Friday, September 30, 2016

The Unreal Things the Real-thing is Like

Over the years, my distaste for self-proclaimed discernment ministries has grown from mild irritation to extreme disappointment.

The primary reason?

That they regularly follow a pattern of pendulum-swinging extremes that create unnecessary division while congratulating themselves for only promoting that good kind of division where the right people have nothing to do with the wrong people.[1]

Do I agree with the apostle Paul that, “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized”?[2] Absolutely! However, I simply contend that too many of those self-ordained discernment ministries are so unaware of their own impurity of understanding (both their targets and the truth) that they are not so genuine as they imagine.

Let me clarify that I am not endorsing everyone the discernment ministries target, nor condemning everyone who claims to speak for a discernment ministry. I am only addressing this one thing, that too many of these discernment ministries have arsenic in their salad dressing, if you will, and I do not want any of their brand of discernment on my salad, metaphorically speaking.

One of the common lines of reasoning in their burning-strawmen-at-the-stake is the mistaken belief that a genuine Christian will never look “like” a heretic. The belief is that genuine Christianity is so unlike any of its opponents, that anyone who seems “like” they are doing what the bad guys do is clearly of the same substance.

So, let us reason this out.

Satan is a masquerader,[3] a deceiver,[4] the father of lies.[5] He loves to create counterfeit versions of what is good in order to lead people astray. He comes, trying to look like a shepherd, while his real interest is to steal, kill, and destroy.[6]

Now, what happens when, along with Satan’s blatant expressions of unrestricted evil, he also creates counterfeit religious activities, and congregations, and experiences that he purposely designs to be “like” the real thing. As Jesus said, there would be deceivers who would do things so convincing, “so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”[7]

In other words, if the elect weren’t elect, even they would be led astray by how much Satan’s activity appears to be “like” the Holy Spirit’s activity.

Now, if Satan is so unrelenting in creating counterfeit religious and spiritual experiences that are as much “like” the real thing without being the real thing, what will it look like when people seek to be as devoted to the real thing as is possible this side of heaven?

Answer (drum roll please): won’t the people seeking the real thing also look “like” the counterfeits?

Think of it this way: is the reason that, “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect”,[8] because God is not in the business of using miracles, signs, and wonders to validate the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

Or is it that, because God has used miracles, signs, and wonders to validate the gospel message, Satan will use means that are so “like” God’s work that only the elect, because they are elect, will be saved from the deception? And, doesn’t this mean that, if Satan and his emissaries are so busily trying to duplicate God’s work in counterfeit facsimiles, those still doing the real thing will often appear “like” the counterfeiters?

We all know that, when counterfeit money is in circulation, criminals are obviously making great effort to produce something that looks “like” real money. The reason for their success is because real money also looks “like” the counterfeit. It works both ways.

Now, imagine the police deciding that, because there are so many problems with counterfeit money looking “like” the real thing, they are going to tell people to avoid any money that looks “like” the counterfeit. What would happen? People would be deceived into giving up all their real money because it looks so much “like” the pretend money!

I am all for the church testing everything, throwing off what is clearly evil, and holding on to that which is good.[9] However, when these discernment ministries are tested for their integrity to sound judgment, and it is discovered that they are using slanderous misrepresentation to come to their conclusions, and creating this false belief that genuine Christian living will never look “like” the deceptive counterfeits of the mastermind of evil, then we must remove the baby from the bathtub and throw out the filthy bathwater on ALL sides of the pendulum-extremes.

Since I can’t give the time to argue who is right or wrong on every issue, I simply present this challenge: when someone says that someone else is wrong, whether they speak of your favorite preacher and teacher of the word, or the infamous figures you already think are false teachers, listen for what they give as their evidence. Are you shown clear and indisputable firsthand expressions of the person under attack, what they really teach and promote in their own words? Or, are you just being told that, to the attacker, it looks “like” such-and-such ”appears” to be what this person “could be” doing.

Also, are you being shown evidence that this target is irrefutably teaching something contrary to the plain and clear teaching of Scripture, or is the target teaching something from Scripture that simply disagrees with the personal interpretation of the discernment mininistry?

