosexual …. something that Paul in Romans 1 considers contrary to nature. By “nature” Paul evidently meant how his culture felt about what was natural.

Paul again used “glory” here when he claimed that the long hair of a woman “is her glory” (11:15). It’s unlikely he was using the word in the same sense as he used it in 11:7. That was about the honor-shame culture of the ancient Near East. Here, the word seems to refer to the beauty of women’s long hair. Because long hair can make a woman look so attractive and beautiful, Paul felt comfortable using this fact as a secondary argument for why women need a covering on their heads.

Honor your head for the sake of apostolic authority

If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practicenor do the churches of God. 1 Corinthians 11:16

Paul’s final argument appeals to apostolic authority. If any of his readers still did not feel inclined to accept Paul’s reasoning, he informed them that the other churches followed what he had just explained. Some women were evidently discarding their head covering in public worship. Interestingly, Paul brought up the idea of “practice” or custom. There are other places in Paul’s writings where he dealt with cultural practices within the church. Here, the issue is obedience to what Paul said from beginning to end. He was calling for women within the church at Corinth to obey Biblical instruction and by extension for Christian women today to be obedient to carry out God’s desire of orderly and honorable worship.

So this is a challenging passage that presents some action points. I don’t wear dresses to my mid-calf and sleeves to my elbows, nor is my hair in a bun and I like jewelry. I dress modestly for my culture, but I don’t feel a calling to wear a hajib. But I do know Christian women from other cultures who do dress much more modestly than I do and I don’t condemn them for that. It’s their choice. I think this passage speaks about far more than clothing styles.

Wives, please consider your relationship with your husband. If you are acting in a way that undermines your husband, then you should rethink what you are doing. It’s not that he’s more capable or better than you, but he is the head, the prominent one in your relationship. Most of the world will see your relationship in that light. Thus, you demean yourself if you bring dishonor to him.

Husbands, please support your wives in their ministries. We often exhort women to support their men in their ministries, but men ought to also support women in theirs. It shouldn’t be second-place just because it’s the woman doing it. There is a man and woman in our church — she is the worship leader … she leads the choir and the congregational singing and plans special musical events for holidays. He is the audio-visual guy. Everybody knows who Lori is and nobody knows who Eric is. He’s okay with that. If you ask him, he’ll say he knows his ministry is every bit as important as hers because she can’t do her job without him and he’d have no reason to do his job without her.

Church, please reevaluate your view of women in ministry. Why do you hold the views that you do? Have you thoroughly studied what the Scriptures say on women in ministry, or are you basing your conclusions on what you have always assumed was correct or are culturally comfortable with? I challenge you to prayerfully think through some of these issues and interact with people over what role women should play in the local church.

I think there is a balance to be found in Paul’s words. We should hold up Biblical leadership and also allow women to serve in the church in more capacities than the nursery and little kid Sunday Schools and the fellowship hall. Finding that balance in a modern society will require effort, but in this way, we honor God and show His people in a favorable light.

Don’t Let Freedom Lead You Astray   Leave a comment

Sometimes it seems as if the Christian movement is divided between two camps. On one side, you have the Frozen Chosen, who have 157 rules for how you should dress on Sunday and keep track of who is a “sinner”. On the other hand, you have the Freedom in Christ group, who smoke cannabis and have multiple sexual partners and will insist that Christ doesn’t care about any of that.

The truth, according to the apostle Paul is somewhere in the middle. The Frozen Chosen are the Pharisees of our day, but the Freedom in Christ crowd is far off the mark as well.

Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial“Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds others up. 1 Corinthians 10:23

Image result for image of christian fellowship mealYou’ll notice that Paul is using some popular Christian quotes again. We discussed this in an earlier lesson. Bible scholars believe these were sayings that circulated in the churches, particularly the Corinthian church, in that 1st century and they were being used somewhat like aphorisms and to excuse immoral behavior.

Paul had just warned the Corinthians (and by extension, us) to flee idolatry. Eating food sacrificed to idols meant nothing to the Christian, because God is not knocked from His throne by the stump of a tree sculpted and painted to look like something else. As Christians, we have essential freedom in matters of morally neutral things, but … BUT … our behavior must be tempered with concern for others in the body of Christ. If our freedom is going to be expressed through Christian maturity, it must be concerned with the spiritual benefit to others.

That word “edify” means to build up or strengthen. It’s a word from the vocabulary of building construction. Paul used it in his letters to describe the strengthening of Christian character in ourselves and other people. When we’re faced with a decision about a particular practice, we must first ask ourselves if we have the right to do it. I would say if it’s not forbidden by Scripture, absolutely we have the right. We still need to take a pause and ask the next question. “Is it profitable and edifying. Will this activity build people up, both ourselves and others?” If the answer is “yes”, then we can participate with full abandon.

Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person. Eat anything that is sold in the marketplace without questions of conscience, for the earth and its abundance are the Lord’s. If an unbeliever invites you to dinner and you want to goeat whatever is served without asking questions of conscience.  1 Corinthians 10:24-27

Our freedom is going to express itself in serving other people. Our thoughts should always be directed to other brothers and sisters in Christ. We should desire to sacrifice for others. The issue of freedom balances two extremes. Some feel the attitude should be “I don’t care what anyone says about what I do. I’ll do as I please. I operate on the principle of grace and am free to do as I please.” This attitude approaches libertinism. On the other hand, there are others who live in a spiritual straight jacket, afraid to do anything without a sense of guilt. There must always be a balance, but if you’re going to screw up, err on the side of putting your spiritual family members first.

Liberty in Christ will always triumph over legalism. Paul majored on our freedom in Christ. He said it doesn’t matter what we eat, including food offered to idols, because neither the taking of it nor the abstaining from it will have any effect on our relationship with God. All food is a gift from God. Paul encouraged Christians to enjoy life, to not be overly scrupulous. What you don’t know can’t hurt you.

Paul dealt with how Christians should behave when invited to a unbeliever’s home. My parents would have approved of his advice. Eat what’s put before you. The Corinthians shouldn’t make an issue of the origin of the meat or food they were eating. They should eat all of it. Eating a piece of meat that was offered to an idol will not defile the Christian. What defiles the Christian is participating in heathen worship. If eating a piece of idol-meat does not defile the Christian, there is no need to make an issue of it. This simply exercises an overly-sensitive conscience and introduces an unnecessary affront to the hospitality of the host. Paul implied that living out this freedom means that we’re going to have evangelistic entrée into people’s lives. There are nonbelievers who will invite us into their homes, and we have complete freedom to eat with them, whatever they put before us. Paul’s solution to a potential violation of conscience is “Don’t ask!” To the extent that we’re willing to do that, we’re reflecting the life of Jesus, Who ate with tax-collectors and sinners (Matthews 9:10-11). If we are legalistic, uptight, self-righteous, self-protective Christians, “holier than thou” types, our non-Christian acquaintances won’t want anything to do with us anyway. We’re not even going to get invited to their homes. But if we live a life of freedom and openness, that will attract them to Jesus.

But if someone says to you“This is from a sacrifice,” do not eatbecause of the one who told you and because of conscience I do not mean yours but the other person’sFor why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscienceIf I partake with thankfulnesswhy am I blamed for the food that I give thanks for? 1 Corinthians 10:28-30

Paul raised a hypothetical situation in which you’ve been invited to a non-Christian friend’s home, and one of your Christian friends is there who has a weaker conscience. They are offended or confused by the freedom with which you’re indulging: “Didn’t you know this is idol food? Are you sure you ought to be eating this?” Paul suggested that we might decide to refrain from eating the meat so as not to risk leading that younger brother or sister in Christ into sin or confusing their conscience. Paul made it clear, however, that even though we may choose to modify our actions for the good of the weaker brother or sister, we are not to adjust our own conscience. Their weakness ought to make us very gracious, merciful, and sensitive toward them, but the legalism of the weaker one shouldn’t make us feel condemned or influence us toward legalism in our own lifestyle. Paul defended his freedom to partake of any kind of food, especially food that he knew is a good gift from God, and receive it with gratitude. He refused to be fearful about what other people thought of him. He was not going to be controlled by that.

So whether you eat or drinkor whatever you dodo everything for the glory of God. Do not give offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in all things.  1 Corinthians 10:31-33

Paul moved to summarize the entire (three-chapter) discussion. He indicated this with the use of the word “then” (oun). As a general principle, believers should do everything “for the glory of God”—and Paul particularly mentioned here eating and drinking. To do something for the glory of God means to reflect God’s glory in the way we live. We ought to use our liberty carefully and selflessly to glorify God. Our eating and drinking should bring glory to God, not to cause conflict, to honor a demon, or to undermine the faith of weaker brothers and sisters. Paul’s desire was to live out his freedom in Christ, partly because of its evangelistic potential for the sake of the Gentiles and the Jews who didn’t yet know Christ, and partly so he could have an influence on the church of Jesus Christ as an apostle. His concern was having an attractively inoffensive lifestyle of freedom. Paul had already acknowledged that some people were offended by the gospel alone, but he didn’t want his own life to bring offense to the gospel in the eyes of anybody, Christian or non-Christian. The real fear here was that legalism, being controlling, would somehow be the offense that would keep people from the Lord Jesus. His desire was to try to live without offending in any direction, always thinking of both honoring Christ and affecting other people in how he lived. And Paul always looked in both of those directions.

