The Church’s One Foundation: Spiritual Gifts and the Universal Church (1 Corinthians 12:1–13)

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The Church’s One Foundation: Spiritual Gifts and the Universal Church (Sermon Audio)

This week’s sermon looked more closely at the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10. I argued that the sign gifts were given to the apostles and prophets to “lay the foundation” of the universal church, which is described as Christ’s body in 1 Corinthians 12:13.

Just as Paul described himself as a wise master builder (1 Corinthians 3:10), the first generation of Christians understood the apostles, prophets, and evangelists to have a unique calling to preach the gospel and the lay the foundation of the universal church. Accordingly, God confirmed their ministries with signs, wonders, and mighty works of power (see Romans 15:13–21 and 2 Corinthians 12:12). This view is called cessationism, and it argues that the miraculous gifts do not continue today.

In this sermon, however, I do not make a strong argument for the “cessation” of the gifts. Rather, I argue for the divine intention for these gifts to establish the infant church. In so many ways, the cessationist position does not, should not, revel in the cessation of spiritual gifts. Rather, we celebrate the way these supernatural gifts confirmed the message of the apostle and prophets. The gospel we find in the New Testament was confirmed by these workings of power.

Hence, today the sign gifts (listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10) still bear fruit by pointing us to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We celebrate the way these gifts recorded in Acts and the rest of the New Testament secure the foundation of the church, and remind us that no additions are needed to bolster the church’s firm foundation. This does not, in any way, diminish the power of God. Instead, it understand the power of God to be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:16–17 and 1 Corinthians 2:1–5).

You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are resources for further study.

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In Praise of Old Books, Like Ebenezer Henderson’s Work on Divine Inspiration and the Spiritual Gifts

boooksI love old books. Even more, I love old books that I find by serendipity—a real research method (see Thomas Mann, The Oxford Guide to Library Researchpp. 23, 61). That is to say, I love when I go looking in one book (or one bookstore) for one thing, and find something else even more helpful.

That took place last week as I read Calvin’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:8–11. There in Calvin’s translated work, the Scottish editor inserted a footnote which reads: “One of the most satisfactory views of this subject is that of Dr. Henderson in his Lecture on “Divine Inspiration . . . ”

This comment sent me searching and what I found was 500-page work by Ebenezer Henderson, a nineteenth century, Scottish Reformed Congregationalist or Baptist (if his training under Robert Haldane means anything). As the Dictionary of Scottish History and Theology puts it, Henderson was an “agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society . . ., linguist, and exegete” (398). In his lifetime, he spread the gospel and gospel tracts to the nations of Denmark, Russia, and Iceland. He founded in the first congregational church in Sweden in 1811. In this countries, he also “distributed vernacular Scriptures and encouraging formation of local Bible societies” (ibid.). Thereafter, he participated in Bible translation in Russia and Turkey, and after political turmoil in those places led him to resign his post wit the Bible Society, he received an appointment to the Congregational Theological College in Highbury, Scotland.

From that location, “he edited and revised a number of translations and exegetical works and published his own Old Testament commentaries” (ibid.). In this period, he also wrote the work cited by Calvin’s editor, a series of lectures whose title would make any Puritan proud. In 1847, he published, Divine Inspiration; or, The supernatural influence exerted in the communication of divine truth and is special bearing on the composition of the sacred Scriptures : with notes and illustrationsToday, this book can be found online, as well as through various reprints. (Incidentally, the online copy was owned by William Henry Green, an eminent Old Testament scholar from Princeton). Continue reading

Holy Spirit Power: The Gift, the Giver, the Goal, and the Gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1–11)

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Holy Spirit Power: The Gift, the Giver, the Goal, and the Gifts (sermon audio)

Despite their obvious flaws, Paul loved the church at Corinth. And in his section on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–14, he aims to help his spiritual children come to a true understanding of the Holy Spirit and the purpose of the spiritual gifts.

Important for us standing twenty centuries removed is the way he begins with the Holy Spirit as the greatest gift in 12:1–3, followed by an understanding of the triune God in vv. 4–6. When questions about spiritual gifts come up, we must begin here: the greatest gift is the Holy Spirit himself. He is the one by whom we might know the triune God.

Only after nailing down this truth can we move to understand the purpose and particulars of the spiritual gifts. Therefore, as I preached on this passage, this is where I focused—on the Gift and the Giver. We also considered the purpose or goal of the spiritual gifts and how these gifts functioned to promote the gospel in the early days of the church.

