Because of both Pentecostals and extreme Pentecostals there is a new interest in the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing wrong in seeking more knowledge about the Holy Spirit, however, this extremism has meant a deviation from the Bible’s teachings on the person of the Holy Spirit and the “supernatural gifts of the Spirit” (e.g. miracles, prophesying, word of faith, healings, tongues and their interpretation).
At Restoration Church, we believe that the Holy Bible is the final authority on everything, including spiritual gifts. The Holy Bible is the ultimate revelation from God. All that we need to know, God has revealed in His Word. Amen! There is no other revelation though there is illumination where the Holy Spirit lightens up the pages of Scripture for our understanding. Now, I mentioned two key words: “revelation” and “illumination.”
By revelation, I mean the message that God has revealed in His Word, the Holy Bible (i.e. Old and New Testament). Thus the Scriptures, for example, Psalm 138:2, are the chief locus of the revelation. Now I’m going to ask you to please carefully stay close to me because what I am implying here is that there is no need for you or any believer to seek “fresh” revelation. All that we need to know is revealed in the Holy Bible, amen! The moment people make a claim that they “have a revelation,” be wary because they are toying with extra-biblical stuff. But we don’t need anything extra. The Holy Bible is enough; it is sufficient for us. Amen!
By illumination, I mean the occasion where the Holy Spirit enlightens the understanding of the believer so that the believer who diligently studies the Word of God is able to more or better understand and grasp the meaning of what he is reading. There are several biblical references that confirm what I am saying, for example, Isaiah 29:4-18; John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:18. To put it another way, illumination occurs when the Holy Spirit applies the Word to the believers’ hearts and in the process He opens our spiritual eyes to the truth of the Bible as to God’s ways and we gain better understanding of the Scriptures. Now, I don’t intend to stray too much from the topic at hand but I felt it necessary to clear these misunderstandings that many have regarding these two words.
Further, recognizing that the topic “Spiritual Gifts” is one of the most interesting, important and yet controversial part of Scripture, and recognizing that interpreting the meaning and the use of spiritual gifts has really become the most controversial as well as the source of the greatest rift in evangelicalism today, I believe that it is important that we have a good, and however possible, a full understanding of what the Bible says. Hence, it behooves us to look at this topic from a teaching approach rather than through preaching.
Church, I really want us to get into this topic and get it well so that by the time we are through, we know what the bible says about spiritual gifts. Also, the intent of these series is to help us all know what our stance is or should be. So, let us start with something very basic, that is, some background information on Corinth. I believe that as we go on, the Spirit of God will illuminate the Word and our understanding so that God is glorified. Amen!
Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians
Before jumping straight to Spiritual Gifts, I want us to talk about Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. It will help us get a good context for spiritual gifts.
1st and 2nd Corinthians are very personal and arousing epistles that the apostle Paul wrote in response to issues arising in the Corinthian church that he had planted. As God’s servant, I can say that the circumstances behind these epistles show the difficult and painful realities as well as the experiences of life in the service of God as a minister. So when you look at these epistles, you see that to a very great extent they reveal to us the pastoral heart of Paul; he is indeed a pastor.
Now in my research, I came to find out that the apostle Paul seemed to have written four letters to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul mentions his first letter. His second letter is the Book of 1st Corinthians and three times in 2 Corinthians Paul references a third letter which appears to be a painful one too; he says: “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears ...” (2 Corinthians 2:4). Is that not heart breaking? Anyway, finally, we have the Book of 2 Corinthians which is therefore Paul’s fourth letter.
The Nature of the Corinthian Church
In 1 Corinthians, it is so evident that the church in Corinth was weak. For example, it was battling divisions and factions and was spiritually very immature. We read that Paul’s authority had been undermined by an opposing false teacher who was misleading and dividing the church with erroneous teachings. This false teacher wasn’t new to nor was he the first to Paul; Paul often warned believers of false prophets and in Acts 20:27, it is interesting that he had warned the elders in the Ephesian church that soon as he leaves, false teachers, “grievous wolves” would try very hard to come in, “not sparing the flock”.
