Tongues. 1 Corinthians #25 (1 Cor 14:1-25)

…to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:10)



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This week we come to the oft-maligned, oft-spoken about, gift of tongues. Simply put, the gift of tongues is a gift which God gives to a believer, that allows that person to speak out, or pray in, a language unknown to that person.

Just like there are apparently three distinct kinds of prophecy, the New Testament seems to describe three distinct gifts of ‘tongues’:

a. When someone speaks out in tongues, others hear it as a language belonging to another part of the earth (i.e. Chinese). Its use here is in evangelism and missions. The first use of tongues that the New Testament records was on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles received the Holy Spirit. They spoke out in tongues, and people from all over the civilized world heard them speaking in their own dialects. Both the wonder of this phenomenon and the message it contained, brought many people to faith in Jesus (Acts 2:1-13). This was a gift from God, for the apostles had not known the languages they were speaking.

b. A special word from God to a group of believers. In the case of this kind of gift of tongues, It must be accompanied by an interpretation. There is no way the special word can be understood without the interpretation. This is the ‘normal’ public use of tongues. Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 14:13 and 14:27-28. Apparently, at times, believers were inspired to speak out loudly in tongues. Then they, or someone else present, would receive the meaning of what was said, from the Lord. I know that several people in our church have witnessed this at times in a powerful way.

c. A private, spiritual “prayer language.” This is the ‘normal’ private use of tongues. It is useful here if the individual is at a loss for words to pray or praise with, or for prayer for a very difficult situation, or simply to help draw a person closer to Jesus. Scripture describes this in Romans 8:26-27 (the Spirit interceding with intercessions that are beyond our capability to express) and in 1 Corinthians 14:1-18, where Paul clearly describes tongues as prayer from the Spirit, not the mind, which builds up the individual Christian and should not be used in public assemblies.

In general, most of the gifts described in this passage do not “belong" to individuals, but are given to us to bless other people with. It seems that the gift of tongues is a little bit different. The fist two gifts of tongues (see a. and b. above) are gifts that are given on a situation-by-situation basis. For example, Ted Hilpert received the gift of interpretation of tongues once, but he would not describe himself as an Interpreter. The gift was given him in just one specific instance, and has not been given since. Years ago I met a retired Lutheran Pastor named Herb Mirud (who has since gone to be with Jesus) who prayed out loud in tongues on a mission trip to Mongolia, and the Mongolians heard him speaking their language. That was the only time such a thing happened for him.

However, the third kind of tongues – the personal ‘prayer language’ that builds up the individual believer, appears to be given to those who have it, for life. The reason for this is that it is an a gift that builds up the individual so a person can use it anytime. It might also be used by one person to pray for another, and again, this can happen anytime the person decides to use it. It is a grace of God given to people to help them pray with their spirits, and not just with their minds.

There is great value in God’s gift of tongues to the church, but for some reason, tongues has been one of the most controversial topics in the church for the past forty years or so. Tongues has been maligned by all sorts of people, misunderstood, and misused. I believe this has happened in large part because of the persistent rejection of the Bible’s teaching about tongues by many charismatic and Pentecostal churches. I believe that if we who accept the supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit, taught and practiced the scriptural principles given concerning tongues, other Christians and churches would not be so quick to malign the work of the Spirit in this way.

Charismatics and Pentecostals typically make two errors regarding tongues. The first, and most dangerous theologically, is the belief that the gift of tongues is the sign of a sort of “second salvation". Some Pentecostals teach that if you do not speak in tongues, you have not been ‘fully’ saved. This view proposes that there are two stages of salvation. They would say (and I do NOT agree) that Faith in Jesus is the first, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the second. For them, exhibiting the gift of tongues "proves’ that you have been fully saved (in both stages). There is absolutely no Biblical justification for this teaching. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses tongues as an example of a gift that not everyone has. In 1 Cor 12:30, Paul asks, “Do all speak in tongues?” The question is rhetorical, because answer in Paul’s mind is obviously “no.” A teaching related to the ‘second salvation’ falsehood, is the idea that if a person does not speak in tongues, he/she has not received the Fullness of the Holy Spirit (or the ‘Baptism’ of the Spirit). This false teaching is answered by the same scriptures I have just mentioned.