Next week we’ll focus more on the particular used of the sign gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, but for now you can listen to yesterdays sermon on Holy Spirit Power. Sermon notes are also available. Discussion questions and resources for further study are listed below. Continue reading

Understanding the Spiritual Gifts: A Few Translation Notes on 1 Corinthians 12:1–11

focusFirst Corinthians 12:1–11 is a glorious passage but also intensely debated. As I prepared to preach this passage on Sunday, I found that it is more than the theology that is challenging in these verses; it is also the translation of the text.

What follows are a few notes on what Paul is saying in these verses that help hone in on who he is speaking to and what God is doing. As we will consider this passage again next week, I will try to put up a few more translation notes as we consider this challening passage.

1. The ‘Spiritual Ones’ (v. 1)

The ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) all translate πνευματικῶν as “spiritual gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1. Others (e.g., CSB), however, have recognized the ambiguity of Paul’s language. While 1 Corinthians 12–14 pertains to spiritual gifts (χάρισμα = 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31), there is good reason for rendering πνευματικῶν as “spiritual things” or “spiritual persons.” Let’s see why. Continue reading

‘Power’ in Paul’s Letters: How Apostolic Miracles Magnify the Gospel Message

powerWhat does Paul think of power? How does he define it? When he speaks of “the working of miracles” (1 Corinthians 12:10), does he have modern charismatic signs in mind or something else? When Paul speaks of power, what is he talking about?

These are just a few questions we need to ask when we consider the word dunamis in Paul’s letters. And fortunatley, it is not too difficult to find what Paul thinks about this word, for he uses it often. However, if we come with preconceived ideas about “power evangelism” or “charismatic gifts” we might be less able to see what he originally meant. So lets consider what he says.

Power in Romans: The Gospel Defines Paul’s Understanding of Power

In Romans Paul begins with the gospel. Romans 1:1–7 defines Paul’s apostleship in terms of the gospel and Romans 1–-11 give us the fullest explanation of the gospel in Scripture. First, in Romans 1:4 Paul speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit to raise Christ from the dead, a reality that will shape Paul’s understanding of the gospel (and its effects) through all his letters. Then second, he defines the gospel as a matter of power in Romans 1:16–17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For Paul the gospel is the way in which God’s power brings salvation to sinners. The power of God raises the dead to life, beginning with Christ, and does the unthinkable: it declares the guilty “innocent” and the dead “alive.” Because righteousness and life are related in Paul’s thinking (see e.g., Romans 5:18–19), it is not surprising that justification requires the very power that raised Jesus from the dead. Continue reading

Rightly Dividing the Cultural Background to 1 Corinthians 11

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The Corinth Channel

There are a lot of cultural challenges to 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, a passage that invites discussion about the trinity, gender roles, the use of head coverings, and the role of angels in public worship. Tomorrow I will preach on this passage, but today I share a number of quotations from various commentaries related to various cultural and theological challenges in this passage. These quotes provide some background to this enigmatic passage.

Dress

In the context of prayer and prophesy, it makes sense that dress would be considered. For prophets often had a particular dress. Moreover, they often symbolized in their appearance various biblical truths. So for instance, John the Baptist appearance is given as wearing “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist” (Matthew 3:4). Importantly, this outward dress identified him as a prophet in the manner of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8: “They answered him, ‘He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’)

Likewise Isaiah 20 records how God commanded Isaiah to walk through Israel naked for three years to indicate God’s coming judgment on Egypt and on those who trusted in that foreign power. This outward expression of God’s will fits other examples too. For instance, the high priest wore garments of beauty and glory to reflect the presence of God’s holiness with Israel (Exodus 28:2); Nazirites did not cut their hair in order to express devotion to the Lord (Numbers 6); and many grieving saints tore their clothing or wore sackclothe and ash in order to express their contrition. So, throughout Scripture, clothing and hair did play a part in expressing worship to God.

Moving from Old Testament to Greco-Roman culture, the same attention to dress is found.

The Greeks’ self-identity arose most from their speech and education, while our Roman often distinguished himself by what he wore. It was not the Greeks eschewed head apparel. Rather it was clear to them and Romans that the habitual propensity of Romans to wear head apparel in liturgical settings stood in sharp contrast to the practice of others. (R.E. Oster, “When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Historical Context of 1 Corinthians 11.4,” NTS 34 (1988): 494; cited by Ben Witherington, Conflict and Communion in Corinth24) Continue reading

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

cropped-biblevizarc7mediumorig.jpg[This morning I teach the men of our church about three horizons in biblical interpretation. Here are the notes. What follows is a portion of content.]

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

In Preaching and Biblical Theology, Edmund Clowney identified three horizons that the faithful interpreter must engage three horizons to rightly understand biblical truth. These three horizons relate to the biblical text, the biblical covenants (or epochs), and the biblical Christ (i.e., the canonical testimony about God in Christ).