Now, the same thing is happening here in Corinth so in an attempt to curb the turmoil, Paul traveled to Corinth. Just in case, remember that he didn’t fly in a 747 or on a personal jet nor did he fly by chopper; he didn’t travel by train or by car, by an oceanliner neither by submarine. I think you know what I’m trying to point out, right? Anyway, he travelled to Corinth, however, the visit was distressing and seemed to only fuel the church’s resistance to his correction. Talk about satan not backing down! When Paul returned to Ephesus, he wrote again to the church, pleading with them to repent in order to avoid God’s judgment.
Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to bring something to your attention, show you something about this church and the perils that ministers of God faced at the time. Let us just scratch the surface by looking at the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 1: 1, 2. I also want you to note this, that as Paul writes, he was facing serious trouble. This is how serious the trouble was, to the extent that he wrote in v.8 that, “…we despaired even of life,” and in v.9 he adds, “… but we had the sentence of death within ourselves,” and v.10 he says, as he demonstrates his reliance on God “who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;”
Church, it is just plain to us then that prior to the writing of this letter Paul’s life was so endangered that he seemed to have given in to despair and lost all hope. Paul was one minister who was very passionate about God’s work and he knew what trouble was when he saw one. He knew the pain that men of God faced and had to endure in their service to God. Matter of fact this letter confirms what he went through because in chapter 11:23, look at what else he says:
“I was in far more labors and far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received thirty-nine lashes…he says…from the Jews, three times beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked, a night and day in the deep.”
Then in 11:26,
frequently he’s been in danger from rivers and robbers and countrymen and Gentiles, in the city, in the wilderness, on the sea, among false brethren.
And then in 11:27,
I have been in labor and hardship through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food and cold and exposure.
So while faced with spiritual afflictions, there were physical ones too. And from the physical side he knew pain and trouble such as is far beyond anything we could ever imagine. Look at chapter 11:28 where he says, “Apart from such external things there is the daily pressure, the daily tribulation, the daily suffering, the daily trouble upon me of concern for all the churches.”
In fact when I talk about Paul’s physical ordeals, I want you to note that in 2 Corinthians 12:7, he speaks of a “thorn in the flesh,” though he refers to it as “a messenger of Satan.” And from all indications, this thorn served a purpose: “torment.” You see, no one likes to live in pain and so as a result of torment resulting from this thorn, Paul sought the Lord three times (2 Corinthians 12:8) to remove this source of pain from him. However, instead of removing the thorn, God gave Paul something which was much more: an overwhelming grace and more compensating strength so that Paul was able to declare in 2 Corinthians 12:7 that “power is made perfect in weakness”.
Do you see Paul’s love for the Lord and the church, enduring all these physical afflictions? Talk about a true pastoral heart with that commitment to service and a love for Christ and His bride, the church! And look at this, all he did was obey God and minister to people but these same people inflicted much more pain than the lashes and wounds he received. Paul certainly knew how to pick up his cross and follow the Lord. He puts us all to shame.
But you know what really was the trouble that Paul had to contend with? Having to deal with the churches and as is obvious the Corinthian church; it was really a load of trouble that would take anyone a whole lot of energy and praying to correct them. You know the popular saying, two steps forward and three steps back. In the case of the Corinthian church, it was one step forward, five steps backward. Simply put, Paul was contending with all sorts of shameful and ungodly characters, issues and attitudes like disloyalty, dishonesty, immorality, ignorance, rebellion, unfaithfulness. So here he is, struggling against both external and internal attacks, from pagans and from within the church; he had to deal with all sorts of trouble, which were not going anywhere. Paul had the best (serving God) and the worst (dealing with people).
The Apostle Paul
Now let us start looking at 1 Corinthians with an introduction about who the author is. Paul. He was born in Tarsus (today, south-central Turkey), according to Acts 21:39; 22:3 and he was also a Roman citizen. He was so astute that he was able to use his citizenship as a double-edged sword, as a cutter against magistrates and also as a means to advance his work as a faithful evangelist. You know, as immigrants here in North America what do we do with our gifts? You know what I mean, don’t you?
