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

No comments:

Post a Comment