Expounding on these three horizons, Richard Lints has written in his illuminating book, The Fabric of Theology,

The biblical text has three interpretive horizons: the immediate context of the book (or passage), the context of the period of revelation in which the book (or passage) falls, and the context of the entirety of revelation.

It is signally important that we take each horizon seriously if we want to understand the biblical material properly. While no horizon takes precedence over the others, each must nonetheless be regulated by the other two. The meaning of any given passage will depend to a great extent on its place in its own particular epoch and its place in the entirety of redemptive revelation. The theological interpreter of Scripture must allow the three horizons to dialogue with one another continually, helping to explain and clarify the meaning of the others.

It is when we keep all three horizons in dialogue that Scripture begins to inform us about what questions it considers important and the framework necessary to find answers to those questions.[1]

In other words, only by attending to the three horizons can we understand how to read Scripture on its own terms. Likewise, because our goal is to know God, not just Moses or Matthew, it is imperative we read theo-logically, i.e., seeking to know the word (Logos) of God (Theos).

Knowing God is our goal and it requires careful attention to grammar, history, and the covenantal canon. Only as we learn how to read these three horizons together will we be able see how the leaves and the trees (words and sentences) begin to form a well-ordered forest (the whole biblical canon), a forest that has come to us through many seasons of growth, decay, and rebirth (i.e., the progression of covenant that have led to Christ).

In the next three sessions, we will spend time on each horizon. But let me give some biblical bases for each of them.  Continue reading

Augustine on the Trinity: Jesus Christ ‘In the Form of God’ and ‘In the Form of a Servant’

trinityYou heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
— John 14:28 —

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
— Philippians 2:6–7 —

In his excellent treatise on the trinity, De TrinitateAugustine of Hippo masterfully explains the various ways in which Scripture speaks of Jesus—sometimes in the form of God, sometimes in the form of a servant. In the following quote, he reflects on the way in which John 14:28  and Philippians 2:6, at first glance, appear to make the Son look less than the Father—a doctrinal heresy known as subordinationism.

In his explanation, Augustine reminds us all that Scripture when speaking about the God-man Jesus Christ will of necessity sometimes speak of him as lesser than he is. This is not to deny his status as co-equal (of one essence) with the Father. It is to recognize the limitations of finite language, and to help disciples of Christ to worship God in all of his triune glory and grace.

I encourage you to read the following quotation slowly—it comes from Book 1, section 14 of De Trinitate. Ponder it. Look up the verses (in italicizes). Read it again. And marvel at the God who is three in one, the God who became man when the Son of God took on the form of a servant. Continue reading

Kephalē and Context: Toward a Biblical Understanding of Headship

mwFor more thirty years, an exegetical debate has raged between complementarians and egalitarians over a single word: Kephalē, the Greek word for ‘head.’

The former argue that this word means “authority over,” while the latter argues the word means “source.” In the New Testament, this word can be found to have both connotations, even in the same book. For instance, Colossians identifies Christ as the preeminent head of the church and the nourishing head from which the church derives its life and growth.

Colossians 1:18. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent

Colossians 2:19. . . . the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Still, debate remains. Without getting into all the exegetical evidence—of which there is plenty; Wayne Grudem tracks down 2336 uses of kephalē in one article—I want to show how the claim that “authority over” is exegetically unsubstantiated is actually unfounded. Far better to see kephalē as a word that wonderfully displays the original design of Genesis 1–2, men and women equal in value, distinct in roles. Continue reading

Love Your Neighbor: A Biblical Theology of Race and Ethnicity

 

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
— Ephesians 2:14–18 —

Love Your Neighbor: A Biblical Theology of Race (Sermon Audio)

From the timing of this sermon it might look like it was a response to the recent Executive Order from President Trump. That’s not the case. Yet, the timing does seem providential as this final sermon in our series (Rhythms of Mercy: Cultivating Habits of Holiness in a Hostile World), comes to address the difficult subject of race and ethnicity.

Instead of tackling the problem of racism head on, something for another sermon, this message steps back to lay a biblical foundation for understanding what the Bible says about race. Following the contours of redemptive history (i.e., Creation — Fall — Redemption — New Creation) I try to show in this sermon how God’s intention has always been to bring reconciliation to all peoples. Clearly, this is the aim of the gospel and hence racial reconciliation is a central implication of applying the gospel to all areas of life.

You can find the sermon online and the sermon notes available here. Additionally, there are discussion questions below based on the sermon and many more resources that helped me think through these issues below. In particular, these resources focus on listening to African-American Christians whose various experiences have helped me tune in to the larger issues of ongoing racism in our country. I pray they will help you, as well, and that God would give us listening ears, loving hearts, and wisdom to pursue compassionate justice. Continue reading