Wednesday, August 19, 2015

1 Corinthians 12:27–31

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

Vs. 27 Having concluded his analogy about the various members of the body and how each one is needed because each one serves a needful and useful function, the Apostle Paul now reminds the Corinthians that they collectively are the Body of Christ and members of it individually. Now Paul here does not mean that the Corinthians are the Body of Christ in it's entirety, (for that encompasses all believers everywhere, in every generation), rather collectively they are a microcosm (this thought taken from BBC) of its entirety. And so we are the Body of Christ wherever we gather and worship, and yet members individually. Now belonging to the whole does not mean that we lose our individuality. Rather it is what we bring to it as unique individuals, who have all been individually Spirit gifted to contribute to the whole so that the Body of Christ functions well. Now in order for the Body of Christ to function well there must also be a hierarchy of the Spirit gifts and offices within the Body by which all gifts are exercised.

Vs. 28  "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues."

The Apostle Paul listing only these particular gifts seems to be linked with the fact that these were the most prevalent gifts at this time in the early churches history and development. Later though as the Gospel became established others gifts/offices like the preacher, teacher, evangelist came to the forefront as God's revelation for us all through His Word was becoming complete, and thus the Spirit began ministering the Word of God to us all through these (see Eph 4:7-16 and consider that the gifts/offices mentioned there are for the instruction and unity of the church in sound doctrine, and not just it's establishment as with the early sign gifts). And so that continues to this day. 
Now in the list here, apostles is listed first and tongues last, which indicates the apostles priority and authority in the early church. And so even in the early church tongues (a sign gift primarily directed towards Israel) was not a preeminent gift (though the Corinthians made it out to be, and so the Apostle Paul's correction of their doing so). Rather it was first the apostles, then the prophets, then those with the gift of teaching, who were then to teach and instruct what God brought forth through His apostles and prophets. For it was the apostles and prophets who laid the foundation of our faith, of which Christ Himself was the Chief Cornerstone (see Eph. 2:20). And thus all that they commanded and taught (and thus built) by the Spirit guiding them, was being built upon Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior and His Word (consider Rev. 19:10). For it wasn't the sign gifts that brought God's salvation and revelation of His Will and plans for us all who believe, rather it was His Word spoken though His holy apostles and prophets. The sign gifts then gave an early testimony to His Word, first establishing it amongst the early disciples, and then it bore witness to the world that these things were so. And thus having born witness to the Word of God, the Spirit of God in due course of time caused them to cease. For we are all to walk by faith not by sight (see 2 Cor 5:7; Heb 11:1-6), because salvation only comes by believing what God has already done and accomplished, for us all through His Son. We then are all commanded to repent and believe, not seek or demands signs as the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles did and always do. Thus with Israel's collective rejection of the Gospel (until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled), and the Gospel having become well established amongst the Gentiles, and thus the Body of Christ firmly established here on earth, the gift of tongues (and the other sign gifts like miracles) eventually ceased to serve any real purpose in the Gospels ministry, and so the Spirit eventually ceased their operation. Now it should be noted that in the last days various kinds of miracles, which the Scripture calls lying signs and wonders will appear. These though are the work of the devil, and or his ambassadors, who will do these things by his enabling them to do so, by which the world will fall under the deceptions of anti-christ's deceiving power; and so all believers everywhere need to weary of all such things; since they will if possible, even seek to deceive the elect through them (consider Matt 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9-12; Rev. 13). Thus we who believe are now to beware of all such things for Satan himself even transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor 11:13-15), deceiving people even to think that they themselves have seen visions of Jesus, when in fact the next time Jesus appears it won't be to any single individual, but to humanity collectively, as He brings all the living believers on earth and the dead in Christ to Himself before He renders His wrath and judgment on the unbelieving world (1 Thess 4:13-5:3). Therefore dont' be deceived by such things, instead repent and believe the Gospel while you can so that you might be redeemed from all your sins and transgressions, and saved the wrath to come (Luke 21:34-36; Rev. 22:12-17).

Now the gifts of miracles and healings was the Holy Spirit doing miracles and healing people through those believers so equipped. Often it was the apostles who demonstrated this miraculous ability most powerfully (Acts 5:12-16; 14:3, 8-10; 19:11-12; 2 Cor. 12:12 etc.). Yet they themselves never exalted themselves through being so gifted, nor did they exalt these gifts (as they are given fourth and fifth in listing here), rather it was always the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done to redeem us all through His death on the cross and Resurrection from the grave which was always exalted by their doing so (thus if it doesn't bring Christ glory it's not from God). These gifts then served as an early witness, and thus gave testimony to that reality of Christ's life, death, Resurrection, ascension, and thus His salvation which is freely available to all who repent and believe in Him.

Next listed is the gift of helps (it is sixth in the list). Outside of having a desire to help or assist others, the Spirit given gift of helps actually enables one to do so. Giving one understanding or abilities where these did not before exist within that individual. And so the gift of helps not only covers a broad spectrum of possibilities, but it clearly has a role to fulfill in the church Body today.