I believe that the pervasiveness of the “second salvation" idea is one of the reasons why tongues has caused so much confusion and strife. People who hear this kind of false doctrine are naturally upset, for the teaching implies that if you do not have the gift of tongues, you are not a ‘complete’ Christian, or at the very least, you are a lesser Christian. Those who know they are saved, (but have not been given tongues) come out of an experience with this kind of church with a distaste for the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in general, and for the gift of tongues in particular.

The second error, committed by almost every charismatic church I have ever been in, is the rejection of Paul’s instructions for the use of tongues in worship. Throughout 1 Corinthians 14, Paul instructs us about tongues, its use and its place. Paul sees it as of great value in the life of the individual, but of little value in either the small group or large group unless interpretation is present. There is nothing unclear about his instructions:

If anyone speaks in a tongue, two-or at the most three-should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. (1 Cor 14:27-28)

Charismatic churches across the board have willfully ignored this clear instruction as well as the reasons the Bible gives for the instruction. Let us examine the reasons given for being careful about the use of tongues in public:

a) An episode of tongues without interpretation is unintelligible, and is of no value for

building up the church as a whole (1 Cor 14:2,4, 6-17)

b) Tongues without interpretation are disastrous for evangelism (1 Cor 14:23).

c) Many people speaking in tongues simultaneously, and/or without interpretation is disorderly, and does not reflect God’s character, or the Holy Spirit’s desire for order in worship (1 Cor 14:33).

And yet, if you step into virtually any Charismatic worship service, at some point, you will hear the whole congregation speaking out or singing out in tongues, all at the same time. Many people describe this as a beautiful sound of praise. Sometimes, I am inclined to agree. But that does not deal with what Paul teaches here. I have heard people say that since everyone is praising God, this is just fine. That argument makes no sense to me. It is in contradiction with all three points made by these passages (above). Paul writes:

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. (1 Cor 14:15-17)

His final thought about the matter is this:

If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Cor 14:27-28)

I sometimes wonder if many charismatic churches even know that these verses are here! Don’t get me wrong. I believe the gift of tongues is a wonderful blessing from the Lord. I personally have the third gift of tongues (the “prayer language” gift). I use it regularly. Paul says, “now I wish that you all would speak in tongues…” and I agree that it is a valuable thing. But it seems like Charismatic churches try to “prove” that they are charismatic by abusing and misusing this gift, and it grieves my heart. If you are right about something, but you resort to telling a lie in order to prove your point, in the end you only hurt your cause, even though you are correct. Charismatic churches are right to value the gift of tongues. But they hurt the work of the Holy Spirit when they so flagrantly ignore what the Bible says about where, when and how the gift is to be used. Since so many churches have flagrantly ignored scripture’s instruction in this manner, is it any wonder that the gift causes controversy?

However, simply because tongues has been misused, does not negate the fact that God offers a true gift, and the gift has great potential for benefit. Understanding the good side of tongues is just as important as being aware of the dangers.

Jackie Pullinger was a missionary to Hong Kong in the 1970s. She ended up working with many heroin addicts. She didn’t know anything about helping people kick the heroin habit. So she prayed for the addicts to receive the gift of tongues (the prayer-language gift), and then told them to pray in tongues for 15 minutes a day. When they did that, they were able to come out of addiction with no additional help.

Another friend of ours prayed in tongues to help when she experienced panic attacks, which can’t be tamed by logic. Others use it to strengthen their prayer life, or in spiritual warfare.

But I think there is even more to it than that. Paul writes that tongues is also a “sign for unbelievers” (1 Cor 14:22). What is that all about? I think it is a little like this. If you hear a group of people speaking in a foreign language, it is an indication to you that those people come from another place. Now, not all Christians, speak in tongues, but many do. This is a sign that all Christians are citizens of another place. We don’t actually belong here. Once Jesus owns us, we “ain’t from around here” any more. Our true home is in heaven (Hebrews 11:13-16).

While I don’t believe that the gift of tongues is given to all Christians, any more than the gift of prophecy, I do believe that many could have it, if they simply ask. After you ask, you need to give God your voice. What I mean is, go someplace private, and open up your mouth and vocalize. If God has given you the gift of tongues, you’ll find sounds that seem to be words coming out. Don’t worry too much about what language it may sound like.