Some Reasons for Writing the Epistle
Some time in Ephesus around A.D. 56, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:8,19; 15:32). Now I’d like to introduce you to the reasons why he wrote these epistles to the Corinthians; let us look at a summary of the reasons up on the overhead:
Report from Apollos, 1 Corinthians 16:12
Report from the house of Chloe, 1 Corinthians 1:1-2
Answering a letter of inquiry from the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:1; 16:17; cf. “now concerning” in 7:1, 25; 8:1, 12:1; 16:1, 12)
Culture of the city of Corinth negatively influenced the Corinthian church (philosophies, speculation, immorality, incest, litigation, pride, etc)
Apart from the Jews, they had no training in, or knowledge of the Old Testament
Lack of the requisite education and training needed to bring them up to spiritual maturity (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Now as I said earlier, there were divisions in the church and we can break and group these factions into four different kinds of followers. Look at the breakdown up on the overhead:
Paul, Peter (1:10-13; 3:1-9)
Apollos (1:10-13; 3:1-9)
Peter (1:10-13; 3:1-9)
Christ (1:10-13; 3:1-9)
Do you see how they had everything wrong? Christ should be the only One being followed. But you know, similar and probably even worse things are happening today where people go church only when a particular preacher is behind the pulpit. Otherwise, it is bye-bye church, and hey keep repeating these things, sometimes asking other church members “Would you know who’s preaching this Sunday?” Then there are also those who have been styled “celebrity” or “superstar” preachers or evangelists. And because they want to be approved by, and be in the media light all the time, they end up compromising the Word and are “careful” what they preach; they wouldn’t want to alienate their “fans.”
City of Corinth Culture
Let us move on to the culture of the day because this is very significant. The Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of sex stood on a 1900-foot mountain near Corinth and while it was plied with thousands of female and male prostitutes, it also harboured as many. Do you find this hard to accept? Well note that when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, Corinth was the fourth largest city in the world, next to Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. But today as I speak, it is a relatively small, unknown city.
Now you know that when I mention “temple,” it implies religion and sure enough, there were many religions represented by the various peoples in Corinth. This added to the city’s corrupt reputation with all the prostitutes working in the temples and the streets, and where public drunkenness was common. That is why we see the apostle Paul listing some of the city’s signature sins like: fornication, idolatry, adultery, effeminacy, homosexuality, stealing, covetousness, drunkenness, reviling, and swindling (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Corinth’s reputation was so bad that all over the world it was known that to be called a “Corinthian” meant to be a fornicator and a drunkard hence the derogatory term to “Corinthanize.” Church, satan really ruled this city like the god of the age that he is.
You see how people flock to the big cities with their lights and red light districts? That was Corinth and among those who flocked there were Jews. That is what the Bible says. See how Acts 18:1-18 says that he met Priscilla and Aquila there and that is also why he says in 1 Corinthians 9:20 “to the Jew I became a Jew…”
So to summarize, Corinth was satan’s backyard, a place of pagan worship but at the same time Paul saw it as strategically important for his global mission strategy. After all it had a cosmopolitan population consisting of Greek, Roman and Oriental ethnicity. It was also strategically located and as the hub of commerce, travelers from around the world came there for various reasons, including business and pleasure.
Founding of the Corinthian Church (Acts 18:1-18, 27; 19:1, 21, 22; 20:1, 2)
When we turn to Acts 18:1-18, Luke tells us that it was Paul who founded the Corinthian church during his Second Missionary Journey and he stayed on as pastor for some 18 months (1½ years, Acts 18:18-28). You know, founding a church is not easy and in these times and in this western world where society has become so anti-Jesus, it seems it is even more so. But you always need some help in planning and planting a church and Paul’s helpers in A.D. 51 were his fellow tent makers Aquila and Pricilla; let us not forget faithful Luke. Then about a year and a half (1½ years) later in A.D. 52, Paul left Corinth with Aquila and Priscilla for Jerusalem, via Ephesus (Acts 18:12-22).