Of course, we now have a problem. What do we do when our discernment reveals that specific discernment ministries are not only lacking discernment, but judging others in the slanderous way God forbids?[10] Are we just as prepared to “have nothing to do with them”[11] for the unrighteous aspects of their ministries as we were told to have nothing to do with those they have judged unfairly?

Since God requires that we do nothing from partiality,[12] or prejudging,[13] we must be clear in our own motives, that we are seeking the truth in love,[14] not promoting favorites amongst ministries no matter what they are doing to harm the church. Between the pendulum-swinging discernment ministries, and their pendulum-swinging targets, there is a plumbline of truth that calls us to be just as earnest to avoid false witnesses as to judge teachers without partiality.[15]

There is no doubt that the church is to guard against false teaching and false teachers. However, we must be just as quick to test the so-called discernment ministries as those they condemn. In the end, don’t take someone’s word for what you should think of someone else. Make sure you test each person for their own words, actions, and teachings, and then act as the “truth in love” instructions of God’s word leads you to act.

In fact, if we followed all the truth and love God’s word teaches, perhaps we would discover that God has called us to take a few more steps of obedient and loving faith before we go public regarding what we think of another person’s ministry.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I agree with those who say that proclaiming the truth in love creates necessary division with those who deny the truth in love. I simply contend that people are not necessarily promoting the truth in love just because they claim to do so. Until their claims are tested by the plumbline of God’s word to match the whole counsel of God in both truth and love, their claims are just as open to scrutiny as those they claim to so fairly and publicly condemn.
[2] I Corinthians 11:19
[3] II Corinthians 11:14-15. ESV translates “disguise”, while NIV translates “masquerade”. Both identify Satan’s efforts to deceive with disguises, to masquerade as something different than he is.
[4] Revelation 12:9
[5] John 8:44
[6] John 10:10
[7] Matthew 24:24
[8] Matthew 24:24
[9] I Thessalonians 5:19-22
[10] The church is to judge fairly and righteously (John 7:24), continuing to require two or three witnesses to validate that some sin indeed took place (Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16; II Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:19), but we are forbidden to judge unrighteously or hypocritically (Matthew 7:1-5; James 4:11).
[11] II Thessalonians 3:14; I Timothy 4:7; II Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:10
[12] James 2:1, 9
[13] I Timothy 5:21
[14] Ephesians 4:15-16
[15] Again, I am not claiming that all discernment ministries are a pendulum-extreme, or that the people they target are all unfairly judged. My contention is that God does not allow us to play favorites with either a favorite discernment ministry, or a favorite teacher, nor to falsely judge people and ministries we just don’t like. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Home Church Video ~ The Plumbline of Spiritual Gifts ~ Part 2

Would you like to know what God explicitly says we should think about spiritual gifts in his church today?[1] Would you like to live by the whole counsel of God on the matter?[2] Is it really possible to sift through all the counterfeit viewpoints and discover that God’s “real thing” is not so difficult to find after all? Can individuals, and little home churches, put their faith in what God has written even when surrounded by big name preachers who present their personal opinions as though revealed by God?

To all of the above I say that, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”,[3] so join us in a journey through the words of Christ on the matter of spiritual gifts, and let your faith rest on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.[4] The church will be far better off with us putting into practice the words of Christ on spiritual gifts than holding back out of uncertainty concerning God’s will on the matter.

If our true interest is, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,”[5] then consider God’s will as plainly revealed in his words, and join his work with all your heart, soul, and mind, for God’s glory, and the church’s good.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I Corinthians 12 and 14 are the primary focus, but this applies to any passage that reveals God’s will about spiritual gifts.
[2] Acts 20:26-27
[3] Romans 10:17
[4] Matthew 4:4
[5] Matthew 6:10

The Spiritual Heart-Attack Test

Have you experienced a spiritual heart attack? Consider this test:

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, (Isaiah 29)

What God expressed through his prophet was the main problem with his people, “their hearts are far from me.” God knew that, in spite of the externals, these people were still saying nice things about him with their lips while their hearts were far away. They did nothing more than what was commanded by men, and had no interest in that inner attachment to God with all their heart.