I have heard dozens of languages in my lifetime. About one third of the world’s languages come from the Island of New Guinea, where I grew up. When you don’t know them, some of them sound like people just pretending to talk a foreign language – but they are really communicating with each other. So, when you first start praying in tongues, you may feel like it couldn’t possibly be a real language that God understands. I say, if earthly languages can sound funny, so can heavenly ones.

One time someone approached a pastor I knew and said, “I don’t get this gift of tongues. When I hear people praying in tongues, it sounds to me like baby talk.”

The pastor said, “Yeah. I think that’s exactly what it is.” His point was, even if that’s all it is, isn’t that great? Parents and grandparents love to hold a little baby who babbles and coos at them. I think God loves to hold us, even if that’s what we’re doing to interact with him when we pray in tongues.

What’s Love Got to do with It? 1 Corinthians #24


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1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

1 Corinthians chapter 13 might be the most famous chapter in the Bible. It is often read at weddings, even when the people getting married aren’t really Christians. And truthfully, most people who aren’t believers like this chapter, and they might even feel that they agree with it. Certainly Christians like this passage also. I have used this passage when preaching at weddings. I have heard other preachers read it, and replace the word “love” with the name “Jesus.” Certainly this does tell us about love in marriage. Obviously, it teaches us about God’s love.

However, in order to understand any bible passage thoroughly, we need to pay attention to the context. Because we’ve been going through 1 Corinthians, if you’ve been with us for a while, you know the context here. This was written to the Corinthians. They were dividing over various preachers. They were suing each other. They were accepting flagrant, open, unrepentant sin. They were making a mess of the Lord’s supper. Paul just spent some time trying to make sure that they would not be ignorant of spiritual things. He told them all about prophecies, miracles, healings, tongues, words of knowledge and discernment. He admonished them to see themselves and each other as indispensable members of the body of Christ. And then he says this: “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” And then he writes what many people call “The love chapter.”

What we need to understand therefore, is this: the love chapter was written first and foremost to Christians concerning how they should love each other in the church community. It’s good to apply this to marriage. It isn’t wrong to apply this to loving all people. It’s helpful to understand God’s love in the light of this chapter. But we must understand that the primary application is to understand this and put it into practice in our own church. This is about how we relate to fellow-believers in our church community. I will suggest some other ways that this is relevant, but to really get it, let’s not lose sight of the context.

The New Testament uses three different Greek words that are translated “love.” There is eros (from which we get the English “erotic”) which is romantic or even sexual love. There is also philia which is brotherly love (hence “Philadelphia” is the “city of brotherly love”). But the word which Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 13 is agape (pronounced uh-gah-pay). It means unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial love. This is the word almost always used to describe God’s love for us. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is telling Christians to love each other in this way.

The apostle John writes to fellow Christians:

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

John uses the word agape. In fact, throughout 1 John, he reiterates how important it is for Christians to agape (love) one another. He basically says Christianity consists in trusting and loving Jesus, and loving our fellow Christians.

This is not the only place in the New Testament that gives us that command. Jesus said:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Jesus’ word is also agape. Read it carefully. He is saying that it is of prime importance that we love one another. We often jump over this detail, but he makes a distinction between his disciples and the world. He doesn’t say that that others will recognize us as his disciples because we love them – but because we love each other. Of course we should show love to people outside the church. But too often we concentrate on that, and we lose sight of the fact that the command of Jesus to love those inside the church.

We may think this it could hurt our outreach if we are focused on loving each other. However, I suspect that when we are good at loving each other, the church will have a lot more appeal for people who aren’t part of it yet. Who wants to join a church where the members are always talking badly about each other? Who wants to join a church where everyone is cold to each other? And I think that until we do truly practice love for each other within the church, our ability to love those outside it is limited. Love starts at home.

The first point Paul makes is basically this: all the talent and effort in the world is pointless if we don’t engage in genuine love for each other. Paul has just finished talking about prophecy; words of knowledge and wisdom; tongues; and the spiritual gift of faith. He says all of these are worthless without love.