But you see, Paul didn’t leave the Corinthian sheep without a shepherd. After the 1½ years it seems like Apollos became the pastor, which you can read about in Acts 18:24-19:1 and we learn further that Crispus, the leader of the Jewish synagogue in the city and also the previous synagogue leader became converted. That actually was the beginning of the Corinthian church. And so continuing Paul’s work, they were responsible for many more being converted and coming to the new church (Acts 18:8). The Bible then says many others believed and were baptized. That is why Acts 18:11 says that Paul stayed there for a year and a half. And who was there with him? Timothy, and so was Silas.
Now we hear a lot about Timothy so let me introduce him at this juncture, as he was instrumental in the life of the Corinthian church. We didn’t read through the whole of Acts 18 but when you do, you will notice that Timothy was there when Paul founded the church. Acts 18, as we have seen records the founding of the Corinthian church and Timothy was present. Acts 19:22 says so he sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timotheus and Erastus. Timothy, young but ever ready for God!
So in 1 Corinthians 4:17 and also in 1 Corinthians 16:10-11 when Paul told the Corinthians that he was going to send Timotheus to them, he knew why. They knew Timothy and he was going to make sure that Timothy checked on them. Timothy was going to put them in remembrance of what they were taught by Paul some time back because he was there when they were taught the Word and the ways of God.
Beloved let me tell you this. Timothy was very, very important to Paul. Of all the epistles in the New Testament, Paul wrote thirteen and of these thirteen, Paul at least makes mention of Timothy in ten of them. Furthermore, Timothy is referenced in the salutation of six of these epistles (e.g. 2 Corinthians 1:1) while Paul wrote two directly to him. Isn’t that something? You know when I read about these men of God, I am so humbled. They worked so hard for the Lord. I mean, look at young Timothy. But he made himself so available it is just amazing. As a pastor, these are the kind of men you want, men who fear God, understand why they are saved and live only to serve God.
As a true pastor, Paul went on a 3rd missionary journey in the fall of A.D. 53 returning to Ephesus for two and a half years from where he wrote 1 Corinthians. Now, based on 1 Corinthians 5:9, we can say that before writing 1 Corinthians Paul wrote another letter to the Corinthian church in his early stay in Ephesus. While we don’t have this letter, we know that in it Paul exhorted them specifically not to associate with immoral people who claimed to be believers. This is very important because there are those among us who are pretenders and so we should be alert. Such were the people who had joined the church and who claimed to be Christians, and yet their immoral lifestyle was really and truly of such an in-your-face attitude, and so obvious to all. However, the response to Paul’s first letter (let me refer to it as the “lost letter” so you don’t get confused with what today we call 1 Corinthians) was quite unsatisfactory.
Divisions, Factions in the Corinthian Church
So, how did Paul learn of the divisions and factions in the Corinthian church? He got personal information from the household of Chloe, says 1 Corinthians 1:11. Paul also had other sources, including Apollos who gave a report (16:12), an official delegation comprising of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus; it is in 1 Corinthians 16:17, which says I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied.
So now we know that when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus, he was very heavily burdened; the new church that he had founded by God’s grace was having serious issues which needed to be corrected, and right away. Let us get this, that whenever we have a problem, it doesn’t make sense to try and brush it under the rug. No! Problems have to be dealt with immediately so that they don’t fester. Church, I am loving this. God’s Word is just a-h-h-h-mazing! There is no cover up in God’s Word. It is His Word. Hallelujah!