Jesus confronted the same thing during his ministry as he addressed the true condition of the religion of the day. He presented the above passage in his own words (they are all his words, after all):

8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15)

What stands out in Jesus’ emphasis is that one of the chief evidences of a spiritual heart attack, “their heart is far from me”, is that the people are “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

When this hit me between the eyes, I looked the same verse up in three other highly respected translations to make sure I wasn’t dealing with a personal preference of any particular group of translators. I discovered that these translations all expressed the same thing, that the people were taking the “commandments of men”, or things that the religious leaders had made up, and teaching them as “doctrines”, meaning, as if they were the true teachings of God’s own word.[1]

This means that, if we struggle with the same condition, that we are going through religious motions while our hearts are far away from God, we may have succumbed to the same problem, that we are following the commandments of men, or the teachings of people, as if they are “doctrines”, the teachings of God.

Perhaps we have set ourselves up as our own authority, and we translate everything from God’s word into something more palatable for our sarky-selves, and then wonder why this has left us feeling distant from God. If the sheep are listening to their own voices, instead of that of the Shepherd,[2] how can they expect to keep their hearts close to his heart?

Perhaps we have succumbed to some popular preacher who has told us that his teaching on some issue is “doctrine” when it is nothing more than him imagining there is something “between the lines” God has breathed-out, and he (sadly, or she) treats his (or her) own opinion as though breathed-out by God. If we are devoted to a preacher of the word, rather than the word of God itself, we may find that a steady diet of man-made interpretations of God’s word has left our hearts malnourished since our diet is not the whole counsel of God on the matter.

What is God’s response to this indictment? When Jesus came into our world, and he identified the miserable hypocrisy of the contemporary religion, and revealed that the people fulfilled what God had earlier written through his prophet that the hearts of the people were far away from him, what was God’s response to such a culture and society?

Answer: he spoke to us through his Son with these marvelously gracious words:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11)

Why is it that so many church-going folk are not experiencing rest for their souls? Answer: because “their hearts are far from me”, says the Lord.

Now, making this as personal as possible, one of the primary difficulties I have seen in churches is that the core people want an external relationship with God rather than one that touches their souls. Church-going folk tend to avoid the honesty of the prostitutes, tax-collectors, and drunks who came to Jesus in complete abandonment to his gospel because they do not want to admit to the weary and burdened condition of their souls. They don’t experience soul-rest because they deny their soul-condition.

The apostle Paul addressed this in a distinctly personal way when he identified his concern that the Corinthian Christians’ hearts were in danger of being led astray because their hearts were closed towards the apostolic foundation of Jesus’ church. He wrote:

11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (II Corinthians 6)

Paul, a man carried along by the Holy Spirit to write down the words of God, identified that the Church of Corinth had a constriction of the arteries, if you will. The affections of their hearts were “restricted”. Even Paul was having difficulty reaching these people’s hearts and experiencing with them the hearts “knit together in love” he had written about elsewhere.[3]

His appeal to them, what the Spirit is still saying to the churches, is, “In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.” The NASB puts it, “Now in a like exchange – I speak as to children – open wide to us also.”

Paul could say that his heart was fully open to the church as an under-shepherd caring for his Firstborn Brother’s sheep. There was no holding back on his part no matter how many times people had rejected him and trampled underfoot what he was freely offering in Jesus’ name.

What Paul wanted, which means what God wanted, was that the people would offer a fair exchange. Since Paul’s heart was fully open to them, they ought to give the same thing in return, or make a fair exchange at the heart-to-heart level. If they would open their hearts to Paul and his fellow servants, they would experience the love relationship between shepherds and the flock that would bring them into greater sense of love relationship with their head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you have read this far, and tested your heart to see if it is near or far from God, whatever you have learned about yourself, bring it to Jesus. He will address the condition of our souls, through the soul-care of the church,[4] until our souls are brought to rest in him with the peace and freedom of “first love”.[5] And that is what our hearts are longing for.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (ESV)
“Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (NASB)
“teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (KJV)
“Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” (NKJV)
[2] John 10:3, 27
[3] Colossians 2:2
[4] My philosophy of ministry, which I believe summarizes what Scripture says on the matter, is: “Bringing the Soul-Condition of the people to the Soul-Provision of Christ through the Soul-Care of the body of Christ.”
[5] Revelation 2:1-7. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Funeral of Rejoicing or Funeral of Regret

We often hear some reminder that we ought to stay in touch with people we love because we never know when we might lose them. We are urged to make that phone call instead of watch the TV show; or write the email instead of play the game; or stop in for a visit instead of keeping so busy. The point is that we ought to take time for people now, while they are still here.