Notice that even things that look like love (giving away your goods and possessions, giving your body to the flames) can be done without actual love. This means that love is not just action. There is an inner commitment that distinguishes love from religious actions. I think if we look at this passage objectively, we can see that love is not just a feeling either. No feeling lasts forever – part of the nature of emotions is that they change. But Paul says agape love perseveres. He says love will still be present after the end of this world. What he is describing here simply just doesn’t fit a mere emotion. I like to define it this way: Love is a decision and commitment to value another person greatly. If it is a decision and a commitment, it doesn’t depend on how we feel. Neither does it depend on what the other person does.

Think of it — Jesus probably did not experience loving feelings while he was being crucified. People were spitting on him and mocking him, yet his death on the cross was the ultimate expression of how much he valued those very same people, as well as us. It didn’t matter what he was feeling. It didn’t matter what the people were doing to him. He was living out his commitment to value us.

Love is a decision and commitment to value another person greatly. This is not how our culture defines it. When I was a youth worker I once asked a group of teenage boys to define love. After a little thought, one of them said “Christie Brinkley.” Unfortunately, he was in tune with our culture. Our movies, our television, our music and to some extent even our books, all seem to offer the unified message that all there is to love is eros – romantic/sexual love. Once in awhile we may catch the hint that there is some other sort of love – philia – friendly, or brotherly love. There is another common expression of love in our culture which I call “selfish” love. In selfish love, I experience feelings of love because what you do for me makes me feel good. With this kind of love, you hang out with someone because generally, you feel good when you are with them. But basically, our culture thinks love is feeling. We have to identify this, and then reject it. Eros love is primarily a feeling. It has its place in marriage. But even marriage can’t be sustained only by sexual feelings. A lasting marriage needs the solid foundation of agape, which is not a feeling, but a commitment to value and honor another.

I won’t spend a lot of time on every aspect of love that Paul lists here, but I want to pick out just a few of the qualities that he names, not necessarily in any particular order:

Love is patient. One thing I’ve noticed about my fellow-Christians is that they aren’t as great as me. I want them to get with the program. I want them to grow and mature. I want them to quit fooling around with their lives and really live entirely for Jesus. I want them to quit swearing, quit getting drunk, quit falling into temptations. I want them read their bibles every day, to be consistent in coming to small groups, to be consistent coming to Sunday worship. But the truth is, God has been so patient with me in all these areas. We can be patient with each other when people don’t seem to change as fast as we want.

Some years ago I counseled with a couple who wanted to get married. There were some obstacles. The timing wasn’t quite right. The woman called me during this time, very anxious. She seemed almost desperate to get married right away. I said, “What are you worried about? If your love won’t last for two years while you wait for these things to get worked out, then you’d be better off not getting married in the first place. But if what you have is real love, you’ll still have it in two years.”

I want to be straightforward with some of the young people who read these sermon notes also. If you are in a relationship and you feel like you can’t wait until you are married until you have sex, then understand, that feeling is not love. Love is patient. If your boyfriend or girlfriend can’t wait, then understand – he or she is not motivated by love. Love is patient!

Paul also says love is not envious. That one nailed me just this week. As a man I sometimes fall into the trap of feeling like I’m validated (or not) by how successful I am. A pastor I know in our area is younger than me. He started a church about the same time as New Joy was started. I just heard again this week about how well his church is doing. I know he’s doing pretty well financially too. But agape love is not envious of the good fortune or success of others. I should be happy that God is using him. Just as I was writing this, I paused to ask the Lord for forgiveness, and to give me agape love for my fellow pastor, and brother in the Lord.

That brings me another point. As a standard of behavior, we cannot possibly hope to obtain agape love through our own human effort. We need the Holy Spirit to give us his love to love others with. He will, if we ask him, and receive it willingly.

Another thing Paul says about love is that it “keeps no record of wrongs.” In other words, love results in true forgiveness. There is no resentment or ongoing bitterness in it. This is very important when it comes to relationships in churches. Because of Jesus, God holds no record of your wrongs. How then can you, who have been so completely forgiven, refuse to let go of the wrongs that have been done to you? If you get close to people – and in church, we are supposed to get close to each other – we will get hurt from time to time. We must learn to forgive, and let those hurts go.

Paul writes in verse 7 that loves endures all things. Looking at the Greek, it might be put like this: “love always perseveres.” We don’t give up on each other. We don’t say “that’s it, I’ve had it with you, we’re done.” No, agape love perseveres through all things. This is related to what Paul says when he writes: “love never fails.” Another way to put it might be this: “love never falls from grace; it never loses its position or compromises its virtue.”

