Monday, February 20, 2012

The Message of the Cross: Audio

I recently preached on the Message of the Cross at my church. You can listen here:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 16): 1 Cor 12:31

"But earnestly desire the greater gifts.And I show you a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31)
To understand what Paul means by the "greater gifts" we must look at how he has ordered the ministries that Christ has placed in His Body.
"And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28)
It is important to note that God places apostles, prophets, and teachers ahead of miracles and healings. What makes apostles, prophets, and teachers of "greater gifts" than miracles and healings is not their superior power but rather the superior benefit they bring to the Body in terms of its edification, nourishment, and equipping. What makes a "gift" a "greater gift" is the greater benefit it brings to the Body.

Paul encourages us to earnestly desire the favor of God as express in the manifestation of the Spirit, and especially those favors that directly benefit the Body of Christ. This is why, in relation to tongues and prophesy, Paul says, "Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying." (1 Corinthians 14:5) While there is nothing wrong with tongues, in fact Paul says he spoke in tongues more than all of those in the Corinthian church, however, prophesy brings a greater benefit to the church than does tongues. Therefore, prophesy if considered a "greater gift" than tongues; because of its greater benefit to the church.

Today, there is much emphasis on the manifestation of "supernatural power" in the church, and many people have been blessed by the miracles and healings that have resulted from the release of God's supernatural power, but we must not, in our pursuit of power, neglect the greater gifts within our midst; we must pursue the one without letting go of the other.

When we understand what is meant by the "greater gifts" then we can also understand what Paul meant by a "more excellent way." In the following chapter, Paul speaks about the centrality of love as it relates to how we relate and minister to one another. If we pursue the favor and gifts of God for our own selfish purposes, rather than for love's sake, then we become as nothing.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
If we pursue spiritual manifestations for the power, prestige, and honor that will accrue to our own account, then we have missed the point of these manifestations entirely. They are not for us or for our own benefit or enrichment, but for the benefit of others. However, if we pursue them out of love, out of a desire to use them to benefit others rather than ourselves, then we have found the "more excellent way". In our pursuit of spiritual gifts, we must never pursue them our our own ends but for the benefit of others; out of love for Christ and His Body.

David Robison

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 15): 1 Cor 12:27-30

"Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?" (1 Corinthians 12:27-30)
Someone once asked me if I filled the "Office of a Prophet". Now they obviously asked me this because (1) I do occasionally prophesy and (2) because they did not know me real well; I am not a prophet. While their honest question was a bit flattering, it did reveal a prevailing notion in the church, that of offices; such as the offices of a prophet, pastor, teacher, elder, exorcist, etc. (during early catholic history there was an office of an exorcist).

Our English translations of the scripture does refer to an "office" in various places. For example, in relating as to what should be done after Judas betrayed Jesus and killed himself, Peter remembers what was prophesied about Judas in the scriptures: "'Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no one dwell in it' and 'Let another man take his office.'" (Acts 1:20) However, the office mentioned here refers to the role of superintending the message given to the twelve by Jesus. One was to replace Judas among the twelve and be numbered among them as they delivered the Gospel given to them by Jesus.

It is my belief that there is no such things as ecclesiastical offices, such as, in this case, an office of "One of the Twelve". When Jesus established the church I do not believe that He vested it with certain ecclesiastical offices which are to be held by various Christians in succession. I do not believe that there is the office of a prophet nor an office of a pastor, or elder, or even deacon. This does not mean that there are not people who fulfill the function of a prophet, pastor, elder, or deacon, but rather that the church does not have any hierarchical or structural office that such people would hold of fill.

This verse says that God has appointed certain men and women within the Body to perform certain functions. The Greek word used here for "appointed" simply means to "set in" or "place". God did not give the church an office, He gave them men and woman with unique giftings, graces, and favor to support and equip the Body. The truth is that we are the church, not because we have people fulfilling all the right offices, but because we are all members of the Body and in right relationship with each other. In this relational setting, God has placed different people with differing roles and functions to minister to the health, stature, and growth of the Body. This is in essence what Paul was saying in the letter to the Ephesians:
"But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, 'When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.' And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:7-13)
Notice what were the gifts that He gave to men. The gifts were not offices, the gifts were men. The gifts that God gave to men were other men; men (and women) with special favor and grace on their lives to effect the equipping of the body; to provide for the furnishing and the perfecting of the saints that the Body might increase.

Our love an honor for others within the Body of Christ should not be based on the office they fulfill but rather based upon an understanding of the gift they are to us and to the Body; a gift given to us by God, and we must see our selves in the same light; not striving for an office or title, but as a gift given to others in Christ.

More to come, David Robison

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Spiritual Gifts and the Church (part 14): 1 Cor 12:24-26

"But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." (1 Corinthians 12:24-26)
Previously we spoke of how God has arranged the Body giving greater honor to those who lack it in the natural; blessing them with Spiritual favor and graces so that their honor in the Body would in no way be lacking behind those who have honor in the things of this life. Here Paul further clarifies the reason for why God has so constructed the Body, the reason is so that there might be no divisions and that each member would have the same care one for another.

Paul first speaks of divisions. The Greek word is the word for "schisms". Schisms and schismatics were a real problem in the early church. Even to day, schisms and schismatics pose real threats to our modern day churches. When we fail to appreciate the diversity within the Body of Christ and fail to grant to each other the honor due them, we also fail to see the Body as one united Body. We begin to see divisions and distinctions among the members and, where pride is present, we can seek to divide the Body along our own lines of distinction. We rent and split the body and become the authors of modern day schisms.

Paul's remedy was to think of others rather than ourselves. To be more focused on granting the honor due to other members of the Body than insisting on receiving the honor that is due us; that honor that is in proportion to own estimation not God's. Paul says that we should have the same "care" for one another. This word has the force of being anxious about the interests, needs, and concerns of others. It can even mean to be distracted by the needs and conditions of others. God wants us to more concerned with other than ourselves; to let the needs and conditions of others to distract us from our own self absorption. When we allow ourselves to be distracted by the needs and interests of others, then the Body grows in unity and schisms are shutout. Paul also calls this "love".

More to come... David R Robison