Then there are the conflicts within families and friendships that change everything from an issue of time, to one of value. Instead of letting a grudge keep us apart, we are urged to mend relationships before it is too late. We are encouraged to see the value of reconciliation above that of being right. The focus is that we ought to treasure people above perceptions, and reconcile with loved ones before they are gone.

While there is obvious good in these encouragements, and we would do well to increase our focus on people instead of things, and reconciliation instead of pride, there is also the inescapable reality that there is just too much stuff wrong in the world for us to have enough time for everyone, or to mend every relationship that is broken.

Not only that, there are far too many legitimate reasons that the child of God can keep busy in things that are led and directed by their Father’s Holy Spirit that there will always be someone we weren’t able to reconcile with, or someone thinking we should have spent time with them on at least one more occasion.[1]

All of this makes me wonder how to live my life so people would come to my funeral with a greater sense of rejoicing in what my life has meant to them than regret that we didn’t relate to one another as well as we could have experienced.

Which changes the focus from whether we spent enough time together, or whether we mended things that were wrong between us, to whether we related to one another in the fullest and most meaningful way possible.

When I look at this from my side of things, that I want to know that I gave people every opportunity to relate to me in the most genuine of ways, and that I related to them with the most loving and sincere heart I could have, everything returns to who I am in Jesus Christ as a branch abiding in the vine of life.[2]

The only way I can be everything I ought to be to anyone at all, let alone to everyone I meet, is to be everything I am in Jesus Christ.[3] He is my Creator, and so I find who I am as a creature made in his own image and likeness.[4] However, I violated his God-designed workmanship by choosing to live in sin, ruining what he made so very good in me, and joining the rest of humanity in ruining what Jesus had made very good in the world he created.[5]

In my sinful condition, I cannot expect to see time with people in any way except through whatever pleases my sinful, sarky, selfish desires.[6] I cannot value people above my own self-interest, because my sinful blindness keeps me from knowing the foundation of life and love that is in Jesus Christ alone. Apart from him, as a branch cut off from the vine, I can truly do nothing God would consider righteous in his sight.[7]

Which leads me to Jesus Christ as my Savior and Redeemer. On one side, I realize that my whole identity is found in Christ, and I can never be a complete and whole human being without being myself in him. On the other side, I find Jesus coming to me with everything I have lost in my sin, and graciously restoring me to the most awesome and gracious and real experience in the world, which is to once again know what it is to have peace with God.

This solves the most significant relationship issue facing me when I die. It is not whether there are estranged relationships left with the impossibility of reconciliation. It is not whether there is such a glaring finality to time, with nothing left to see anyone for one last visit.

It is that, to die as one who is a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ means that I will never be ashamed in relationship to the one person who could have caused me the most intensely profound regret in the whole wide world.[8] Whatever remains broken with people at the time of my death, facing death as a brother to our Lord Jesus Christ means there will be no eternal regret.

Even though I have missed so many opportunities to spend time with God in this lifetime, and have so often succumbed to the snares of the evil one tricking me into preferring some pleasure of sin above the pearl of great price that is in Jesus Christ,[9] the redemptive gift of life in Jesus so reconciles me to God that my death will usher me into an eternity without regret.

In fact, God has already made special provision for us arriving in his eternal presence with heartaches and sorrows over lost opportunities, broken relationships, and who knows what other griefs will suddenly intensify at the moment of our death. His promise is that, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”[10]

The fact is that, for those who have been delivered out of the domain of darkness now, and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son now,[11] death will not lead us into an eternal life of regret, but into the comforting presence of our Savior who will wash away all sorrow and pain and regret so that they no longer have any place in our lives.

This is so wonderful to look forward to that it leads us to consider our days very carefully, and look at how we ought to live life to the fullest in the here and now. We love to spend time with people we can love with the love of Jesus Christ whether they notice it or not. We feel the value of people who are with us in the kingdom of God, and an intense concern for people outside God’s kingdom who are dying in their sins, and facing eternal death, complete with its unavoidable regret.