Erotic love, friendly love and selfish love are all real, and they contain parts of what love in general can be (although the Bible makes it clear that the expression of erotic love is to come within marriage only). It is tough going when you love someone who never makes you feel good. It is normal to value people with whom you have positive experiences. It is only natural to seek as a mate someone who is physically attractive to you. But these kinds of love so venerated by our culture, cannot ultimately last without agape, and they can become quite self-oriented. People have divorced their spouses to seek erotic love elsewhere when the glow faded for a time. When the sexual urge is satisfied, or at the very least in those times when the partner somehow becomes less attractive, erotic love is out the window. Others have divorced, or cut off friendships simply because “he didn’t make me feel good any more, and I need to do what is best for me” or because “the spark was gone.” This sort of love only lasts as long as you are able to perform for each other. As soon as you stop doing things that make me feel good, I will no longer feel love for you, and vice versa. In the final analysis, without the rock solid basis of a decision and commitment to value someone, (that is, agape love) all other forms of love are conditional.

Agape love can be hard work – anything that is not self-oriented can be hard work. To value someone when you do not feel particularly fond of them is not the easiest thing in the world. To serve someone when you feel almost as tired as they do, is not always immediately rewarding. But the minute we go back to relying solely on how it feels is the minute we abandon true Biblical love.

True love is not a noun, but a verb. Love is an action word. It is not really about all those nice feelings. When you truly love, you will get those neat feelings from time to time, but the substance of love is not in those feelings. The true stuff of love is in the commitment to value others.

This is the way God loves us. This is how we can be loved, even when we know that we are not loveable. God has made an ultimate commitment to us, to value us above all else. He was willing to die for the sake of that commitment. His love does not depend on us doing things to please Him or make Him feel good. His love does not depend on the attractiveness of our personality, or on any physical beauty. His love depends solely on His own will, and His will eternally is to value us and treat us as of great worth. As the writer of Hebrews says:

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (Hebrews 6:17-18)

God loves us with an unchanging commitment. The only way we can ever learn to love others in that way is to receive God’s love, and let Him love others through us, and allow Him to make good on our desire to make a commitment to value others.

Is Prophecy Real Today? How can you tell? 1 Corinthians #22.

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Prophecy is one of the more complex “things of the Spirit” that Paul talks about here. Prophecy figures very importantly in the New Testament. Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul says:

So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39)

He lists Prophets alongside Apostles, Pastor-Teachers and Evangelists as special gifts that God has given the church to equip the whole church for ministry.

Most of us tend to think of prophecy as predicting the future. However, there is more to it than that. In fact, there are three distinct variations in the gift of prophecy described in the New Testament.

The first sort of manifestation of prophecy is the traditional “foretelling” gift, wherein God reveals the future to the prophet, and the prophet tells others. I will call this predictive prophecy. One person through whom God gave his people the gift of predictive prophecy was Agabus. In Acts 11:28 we learn that Agabus, through the Spirit of God stood up and predicted a severe famine. Luke notes that the famine did come, during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius. How did this gift build up the Church? First, Christians were encouraged to set aside gifts for the needy during the coming famine (Acts 11:29). Second, when the famine came to pass it must have been a faith strengthening experience for believers everywhere – God still really speaks to and through people! And finally, the fact that the famine was predicted by God must have been a source of comfort as believers realized that God not only knew about their situation, but saw it before they did. They must have felt very much in His hands.

Predictive prophecy is the easiest sort of prophecy to distinguish. The formula is very simple and is given as far back as Deuteronomy 18:21-22. If a predictive prophet’s message does not come to pass, then the Lord has not spoken and believers should not listen to him.

On the other hand, scripture teaches that even if a prophet successfully predicts the future, and yet leads people away from the Lord in some manner, that prophet is not from God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Pauls says something like this Galatians 1:8-9

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Therefore we see again the “Lordship test” of 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 at work: if a prophet somehow leads people away from honoring Jesus and his name, then that particular prophecy is not from God.