Administrations: This word literally means "to steer", as in the pilot of a ship, and thus figuratively to rule in government, to give Divine direction (TDNTA page 1035-37). It is then a Spirit given gift/ability given to those Christ has chosen to lead or direct the affairs in the local church. This gift then is associated with the positions of Bishop (i.e. Pastor), deacon, and elder, as the NKJ describes them. Hence in order then to serve in any of those capacities one must have this Spirit gift, for it is the Spirit of God who directs the men He so equips, and thus makes them most effective in their service. Now that is it's primary sense, providing leadership. In a secondary sense this word is also used in the Septuagint (i.e. the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew O.T.), describing those who give wise counsel (Prov. 1:5; 11:14; 24:6). So that aspect of being able to counsel others wisely is inherent to it. Finally in the N.T. this form of the word does not appear outside of this verse, rather it's function does, as in the passages like: Rom 12:8; 1 Tim 3:4-5; 5:17; Heb 13:17, 24 etc. 

Varieties of tongues: The Spirit gift appears first after the Holy Spirit's outpouring, and yet last in the list of Spirit given gifts after the Gospel and the church had become established. And so we see the natural shift in priorities, as the Gospel preached and believed on brings salvation to the soul, not speaking in tongues. Thus the priority should not be on trying to maintain tongues speaking, but on preaching the Good News in a easily understood language, as the Apostle makes clear in chapter 14, where he commends the gift of prophecy to the church, not tongues. That said tongues speaking still existed at this point in the early church's development and so we will briefly look at this Spirit gift here. First thing to note is that there were a variety of tongues languages that the Spirit gave to believers so equipped, these may have been actually languages as was the case in Acts chapter two, or these may have been "tongues of angels" (1 Cor 13:1) that then needed interpretation by someone given the Spirit gift of interpretation in order to be rightly understood, and thus be of any use to the church (or anyone else) in giving a word of exhortation or encouragement etc. (which is a principal theme in 1 Cor 14 where this gift is discussed in detail, see vs. 6-18). Thus if there was no interpretation then those who spoke with tongues were to speak silently to himself and God (1 Cor 14:28) and not disrupt the assembly (1 Cor 14:26-33). Outside of that exhortation there has been much abuse and reckless use of this gift, especially in the twenty-twenty first centuries where people in seeking to revive the practices of the early church took it upon themselves to diligently seek out this gift and try to exemplify it again. Something that no one should ever presume to do since it is the Spirit who gives His Spirit gifts according to His own Will, not anyone elses. And thus where people have diligently sought to exemplify this gift, making it the priority, when it's not, it's preaching the Gospel that is the priority (Rev. 19:10), some have been deceived and even overtaken by demon spirits, who can take control of ones tongue or body. The difference then between Biblical tongues speaking and any other sort of spirit manifestations in the church amongst believers is that the Spirit of God never threw anyone to the ground, or caused them to speak blasphemy, or act in bizarre ways, or utter complete nonsense. All the Spirit of God did and does has inherently within it an element of self-control (Gal. 5:23). Thus any tongues speaking that does not exemplify this fruit of the Spirit cannot be said to be of the Spirit of God. 

Vs. 29-31 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

The Apostle Paul's question here harkens back to his original exhortation that the Body of Christ is by God's design, and Spirit gifting each believer as He wills, intentionally diverse. And thus Paul's question here is only looking for the Corinthians own affirmation to this with their giving a resounding no! For as the Apostle Paul has already made the case not all are apostles, or prophets, or teachers, or workers of miracles, or have the gift of healings, or speak with tongues, or interpret tongues. And thus to say that the baptism of the Spirit is known in the speaking of tongues is to be teaching utterly contrary to Word of God (as the BBC rightly notes in it's commentary on these verses) because every believer is already "baptized" by the Spirit into Christ the moment we believe, and thus we do not need, nor will we receive any other "baptisms" by the Spirit of God. And so speaking in tongues is in no way a universal indication of this; of one being born-again by the Spirit of God; because speaking in tongues is not a universal gift, and thus it can in no way indicate this. For only in the early church did it initially indicate to the Jewish believers there that God had given them the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), then later it indicated to them that God had also accepted the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17), and finally the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48). Outside of that there was only a small group of twelve men who having only been baptized with the baptism of John (and thus who did not have the full revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ) and so these also demonstrated the gift of tongues upon their receiving the Holy Spirit, when the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel to them and laid hands on them. And thus God did so to affirm to Paul, and to them, that they too had been received by Him and thus baptized into Christ. And so early on these things were necessary as the church was growing in it's understanding of the will and outworking of God. But as the Apostles understanding about the Gospel, and expecially the grace of God which brings salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to one and to all through it became settled in their minds (see Acts 15), these sorts of signs to indicate this to them ceased to need to be. And so any thoughts about tongues speaking now as being a universal sign of one who has been baptized by the Holy Spirit is utterly misguided. For as the Apostle goes on to say in verse 31 we are all to now earnestly desire the best gifts, not the least, which is listed here as tongues speaking. For this gift from the Spirit of God has already served it's primary purpose (in fulfilmment of prophecy, as a witness to the nation of Israel), and thus it is the best gifts that we are to desire, which as we will see are also surpassed by the greatest gift of all, which is God's love working in us and through us all who believe. 

Scripture Quotations
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Additional Resources Consulted
MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. Edited by Arthur Farstad. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995.

Kittel, Gerhard, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 465). New York: United Bible Societies.

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