We now want to be as fully ourselves in Jesus Christ as we could ever be this side of heaven, and we long for daily opportunities to touch people’s lives for good. We feel the weight of concern that hangs over a world that prefers bearing the condemnation of God over the pleasures of sin they love so much. We feel grief even for strangers who are content in their sins and transgressions against their Creator, and we live with sometimes daily disappointment that our life in Jesus Christ has not brought anyone else into the righteousness, and peace, and joy, of God’s kingdom.[12]

However, we now have a problem. Everyone knows that people who claim friendship with God through Jesus Christ are considered one of the greatest irritants of human relationships on the planet. Who doesn’t know someone who has lost significant numbers of friends or family just because they have valued reconciliation with their Creator above every other relationship in the world? How can knowing God be the best way of facing death if it means we may increase the number of broken relationships in our lives?

The answer is that God is the greatest relationship we can ever experience since he is our Creator, and returning to who we are in him is the most real experience of humanity possible. To live without him is to give every person in our lives an inferior version of who we could be.

We might have time for people, but with no contribution of the love of God in their lives. We might get along quite fine with people who only want to get together for fun and frivolity, but never save them from the most profoundly hopeless experience of regret the human soul can know, which is to stand before the eternal God still living under the condemnation our sins have earned.[13]

The conclusion of the matter is that it is impossible to spend enough time with enough people to guarantee that someone does not feel intense regret at our funeral, or ourselves struggling with regret at theirs. We cannot control other people’s choices about reconciliation enough to salvage every broken relationship in our lives by the time we or they pass on.

What we can do is “be reconciled to God”,[14] so that our sudden appearance before his great white throne of judgment[15] will find our heavenly Father rejoicing over us with gladness, quieting us with his love, and exulting over us with loud singing.[16] When “we have been justified by faith,” and so “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”,[17] we have come into God’s solution to the ultimate experience of regret. We can now live with the heartaches and sorrows of this lifetime, including the acceptance of how many people will hate us because they hate our Savior,[18] and know that, at our death, there will be no further regret, because we will enter into the joy of our God forever.[19]

The older I get, and the more impending death appears, what I want more than anything in the world is to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit so that every day of my life is about joining God in whatever he is still graciously doing in our world. If people hate me for shining Jesus into their lives, I have nothing to regret for giving them the opportunity to know their Creator. I plan to leave enough blogposts, and Facebook quotes, and emails, and Youtube videos, and songs, and unfinished stories, that I hope will speak of my testimony to knowing and loving the Lord Jesus Christ long after I am gone.

I also plan to have such a Christ-centered funeral that people could, even then, come to Jesus by hearing one more time of the salvation that is, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”.[20]

Dear people, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”[21] This is the only way to avoid the greatest regret of all at your own funeral. And, of course, if you feel any regret in your relationship with me, we could deal with that as well, while there is time.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I can think of many scenarios in which people will be busy serving the Lord in some capacity that has them away from loved ones and friends who wish they could see them more often, or may hold some grudge or resentment against them. Should anyone in such scenarios suddenly pass away, the wish that some relationship was in a better state, or that one more visit had been made, will be unavoidable.
[2] Jesus gives us this imagery in John 15:1-11
[3] The book of Ephesians has a wonderfully strong theme of identifying who we are in Jesus Christ when we are saved by grace through faith.
[4] Genesis 1:26-27 shows the Triune collaborating to create man in the image and likeness of God’s Son, and the centrality of Jesus as our Creator is clearly revealed in such passages as John 1:1-3, and Colossians 1:15-17.
[5] Man’s fall into sin is described in Genesis 3, and the effects of our sin is exposed throughout all the rest of God’s Book. Romans 3 shows very clearly how we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God so that all people face the same condemnation their sins deserve, no exceptions.
[6] Romans 7 shows how sinful sarkiness invades every part of our lives, and every part of the human condition.
[7] John 15:5
[8] Romans 1:16; 5:5; 9:33; 10:11. Hebrews 2:11, and 11:16 also show the remarkable gift that God is not ashamed of us who are his beloved children!
[9] Yes, God’s Book admits to the deceptive pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:25). However, knowing Jesus in his kingdom is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13:44-46). Notice also Paul’s testimony of trading in all his life-accomplishments for “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8; see Philippians 3:1-16 for the whole story).
[10] Revelation 21:4; see also Revelation 7:17.
[11] Colossians 1:13-14
[12] Romans 14:17
[13] John 3:18, 36
[14] II Corinthians 5:20
[15] See Matthew 25 for this imagery that is wonderful news for the children of God, and terrible and hopeless doom for the unrighteous.
[16] Zephaniah 3:17
[17] Romans 5:1
[18] John 15:18-25
[19] Cf Matthew 25:21, 23
[20] Romans 1:16-17
[21] Acts 16:31