A second sort of prophecy that the new Testament speaks about is when God reveals his will for a specific situation. I call this present prophecy, because it is something God is saying he wants to do, or begin to do, right now, rather than in the future. The prime example of this in the New Testament is in Acts 13:1-3.

“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”

The prophecy uttered here is not so much a prediction of the future as it is a direction for the present. The Holy Spirit, through the gift of prophecy, revealed his will for the congregation at Antioch. We can see first that this revelation of God’s will was consistent with his Word (that is, the Bible), honored Jesus, and recognized and utilized the variety in the Body of Christ. All that is to indicate that there was good reason to trust this as a genuine prophecy. Results are not always indicative of this sort of prophecy, for I can imagine all sorts of things which might have prevented God from doing what he wanted through Barnabas and Saul (their own potential sin being one of them). In spite of that, however, the results of obedience to this prophecy were pretty spectacular in the long run!

Some of you analytical types may be wondering what the difference is between present prophecy and, say, a word of knowledge or wisdom. Ultimately, if it is a message from God, does it matter which specific name we call it? Of course not. However, it seems to me, for you categorical types, that the primary distinction is that present prophecy implies an instruction which should be followed – like sending out Barnabas and Saul.

The third sort of prophecy described by the New Testament is what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14:3

“But everyone who prophecies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”

This is prophecy of exhortation. This is a potent gift if you hear someone using it. It can come in a variety of styles, and can actually often appear very low key. The essence of prophecy is not how it is delivered, but rather its effect in building up the church. A prophecy of exhortation might sound like this:

I think the Lord wants us to know that we are in the center of his will right now, and that he is pleased with us. He doesn’t want us to give up hope – he wants us to press on, to stay consistent, to keep reading, praying and meeting together. He isn’t done with us yet.

Revelation chapters 2-3 contain basically prophecies of exhortation for the seven churches that John is writing to.

One person you may have heard of. whom I consider to have this sort of prophetic gift is Jack Hayford. Often musicians use their music prophetically – that is, for the strengthening, encouraging and comfort of the body of Christ. I would consider both Michael Card and the group Delirious (especially in The Cutting Edge) to have prophetic ministries through music.

Now, I have no doubt that the Lord wants to continue to use this “spiritual thing” prophecy – in our churches today. Like all of the gifts, one of the best places for it is in a small group.

However, there is a down side to prophecy, and I believe this is why it began to fall into disuse. Because it is a powerful gift, it is also powerfully attacked by the devil, and can be powerfully corrupted by people who lack integrity. Shortly after the time of the apostles some people claiming to prophets, tried to lead Christians astray (they were known as Montanists). They almost destroyed Christianity.

However, the Holy Spirit had anticipated this evil, and before this happened, inspired the writers of the New Testament to say these things:

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies,but test everything; hold fast what is good.Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

So the scripture clearly places a high value on prophecy, but also places a high value on testing potential prophecy, to make sure it really comes from God.

How do we know a false prophet? How do we “test everything?” Well, we just saw that we need to consider if a prediction comes true. If it is present prophecy or a prophecy of exhortation, we need Paul has already us in this passage how to know if it comes from the Holy Spirit. If the effect is to glorify Jesus (not the prophet) if it leads to people allowing Jesus to be Lord of their personal lives more and more, it’s probably from the Lord. If it has the effect of building up the church, it’s probably from God. If the opposite things are true, we should ignore it, or, in some cases, denounce it.

Some of you may be thinking, “well, I’ll probably never hear a prophet, so I don’t need to worry about it.” Don’t be too sure! I’ve heard plenty of preachers on the Television, radio and Internet, who claim to be speaking what God wants them say. Sometimes what they say results in people allowing Jesus to be Lord of their lives more fully. Sometimes they build up the church. Sometimes the main result is that the preacher gets more popular and influential and more wealthy, but there isn’t a clear sign that it really helps anyone, or glorifies God. These people need to be tested, and, as Paul says, we need to hold on to the good.

Faith Healing? Miracles? 1 Corinthians #21

Download 1 Corinthians Part 21



To another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers…” (1Cor 12:9-10)



We have been looking at “spiritual things.” Paul tells the Corinthians he does not want them to be ignorant of them. I think it is safe to say that we should not be ignorant of them either. Because the goal of this passage is to alleviate our ignorance, these next two messages or so will seem very informational in style. Even so, as you read this, pray that the Lord not only informs you, but also inspires you and fills you. We don’t want to only know about spiritual things – we want these things of the Holy Spirit to be active and real in our own lives.

