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

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

The Church’s Place in *Picturing* the Gospel (A Review of 1 Corinthians 1–10)

obc-1 corinthiansThe church is more than a holding tank for Christians; it is a family portrait of God’s people. Created and sustained by the gospel, God’s local church, when it abides in the word of Christ, reflects God’s unity, holiness, and love. Yet, such Spirit-empowered characteristics do not come automatically. They must learned from Scripture and taught by the Spirit.

This Sunday’s message attempted to capture these truths from an overview of 1 Corinthians 1–10. Last week we considered the relationship between the universal and local church, and how the latter is designed to frame the family of God in any one locale. This week we turned to the life of the church, which does not earn salvation but which does reflect the Savior when spiritual unity, holiness, and love are present.

In what follows you can find discussion questions and resources for further study. The sermon can be found online and the notes are available here. Continue reading

The Church’s Place in *Framing* the Gospel (A Review of 1 Corinthians 1–10)

sermon photoIn 2016 our church has spent the year in 1 Corinthians, at least the first 10 chapters. As we turn our attention to the birth of Lord in just a couple weeks, we took time to review a few aspects of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) that we’ve seen in Paul’s letter. For now the debate about Trinity-gender analogies (1 Corinthians 11:3) and head coverings (11:6, 10) will have to wait.

In what we considered yesterday, I made seven applications from 1 Corinthians 1–10 related to the universal and local church. Here they are in list form. You can listen or read the sermon notes; study questions and further resources are listed below.

  1. The church is both local and universal.
  2. The universal church is made of local churches.
  3. Individual Christians experience the universal church thru the local church.
  4. The local church calls the universal church to walk together as disciples of Christ.
  5. The local church (not the universal church) has been given leaders who know their sheep.
  6. The local church has power AND wisdom to exercise the keys of the kingdom.
  7. The local church provides visible boundaries for the universal church.

All sermons in the series “The Life-Changing Gospel in God’s Local Church” can be found here. Continue reading

A Plate Full of Faithfulness: How Food Reveals and Reforms Our Faith (1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1)

sermon photo“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” is John Piper’s famous dictum fusing God’s passion to be worshiped and man’s passion to be happy. Yet, spoken into our hyper-individualistic culture, this glorious truth might lead some to think glorifying God is an individual’s task.

In truth, God is glorified as we use our freedom to serve others. We cannot glorify him if we care nothing for our neighbors or God’s creation. This is the point of 1 Corinthians 10 where Paul concludes his instruction about food sacrificed to idols by saying we are not to seek ourselves, but the good of others. God is glorified in eating and drinking that aims to strengthen others, not just ourselves. Likewise, if eating and drinking are shaped by the gospel, then it stands to reason (once again) that every area of life must be gospel-shaped.

In this week’s sermon, we consider a theology of food and drink and all of life as Paul finishes his discussion about food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1. You can listen to the sermon here and read the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and resources for further study are below. Continue reading

More Than a Feeling: What Does Love Really Look Like?

buildMaybe you’ve heard or maybe you’ve said statements like this about your church: “I felt so loved in that church,” or “This church feels so loving.” I hope people say that about your church and mine, but I wonder: What does love “feel” like in the church, really? Is it just that, a feeling, or is it something more concrete? Or maybe it is something of both? Can we see love, or should we close our eyes and put out our antennae to pick up the vibe? I jest a little, but it’s an important question, because it will shape our aims in church. What does a loving church look like?

Thankfully, the Apostle Paul doesn’t leave us wondering. Love looks like a construction zone, or at least it looks like people denying themselves to build up others and using their gifts to help “construct,” or edify, others in the church. On this point Richard Hays observes a predominant theme in Paul’s letters. The temple-conscience loves to use the verb oikodomein (‘to build up’) and the noun oikodomē  (‘upbuilding, edification’) “to refer to loving actions that benefit the whole community” (Richard Hays, First Corinthians175).

Consider a sampling of verses which show this. Continue reading

‘Do Not Muzzle the Ox’: A Logical, Intertextual, and Eschatological (but not Allegorical) Reading of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9

 

paulDo I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop,
– 1 Corinthians 9:8–10 –

When Jesus describes the value of the sparrow in Luke 12 and says, “Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (v. 7) is he speaking allegorically? What about when he tells the elaborate parable about the four soils (Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23) or the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43)? The answer will depend on how you define ‘allegory,’ but most will not see Jesus’ comparison with the sparrows as an allegory, even as many do see Jesus parable as incorporating allegorical elements.[1] What makes the difference? And do we rightly read allegory, without allegorizing?