The Type or Nature of the Letter
Now, did you know that this is Paul’s longest and most diversified epistle? You see righting wrongs is not easy as so many in the church think. But the question is, is the correction of wrongs going on in our churches? You know what I mean; instead of correcting, we either adapt or accept and inculcate the wrongs. In many cases, segments of the “church” champion the wrongdoing. And we know that just like that era, so is it like today in that in every country, class, culture, or continent where the church is established, satan pops up and as a result, there will be a spiritual struggle to try and keep sin and corruption out of the church. So 1 Corinthians is partly an answer Paul sent to the Corinthian church (16:17) due to a letter of inquiry he had received from the saints at Corinth. By the way, do you see how the Bible doesn’t gloss over truth, no matter how unpalatable it is? Paul’s letter paints an accurate picture of life and problems in God’s church.
And lest I forget, Titus was the mailman who carried the 1 Corinthians letter to Corinth; here are some references (2:12, 13; 7:5-8; 8:16-18; 12:17, 18).
The Issues Being Addressed In the Letter
I talked about divisions and factions and touched lightly on the problems troubling the Corinthian church. Let us look up at the overhead for a listing of these issues:
Party spirit – drunkenness, reviling, and swindling (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Immorality (sexual) – a man committing incest with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5)
Lawsuits – Brother taking brother to court with lawsuits (1 Corinthians 6)
Relationships (marriage) – Marriage, divorce and remarriage (1 Corinthians 7)
Eating food, which had been sacrificed to idols and thereby causing your brother to stumble (1 Corinthians 8)
False ideas on liberty – Under grace so freedom to sin (1 Corinthians 10:23-33)
Abusing the Lord’s Table – he instructed and warned them (1 Corinthians 11)
Misuse of spiritual gifts – The proper use of spiritual gifts (12-14).
Tongues – Abuse of the gift of other unlearned languages (tongues) (12-14)
Love – primacy of agape love above all spiritual gifts and amongst the brethren (13)
Giving – what God expects of us, not to give grudgingly or of necessity (2 Corinthians 9)
Resurrection – The fact of Christ’s resurrection (as some were saying there was no resurrection) (1 Corinthians 15)
Let me wrap up quickly what we have heard today.
Despite the factions, divisions, the sin, the Corinthian church was growing.
The saints in the church were associating with so called “believers” who:
Arrogantly and openly lived in gross sin; they were not being disciplined, and
They were dissociating with non-believers whom they should have been witnessing to.
The issues brought up in the book of 1 Corinthians afflict all cultures and times
They are especially relevant in this 21st century, and especially here in North America where we live, and in the entire Western world.
The mainstream church today in North America, Africa, the Caribbean, and many other places are almost a replica of the Corinthian church
So far, not much has really changed in man’s sin nature in 2,000 years. Today, homosexualism is shamelessly espoused, euthanasia is sanctioned, drugs are legalized, prostitution is promoted, Christ is crucified, etc, etc., etc.
It is very obvious that instead of running after prosperity, signs and wonders and a whole host of lies fabricated by satan, the church of every age and era ought to start seeking God’s face and start studying His Word in order to avoid the same traps that satan set for the Corinthians while glorifying God.
The Lord was saving people and giving them spiritual gifts, even though there were some among them who were agents of satan.
As a result of the presence of these agents, the Corinthians were abusing the gifts and some were concerned, as was Paul when he was told about it.
Paul immediately began to act; he didn’t sweep anything under the rug; he wanted the church to remain a pure bride of Christ without spot or blemish
Next week hopefully and by God’s grace, we will be starting the actual, direct topic but we will first be looking, in brief, at the church and it is supernatural. After what we’ve heard this morning, it sounds like the church is about to die soon. When we consider what is going on now, we will think the church is almost conquered by satan. But remember that the church is not ours. Christ is the head so the church is indestructible.
When we say the church is indestructible (Matthew 16:16-18) and supernatural how is it so? What do we mean? Simply, that:
We worship a supernatural God. We believe He supernaturally intervened in human history.
Supernaturally, He intervened in human history in terms of the living Christ.
Supernaturally, He revealed the Bible, the same Bible that we have today.
We are the result of a supernatural transformation that has made us new creatures.
Supernaturally, God sent the Holy Spirit who today indwells us.
Supernaturally, the Holy Spirit has endowed us with gifts.
Amen! Shall we pray.