A gift of faith. When Paul includes faith among his examples of the workings of the Holy Spirit, he clearly does not mean saving faith in Jesus Christ. The faith we place in Jesus, the faith we exercise in giving Jesus control of our entire life, is indeed a gift of God, and it is a gift which is given to all who will receive it. In other words, if you are a Christian, you already have the gift of saving faith – faith that trusts everything to Jesus alone. The point Paul is illustrating is that God gives many different kinds of gifts, and they are all given to the church as whole. No single individual exhibits every possible gift of God for touching lives. Therefore, here, Paul is speaking about a gift of faith that some Christians do not possess – a faith that blesses the Church in a unique way beyond the faith that entrusts one’s life to Jesus. Perhaps the best way to describe this gift of faith is to offer some examples of Christians who possessed it.

James Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China in the nineteenth century, who clearly possessed the gift of faith. Hudson Taylor founded one of the world’s largest and most effective missionary societies in the face of a complete absence of financial backing, while holding to a principle that forbade members of the society to ask for any kind of material support. Taylor had only a firm conviction (a gift of faith) about God’s desire for the China Inland Mission to be formed – while all of common sense, and past history suggested that his goal was impossible. The gift of faith through J. Hudson Taylor was used by God to bless the church at large in mighty ways. Many Chinese met Jesus through the work of the China Inland Mission (CIM); many new missionary organizations were formed, inspired by God’s provision for CIM; glory was given to God as He was given opportunity to show how He provides for his children. The work of the China Inland Mission continues today, though under a different name. The gift God gave the church was one of faith to lay hold of something beyond human vision, and the result was that lives were touched!

George Müller was another through whom God gave the church at large the gift of faith. Müller founded and maintained a large orphanage, depending on God in prayer alone, for the resources to build buildings, maintain facilities and operate from day to day. The orphanages he founded, provided for and ministered to literally thousands of children in Müller’s lifetime, and the work has been continued (albeit in different form) to this day.

We can see then, that the gift of faith is given by God to his Church, to touch lives by trusting God for things that may seem impossible, perhaps even things that have never been done before. The gift of faith may be given to someone in the church for the salvation of someone who seems absolutely beyond hope. The gift of faith is exercised in starting new churches and ministries. It is a powerful gift.

Graces of healings”. The next “grace” mentioned is healing. It is interesting to note that in the Greek, both “graces” and “healings” are plural. The implication is that rather than giving one individual a certain “gift of healing,” God considers each time a person is miraculously healed to be a gift. There are some individuals through whom the gift of healing seems to be given fairly often. However the emphasis seems to be on the incidence the healing itself, rather than the person through whom it comes. Though some people clearly have “healing ministries,” any Christian might be used to bring this gift to another as they lay hands on, and pray for, a sick person.

When I pray for others to be healed, I usually do it in a small group. The Lord has healed a few of people I have prayed for in this way. Once we prayed for a lady with Crohn’s disease, the night before she was to have surgery. The next day, the doctors sent her home, saying she didn’t need surgery any more. I once prayed for a friend who was trying to quit smoking, but couldn’t seem to do it. That was 15 years ago, and he hasn’t had a cigarette since that prayer.

There is just one time in my life when I am positive I experienced miraculous healing myself. Some of you were there – it was at a church retreat a few years ago, and I was immediately healed from a kidney stone.

But quite often, when I pray for people to be healed, I don’t see anything happen. The same is usually true when others pray for healing for me. I am not alone in my mixed experiences. You could fill a library with books written about this subject. Some people claim that the problem is lack of faith. I don’t buy it. I had no faith that my friend would quit smoking when I prayed for him. I didn’t even ask for prayer about my kidney stone – I asked for pain meds (some of you can testify to this). At other times I have felt tremendous faith, either in praying for others, or in being prayed for – and nothing has happened.

I don’t think we can boil it down to a formula that always works. That is the nature of our faith-relationship with Jesus. If we had a formula for healing, then who needs Jesus? Jesus told us many times to keep praying and not give up. So I keep praying, and though sometimes people are not healed, sometimes they are.