I do not seek my own benefitbut the benefit of manyso that they may be savedBe imitators of mejust as I also am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:33b-11:1

I’m sure there were people who thought Paul was a man-pleaser (Galatians 1:10). His concern was that his life would be attractive so that they would be drawn to Jesus in him. “Saved” in this context probably includes Christians and means saved in the wide sense of delivered from anything that keeps someone from advancing spiritually (see Romans 15:1-3). Paul is not content simply to live his life as an example for the Corinthians to emulate. He actually instructs them to become “imitators” of him. (4:16). For Paul, as an apostle of Christ, it wasn’t just a matter of preaching and teaching. It was a matter of living out the truth that he taught. In many of those cities Paul went to, he would be the first and only Christian they would see. So watching him live his life was very important for them to understand the reality of the gospel.

Paul asks every one of us to live a consistent Christian life. Do you want to properly balance freedom and restraint? Do you want to be in the world and not of the world? Do you want to have a positive spiritual influence in your community, but not allow that community to mold you so you compromise what’s true and what’s right? Do you want to live a balanced life, not being driven by the extremes of legalism or selfish license? If you do, then imitate Paul. He tried to imitate the selfless life that Christ lived. Glorify God in what you say and what you do and in the attitudes of your heart. As Paul later explained in Romans 7, results aren’t perfect, but we’re only human, so trying our best is good enough.

Flee Idolatry to True Freedom   Leave a comment

Either consciously or subconsciously, many of us prefer to take the easy way out. Instead of working to bless God and others, we choose a selfish prison of our own making. Instead of giving God the worship that He alone deserves, we worship ourselves. Instead of serving others, we seek our own good. When this takes place there is community jeopardy.

Live to Glorify God

Image result for image of idolatryIn the section we’re studying today, 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1, Paul concluded a three-chapter discussion on the freedom that God has given Christians. The passage falls into two major sections. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 there is a stern warning and in 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 there is emphathic counsel on how to use our freedom to God’s glory, for the good of other people. Paul understood that true freedom is putting God and others first.


So thenmy dear friendsflee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:14

Remember that this section follows after a discussion of temptation. We should be careful to remember that the Bible was not written as a series of chapters and verses, but, in the case of 1 Corinthians, a letter from a man who knew his audience well. When Paul followed up his discussion of temptation with the command to “Free Idolatry” it’s not a suggestion. Idolatry is sin because God is the only true God, and He is a jealous lover Who will not share our affections with anyone or anything else. God is still the God Who told the Israelites to have no other gods before Him. Thus, Paul began with a straightforward command: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” The word “therefore” concludes the previous discussion in 1 Corinthians 8:1-10:13 and moves toward a conclusion. Notice Paul called his readers “my beloved,” even though they are practicing idolatry? We don’t usually feel loving toward students who vex us, but Paul loved the saints of Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 1:2). Thus, he wanted to remind his readers how precious they were to him even when he spoke harshly to them.

Image result for image of idolatryOur pastor recently said he feels a shred of guilt whenever he preaches on particularly challenging portions of God’s word. His flesh is weak and sinful just like ours, so he wants to cut people slack and be gracious. Even pastors want to be liked and to make people feel good about themselves. Whatever we might prefer, the Bible doesn’t spin things like we do.

Soft preaching produces hard people and hard preaching produces soft people.” I like this! Therefore, the most loving thing that I can do is to affirm you in Christ, yet, drill us all between the eyes when necessary. (Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hll Church, Ballard, WA)

The command in 1 Corinthians 10:14 is to “flee” idolatry (see also 1 Corinthians 10:7). “Idolatry” in the Old Testament was the image and worship of pagan gods. We’re still idolaters in the 21st century,  but we’re just more sophisticated idolaters. Our idols appear more innocent since they are people, possessions, work, and leisure. If anyone or anything besides God gets our best thoughts, feelings, and energy we’re idolaters.

Identifying Idolatry:

  • Do you know sports or the entertainment industry better than your Bible? That information will mean nothing in eternity.
  • Do you spend more time at your hobbies than you do serving Christ? You will have to answer for why Christ and His church meant so little to you during your brief sojourn on earth.
  • Do you spend more time surfing the web than you do with people? (Whoa, I am personally guilty here!). You will have neglected eternal souls that you could have impacted.
  • Are you so driven to succeed in your job that you don’t have time to stop and pray? You will never be satisfied.
  • Are you bent on making just a little more money for yourself and your family? We all need money to live, but if you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil.