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Spiritual Gifts in Their Universal and Unifying Context

While some would say that running a successful business is all about location, Location, LOCATION, we can say that coming to a true understanding of anything God says in his Book is all about context, Context, CONTEXT!

Recently, my study of God’s word regarding spiritual gifts has led me to an undeniable and unavoidable conclusion: everything written in Scripture regarding spiritual gifts is still in effect today. This is very exciting. It means that, in our efforts to minister to one another in the love of Jesus Christ, the whole body of Christ has every spiritual gift available to us just as every other generation.[1] This is also very scary. It means that the sharing of these things could enmesh someone in the divisive arguments over spiritual gifts so that no ministry is accomplished and people get more wounded than before.

As I have settled that the things God breathed-out through his holy apostles and prophets are still in effect until the return of Christ, including their teaching on spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12 and 14, I became curious whether the larger context of the whole book of I Corinthians addressed this issue more clearly than I had noticed. What I found was that, beginning with Paul’s greeting to the Corinthian church, he had already made it clear who he was writing to, meaning that all the instructions in the book were for those people then, and the same (equivalent) people now. Here’s what I read.
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: (I Corinthians 1)

What stands out in this is the expression, “with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”. Paul is writing to the church of the city of Corinth, and, even in his greeting, he links them to the rest of the body of Christ. They are “the church of God that is in Corinth,” and they are “those sanctified in Christ Jesus,” and they are “called to be saints”, but it is “together with”. There is no way we can separate what God is doing with us from what he is doing in the rest of his body. While we may feel intense differences with others who claim to be part of Jesus’ body, the fact remains that there is one body of Christ, and only one.

Who are we “together with”?

We are “together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Every place means every place. It covers every place there are Christians throughout every generation until the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is writing “to the church of God that is in Corinth,” no doubt about it. However, while this location is distinct from any other, the truth is that they are first and foremost “the church of God”. It’s just that they are not the whole church of God, but the church of God in that location, at that time.

So, along with them knowing they are the church of God in a particular location, as is true of every local expression of the true church, they are those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, set apart as the people of God through the salvation Jesus has given. And, they are called to be saints, but not in isolation. They are called to be saints together with all other believers, in all other places, in all other times and periods of history. We can read the letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Romans, Colossians, and Thessalonians, and any other location mentioned in the New Testament,[2] and know that these things were given to them together with all the saints.

Which means that, when we come to Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, because he does not change the designation of to whom he is addressing his teaching, we can confidently say that all the teachings on spiritual gifts are:

  • “to the church of God”, not to the apostles and prophets, or any other distinct and limiting group within the “church of God”
  • “to the church of God that is in Corinth,” means “to the church of God that is in (put your church location here)”, no matter where we are
  • “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus” speaks to every single person who has been born again by the Spirit of the living God, justified by grace through faith, and placed in that body of believers who are being transformed into the same image as our Lord Jesus Christ from one degree of glory to another[3]
  • “called to be saints”, not called to be apostles and prophets, but called to be saints, the most wonderfully unifying and ground-leveling designation of the child of God. We are those who are set apart unto God as holy through the justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying, work of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ
  • “together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” means that the “all those” and the “every place” cover everyone in every time and location who are saved because they have called upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.[4] Whatever is taught in this letter applies to us all
  • “both their Lord and ours” identifies that the teachings of this letter are for all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, believing in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead as the living head of the church[5]
The only thing that could change this understanding to a select group within the church, or to a select time and season of church history, would be the breathed-out words of God through men who were carried along by the Holy Spirit, clearly teaching that the supernatural spiritual gifts were limited to the first generation of the church.
However, since there is absolutely no indication that this letter to the Corinthians has segments that are limited to isolated groups within the church (I Corinthians actually has a very strong theme of showing that there are to be no such divisions within the church!), and there is such a clear greeting to the whole church of Corinth in fellowship with the whole church in every place the church could ever exist, we must look at each and every teaching given in this letter as just as binding on us today as to those to whom it was first given.
Which means that, instead of honoring those who deny the spiritual gifts under some premise that they have special access to things they read between the lines, we are to do the same thing with the teachings on spiritual gifts as we would with every other teaching of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, and that is to let it teach us what God has breathed out, reprove us for any ways we would deny or argue with what is plainly written, correct us into the true way of thinking about God’s breathed-out words, and walk with other believers in the training program revealed by God as the one way that every believer in Jesus Christ is made “complete, equipped for every good work.”[6] And, according to the Holy Spirit, the use of our spiritual gifts is included in the “every good work” we do in Jesus’ name.