It is important also to remember that any healing that takes place during our life on earth, (whether supernatural or “normal”) is always temporary. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but eventually, years later, Lazarus died again. The judgment of sin on our physical bodies is death, and death’s effects will always be manifested sooner or later. There is no such thing as truly complete physical healing until Jesus gives us new bodies when he comes again. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Jesus did not devote his full energy to healing while he was on earth.

Miraculous powers. The Greek term describing this action of the Holy Spirit conveys the sense of dynamic power in operation. Since the term is distinguished from healing, we must assume that Paul is speaking of supernatural power manifested in some way other than healing. The New Testament brings to mind several incidences of such power. After a shipwreck, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and suffered no ill effects. On the island of Cyprus, Paul caused the “magician” Elymas to be struck blind. But the most pervasive New Testament example of the Spirit’s dynamic power (apart from healings and conversions) is exorcism. Jesus dramatically and unequivocally demonstrated his power by casting out evil spirits. He himself connects the exorcism of demons with the life changing activity of the Holy Spirit saying, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). The apostles, at Jesus’ command, made exorcism a significant part of their ministry, both before and after his death and resurrection. There can be no doubt that the Lord wants to continue the offensive against the powers of evil, and that he wants to do so by power of the Holy Spirit through His Church. He may indeed want to bless us with miracles of many kinds, but it is also safe to say that he wants gifts of exorcism (power) to be part of the pattern of a church that touches lives.

My former professor and mentor, Dr. Eugene Bunkowske, was a missionary in Nigeria for 22 years. When he first went there, he moved in among a tribe which had no Christians. The most prominent witch doctor of the area heard they were coming. He said, “I will put a curse on this man’s wife and his children, they will get sick and they will die, and then the missionary will go back to where he came from.”

Shortly after Bunkowske arrived, the witch doctor got sick; and then he died. Many people came to Jesus as a result of seeing the power of God manifested in this way. My friend only found out about the witch-doctor’s words later, but he believes firmly that it was the Lord, demonstrating his power and relevance to people who had been trapped in animistic religion.

More needs to be said about using the gift of powers, particularly exorcism. Jesus gives all of those who know him, spiritual authority over evil spirits. The principle is simply that Jesus is in us, and His power is greater than that of the devil (1 John 4:4). Our power is not sufficient to drive out Satan or demons, as the sons of Sceva found out (Acts 19:13-16). Jesus does promise us the power to overcome evil (Luke 10:18-20), but he cautions that if we simply drive out an evil spirit and do not see that the Holy Spirit enters in afterward, the individual will be no better off than before (Luke 11:24-26). We must also use discernment (that gift will be discussed later) in determining whether the problem is truly caused by the presence of demonic power, or something else.

There are some individuals who have a special calling to help others address demonic strongholds. It is an exhausting ministry, but also intensely rewarding. Our neighbors a few years ago were people with that calling. Some other friends of ours were struggling with their adopted son. He was diagnosed with reactive-detachment disorder, a traumatic and violent psychological syndrome that is very difficult to treat. Our friends were in despair over their son, and were on the verge of placing him permanently in an institution. I suggested that before they did that, we should take him to our neighbors who had the gift of dealing with demonic issues. We spent about three hours with boy. I can’t say it was a comfortable time. But when we were done, he no longer had the disorder. A psychaitrist later confirmed that he no longer had it. The boy’s life, and the lives of his parents, were completely changed. This is a wonderful gift for the body of Christ!

Years ago, I preached through this passage of 1 Corinthians with the goal that the church I was leading at that time should learn about these “things of the Holy Spirit.” The church was full of ordinary people. They weren’t super-Christians. They had jobs, and rent payments and car trouble and kids, just like most people. But we all agreed that we wanted the Lord to be doing these “spiritual things” among us, just as he did in the early church. And so, when someone wondered once if just maybe God wanted to say something, he spoke up, and it turned out to be a message of wisdom from the Lord. Another person was physically ill, and we laid hands on him, and prayed for him, and he was healed. Over time, the Lord did all kinds of amazing things in that church because the people were informed about these spiritual things, and they asked God to do them among us, and they were willing to take risks and possibly look foolish in order to learn.

The Lord can do that anywhere, if he has people who are willing. I pray that you are willing.