Allegorical Literature vs. Allegorical Interpretation

In truth, there are in Scripture elements of allegory. When Jesus explains some of his parables by saying, “The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:38–39), he is speaking in allegory. Allegory by definition is

A work of literature in which many of the details have a corresponding “other” meaning. The basic technique is symbolism in the sense that a detail in the text stands for something else. Interpreting an allegorical text must not be confused with allegorizing the text. To interpret an allegorical text is to follow the intentions of the author. Allegorizing a text  implies attaching symbolic meanings to a text  that was not intended by the author to be allegorical.[2]

This distinction between between allegorical literature (e.g., The Pilgrim’s Progress) and allegorical methods of interpretation (e.g., Origen’s approach to the Bible) is one of the most confused and confusing aspects of modern evangelical hermeneutics. To be sure, Scripture includes multiple instances of allegory.

  • When Jotham told his story of the bramble who would be king, he used allegory (Judges 9).
  • When Nathan confronted David in his sin with Bathsheba, he employed allegory (2 Samuel 7).
  • When Jesus told his parables he often intended for one element (“the field”) to stand for another (“the world”).
  • Paul even understands the story of Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16ff) to be written “allegorically” (Galatians 4).[3]

In each of these instances, the author’s intent is allegorical. Therefore, the extant literature is allegorical, which requires any literal method of interpretation (i.e., one that aims to understand and reproduce the authorial intent) to read the passage “allegorically.” But—and this is where the confusion comes in—in reading the biblical allegory, we must not allegorize the text. And even more, we must not adopt an allegorical method because we find some allegories in Scripture.

But this brings us to the text in question (1 Corinthians 9:8–10): Did Paul use an allegorical method in his quotation of Deuteronomy 25:4? And if he is allegorized a passage from the law—a genre not given to allegory—can we do the same? Or did he, like Jesus with the sparrows, make a simple comparison between oxen and men? Or did he do something else entirely?

Logical, Intertextual, Eschatological: Tracing Paul’s Argument

Following the lead of John Calvin, Richard Hays, and others, I will argue that Paul’s use of the verse is (1) very logical in its structure (not fanciful), (2) very textual (not twisting the original context of Deuteronomy), and (3) very theological (specifically, eschatological). But in no way is it allegorical. Continue reading

Loving God By Loving Others (1 Corinthians 8:7–13)

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A chapter on “meat sacrificed to idols” may not, at first glance, look like the most relevant subject for us modern technophiles, but as is always the case—the eternal Word of God is living and active and never dull in bringing piercing insight to our lives. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addresses the strong and weak consciences of the Corinthian believers and challenges those with “knowledge” (a key idea in this chapter) to use that gift to care for and edify their weaker members in the church.

This chapter is one of a few key passages that deal with conscience (the others include Romans 14–15; Galatians 2; and Colossians 2). It also shows how love must be worked out in matters where Scripture does not give a specific command. From the love God has shown us in Christ, we are to love in steadfast and sacrificial ways, to people who are not like us, with the goal of spiritual unity and edification.

In preparation for this message I found great help from a book on the conscience (Conscience by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley) and from considering the the nature of idolatry and meals in Corinth. You can find a few reflections on Naselli’s book here and notes on the culture here.  For further reflection, you can listen to the sermon, read the sermon notes, or discuss the questions and resources below. Continue reading

Calvinism in Context: 1 Corinthians 8:11

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And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed,
the brother for whom Christ died.
— 1 Corinthians 8:11 —

When Paul confronted the Corinthians for eating meat sacrificed to idols, he warns that their carelessness threatens to “destroy” their brothers. In the context of 1 Corinthians 8, Paul uses this warning to motivate followers of Christ with greater “knowledge” (i.e., stronger consciences) to think twice before eating meat sacrificed to idols in the presence of younger believers whose consciences have not been so trained. This is the literary context. In the context of theological debates, however, this verse serves another purpose—namely that this verse proves general atonement, the belief that Christ died for all humanity without exception.

Convinced that Christ’s death effectively accomplished the salvation of his elect, a vast number beyond comprehension (see Revelation 7), I believe that it is errant to conclude 1 Corinthians 8:11 is a proof text for general or unlimited atonement. Rather, it is one of many verses that articulate a view of Christ’s death that is personally connected to a people the father gave him before the foundation of the world (cf. John 17). But instead of making a theological case, let’s consider the context of 1 Corinthians 8 to see what Paul says and how his language informs this theological debate. Continue reading