In fact, God has breathed-out instructions on what to do when believers think differently about such things, both thinking differently from each other, and thinking differently from what is written. Paul, carried along by the Holy Spirit to write down the breathed-out words of God, said this:

Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.[7]

          Three things:

  • The “mature”, those who lead the way in how the church receives and responds to the apostolic authority expressed in these letters, are to “think this way,” in whatever way the apostles and prophets have written (knowing that God breathed-out the words, and carried these men along by his Holy Spirit to write them down).
  • God has provided a plan for those times when there is “anything you think otherwise”, and that is that, “God will reveal that also to you.” This means that, when we disagree on such things as spiritual gifts, we are not to separate into distinct denominations that promote the things about which we “think otherwise” (pridefully referred to as “doctrinal distinctives”), nor set up “super-apostle”[8] conferences where we fire our canons at believers who are just as wrong as us but on the other swing of the pendulum. Instead, we are to come together and humbly submit ourselves to God so he can “reveal” the truth to all of us together, and we can come out of such fellowship promoting the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.[9]
  • And, while we are waiting for God to make such differences clear to us, we are to “only let us hold true to what we have attained.” In other words, we are not to give up truth we have already attained just because some big-name preacher comes and tells us to think differently. We must always be open to giving up a wrong opinion or interpretation, but there are things we know so well that we are not to give them up while we seek to understand things that are not quite so clear to us. We are also to “hold true” to whatever we have “attained” in our unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and let God take us even further in this unity by revealing the truth about whatever it is we consider a difference in our understanding of Scripture.

Do you ever wonder what would have happened during this past century or so if the church had obeyed such a simple instruction as staying together to let God reveal to everyone his truth on the matter of supernatural spiritual gifts? Maybe, if everyone had stayed together when weird and wonderful things were taking place, and presented their concerns about thinking “otherwise” on this issue to the head of the church, they would have seen him reveal his will on the matter that would have everyone agreeing that all the spiritual gifts stand the way they have been breathed-out by God, and everything must be done decently and in order just as the apostles instructed. Who knows what kinds of things the church could have experienced if we had done the whole will of God rather than picked the swing of the pendulum that seemed best to us in our limited understanding of the whole counsel of God.
But, hey, since the pendulum-swinging conflict remains in effect, and the plumbline of God’s word still reveals his unifying answer on the subject, maybe we could find fellow believers we disagree with and ask them to come together and pray with us until God has revealed his will to our hearts, and souls, and minds, and we can glorify him in our communities with a greater expression of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace than we have ever experienced before. Sounds like something his Spirit would like to do in our day and age. Maybe you have a gift that would help that along wherever you are living?

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I don’t mean we can name-it-and-claim it, as though we decide which gifts are ours, or when and how we express them. Neither do I believe God’s provision of spiritual gifts to the church means that our own local assemblies will each have all the gifts. I suspect God is not as impressed with our autonomous little gatherings as we might think, and may deliberately distribute the gifts throughout all the assemblies of believers so we have to do the unthinkable and actually get along with each other for the glory of our Savior’s work in his church.
[2] The seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 mention a few more.
[3] II Corinthians 3:18
[4] Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13
[5] See Romans 10:9-10
[6] II Timothy 3:16-17
[7] Philippians 3:15-16
[8] Paul used the sarcastic term “super apostles” to refer to men who were trying to lead the Corinthians astray from the purity of the gospel into divisive teachings based on the reasonings of these false teachers. See II Corinthians 11:5; 12:11.
[9] Ephesians 4:3