I am speaking to thoughtful peopleConsider what I say.  1 Corinthians 10:15

Image result for image of idolatryPaul was an apostle of Christ, yet he admonished these sinning saints to judge his words for themselves (see also 1 Corinthians 14:39-40). If this was true 2,000 years ago in Corinth, this is certainly true for us today. God has called you and me to study the Scriptures for ourselves. He expects that we will be wise and discerning because the Holy Spirit lives inside of those who have trusted in Christ.

Paul asked seven rhetorical questions, inviting the Corinthians to carefully consider his words.

Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one bodyfor we all share the one bread. Look at the people of Israel. Are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? 1 Corinthians 10:16-18

First, Paul used the Lord’s Supper and Israel’s sacrificial meals as an analogy to demonstrate that God’s people have always had one God. He used this to warn the Israelites against idolatry, informing them and us that any kind of idolatrous involvement contradicts our identity in Jesus Christ. The communion table is a symbol of our relationship with Jesus Christ, Who is the very source of our spiritual life and our unity as brothers and sisters in His body. When we partake together of the elements at the communion table, it involves a sharing (koinonia) with the Lord Jesus and also with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Similarly, as ancient Israel worshipped with sacrificial meals in the temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 14:22-27), they communed with the Lord through the forgiveness associated with those animal sacrifices. Both believing Jews under the old covenant and followers of Jesus Christ under the new covenant are defined in terms of spiritual identity by what they eat together. Those meals aren’t just religious rituals…they are a picture of their relationship with the Lord of the universe. Symbolically, when we come to the Lord’s table, we are saying Jesus is our source of life and strength. This sacred meal defines who we are in Jesus Christ – dead to sin by the power of His resurrection.

Am I saying that idols or food sacrificed to them amount to anything? NoI mean that what the pagans sacrifice is to demons and not to GodI do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demonsYou cannot take part in the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 1 Corinthians 19-21

Idolatry conflicts with our identity in Christ and so incurs the wrath of God. No Christian can participate in demon activity with impunity. Christianity cannot be a mere religious hobby to us. No Christian can dip his flag or lower his colors by accommodating what he believes to another religion. We cannot inject other religious beliefs into that relationship. Compromise of truth and credence to other religions always weakens our faith. If we compromise truth to “get along with the world”, we might want to ask ourselves if we’re even saved. I’m not saying you’re not saved. I’m saying you should examine your cozy relationship with the world and ask yourself “Does this actually align with what God has required?” and if it doesn’t, to get right with God even if that makes you out of kilter with the world. Remember that we follow a Savior that the world crucified. Being out of kilter with it doesn’t look so bad when you view it from that perspective.

Or are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we really stronger than he is? 1 Corinthians 10:22

Image result for image of an american flag and soldierIn the Old Testament, marriage was often used as a metaphor to describe the Israelites’ relationship with the Lord in the context of their flirting with idols. Idolatry was equivalent to the Israelites’ prostituting themselves to another, foreign lover, and as a result the Lord became jealous. This is to be expected. If your spouse said he or she had another love interest, you would see red and pour out your wrath. Similarly, any form of idolatrous involvement provokes the jealousy of God. All through the Old Testament, God identifies Himself as a “jealous God.” His jealousy is not like ours. It’s totally consistent with His character. It’s also completely committed to what’s best for us. God’s jealousy comes from His loving ownership of us. He loves us too much for us to get away with whatever rebellion or idolatry we’re pursuing. He will intervene; He will crash into our life and it will be painful. He will do whatever it takes to get our attention, because the answer to the question is, we are not stronger than He is. No matter what the rebellion is or how entrenched it is, He is more powerful!

Do you think this lesson was intolerant? You’re right and I will not apologize for that. God requires us to be zealous for Him. You and I should be righteously zealous for God’s name and reputation. We should be zealous for God’s people—both those who are already His and those who are not yet in the family. When Paul was preparing to establish the church at Corinth, God gave him a very encouraging word: “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Well, there weren’t any Christians there yet. What God meant is that there were many who were destined to become Christians, but they needed to be evangelized. Do we have a passion for souls? Do we have a passion for making disciples? Do we have a zeal for serving God’s people? True freedom is putting God and others first.

Then, too, you and I should be zealous for God’s house, which in the New Testament is His church … not the building, but the congregation. Do you remember what Jesus said, “Zeal for Your house will consume me?” (John 2:17; Psalms 69:9) How do you rate in this area? In every church there are those whose zeal has waned and even evaporated. For many American Christians it might well be said, “Zeal for my job has consumed me,” or “Zeal for sports has consumed me,” or “Zeal for my family has consumed me,” rather than zeal for God’s house. May we focus our zeal on that which will last for eternity, when the rest of these things are burnt up on Judgment Day. True freedom is putting God and others first.

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